Any small country, when it is surrounded by many powerful neighbors, has some serious disadvantages. The Korean peninsula has faced the same demerit of being geographically vulnerable, as it is surrounded by some of the world's super powers like Japan, China and Russia. Big countries have always tried to conquer smaller countries in the efforts to increase their territorial controls and political influence. The fate of Korea after World War II, therefore, was pretty much decided by the superpowers of that time.
The Korean War - Background
For almost 1,000 years or more, the Korean peninsula was under the Chinese rule. The Japanese occupied it in 1904 and continued to rule it for another four decades, till 1945, when Japan was reduced to rubble by the belligerent US army. The end of the infamous, politically decisive and brutal World War II resulted in Japanese surrender. Presence of Japan in the Korean peninsula was not welcomed by the USA, who decided to throw it out of Korea. During WW II, Japan reaped great benefits due to its presence in Korea as most of the Korean livestock, food and metals were used by Japan for the war. Moreover, the strength of Japanese forces increased by millions after Korean soldiers, youth and citizens were forced to join the Japanese armies.
In the Cairo conference (November 22 -26, 1943), it was decided by heads of USA, UK and China that Japan will be forced out of all the islands it has occupied in China and Korea, post second World War. It was a conference in which post Asia war situation was handled with extreme diplomacy and vision. After two years, when the World War II ended, in the Potsdam conference, it was finally decided to attack Japanese forces and throw them away from Korean peninsula. The USA and the then, Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, became partners to force out the Japanese forces from Korea. These two super powers successfully uprooted Japan from Korea, however, as a part of the deal, each of them occupied half of Korea. Here Korea was divided into parts across the polarized border, the 38th parallel. One of the most interesting Korean war facts is that it gave two separate identities to the Korean peninsula on either sides of the 38th parallel line. The USA and Soviet Union remained in Korea for nearly two years to ensure that peace is established there.
The real problem started, when the USA and Soviet Union removed their military bases from the Korean peninsula. In North Korea, that was occupied by the Soviet Union, there was a communist rule. Communism was growing in North Korea by leaps and bounds. In South Korea; however, the USA had promoted and established a democracy. So eventually, when North Korea and South Korea decided to unify, it all came down to the fight for ideology. Both these parts of Korean peninsula were ready for unification but on their own terms and conditions. One wanted democracy in Korea, the other wanted communism.
As tension started building up between North and South Korea, it culminated into the Korean War, eventually, when the belligerent communist forces of North Korea, invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. Korea was in war again. South Korea was quite unprepared for the war because almost all US troops had been called by the US army back to home. In fact, the USA wanted to avoid any war due to diplomatic reasons and thought that if it did not show any signs of aggressiveness in South Korea, North Koreans, backed up by communist powers like China and Soviet Union, won't attack. However, the reverse happened and the USA had to rush to help South Korea. Both the armies fought to their best and the war witnessed several twists and turns before reaching to culmination.
During the war, North Korea was assisted by the USSR and China, while South Korea was given help and aid by 15 UN nations and the mighty US. The war was fought aggressively in Seoul, Pushan, Incheon and across the 38th parallel, with both the armies gaining and losing the control of the areas, many times, before the war finally ended. In the initial months of the war, North Korea and China wreaked havoc on US and South Korean armies; however, in the later years of the war, with UN cooperation South Korea was able to route the North Korean armies beyond the 38th parallel.
Who Won the Korean War?
Ultimately, the Korean war ended on July 27, 1953, though technically, it can't be called an end. There was a ceasefire agreement signed between the South Korea and North Korea. All the hostilities of the war though ended after the deal was signed. No peace treaty has been signed yet between South and North Korea, so officially it can be said that both countries are still at war. Tensions do prevail between these countries still; however, the economic growth and prosperity of people and international diplomacy has been able to keep war at bay. So, nobody won the Korean war - it was ultimately a stalemate!
Did You Know?
✒ Korean war holds the distinction of being a "forgotten war". It is believed it was preceded and followed by WW II and Vietnam war, respectively, making it historically forgotten!
✒ Korean war is historically significant because it kick started the cold war era between Soviet Union and America.
✒ Except for South Korea not turning into communist nation, Korean war had no other tangible victory!
✒ Millions of people died in the Korean war and the losses were significant for all the armies involved in the war. It is difficult to estimate the number of people who died in the Korean war, due to lack of any conclusive data. Reports from The American Department of defense estimates that USA lost nearly 40,000 of its troops and thousands of others were wounded. Similarly, several reports have estimated that South Korea lost 46,000 soldiers in the war while the death toll on North Korean forces was very high, reaching up to 2,15,000. It is a fact that nobody has been able to calculate the exact casualties in the Korean war and the exact figures are believed to be higher than what the world knows.
✒ Panmunjom Peace Treaty is the name of armistice signed between South and North Korea. Till date, there are US troops in South Korea to ensure that peace is maintained.
✒ Douglas MacArthur, based on whose life and achievements, a movie named "General Douglas MacArthur" was released in 1996, was the US Supreme commander of the US forces, appointed by the UN.
✒ Syngman Rhee was the first president of South Korea while Kim Il-sung, the political stalwart and leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (now North Korea), was the first President of North Korea. Kim II-sung was a dominant autocratic politician who ruled North Korea, right from 1948 to 1994, till his death.
✒ Ever heard of operation 'short and long switch'? These were the exchange programs in which wounded prisoners were exchanged by both the armies.
✒ The UNSC resolution 82 was a significant draft by the UN that called for aid and help from UN countries to South Korea and it was included in the draft that North Korea must withdraw its forces from the disputed 38th parallel. Nearly 15 countries helped South Korea in combating operations and four provided medical assistance.
The above list of facts about Korean war, with a major emphasis on how the Korean peninsula ended up in war, must have given you insights about the political situation in Korean. The causes and effects of Korean war are known to the world community and also to these two tiny countries. Should they again fight a battle, it will certainly be detrimental to their existence. While wars are fought for numerous motives, the Korean war was a battle of two ideologies - that still divide them in two staunch supporters of communism and democracy.