The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
North Korea’s hatred toward the West and toward the United States in particular, is not a creation out of the mind of its current dictator, Kim Jong Un. Its roots lie in the bloody war of 1950-1953. Wars dotted Korea’s history for centuries, not unlike Europe’s history. And like Europe’s wars, technology heightened wars’ deadliness.
Prior to the 20th century, Korea suffered invasions by Mongols, Chinese and Japanese. The Korean Empire was annexed by Japan in 1910, and remained under Japanese occupation until Japan’s defeat in 1945 in World War II. As the war’s victors, the United States and the Soviet Union divided the Korean peninsula between themselves. Dean Rusk, an Army colonel at the time and later Secretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, drew a straight line along the 38th parallel. The Soviets occupied Korea north of that line, and the U.S., the south of that line.
By 1950 the peninsula had become two dictatorships. The south, headed by Syngman Rhee, with support from the U.S., became the Republic of Korea. The Soviets installed Kim Il Sung as the communist dictator in the north, which took the name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Soldiers of both states were involved in cross-border skirmishes. Such battles took the lives of nearly 10,000 north and south soldiers before war began.
On June 25, 1950, Kim Il Sung invaded the south in order to reunify the peninsula by force. The push south was repelled and reversed when General Douglas MacArthur landed U.S. troops to repel the invasion. China joined the battle when U.S. troops came close to Korea’s border with China. After three years, with neither side making lasting headway, the battles ended with an armistice that was never followed by a treaty of peace. North and South Korea remain in a state of war.
The number of dead left by the war has been estimated as low as two million and as high as five million. The majority of those killed were reportedly in the north. According to a recent Washington Post article, the U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of bombs and 32,557 tons of napalm in Korea, more than was dropped in the entire Pacific theater in World War II. General MacArthur intended to destroy “every installation, factory, city, and village” in North Korea.
Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader since 2011 and grandson of Kim Il Sung, feeds his people a steady diet of hate and reminders of what the U.S. did in the Korean War. He mixes memories of the horrors of war with blame for his country’s current economic conditions. The confrontation prompts comparison with other former U.S. enemies.
In World War II Japan’s civilian population was struck by the most destructive bombs ever used in warfare. Those bombs brought an end to military battles, surrender and a peace treaty in 1951. Japan adopted a pacifist constitution, democracy and alliance with the U.S., and Japan received massive assistance to rebuild. North Korea’s war ended without a peace treaty, it became a dictatorship and aligned itself with communist China and Russia, and its economy is devoted to military preparations. Vietnam was targeted with far more napalm than North Korea, and although it has chosen communism, it established diplomatic relations with the U.S. 20 years after the war ended. A trade agreement followed in 2000.
The comparisons make a case for diplomacy and cessation of hostility in the interests of all parties.