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72 Years Later, Here's Why Korea Remains Divided

An opprobrious nation, with its belligerent stance, cocky rhetoric and nuclear-war proclivities, has invariably posed a grave threat to the global order.

Although standing isolated from almost the entire world, barring perhaps China, North Korea has not backed down at any point, challenging even the U.S., which has emerged as the solo super power after the disintegration of the erstwhile USSR, of which Russia was a part.

United Korea's Independence That Was Not To Be

North Korea's U.S. connection dates back to 1945, as the latter took control of its neighbor South Korea after Russia, an ally of the U.S. in World War II, was called in to occupy North Korea in a bid to ferret out Japan, which was controlling North Korea at that time.

To understand the equation, here is a timeline of major events that transpired among the Koreas, both the North and the South, the U.S., Russia and Japan 72 years back. Prior, unified Korea was under Japanese occupation beginning in the early twentieth century.

In the interim, ahead of World War II, the Allies, namely the U.S., Soviet Union, China and the U.K., entered into a tentative agreement for giving independence to Korea.

The U.S., which was hell-bent on redeeming Korea from the hands of Japan, pressured Soviet Russia into taking on Japan.

See also: Poll: Americans Still Feel More Threatened By ISIS Than North Korea

  • February 1945: Soviet Russia under communist leader Joseph Stalin pledged to fight the Japanese, three months after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The declaration was made at the Yalta Conference. Germany surrendered to the Allied forces on May 8, 1945, following the war on April 25, 1945, and the subsequent suicide of Adolf Hitler.
  • July & August 1945: At the Potsdam Conference, an agreement among the Allied forces was reached, which provided for the Soviet Russia occupying the northern part of Korea and the U.S. taking control of the southern part of Korea. Incidentally, the action was projected as a strategy to stand up against the Japanese occupation in a bid to liberate Korea.
  • Aug. 8, 1945: Soviet Russia declared war on Japan.
  • Aug. 9, 1945: Soviet Russia advanced into North Korea and took control of it after defeating Japan. Subsequently, Japan surrendered to the enemy forces.
  • Sept. 9, 1945: In the meantime, the U.S. moved into the southern part of Korea, as per the agreement. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Russia began polarizing the Korean people, with those in the north embracing communism, while the south took to socialism.
  • The Twain Shall Never Meet

    Serious strife ensued between the two Koreas in the subsequent years, resulting in a huge number of casualties, injuries and damage to property. Soviet Russia steadfastly clung onto its protégé, which now assumed the name Democratic People's Republic of Korea with Pyongyang as its capital, refusing to allow a reunion with South Korea.

    South Korea came to be known as the Republic of Korea, with Seoul as its capital.

    Enraged by the Soviet's backtracking, the U.S. set up a government in South Korea under Syngman Rhee. The Soviet Russia established a communist regime in North Korea under Kim II-Sung.

    Efforts by the U.S. to broker peace failed as Soviets refused to allow North Korea's participation in an election that was seen as a step to eventually unify both the Koreas. The U.S. went ahead with the elections, and the socialist government under Rhee was set up after receiving the popular mandate.

    The irate Soviets refused to acknowledge the election results and continued to flaunt Kim II-Sung as the leader of the unified Korea. However, on setting up Kim II-Sung over North Korea, Soviet Russia withdrew from the DPRK in 1948. Having seen the back of the Soviets, the U.S. too followed suit, withdrawing from South Korea in 1949.

    Left alone, tensions simmered between both nations, given the ideological differences and the insecurities in their minds. The communist regime in North Korea took things into its hands and used military force to bring about a reunification.

    Creation Of The KDZ

    The U.S. jumped into the fray, coming to the aid of South Korea, in the Korean War, which started on June 25, 1950, and lasted until July 27, 1953. The war ended with the signing of an armistice or ceasefire brokered by the United Nations, which called for the creation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate both Koreas and allowing the return of prisoners of war.

    Incidentally, no peace treaty was signed between both nations, which means that the two nations are still technically at war.

    The DMZ, controlled by the U.N., is about 240 km long and 2.5 km wide and it crosses the 38th parallel line. It is heavily militarized with barbed wire, fences, land mines, listening posts and troops lining the zone.

    Occasionally, the two nations engage in skirmishes around the KDZ, with North Korea believed to have dug tunnels in the area in preparation of the war.

    Speculation of a second Korean war has been gaining traction in recent times, although not many believe it will come to fruition. However, given the testing of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea and the quantum leap in its ballistic missile program, a war is not out of question.

    Related Link: Where North Korea Ranks Among Countries That Have Tested Nuclear Weapons
    Image Credit: Border between North and South Korea, public domain

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