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Lesson 10
The Two Koreas
Part I: The Korean War
Study Plan & Contents
Study Plan
This part deals with the Korean War, its origins, its progress, and
its aftermath.
Study Contents
Underground activities of the South Korean Workers’ Party
On the eve of the war
The War and Aftermath
Underground Activities of the
South Korean Workers’ Party
As the separate governments are established in North and South
Korea, the Soviet occupation forces in the North withdrew in late
1948, and the U.S. troops in the South followed suit in June 1949.
The South Korean Workers’ Party, the underground communist
group in the south, challenges Syngman Rhee’s Republic of Korea
by fomenting sedition and armed rebellion (such as that at Yosu
and Sunchon in 1948).
Although he is an uncompromising anti-Japanese nationalist,
President Syngman Rhee resorts to reemploying some of the
experienced colonial police collaborators in order to crack down on
the underground activities of the communists.
On The Eve of War
In October 1949, Mao Zedong’s People’s Army triumphs over Chiang Kai-shek’s
Nationalist forces in the Chinese Civil War.
The fact that the U.S. did not get involved in the Chinese civil war is duly noted
by Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung & Park Hŏnyŏng plan to subdue
the Republic of Korea by force.
They were further encouraged on January 12, 1950, when U.S. Secretary of
State Dean Acheson told the National Press Club in Washington that Korea was
outside the U.S. “defense perimeter” in the Pacific.
As for the origins of the Korean War, some scholars with a pro-north Korea bias
had contested the fact that Kim Il-sung had started the war. But the documents
from the Soviet archives made public in the 1990s clearly establish that Kim Il
Sung obtained Stalin’s approval of his war plan prior to invading the South.
On The Eve of War Cont’d
According to these documents, Kim implored Stalin and his diplomats in March,
August, September 1949 and January 1950 to authorize an invasion of the
South. (“The Two Koreas,” Don Oberdorfer).
On at least two occasions in 1949, Stalin turned down Kim’s requests, but the
documents establish that in early 1950 he approved Kim’s war plan due to the
“changed international situation.”
Soviet military advisers soon arrived with weapons and equipment. The North
Korean forces now included 10 combat divisions, a tank brigade, and a
motorcycle regiment equipped with 1,600 artilleries, 258 T-34 tanks, and 172
airplanes. The ill-equipped 100,000 men of the South Korean Army were no
match for them.
The War
From June 10 to 19, 1950, seven combat divisions of the North Korean People’s
Army moved to the 38th parallel for their ‘war of liberation.’ In the early dawn of
June 25, 1950, the North Korean troops launched a surprise attack by crossing
the 38th parallel. As an official excuse for its invasion, North Korea claimed
retaliation against an imaginary “full-scale South Korean attack.”
The North Korean forces, strengthened by Soviet aid, immediately overwhelm
the South Korean defense, capturing Seoul in only three days and advancing
rapidly southward. Against North Korea’s expectations, however, the United
States acted swiftly. On the 25th (New York time, a day after the invasion), the
UN Security Council, convened at the request of the United States, adopted a
resolution to condemn North Korea’s actions. A second resolution was adopted
to send troops to help repel the aggression. U.S. navy and air force were
dispatched on the 27th and ground troops on the 30th. Fifteen other nations also
sent troops to join the UN Forces led by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.
The War Cont’d
Gen. MacArthur. Seoul was recaptured. On September 30 the U.N. forces
poured across the 38th parallel and continued to push northward, before long
capturing Pyongyang and advancing to the Yalu River.
The UN and South Korean armies continued to retreat down the Naktong River
line, which bordered the southwestern tip of the peninsula. However, the tide
was turned by the successful amphibious landing at Inchon on September 15,
orchestrated by Gen. MacArthur. Seoul was recaptured. On September 30 the
U.N. forces poured across the 38th parallel and continued to push northward,
before long capturing Pyongyang and advancing to the Yalu River.
But the fighting took a sharp turnabout with the intervention of Communist
Chinese armies.The U.N. forces for a time retreated to positions south of the
Han River, but then the Communists were driven back above the 38th parallel,
suffering huge losses in the process.
