Imperial Japanese rule (1910–1945)Upon defeating the Qing Dynasty in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–96), the Empire of Japan occupied the Korean Empire – a peninsula strategic to its sphere of influence. A decade later, defeating Imperial Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), Japan made Korea its protectorate with the Eulsa Treaty in 1905, then annexed it with the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty in 1910.
Korean nationalists and the intelligentsia fled the country, and some founded the Provisional Korean Government in 1919, which was headed by Syngman Rhee in Shanghai. This government-in-exile was recognized by few countries. From 1919 to 1925 and beyond, Korean communists led and were the primary agents of internal and external warfare against the Japanese.
Korea under Japanese rule was considered to be part of the Empire of Japan as an industrialized colony along with Taiwan, and both were part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In 1937, the colonial Governor-General, General Jirō Minami, commanded the attempted cultural assimilation of Korea's 23.5 million people by banning the use and study of Korean language, literature, and culture, to be replaced with that of mandatory use and study of their Japanese counterparts. Starting in 1939, the populace was required to use Japanese names under the Sōshi-kaimei policy. In 1938, the Colonial Government established labor conscription.
In China, the Nationalist National Revolutionary Army and the Communist People's Liberation Army helped organize refugee Korean patriots and independence fighters against the Japanese military, which had also occupied parts of China. The Nationalist-backed Koreans, led by Yi Pom-Sok, fought in the Burma Campaign (December 1941 – August 1945). The Communists, led by Kim Il-sung among others, fought the Japanese in Korea and Manchuria.
During World War II, the Japanese used Korea's food, livestock, and metals for their war effort. Japanese forces in Korea increased from 46,000 soldiers in 1941 to 300,000 in 1945. Japanese Korea conscripted 2.6 million forced laborers controlled with a collaborationist Korean police force; some 723,000 people were sent to work in the overseas empire and in metropolitan Japan. By 1942, Korean men were being conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army. By January 1945, Koreans comprised 32% of Japan's labor force. In August 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, around 25% of those killed were Koreans. At the end of the war, other world powers did not recognize Japanese rule in Korea and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, at the Cairo Conference (November 1943), the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and the United States decided "in due course Korea shall become free and independent". Later, the Yalta Conference (February 1945) granted to the Soviet Union European "buffer zones"—satellite states accountable to Moscow—as well as an expected Soviet pre-eminence in China and Manchuria, in return for joining the Allied Pacific War effort against Japan.
Korea divided (1945–1949)At the Potsdam Conference (July–August 1945), the Allies unilaterally decided to divide Korea — without consulting the Koreans—in contradiction of the Cairo Conference.
On 8 September 1945, Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge of the United States arrived in Incheon to accept the Japanese surrender south of the 38th parallel. Appointed as military governor, General Hodge directly controlled South Korea as head of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK 1945–48). He established control by restoring to power the key Japanese colonial administrators and their Korean police collaborators. The USAMGIK refused to recognise the provisional government of the short-lived People's Republic of Korea (PRK) because he suspected it was communist. These policies, voiding popular Korean sovereignty, provoked civil insurrections and guerrilla warfare. On 3 September 1945, Lieutenant General Yoshio Kozuki, Commander, Japanese Seventeenth Area Army, contacted Hodge, telling him that the Soviets were south of the 38th parallel at Kaesong. Hodge trusted the accuracy of the Japanese Army report
In December 1945, Korea was administered by a United States–Soviet Union Joint Commission, as agreed at the Moscow Conference (1945). The Koreans were excluded from the talks. The commission decided the country would become independent after a five-year trusteeship action facilitated by each régime sharing its sponsor's ideology. The Korean populace revolted; in the south, some protested, and some rose in arms; to contain them, the USAMGIK banned strikes on 8 December 1945 and outlawed the PRK Revolutionary Government and the PRK People's Committees on 12 December 1945.
On 23 September 1946 an 8,000-strong railroad worker strike began in Pusan. Civil disorder spread throughout the country in what became known as the Autumn uprising. On 1 October 1946, Korean police killed three students in the Daegu Uprising; protesters counter-attacked, killing 38 policemen. On 3 October, some 10,000 people attacked the Yeongcheon police station, killing three policemen and injuring some 40 more; elsewhere, some 20 landlords and pro-Japanese South Korean officials were killed. The USAMGIK declared martial law.
The right-wing Representative Democratic Council, led by nationalist Syngman Rhee, opposed the Soviet–American trusteeship of Korea, arguing that after 35 years (1910–45) of Japanese colonial rule most Koreans opposed another foreign occupation. The USAMGIK decided to forego the five-year trusteeship agreed upon in Moscow, given the 31 March 1948 United Nations election deadline to achieve an anti-communist civil government in the US Korean Zone of Occupation.
On 3 April what began as a demonstration commemorating Korean resistance to Japanese rule ended with the Jeju Uprising where between 14,000 and 60,000 citizens were killed by South Korean soldiers.
On 10 May, South Korea convoked its first national general elections that the Soviets first opposed, then boycotted, insisting that the US honor the trusteeship agreed to at the Moscow Conference.
North Korea held parliamentary elections three months later on 25 August 1948.
The resultant anti-communist South Korean government promulgated a national political constitution on 17 July 1948, elected a president, the American-educated strongman Syngman Rhee on 20 July 1948. The elections were marred by terrorism and sabotage resulting in 600 deaths. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) was established on 15 August 1948. In the Russian Korean Zone of Occupation, the Soviet Union established a Communist North Korean government led by Kim Il-sung. President Rhee's régime expelled communists and leftists from southern national politics. Disenfranchised, they headed for the hills, to prepare for guerrilla war against the US-sponsored ROK Government.
As nationalists, both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung were intent upon reunifying Korea under their own political system. The North Koreans gained support from both the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. They escalated the continual border skirmishes and raids and then prepared to invade. South Korea, with limited material, could not match them. During this era, the US government assumed that all communists (regardless of nationality) were controlled or directly influenced by Moscow; thus the US portrayed the civil war in Korea as a Soviet hegemonic maneuver.
In October 1948, South Korean left-wing soldiers rebelled against the government's harsh clampdown in April on Jeju island in the Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion.
The Soviet Union withdrew as agreed from Korea in 1948. U.S. troops withdrew from Korea in 1949, leaving the South Korean army relatively ill-equipped. On 24 December 1949, South Korean forces killed 86 to 88 people in the Mungyeong massacre and blamed the crime on communist marauding bands.
Upon reading some of the history of North and South Korea, one forms a graphic representation of the forces at work behind the conflict. The people and leaders of North and South Korea never had a chance - more than a century after being taken over by external forces, the only identity that is left is that which was forced upon them. What would life in Korea have been like without intervention from other nations?
Korea was molded to be 2 conflicting poles: North vs South; democracy vs oligarchy; capitalism vs socialism. Maybe it was some kind of experiment: place 2 opposing value systems in close proximity and egg them on. So, now all that remains is an ancient resentment between the two poles, neither able to break from tradition to come to a mutually beneficial conclusion. Korea has become a cautionary tale, a reason why the world can apparently never change, an example of how people can apparently never let go.
So look at Korea if you want reasons why the world can't change. If you're feeling a little optimistic, just get the latest update on the moronic conflict between north and south - that should kick you back down into your pit of despair and hopelessness. If you need a reason why not to feel guilty about this world we live in, then look to Korea - it'll give you a fresh dose of relief and justification so that you feel comfortable retreating back into a state of ignorance.
Because really, if Korea can't change then how can the rest of the world?