Throughout most of its history, Korea has existed as one country with a rich culture and history. Then in the 1940?s, Korea was controlled by Japan. World War II broke out, and the Allies defeated the Axis powers. The country of Korea was divided into two parts — the north and the south. The north was occupied by communist Russian forces and the south by American troops. The dividing line was the 38th parallel(see map). In 1950, a civil war began between the two Koreas, further separating them. Both countries have since established totally different ways of life that include government, economics, and lifestyles. As a result of all that has transpired and recent incidents, it would appear to be highly improbable that there will be a united Korea in the near future.
The known history of Korea dates back thousands of years before Christ. It was a nation with a common heritage, language, and ethnicity. Due to Japan?s role in World War II and the fact that Japan had occupied Korea, the country was divided. Many Koreans had been displaced by Japanese colonization and others by the establishment of the 38th parallel border line. Korea was not an axis power. It is difficult to understand why Korea would have to be divided as was Germany.
At first, Korea was supposed to be unified with a multilateral administration. But the cold war changed the United States? mission to unilateral containment of the spread of Soviet communism. Supported by the Soviets, North Korea attacked South Korea in June of 1950. The South Koreans pushed into North Korea with American aid. But the Soviet Union, helped the North Koreans to push the South Koreans back . “During the bitterly destructive Korean War, the entire peninsula was devastated. Some three million of its population were killed and more than ten million were left homeless and jobless.” (History in modern) Stalemate resulted in 1953 in terms of land gain. The 38th parallel remained the dividing line. The Korean War did not resolve anything, allowing problems to continue up to today. After that time Soviet influence in the North diminished with the Chinese taking their place. Throughout the Korean War period, Koreans were trying to adjust to the changes in their lives from Japan?s colonization forward.
As a result of the 46-year separation, North and South Korea have grown increasingly opposite. “?Though the regimes of both north and south were authoritarian and owed their inception to foreign powers, the two parts of the peninsula were set to evolve in very different ways.”(pg.Korea the search) They have different ideas about religion and education, different governments and different economies. The many contrasting elements adopted by each of the two countries have existed since the Korean War. Neither country has shown signs of changing its ways. The differences that divide the two countries cannot be overstated.
South Korea is a very open society. South Korea contains many types of practiced religion. Buddhism has the largest amount of followers. In South Korea, education is used to teach the cultural heritage of the country and to promote democratic institutions. Both education and religion are considered vital to the people. In government, the controlling party is democratic. The leaders are elected by the people. The government guarantees freedom of the press and religion with few limitations. South Korea?s economy has been growing at an incredible rate. The country?s economic growth has increased by more than five percent in the last few years.(InsouthKoreaBuisiness ) It is stepping forward into the age of technology by putting satellites into space, building nuclear power plants, creating telecommunication systems, and building and utilizing high speed railways.
North Korea is a closed society. North Korea is ruled by communism. Because of communist philosophy, religion is discouraged, and more than two thirds of the people are non-religious. Unlike South Korea, the North Korean government uses education as a tool by which to instill communism. There is a constitution which guarantees freedom of the press, religion, and speech. However, the communists limit these freedoms to ensure control of the country. Presently, the North Korean economy is in shambles and barely functions. Due to natural desators and the fact that trade basically occurs only with its communist neighbors. Surrounding countries are tired of supporting it, and South Korea is worried about its economic collapse. “In the north they are short of food, short of fuel, short of everything.”(quote #1, *^%$%#&*^%#) South Koreans fear an increase in the flood of North Korean defectors should the economy worsen.
Recently, there have been a number of incidents that have brought tensions between the Koreas to a head. These situations include: a North Korean submarine running aground in South Korea, the trial of two North Korean ex-presidents being tried for treason by South Korea, the question of the nuclear capability of North Korea, and violent student radicals in South Korea. The strain between the Koreas has heightened as a result.
In September 1996, a submarine carrying armed North Koreans went aground in South Korea while trying to off-load the commandos. South Korean soldiers killed approximately 26 saboteurs from the vessel. The submarine went aground while trying to off-load the commandos. The North Koreans even killed some of the crew from the sub themselves as they would have burdened the commandos. The North Koreans, however, claim that entire incident was a training exercise gone bad. United States Defense Secretary Perry said that all the evidence points to the fact that the North Koreans are lying. It is reported from South Korea that “a senior government official said it was now less likely than ever that South Korea would give aid or allow broad investments in North Korea.” (The New York) This latest incursion resembles one that took place in 1968 when a team of North Korean commandos infiltrated in order to assassinate the president of South Korea. Kim Young Sam, present South Korean president, said, “It(The North Korean regime) has not given up its illusion of unifying the peninsula under communism.”
Shortly before the submarine incident, two ex-presidents of North Korea, living in South Korea, Rae Tae Woo and Chun Doo Hwan were tried for treason in August 1996. Both were convicted. Chun was sentenced to serve more than 22 years in prison, and Rae received the death sentence. As South Korea maintains that its laws would prevail were the country to be reunified, any North Korean officials would be punishable for their offenses as well. Unless these individuals receive special treatment under reunification, they “are now all the more likely to use everything in their power – including military threats or even war – to perpetuate the peninsulas North-South division.”(Wall St.$%*^$%^*)
The nuclear capability of the North is another serious issue. As recently as the submarine episode, the South Korean defense ministry said that “North Korea may launch a general attack on South Korea deploying long range artillery pieces, Scud missiles tapped with bio-chemicals, and perhaps nuclear devices.” (computer 1) For the past few years, North Korea has denied testing nuclear devices and has delayed inspections of nuclear facilities as provided for by the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.
In August of 1996, another event occurred that was divisive although it was not meant to be. Seven thousand radical university students, in South Korea, rioted after a protest against the separation of the two Koreas. The violence in the clash between students and the police has caused the government to pledge to destroy all radical student movements. The students had used gasoline bombs, rocks, and steal pipes against the police. Resentment against such student radical movements has spread amongst the general population.
When considering the present tense situation, it is important to consider geographical and political data about Korea. The Korean peninsula is about the size of Minnesota. There are about 20 million people in the North and around 40 in the South. The divided country has been in a state of civil war for the past 46 years. The peninsula is surrounded by China, Russia, and Japan. The United States has kept troops in South Korea throughout that time period. . Both countries have received massive support from the super powers. The North is communistic and the South is capitalistic The cold war that has ended in Europe has not ceased in Asia. “Conjure up a present in which more than a million soldiers confront each other across a Mason-Dixon line, armed to the teeth with the latest equipment; the line is so firm that nothing crosses it?” (The 2 Koreas, &^$^*%) The latest equipment includes bombers, nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, naval vessels, etc. Given recent divisive situations, the potential for all-out warfare to develop between the two Koreas has increased. Reunification, as in Germany, becomes more difficult with each passing day.