The War Cont’d
U.S. President Truman, who, like Stalin, did not want to escalate the conflict
into the third world war, relieved General MacArthur, who had urged the
bombing of Manchuria to retaliate against the Chinese communists.
The fighting gradually fell into a stalemate, and eventually (on July 27, 1953)
an armistice agreement was signed by General Clark, commander of the UN
forces in Korea) on one side, and Kim Il Sung (commander of the Korean
People’s Army) and Peng Dehuai (commander of the Chinese Volunteer Army)
on the other. President Syngman Rhee vehemently opposed it. But the United
States appeased the South Korean leader by signing a mutual defense treaty in
October 1953.
The War: Aftermath
The Korean War was a holocaust in terms of human casualties. The suffering
that it caused was cruel beyond expression.
The war cost a great number of human lives.
In the North, 2,720,000 were reported dead or missing (including 500,000
soldiers killed in battle and more than 1 million civilian casualties). 1 million
of the missing North Koreans are assumed to have migrated south).
In the South, 1,330,000 dead or missing (237,686 military casualties; about
half a million civilians abducted to North Korea; about 600,000 civilians
dead or missing).
U.S. casualties: 33,629 killed, 103,284 wounded, and 9 missing.
Other UN force casualties: 3,143 killed, 11,532 wounded, and 525 missing.
Chinese Volunteer Army: 116,000 killed, 220,000 wounded, and 29,000
missing (actual casualties assumed to be greater).
The War: Aftermath (Cont’d)
The war devastated both halves of a country that had only just begun to
recover from four decades of Japanese occupation and the sudden shock of
division. South Korea’s property losses were put at $2 billion, the equivalent of
its gross national product for 1949; North Korean losses were estimated at only
slightly less.
But the damage wrought by the Korean War cannot be measured in material
terms alone. The war produced many separated families, who are still unable to
have free reunions and has made reunification of the Korean nation, which had
been one country for almost 1,300 years, an even more remote possibility.
The War: Aftermath (Cont’d)
On the other hand, the Korean War helped greatly bolster Syngman Rhee’ s
legitimacy and enabled him to lead a strong centralized government with his
party winning a majority in the National Assembly. It also empowered him to
carry out a constitutional revision to provide for direct presidential election.
On the diplomatic front, the war enabled South Korea to form a strategic
alliance with the United States, leader of the Western bloc. And the United
States has since made a significant contribution to modernizing the Korean
military, educational and bureaucratic system.
The Korean conflict was considered the prototype of a limited war in that none
of the big powers used the nuclear weapons available to them, and the United
States refrained from attacking Soviet or Chinese territory.
Internationally, the Korean War was a historic turning point. It led the United
States to shift decisively from post-World War II disarmament to rearmament
to stop Soviet expansionism. The war also cemented the alliance between
South Korea and the Unites States and made the United States and China bitter
enemies for more than twenty years. The battle for Korea firmly established the
cold war.
Lesson 10
The Two Koreas
Part II: Syngman Rhee vs. Kim Il Sung
Study Plan & Contents
Study Plan
The uncontested leadership of the North and South Korean leaders following the
Korean war resulted in the hardening of ideological and political lines between
the North and South. Syngman Rhee, who had a messianic belief that he was
destined to reunite Korea under an anti-Communist banner, became
increasingly autocratic. In the North, Kim Il Sung systematically purged his
political opponents, creating a highly centralized system that accorded him
unlimited power and generated a formidable cult of personality.
Study Contents
Uncontested leadership
“Autocratic democracy”
Stalinist purges & Kim Il Sung cult
Chŏllima Movement
Students & soldiers
Uncontested Leadership
In South Korea, Syngman Rhee emerged as the uncontested leader. His
charismatic leadership derived from his ardent patriotism, nepotism-free
integrity, and his unusual foresight and intellect, among other things. Moreover,
he was credited with saving the nation from the communist aggression.
A man of dual background, Confucian upbringing and American education, Rhee,
like his entourage, had innate limitations as he tried to introduce Americanstyle democracy in Korea.
