Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's the deal with Korea?

I've been hearing that a lot lately, what with the current tensions and threats and bullshit going back and forth.

Boy, is this a whopper of a history story!
People think Vietnam was bad, but in a lot of ways the Korean conflict was worst.
In 3 years approximately 5 MILLION people were killed (soldiers and civilians) in the Korean War.

How possession has changed . . .

And all for what? We're still struggling with the same issues in a country divided.

It all went down during the Cold War (in its simplest form: post-WWII tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Russia), and is commonly known as the first troop actions of the Cold War.

Since 1910, Korea was a colony of Japan's Empire.  But because Japan was the enemy of the U.S. and Russia in WWII, it was a case of to the victor go the spoils, so after the war these two countries were like "gee, what should we do with this country..?"

At the Cairo Conference they decided to "free" the people of Korea (from Japan's rulership)
via a trusteeship, which is this weird theory the UN came up with after WWII ensuring (in theory) that countries once ruled by other countries were taken care of in a way considerate to their population and world peace at large.
In Korea this trusteeship meant getting the country ready for a provisional government, and eventually on the road to independence.
Russia got to handle North Korea and the U.S. got the South, because when the Russians arrive in Korea they only occupied the Northern section, so the Americans were like
"cool, we got the South yo."

There wasn't an official division yet, so a couple young aides working for the U.S. State Department checked out a National Geographic map of the country and noticed the 38th parallel divided the country neatly in half, while leaving the capital (Seoul) on the American side.
No one with a brain in their head or anyone knowing that historically this is the exact location that Japan and Russia had previously discussed dividing the country was consulted.

They had elections set up but the Russians didn't dig the idea of having elections for both sections of the country and thus this epic division began.
The Koreans didn't really like it either, and protested the trusteeship in the South.
The military in the South responded with destruction (killing protesters and burning villages).
These people's uprisings were going on the entire time the Korean War was happening.

In the South, the dictator was Rhee.  He was an anti-Communist that converted to Christianity while in prison (for protesting the Japanese occupation of Korea), hung out with Teddy Roosevelt once, and got degrees from George Washington University, Harvard, and Princeton.
In other words, he was super-Westernized and America was like "ok, we'll put up with him."
He was the secretary in charge of the YMCA at one point for crying out loud.
But... he also repressed people and was a pretty corrupt little bastard.
Korea from space (2012).
You can see how different the countries are.

The North had Kim Il Sung, a Communist dictator, one of those cult-of-personality leaders.
He was also involved in actively protesting the Japanese.  People have alleged he was a pretty big guerrilla fighter, and he ended up joining the Red Army to finish out WWII.

Although these two dictators had different supporters and motives, they both wanted to keep the Korean peninsula together (though each still have their own governments).
At this point, North Korea was heavily armed by the Soviets, but the U.S. refused to bulk up the abilities of South Korea's army because they thought they were playing it safe and maintaining order.

As you can imagine, this happy-go-lucky idea of "if you don't give them more guns, everyone will be friends!" did not work.

Before the war even really started, it is estimated that 10,000 people had already been killed because of Northerners going over the border and starting it up with Southerners, and vice-versa.

Tension was running high.
In the summer of 1950, the South Koreans could not hold the North Koreans at the 38th parallel, and the next day Rhee was going "shit! The Korean People's Army of the North is going to make it to Seoul and wreck it. I'm getting the hell out of Dodge..erm, I mean Seoul!" So he tried to hide the fact that the KPA was invading, and he jetted.
As soon as he got out, the South Korean military blew up the main bridge, essentially trapping Seoul's citizens from fleeing the oncoming army from the North.
So the KPA occupied Seoul and Rhee was like "well Busan is the new Seoul! I'll just start my dictatorship over from down here..."

But most of the people did not like this notion, because as I mentioned before, Rhee wasn't the best guy.  Plus he left his peeps behind to flee to safety on the coast and then still expected to be re-elected.
So guess what he did?  He had a mass arrest carried out and nabbed all of the officials opposing him.
So he did get re-elected, though for the wrong reasons.

