A Korean Tragedy

by fulltimestudent 32 Replies latest jw friends

  • fulltimestudent

    Even before the election of the Workers Party to government in the North, th Soviet administration had permittee a number of reforms (by the short-lived Korean Peoples Republic). Any Korean who had collaborated with the Japanese was thrown out of office. In March 1946, a \land reform program had been implemented. The large tracts of land owned by the traditional Korean aristocracy (about 5000 landlords) and any land acquired by Japanese individuals or companies was confiscated ( individuals were allowed to keep approximately 12 acres) and redistributed to peasant families.Most landowners had already fled to the American occupied south, so the land re-distribution was accomplished without much violence. Major industries were confiscated by the state. Labour reforms (an 8 hour day, social security insurance, pay increases, equal pay for men and women) were also implemented. Generally, Korea, Old and New: A History notes that the reforms were carried out by Koreans and reflected the spirit of the Korean People's Republic.

    A Soviet-US Joint Commission (established to work toward a single provisional Korean government first met in 1946 and also in 1947 but it was soon clear that little progress was going to be made, because of the differing views of the north and south. In the north Kim Il-sung had emerged as a potential leader and it seems he set about establishing control of both the Workers Party and a Soviet backed 'Interim People's Committee' set-up in February 1946. Later in 1946 a military corp was initiated that would eventually become the DPRK's Army.

    In the south, the American Military Government brought Syngman Rhee (who had spent many years in the USA) to Korea. Rhee had a reputation as a patriot (and you may recall had been tapped as the head of the Korean People's Republic and was also a fervent anti-communist and was soon denouncing anyone who wanted to work with the Korean People's Republic, and any Korean communist group (in the south or the north).

    The American Military Government made an effort to establish a moderate 'centrist' political group, but in the fast polarising political situation, there was little support.

    Given all those developments it soon became impossible for any UN sponsored move to establish an independent Korean government.

    The North reflected the leftist spirit of many Koreans, who had long dreamed and fought for a socialist state, while in the South an alliance between those opposed to such a move, wealthy business men, southern landowners, northern landowners who had lost their landed estates, and former collaborators with the Japanese Colonial Administration was soon seeking control of the south's political aspirations.

    Both groups claimed to represent all Koreans. Both groups were soon talking about using force to achieve a 'unified' Korea, a situation developed is precisely what we still see on the Korean Peninsula.

    In May 1948, elections were held in the south, the new National Assembly adopted a constitution and on August 15 of that year, the 'Republic of Korea' ( i.e. South Korea) was proclaimed, Syngman Rhee became President.

    The north's reaction was to hold their own elections on August 25, and proclaimed the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' with Kim Il Sung as premier in September. Both of these governments adopted an attitude that there were the only legitimate government of Korea.

    A little later in 1948 the USSR occupation army withdrew from north Korea, and in June 1949 the USA withdrew their military forces. Both states began to talk of a forced reunification with increasingly violent rhetoric, (somewhat like the Kim Jong-u - Donal Trump exchanges of late).

    What can we say now after all these events, was the fate of that one opportunity for a unified Korea that existed in 1945 - the Korean People's Republic? Its fair to say that in the north, it was subverted by the USSR and the combined Korean Communist Party/Korean Worker's Party and Kim Song I.

    In the south, it was ignored by the American Military government and atrophied away.

    But just how did the war that started in 1945 develop?

  • fulltimestudent

    For those to whom the subject is compelling, you may be interested in this book that will be published early next year:

    If you wonder just how the situation in the Korean Peninsula has degenerated to where it is today, with both sides wasting words calling each other names, you may find the book to be interesting (when released in early 2018).

    Whether or not you like Noam Chomsky, it is hard to disagree with his recommendation for the book.

