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Liberation of Korea

In: Historical Events

Submitted By xinun
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Korea had been a colony of Japan since 1910. Along with the surrender of Japan in the World War II in 1945, the colonial period that had lasted for 35 years ended. As one can imagine, Korean people were extraordinarily happy when the Japanese announced surrender, since they could eventually get rid of the harsh days – of the language deprivation that they were forced to abandon Korean and adopt Japanese, and of family members having been sent overseas to serve the Japanese in all manners including being comfort women, and so forth. However, they did not know the Liberation was the start of another catastrophic period of time. The political vacuum engaged the United States and the Soviets who then occupied the peninsula, and caused a series of aftermath including the division of the nation which so-far seems to be permanent, and the tragic Korean War which lasted for four years. This essay briefly discusses the issues that took place in the period of 1945-50, after the Japanese surrender and before the Korean War that broke out on 25th June, 1950.
A multilateral trusteeship of postwar Korea was suggested by the United States to the Soviets at the end of 1943, during the World War II. And when Japan signaled the intention of unconditional surrender to the World War II on 10th August 1945, the United States proposed temporary division of Korea along the 38th parallel of latitude for political and military purposes. The Soviets were in Korea fighting Japan at the Japanese surrender, while the United States, under the leadership of General John Hodge, took almost a month to manage to land on Korea on 9th September. Regarding to the temporary division of Korea, the United States itself, with the surprise of the agreement of the Soviets, would control the south part where the capital, Seoul, and a bigger portion of the population were located, and the Soviets would control the north part.
The two powers founded a Joint Commission around three months later. That was a temporary governance to negotiate how to establish a unified provisional Korean government which would grant Korea full independence ‘in due time’. However, the two powers had different will on how to rule Korea, and the divergence was deepened that the aim of establishing a unified provisional Korean government was not able to be achieved: the Soviets was determined to create a Soviet-oriented Korean nation and the United States wanted to create Korean government which was favorable to its own interests.
Apart from the Joint Commission, the ruling manners toward Korea of the two powers were different which led to different path of development of the two separated Koreas. On one hand, the Soviets recognized the people’s committees that formed under CPKI. It also let Koreans run the government while the Soviets itself would control in the background. The people’s committees purged Japanese and Korean collaborators from the cabinets and carried out a series of political and social reforms such as thorough land reform, nationalizations of major industries, new labor laws and promotions of women rights and gender equality. And the People’s Interim Committee was formed under the leadership of Kim Il-Sung in May of 1946.
On the other hand, the United States did not recognize the government of the Korean People’s Republic (KPR) which was formed earlier on 6th September 1945 by the people and in place of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) that established by General Hodge since he was warned before arriving Korea about the subversion of local Communist authority. Compared to the north, the situation in the south was in contrary that the social and economic reforms carried out by the USAMGIK did not meet the expectations of the people and drew a contrast with that in the north. The USAMGIK was also not enthusiastic in encouraging labor unions which it viewed that as hotbeds of Communist activity. (Robinson, 2007: 107-108) As a result, the disappointment and dissatisfaction of the people in the south were boiled over into acts. In September 1946, sparked by a demonstration in the southern port in Pusan, people performed a general strike which provoked massive demonstrations in other southern cities. This kind of discontent did not seem to happen in the south. The Joint Commission did not function effectively since the relation between the United States and the Soviets was going downwards. The original intention of establishing a unified provisional Korean government was no longer a mutual aim of the two powers. Eventually, the southern government, Republic of Korea (ROK), led by Syngman Rhee, and the northern government, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), led by Kim Il-Sung, were respectively inaugurated on 15th August 1948 and 3rd September 1948. It has been more than sixty years already and the unification is still not yet accomplished. After the establishment of the separate governments, the Soviets and the United States withdrew their forces from Korea. In the first years of the states, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic Korea has dissimilar evolution. Social revolutions were carried on in the DPRK while political instability took place in the south. In the DPRK the people were provided with better living standard and all sort of political rights and liberty, such as the law on equal rights of women, the land reform and the nationalization of former Japanese industry, and ordinary working people are elected deputies to the people’s assemblies of all levels. The DPRK could be viewed as a liberal state. In ROK, however, there was turbulence. Since the Liberation, the conflicts between left-wing and right-wing had been chronic. The suppression of communist and left-wing organizations was not manifest, but eventually it triggered a major rebellion, the Cheju Rebellion in summer of 1948. It began with demonstrations against the separate elections announced in South Korea. The demonstrations were suppressed, but insurgents fighting from mountain caves in the interior began a guerrilla war against the police. The ROK National Police and army suppressed the insurrection with great difficulty and brutality. It turned out an indeed serious one that it took a whole year to pacify and fully one-seventh of the entire population died and half of the Cheju Island’s villages were destroyed. Then in fall 1948, Yosu Rebellion which was indirectly caused by Cheju Rebellion took place. The immediate source of the rebellion was the mutiny of several units within a contingent of troops awaiting transport to participate in the suppression campaigns on Cheju Island. They simply refused to participate and began their own rebellion, which controlled and captured large areas in the southwest before the rebellion was suppressed (Robinson, 2007: 111-112). Under different government, North and South Korea have been developing in two very different ways. North Korea is now a rare survival communist country which owns an undisclosed number of nuclear weapons, while South Korea is as well a strong nation that is listed as one of the Four Asian Tigers. The huge gap of their political governance manner has made the unification unlikely. If the United States in 1945 did not decide to involve the Soviets in the trusteeship of Korea, possibly Korea is presently already one peace nation that can develop and maintain its economy with the facilities that were left by the Japan. Anyhow, if the unification will take place someday, it will not merely be the internal political affair of the Korea peninsula, but will also involve both internal and external issues such as the North and South Korea identification and the involvement of other nations such as the United States, the Soviet and China. Like the division of Korea in mid-1940s, it was never going for its own will.

Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, New York: Norton, 2005, chapter 4.

George M. McCune, Korea Today, New York: American Book-Stratford Press

Jong-Wha Lee, Economic Growth and Human Development in The Republic of Korea, 1945-1992, Occasional Paper, No. 24

Michael Robinson, Korea’s Twentieth Century Odyssey: A short history, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007, chapter 5.

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