As he stayed on in power for more than 10 years, his increasingly autocratic
leadership began to be challenged by his political opponents. To make matters
worse, the Rhee regime was unable to provide a solution to the rising
unemployment with the South Korean economy depending largely on
agriculture and mining.
A Student-led Revolt
To prolong his authoritarian rule, Rhee and his entourage became increasingly
autocratic and oppressed the opposition party.
Rhee is reelected to a fourth-term in office by rigging the presidential election
on March 15 in 1960.
Demonstrations to protest the rigged election began to arise in the provincial
cities. A high-school student is killed by police fire in Masan. This instigates a
student demonstration in Seoul on April 19, with about 20,000 students
shouting, “Down with dictatorship.” The police fired on them as they marched
toward the presidential office, killing more than 100.
On April 26, Syngman Rhee steps down, saying, “If the people want it, I will
resign.” Thus, Syngman Rhee’s 13-year presidency, the first Korean experiment
with a Western-style democracy, ends in disgrace.
Stalinist Purges & Kim Il Sung Cult
During and after the war, Premier Kim Il Sung consolidates his grip on the
Korean Workers’ Party by purging the three rival factions.
In October 1950, Hŏ Kai, head of the Russian-Korean faction, becomes the first
victim of the purge. The next is Kim Mujŏng, the popular general of the Yanan
Then, Pak Hŏnyŏng and his faction of the former South Korean Workers’ Party
are indicted and condemned to death on charges of spying for the Americans,
because of which the “unification war is lost.”
When Nikita Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin’s personality cult led the Yanan
faction to plot a change to collective leadership in North Korea, Kim Il Sung
brand the faction as counter-revolutionary and purge its members, thus
liquidating all dissension within the Korean Workers’ Party in March 1958.
Thus, the Korean Workers’ Party and the North Korean government come under
the sole direction of Kim Il Sung and his Manchurian guerrilla faction. Kim
proclaims a policy of juche (self-reliance) in an apparent attempt to break away
from either Russian or Chinese influence.
The Chŏllima Movement
As he consolidated his power base, Kim Il Sung now turned to the economy.
Soon after the war, North Korea nearly restored its economy through its ThreeYear Plan.
In 1957, Premier Kim launches a Soviet-modeled five-year economic plan
dubbed the “Chŏllima (Flying Horse) Movement,” a North Korean version of Mao
Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.
Contrary to the propaganda, the Five-Year Chŏllima Movement hinders further
economic growth due to its abuses of raw materials and facilities.
The aftereffect of the socialist economy such as agricultural collectivization and
industrial nationalization aggravates the situation. Nonetheless, by 1958, the
nationwide socialist reforms at various production levels are completed in North
Meanwhile, the Chŏllima Movement, initially an economic drive, is transformed
into a political campaign to consolidate the Kim Il Sung cult.
Students & the Military
In June 1960, the South Korean National Assembly adopts a new constitution
stipulating a bicameral parliamentary system, under which the prime minister is
the head of government and the president becomes a figurehead of the state.
Chang Myŏn, a U.S.-educated Catholic, is elected prime minister and Yun Posŏn,
president by the National Assembly dominated by the Democratic Party, which
was the opposition party in the Rhee regime.
The Chang administration, plagued by factional rivalries in the Democratic Party,
was incapable of solving unemployment in the cities and food shortage in the
countryside. Students, teachers, labor unions, and other interest groups took to
the streets to press their demands.
Students & the Military Cont’d
Furthermore, the students’ aspirations for national unification with North Korea
prompted left-leaning politicians to agitate.
The ideological adventurism of the students, coupled with the economic plight
of the unemployed and rural population, provides a good pretext for Major
General Park Chung Hee and his cohorts to stage a coup.
Despite his historic role in the founding of the Republic of Korea and saving it
from communist aggression, Syngman Rhee ended up as a disgraced dictator.
The April Revolution was the first in the history of Korea wherein a non-violent
uprising succeeded in overthrowing an oppressive government.
