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

North Korea Rattles Sabers Ahead of Satellite Launch

March 10, 2009 02:28 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
North Korea is making threats of war as it prepares to launch a satellite that many suspect is actually a long-range attack missile.

North Korea Angered by U.S.-South Korea Military Exercises

North Korea put its troops on alert, cut a military hotline to Seoul and warned that it was prepared for war Monday, as South Korea began its annual war games with the United States.

“The danger of a military conflict is further increasing than ever before on the Korean Peninsula because of the saber rattling which involves armed forces huge enough to fight a war,” said the military in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The show of force comes as North Korea is preparing to launch a satellite sometime within the next few weeks. U.S. and Japanese officials believe the satellite is actually a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, and have hinted that they might shoot it down, angering North Korea.

“Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war,” read the North Korean military statement, which also stated that it would respond with a “just retaliatory strike operation.”

Though North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong Il often make threats toward South Korea and the West, the Financial Times writes, “Even by its own standards, Pyongyang's rhetoric has been exceptionally bellicose over recent months.”

North Korea has become increasingly hostile to the south since last’s year election of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who has cut off large amounts of aid to North Korea and demanded that it abandon its nuclear program.

Kim, who was re-elected Sunday in an uncontested election, is in ill health and may be trying to reassure the public that he remains strong. “The latest joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise gives the North Korean regime a chance to fan those fears anew and rally its hungry populace around leader Kim Jong-il,” said Yang Moo-jin, a senior analyst at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, to The New York Times.

Historical Context: Conflict in Korea

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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