When the North Koreans crossed the border in force, the United States had freaaaaaaaaked out and did the same nervous chant that they used again during the Vietnam War:
(you have to say this the same way Chicken Little says "the sky is falling!!!!")
"They're going to come to South Korea, and then they'll hook up with the Chinese, and we all know about those Russians, and then India and Pakistan and Iran and Turkey and Europe and then they'll get in a damn rowboat and cross the Atlantic and then.... THEY'LL BE IN AMERICA. And we will be DONE FOR.  Pinko Commi BASTARDS!!"

That Truman Doctrine, I tell ya...
This is the speech (below) where Truman summed up how America is the policeman of the world.
And we've been suffering for it ever since.

Truman actually though about dropping an atomic bomb on Korea. He loved those things.
The reason America got so involved was because of the position of Korea--in between Russia in China.
They thought a democratic, anti-Communist stronghold would be a protection against the spread of Communism, and who else to ensure this stronghold remained shored up than the good ole' U.S. of A??
Korea was a big stand, in other words.
A last stand, in the view of some.

Plus, this was in the wake of WWII and a lot of the bigwigs involved in the handling of Korea were nervous about letting any army invade any other country (even if it was their other half), because they let Hitler get away with it for a while in Europe and by the time they stepped in, shit was BAD.
They didn't want to let the mistake of appeasement happen again, and result in WWIII in less than a decade after WWII ended.
So Truman raised his voice against "this SERIOUS breach of peace!"

And then a whole lotta fighting went down.
The KPA from the North murdered the Intelligensia of South Korea and
General MacArthur (the American General of the Korean War)
was all "Kim Il Sung, WTF?? This is your fault!"

Then the Battle of Inchon, which is another story in itself... and the South Koreans got Seoul back.
The KPA withdrew into the North and Stalin went "DUDE, YOU GUYS SUCK!"
MacArthur was like "Let's get those Commi bastards!!" and wanted to go into China to destroy the supplies the Chinese were giving to the North Koreans, but Truman sent him a memo that basically said "too damn bad, don't you dare cross that 38th parallel."

MacArthur KNEW that if we didn't cross the 38th parallel then, we'd be back.
We would end up fighting the Koreans again.
And he was right--look where we are today.

Truman fired MacArthur by the way.

And the war never really ended (no peace treaty, just a vague cease-fire), we just pretended to end our direct involvement with it.
The U.S. is still ever-present in Korea, and in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South.
Tensions are high.
Remind me why the U.S. is there again..???

Oh yeah, policing the world. Thanks Truman.

This is the DMZ today.  Guarded ALL.THE.TIME.


And THIS is the famous 38th parallel.
Who knew crossing one line of cement could warrant such intense international implications???
And I'm sure you've heard of how differently people live from North to South.
North Korea's economy is underdeveloped, their people malnourished, and they won't accept aid from anyone. They are incredibly secretive and paranoid.
Only 150 Westerners are allowed in the country every year. Journalists are not allowed and even if you go in on a tourist visa, they assign you "minders" that they call "guides" who are actually body guards on behalf of the country and watch you every minute.
They have electric fences on the beaches, 3 newspapers, and 1 radio, and 1 TV station for the whole country.  As you can imagine, all forms of communication are restricted and whatever they churn out is propaganda-oriented.
In Korean movies, the antagonists are Americans, and there are towering statues of their Shining Leader everywhere. They are taught (and then preach) that North Korea is the best at everything.
They look down on anything they deem "reactionary."
And they sure hate the West, America especially.
And now, for a second time, North Korea has declared active war.
That said, they do enjoy their warmongering.
That that said, the U.S. has the right to operational control of South Korea's military in event of war.
Not exactly a recipe for success.
Especially when you consider the nuclear weapons.
 Yesterday they made a formal announcement:
"We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK (North Korea) and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified."
You cannot deny this is kind of terrifying, even knowing that warmongering is a beloved past time of North Korean politicians.
They don't have much of a nuclear arsenal, but I'm not sure how concerned they are with consequences.  Intimidation is a priority for sure.
Anyhow, this post is already far too long. But when someone asked me "dude, what is up with Korea?!" I had to provide a decent answer.
Here's hoping we survive the year--2013 is shaping up to be pretty alright!

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