Stella Young Yee Shin

Ethics of Development in a

Global Environment

December 2001






No Longer Forgotten: North Korea-South Korea Relations Since the Korean War


            The Korean War, which broke out on June 25, 1950, is often referred to as the “forgotten war.”  Although it involved a total of 26 nations and resulted in dividing a once homogeneous nation in half and shedding the blood of over 6,000,000 people, it has failed to gain significant public recognition or support in comparison to other wars of similar scale.  In recent years, however, much of the world’s attention has been shifted towards the Korean peninsula as North Korea experienced ups and downs in its relations with South Korea and the United States.  In addition, hopes for reunifying the divided peninsula have provoked cultural and sociological responses from both the North and the South.  Although obtaining primary resources from North Korea would be difficult, I have included the results of a sociological research on the attitudes of South Koreans towards post-war North Korea.  Also, the September 11 incident has unexpectedly redirected much media focus on North Korea-United States relations as the United States is trying to make a clearer distinction between its allies and enemies.  Various speculations regarding the future of the peninsula exist, and I have recorded interviews with renowned experts in this field. 

            The key aim of my paper is threefold: one, to provide a historical framework chronicling the major milestones during and after the Korean war; two, to present a recent sociological research on the South Koreans’ attitude towards North Korea conducted by leading Korean scholars; finally, to forecast the future of North Korea’s relations with its estranged Southern neighbor and the United States.  There is a deeply personal motive for devoting so much of this paper into the historical aspect of the Korean War as well.  Although I was born and raised in South Korea, I had very little knowledge about the war as my education was entirely based on a Western system.  Gathering historical details taught me a great deal about the implications of the war, and for the first time I feel that I have learned something substantial about my country’s history.  

            Today, the Korean peninsula remains the only divided nation in the world, the only region to be separated by a cold war.  What is truly important does not rest on the mere remembrance of past tragedy—the mission of this research is to get something out of the story and learn from it; to explain why this had to happen, why a nation had to be split in two and turn neighbors into enemies.  



Historical Background

            Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.  Considering the fact that it permanently divided up a nation once so strongly united in ethnic pride and resulted in the greatest ever number of casualties in war history, the Korean War has received relatively little international attention.  For instance—it took more than 30 years after the war for the United Kingdom, who ended up with the highest number of casualties after the U.S., to set up a memorial monument.  Whereas the Vietnam War was immortalized by countless Hollywood productions, the Korean War faded away slowly from people's memories.  However, recent talks between North Korea and the United States and efforts between North Korea and South Korea to come to peaceable terms have cast more light on the tragic event that historians often call “the forgotten war.” 

Korea Before the Korean War

            It was the morning of August 15, 1945.  Posters proclaiming  "Hear ye all citizens! There will be an important announcement at noon!"  were plastered all around Seoul, the capital of Korea.  Shortly after, the Japanese emperor read an official statement of surrender over the radio, and overjoyed Seoulites dressed in white spilled out into the streets.  The day of independence had finally arrived, and the nation erupted in a joyous uproar.  

Korea had endured Japan's ruthless colonization for 36 years, where men were subject to compulsory military service and women were forced to serve as comfort women to Japanese soldiers. Food had also been scarce, for it was taken away by the Japanese to fill their own food supplies. But the days of pain and humiliation have come to an end—the people of Korea have finally regained their homeland. However, their future remained quite unclear. It was still possible that Korea could fall into the hands of another country. A few days ago, Soviet troops had arrived in northern Korea, and there were rumors about U.S. troops reaching the south as well. Even under the Japanese occupation, Koreans struggled to regain their independence. Prominent Korean leaders like Kim Goo set up provisional governments in Manchuria and organized independence activities. They were even planning to declare war against Japan in cooperation with the U.S.  However, this plan was never carried out because World War II ended faster than expected, with the U.S.'s launch of atomic bombs. The situation of France gained worldwide attention when the Resistance attacked Germany with the United forces, but Korea remained unnoticed because plans to attack Japan were never actually carried out.

Meanwhile, the Japanese viceroy in Korea proposed a compromise to the national activists. He offered to hand over public security control to the Koreans in return for the guarantee that the Japanese living in Korea will be safe.  The Korean national activists turned the offer down, so the viceroy proposed the compromise again, this time to Communist leader Yeo Un-hung. Yeo agreed to the compromised and was granted control of national security. On August 15, with the declaration of restoration of independence, the Committee for Preparation of Foundation was established, and preparations went underway for the new, independent nation.

