Korean War, North Korea, South Korea, Kim Jong-il
Junji Kurokawa/AP(photo left)Xinhua/Yao Dawei/AP(photo right)
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

Rising Tension Between Two Koreas Has 60-Year History

February 02, 2009 05:28 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Tension between the two Koreas is heating up again with a series of confrontational statements from the communist North in recent weeks. The conflict between North and South Korea goes back several decades.

North Making Inflammatory Statements

North Korea recently said that “a war may break out any time,” in response to South Korean military exercises, has proclaimed all of its political and military agreements with the South to be “dead,” and has called the appointment of the South’s new unification minister “an open provocation.”

In addition, over the weekend anti-North Korea activists in South Korea announced a plan to spread propaganda leaflets and North Korean banknotes on Northern soil around the birthday of communist leader Kim Jong Il around Feb. 16. In November, South Korean activists launched leaflet-filled balloons into North Korea, angering the North Korean government and drawing criticism from the South Korean government. The leaflets displayed messages critical of the North Korean government and encouraged North Koreans to defect.

Last July, following an incident in which a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist, North Korea turned down a proposal to continue stalled talks, further straining relations between the two countries.

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Historical Context: The Korean War

Things have long been contentious at the Demilitarized Zone, where the conflict between the North and South goes back more than half a century. Following the Korean peninsula’s long occupation by the Japanese empire, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into the Soviet-influenced People’s Democratic Republic of Korea—more commonly known as North Korea—and the American zone of occupation, The Republic of Korea, or South Korea. The Korean War started when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.

The United Nations immediately took “police action” following the North’s infringement, calling for UN member countries to come to the South’s aid. The United States, like the UN, saw the invasion as a Communist challenge to the non-Communist world, and soon entered the fray. The UN placed its forces under U.S. commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In September, a successful invasion was launched at Inchon and UN forces rapidly made their way up through North Korea. But Chinese and Soviet Union forces came to the North’s aid, and the UN was pushed back into the South. Though the two sides pushed and pushed back, they ended up settling on a truce where the war began: at the 38th parallel. It took two years to settle the truce, and the war finally ended July 27, 1953.

According to the BBC, it is difficult to estimate how many people died in the Korean War. True casualty figures for North and South Koreans and Chinese are uncertain, although it is estimated that about 46,000 South Koreans, over 400,000 Chinese, and about 215,000 North Koreans were killed. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that almost 40,000 American servicemen were killed, and the United Kingdom reports that 1,078 of its soldiers were killed in action.

The peninsula was devastated by the three-year conflict; much of its infrastructure was destroyed and most of its people thrown into poverty. And the Cold War would continue elsewhere in the world for several decades. “The modern world still lives with the consequences of a divided Korea and with a militarily strong, economically weak, and unpredictable North Korea,” according to the U.S. Army Web site.

Reference: The Korean peninsula

The Korean peninsula is made up of about 85,000 square miles and is home to about 70 million people. It has a history that goes back at least 20,000 years, and its location near the major powers China, Japan and Russia has resulted in almost 900 invasions over 2,000 years of recorded history, and several major periods of occupation by China, the Mongols, Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union.

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