May Peace be in Korea
We inherit our world. To understand a country, or countries, it is important to know their story - how they came to be where they are today. Understanding leads to compassion, and reconciliation.
‘North Korea’, is frequently in our news – refusing to follow international demands to stop weapons testing amid fears that they will become a nuclear power, in particular, because the country’s leadership are considered unpredictable and dangerous. Why does the Democratic People's Republic of Korea so ardently pursue weapons capability? Why do they not acquiesce to global pressure?
Korea, in its undivided state, existed from the 14th Century. For most of this period, the Joseon Dynasty, it was treated as a state of China but exercised full sovereignty. The first 2 hundred years (1392-1592), in particular, were peaceful, with benevolent rulers and significant advances in education and science.
Korea’s current predicament is rooted in the empire building of the 1800s. Japan, through a series of ‘treaties’, made Korea independent of China and annexed Korea in 1910. Pushing out the Russian Empire, which sought to expand its trade interests in Korea, in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Japanese rule exploited the Korean land and people, along with many other countries in Asia. Korea was not recognised nor supported, internationally, as an independent country.
In 1943, The Allies decided Japan should lose all land taken by force. At the culmination of World War 2, 1945, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) rapidly advanced south through Korea. Concerned that they would occupy the whole country, the United States of America (USA) occupied southern Korea. Without consulting experts, or Koreans themselves, it was agreed to divide the occupation of Korea along the 38th parallel. This was to be temporary, with the intent of a united, independent and self-governing Korea. The USSR, the Republic of China, the USA and the UK were all assigned as trustees of Korea in the lead up to independence.
However, differences in the occupying policies, the separate governments they formed, their polarised politics and economics (Communist vs. pro-Western), the escalating Cold War and thereby the inability of the USA and USSR to agree, all entrenched the division. In 1947, the United Nations (UN) monitored election was rejected by the USSR because of the perceived USA influence, and the USSR proposed withdrawal of both occupying forces, allowing the Koreans to form their own government, was rejected by the USA. Korea became a victim of the Cold War wrangling, for global dominance, between the USA and USSR.
On both sides of the line, the intention was for a united Korea. Conflicts began along the border (1948-1950), escalating into the Korean War (1950-1953) when the USSR-supported Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) army invaded the south. The UN sent a USA-led force to support the Republic of Korea (ROK), moving the fighting back northwards. As threatened, when the fighting re-crossed the 38th parallel, into the North, the People’s Republic of China joined in support of the DPRK army, pushing the fighting southwards once more. All sides wished to reunify Korea, but only under their own political ideology.
The war ended in an uneasy truce, lasting to this day, with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. This agreed a new border, reflecting territory held at the end of the war. This ‘line’ is now a 4km-wide strong border, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, riddled with landmines and dotted with watchtowers. Both governments declare themselves the legitimate leader of Korea as a whole.
The Panmunjon Declaration (April 2018), signed by both leaders, offers hope of a reunified Korea. Agreed areas of improvement include reuniting separated families, reconnecting roads and railways across the border, ceasing hostile (military) activities, a disarmament programme and denuclearisation.
May Peace be in Korea!
We cannot be held responsible for the world that we inherit, but our choices, our actions, make the world we leave to future generations. We can envisage a better future.
May Peace Prevail on Earth
If any of the information contained in this brief history is incorrect, please let us know.