On September 8th, about a month since the Soviet Union[1] started making preparations in North Korea, U.S. forces arrived in Inchon.  Upon receiving Japan's declaration of surrender, the U.S. forces took over control of South Korea. The Stars and Stripes quickly replaced the Japanese flag, foreshadowing the U.S.’s control over South Korea which would last for the upcoming 3 years.  After Japan's surrender, U.S. forces celebrated this occasion with Soviet forces at the 38th parallel. Since they had met each other before in Europe during WWII, they felt quite comfortable with each other.  However, in spite of the former camaraderie, they were no longer allies. Now, the U.S. was a leading capitalist nation equipped with nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union was a major Communist force with a formidable military force of its own.  There would come to be more friction between these superpowers, and this period of time would later be known as the Cold War.   

The U.S. and the Soviet Union decided to put the Korean peninsular under a trusteeship after the Moscow Agreement, but Korean nationalists were vehemently against this plan. While anti-trusteeship activities raged on, the "U.S.-Soviet Joint Council", which was established to organize a system of government in Korea, was terminated due to differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  In September 1947, the U.S. handed over the dilemma of governing the Korean peninsula to the U.N. The U.N. opted against putting Korea under a trusteeship, but decided that there should be a fair regional election in both North and South Korea.  In response, the Soviet Union protested that the U.N. had no real right to deal with this problem and refused to let an U.N. council organized to oversee the elections enter North Korea. As a result, the U.N. decided that only South Korea should hold elections, and that the first election should occur before May 31, 1948.

  Finally, on August 15, 1948, after 35 years of Japanese occupation and 3 more years under the rule of a foreign country, the people of Korea rejoiced the founding of their very own nation.   Under the direction of President Rhee, the ROK was now ready to face the world.  Although President Rhee was determined to reunify the divided Korean peninsula, he continued to push strong anti-Communist policies.  Meanwhile, in the north, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) was established under the leadership of Kim Il-Sung.  The North Koreans claimed that their government was the only one established by legal measures, but the December U.N. Conference in Paris affirmed that ROK was the only legal government on the Korean peninsula. 

Economically, the North had a far better start than the South.  They were blessed with abundant natural resources and numerous heavy industries.  They were more advanced in terms of national security as well, for the Soviet Union supplied them with weapons and other military equipment.  In addition, towards the end of 1949, Korean soldiers who had fought in China's Civil War came down to North Korea and joined their army, strengthening it even more.

On June 29, 1949, the last of the U.S. troops withdrew from South Korea.  Many Koreans were against their leaving, but all of them, with the exception of 500 military advisors, departed the nation from Inchon port.  Although the U.S. and the Soviet Union have been regarded as key factors in the division of the peninsula, their presence were also what had prevented war from erupting between the two Koreas.  Now that the two Koreas were on their own, the prospects of war became more imminent.  By 1950, nervous tension had escalated on both sides of the peninsula.  The U.S. no longer had the monopoly in nuclear weapons since the Soviet Union successfully tested its atomic bomb in September 1949.  Also, with China's officially becoming a Communist nation, the Cold War deepened even further.  South Korea was plagued by internal problems as well.  There were numerous skirmishes along the 38th parallel between the North and South, along with the North's plan to introduce Communism to South Korea.  In May, feeling that war was just around the corner, Present Rhee declared the following:

“We just received reports of North Korean troops gathering around the 38th parallel.  There is very little we can do at this point.  The U.S. has one foot on South Korea and the other outside, so that if conditions become unfavorable for them, they can just get up and leave."


War Breaks Out

  The Korean War began as a surprise attack in the wee hours of June 25, 1950.  The North Korean troops had launched their operation “storm”, an all-out attack on the South without any declaration of war.  It surprised the whole world that was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II just 5 years ago.  Up to that point, the North and South had experienced some clashes along the 38th parallel, but such an all-out surprise attack was never expected in the Southern camp.  Not only was the South Korean army unprepared, but it was also inadequately equipped to face a sudden attack. 

The North Korean troops attacked the South from 3 directions: east, central and west. The

strongest of the attacks, originating from the west, was mainly to capture Seoul. They also seized Uijong-bu, a gateway just north of Seoul.

The news of the attack immediately reached Washington, followed by a more detailed telegram from the U.S. embassy in Seoul.  It reported that the North Korean attack was an all-out invasion over the whole front line along the 38th parallel.  The following day, the U.N. Security Council was called by urgent request from the U.S. and agreed to call upon North Korea to stop their military actions and withdraw to the north of the 38th parallel line immediately.  The Council also adopted the decision that all the member states of the U.N. should support the South and not aid the North by any means.

