To someone who doesn’t know much about the Korean War, it might appear strange that I would bring up the Cold War. The truth is, the Korean War was not only a civil war, but also a proxy war of the Cold War.
However, if you read my previous post about the annexation of Korea by Japan and its release after Japan’s surrender during the Second World War, you will remember that when Japan surrounded Korea, Korea had no government of its own and was temporarily split at the 38th parallel with the USSR overseeing the North and the United-States overseeing the South. You will also remember that at the time these two powers were allies.
UN stated that democratic elections were to be held for both North and South, until the country could be united again. The split was always meant to be a temporary measure. While the United-States held the said elections, which resulted in Syngman Rhee becoming president; the USSR instead formed a communist state with Kim II-Sung at its head. Finally, by 1949, both the USSR and the United-States had withdrawn from Korea.
Well, as we all know today, the relationship between the USSR and the United-States didn’t remain civil long and we saw the emergence of the Cold War. The Cold War was mainly a war of ideology fought through indirect battles. Leaders of these two nations knew that direct fighting would not only most certainly bring about the Third World War, but would most likely destroy them both as they both possessed the nuclear bomb. Perhaps the most well-known indirect war of the time was the Vietnam War, but the Korean War was another of those proxy war.
The Korean War lasted 3 years, from 1950 to 1953 and had a 3,000,000 death toll. Many atrocities were committed on both sides.
But, if we go back slightly before the war erupted, you can note that when USSR withdrew, it heavily funded and armed North Korea, while the United-States refused to equip South Korea. It seemed the United States had little interest in the country. For this reason, Stalin believed that the country would not get involved.
So it is that, on June 25, 1950, North Korea crossed the 38thparallel and invaded South Korea with support from Stalin. Now, probably to Stalin’s surprise, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to get involved.
For those who don’t understand what is so special about this particular vote, let me explain quickly. You see, USSR had the right of veto in this particular case. Obviously vetoing a war against itself would have been the best course of action. However, the country was absent from the vote because it was boycotting all UN meetings to protest the fact that the exiled government of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) still held the Chinese seat at the UN.
This is how, against logic really, the motion passed and twenty-one countries of the UN contributed to the defense of South Korea.
So following this decision from the UN, the United-States’ General McArthur led the UN troops, of which 88% were from the United-States. Stalin then pledged to help North Korea, but insisted that Soviet forces were not to directly engage United-States’ troops, to avoid direct fighting and the chance of entering into the direct conflict they wished to avoid.
This led to the UN counter offensive at Inchon that allowed South Korea to push back North Korean troops and gain control of territories up to the Yalu River. At this point, it looked like South Korea had won. That was until China decided to get involved and pushed back the South Koreans forces to the 38thparallel. The conflict reached a stalemate at this location for two years before an armistice agreement was signed on July 27th, 1953. This marked the end of the conflict. This agreement set the border between the Koreas and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 4 km wide buffer zone between the two countries. It was signed by representatives of the United Nations Command, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. It was actually never signed by South Korea.
This is how the two Koreas came about their present state. At this point in time, a reunification seems highly unlikely as the two countries have truly grown apart in so many aspects. And, while the war might be over, the tensions are far from dispelled. In truth, technically, an armistice agreement is not a peace treaty, merely a cease-fire. There are many incidents still between the two countries.