    Quote: "The failed invasion of North Korea by US-led forces in late 1950 and the unrelenting three-year long bombing campaign of North Korean cities, towns and villages – ‘every thing that moved [and] every brick standing on top of another’ – help explain why the Pyongyang regime is, and always has been, determined to develop a credible nuclear deterrent. As Alistair Horne once said so wisely ‘How different world history would have been if MacArthur had had the good sense to stop on the 38th parallel.
    The first Korean War became the first of America’s failed modern wars; and its first modern war with China. It established the pattern for the next sixty years and marked the true beginning of the American century – opening the door to ever-increasing military expenditure; launching the long era of expanding American global force projection; and creating the dangerous and festering geopolitical sore that exists in Northeast Asia today. Washington has not learned the lessons of history and we are reaping the consequences.
    ‘Perceptive and compelling – often heart-rending, sometimes downright terrifying – this is a richly informed study…The lessons are all too pertinent in today’s toxic political climate, with Korea once again a centerpiece and victim.’
    Noam Chomsky"

    The author, Michael Pembroke, is a judge in the Supreme Court of New South Wales (Australia) and has travelled extensively through Asia. His father was an Army platoon leader in the Korean war, who was awarded a Military Cross for a singular military action.

    In 2016 he travelled through North Korea from the Yalu River on the Manchurian border to the demilitarised zone in the south. His research has taken him to Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Washington DC and Cambridge. Later this year, he will take up a position as a Director’s Visitor at the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.

  • fulltimestudent

    There seems little doubt that Kim Il-sung as head of the DPRK actually ordered the invasion of the south on June 25, 1950, and we should attempt to understand the factors that led him and his colleagues to make that decision.

    The USA’s government is reasonably open, it may not always seem transparent, but in time most archival information is released to the public and is available to scholars. That was not the case with either the DPRK not the PRC at that time, not the USSR of the time period, But since the collapse of the USSR, much more archival information has become available from the extant Soviet Archives in contemporary Russia. It is possible to trace the conversations that discussed the DPRK’s belief that they could invade the spout, and most importantly why Kim Il-sung believed he would win and so re-unite all of Korea.

    By early 1950 the north had a reasonably well equipped army, mostly supplied by the USSR, probably from the large pool of Soviet equipment left over after the Soviet’s successful (and very short) war against Japan. Moreover in late 1949, tens of thousands of well-trained and experienced Koreans, who had been fighting in the Chinese civil war between the GMD and the CPC, were able to return to Korea. Naturally, and irrespective of their original home area in Korea, they chose to return to the DPRK. Their leadership were likely to be gung-ho about the chances of victory over the south.

    We should balance the DPRK’s attitude with that of Syngman Rhee’s administration and his generals. Both Rhee and his generals spoke openly about re-taking the north by force. Most of the south’s army leadership had been trained in the Japanese Army and were likely quite confident in their ability to win a war with the north. And, many of the brief military conflicts (incursions into the north) that had been occurring along the border are believed to have been initiated by the south In that kind of atmosphere both sides likely believed that one day, the other side, would make a genuine invasion attempt.

    But, perhaps an overlooked, but very likely important factor, is the fact that between the end of 1948 and June 1950 South Korea itself had experienced a violent and bloody guerilla revolt/war by native south Korean leftists on Cheju Island and in Yosu-Sunch’on in South Cholla. The revolt was unsuccessful, but we can consider that the DPRK government could have easily believed that in the ROK, there were large numbers of leftist thinking Koreans that would rise up in revolt once and invasion commenced.

    So irrespective of whether or not either the USSR or the PRC actually approved the invasion, (although it seems certain that neither Stalin or the CPC would have said No!), Kim Il-sung seems to have believed he could win and that he should make the first move, rather than letting the south make the first move.

    And, Kim was likely feeling he’d made the right decision as the north’ blitzkrieg attack overwhelmed the ROK army, and in three days took Seoul, and by early August had the ROK military confined to a small pocket of land around Busan.

    Any elation was however short-lived. America’s MacArthur and his quite brilliant decision to make an amphibious assault on Inchon (near Seoul) would have ended the north’s hopes of an early and total victory. By the end of September the combined western and ROK armies were once again in control of Seoul, and, because of (I think) MacArthur’s quite understandable decision to continue heading north saw his forces coming close to the border with China, which in turn was likely to have been causing some late nights in Beijing, where the leadership would have been pondering American intentions.

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