Lesson 10
The Two Koreas
Part III: ‘Korea, Inc.’ vs. Juche State
Study Plan & Contents
Study Plan
Park Chung Hee’s vision of building the nation was the modernization of the
agrarian South Korea. He implemented ambitious development plans, which
laid the groundwork for South Korea’s industrialization, often at the expense of
democratic freedom. In the North, Great Leader Kim Il Sung further
consolidates his monolithic rule with juche philosophy, which meant political
self-reliance, economic self-sufficiency, and self-defense.
Birth of the Third Republic
Great Leader’s monolithic state
Five-year economic development plans
Birth of the Third Republic
In 1961, the South Korean National Army had grown impressively to 600,000
troops that had been trained, equipped, and maintained by the U.S. aid and
expertise. Modeled after the American military, it emerges as the strongest
organization in South Korea.
Park Chung Hee, who led the coup, was a graduate of the Japanese-run
Manchukuo Military Academy as well as the Japanese Army Cadet School in
In the early morning of May 16, 1961, the junta led by Park broadcast a sixpoint pledge of their “revolution.” 1) anti-communism; 2)strong ties with the
U.S.; 3) elimination of corruption; 4) economic reconstruction; 5) competition
with North Korea; and 6)a return to duties after completion of the stated
Birth of the Third Republic Cont’d
The junta launches its ambitious First Five-Year Economic Development Plan in
1962, betraying its ambition to prolong its power.
In December 1963, Park Chung Hee, now a civilian, wins the presidential
election, and becomes the fifth president of the Republic of Korea. Thus, the
Third Republic is born.
The Great Leader’s Monolithic State
Premier Kim Il Sung, who, by purging the rival factions, had consolidated his
grip on both the party and the state by early 1957, learned to play off his
communist sponsors against each other to his own advantage as the great
communist divide between the Soviet Union and China emerged in the mid1950s.
In February 1960, Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader (Suryŏng), visits a collective
farm in Ch’ŏngsan Village of the Kangsŏ prefecture near Pyongyang, and there
he shows an example of his ‘on-the-spot guidance.’
In October 1960, the Korean Workers’ Party begins to rewrite the history of
Korean communism embellishing Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese guerrilla struggle
in Manchuria, and denouncing the “petty-bourgeois” communist activities in the
colonial Korea.
The Great Leader’s Monolithic State Cont’d
By exaggerating Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese guerrilla credentials, North Korea
also attempted to project its legitimacy viv-a-vis South Korea, where former
Japanese collaborators continued to be reemployed.
The fourth Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party was held in September 1961
and endorsed the monolithic ideology of the party. In 1962, North Korea
launched a Seven-Year Plan, encouraged by the success of the previous FiveYear Plan.
Five-Year Economic
Development Plans
President Park Chung Hee’s vision of building the nation was the economic
modernization of the agrarian South Korea.
In order to implement a series of five-year economic development plans,
President Park builds an efficiency-oriented government system, creating the
Economic Planning Board, and recruiting competent technocrats including U.S.educated economists.
Five-Year Economic
Development Plans Cont’d
To help finance the development plans, Park normalized diplomatic relations
with Japan in 1965, receiving a total of $800 million in compensation for
Japan’s colonial occupation and commercial loans. Park also decided to accept a
U.S. request for the dispatch of South Korean troops to Vietnam in return for
the U.S. supply of modern military equipment to Korea, together with a loan for
economic development.
During the First Five-Year Economic Development Plan (1962-66), the South
Korean economy registered an annual average growth of 7.8%, thanks to a
marked increase in the export of labor-intensive products such as textiles. Park
Chung Hee is reelected president in May 1967. Park runs for a third term in
April 1971. This time, he barely wins over opposition candidate Kim Dae Jung.
In the South, Park Chung Hee sets out to modernize the hither-to agrarian
country by implementing government-guided economic development plans. In
the North, meanwhile, Kim Il Sung consolidates his personality cult and adopts
juche philosophy as the guiding principle of his statecraft.
The consecutive success of the two five-year economic development plans in
the South is largely attributed to Park Chung Hee, who led the Korea, Inc., with
the help of his technocrats.