 In spite of the passing of this decision, North Korean troops continued their march into the South and reached the outskirts of Seoul. The South Korean government asked the U.N. for stronger measures, and the Security Council adopted a new decision that the U.N. would provide South Korea with all necessary aid including military action against the Northern aggressors.

The U.S. decided to dispatch their military forces to the Korean peninsula, and President Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur, the Chief Commander of the Far East U.S. Armed Forces to mobilize their sea and air forces to help South Korea. The U.S. troops were feeling quite confident about the war, believing that their mere presence would frighten away the North Korean troops.  However, the U.S. Armed Forces suffered a major defeat.  Not only was Seoul, the capital of South Korea seized by June 30th, the U.S. forces lost 150 out of 540 soldiers from a single battle.  Realizing that the North Korean army was more dangerous than they had ever imagined, the U.N. formed the first-ever ruling organization authorized to hold real power.  It was also decided then that troops dispatched from different countries would come under the control of U.S. forces.      A total of 16 countries agreed to dispatch troops into Korea, and 5 other countries offered medical aid.  U.N. troops sent a total of 341,000 soldiers including 1 land troop, 2 other armies, 9 divisions, 3 brigades, 8 infantry regiments and their volunteers.

The war raged on, with bloody battles such as the Battle of Young-san at Nakdong River and the high-risk Operation Chromite.  With strategic, aggressive maneuvers by MacArthur and his troops, the South Korean army was able to recapture Seoul and land more victories.  The North Korean army continued its counterattacks, but it was clear that its losses had taken a serious toll.  Just when it appeared that South Korea would emerge as the victor, a new enemy entered the battle scene: The Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong.  On November 1st, the Chinese army launched a full-scale attack on the western front line, and on the following day, China made an official announcement that it was now involved in the Korean War.

Chinese attacks caused a severe blow to U.N. troops.  The Chinese troops were very different from the North Korean troops, whose tactics were now quite familiar to the U.N. troops.  The Chinese attacked from the front of the U.N. camps while blocking all supply lines as well as probable paths for retreat. They also launched surprise attacks from the rear.  In addition, they hid out in the forests during the day and attacked by night, and they distracted their enemy with bugles and gongs. They often set the forest on fire so that the enemy air force could not find them in the smoke.  Such strategies bewildered and frightened the U.N. troops.  In one attack, an American troop wascompletely surrounded by the Chinese and barely survived.  These losses so worried the Security Council that it suggested an armistice, although President Truman insisted on stronger countermeasures. 

Finally, President Truman decided that the war would continue, but that the U.S. would not turn to drastic measures such as using atomic weapons.  Accordingly, he  declared a state of emergency in the United States and vowed to strengthen their military power.     Meanwhile, the Chinese army continued to pose a major threat to the U.N. forces.  The western front line, which was situated in Seoul, was forced to retreat all the way to the 38th parallel due to Chinese attack.  However, by early 1951, under the direction of new Commanding Officer Ridgway, the U.N. air forces gained unexpected momentum and weakened the Communists’ attacks.  Severe battles were ignited once again.  Allied forces resisted Communist manpower with effective use of weapons. Gen. Ridgway launched numerous bombs on industrial areas and major cities like Pyongyang and Wonsan to cut their supply lines.  In January of 1951, the allied troops launched a counterattack and recaptured Suwon.  The Chinese responded with an all-out attack in February.  This time, however, the U.N. forces defeated their attack without much difficulty.  As the situation improved for the allied forces, the U.S. started considering how to complete the Korean War.  President Rhee and Gen. MacArthur both insisted on taking the war a couple steps further, fearing that another war would erupt if measures weren't strong enough.  However, the U.N. member states that participated in the war insisted upon an armistice.  They felt that enough sacrifices had been made and also feared that the Korean War would erupt into another World War. They made it clear that they would withdraw their forces if U.S. troops advanced beyond the 38th parallel line.

On March 15, 1951, U.N. troops recaptured Seoul, and the war shifted to their favor.  The member states' pressure for armistice became even stronger and finally, Truman decided to follow their suggestion by negotiating with China.  General MacArthur received this news with shock, and a few days later, without consulting the U.S. government, he delivered a sharp address to the Chinese and offered an armistice to the Chinese Commander-in-Chief.  Along with this, he made a critical remark about Truman's policies.  President Truman was outraged by MacArthur's behavior and relieved him from office on April 11.  Finally, on June 30, the newly promoted Gen. Ridgway offered to discuss a cease-fire, and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and Chinese commander Peng Teh-Haui accepted the offer.  Although the truce talks were often interrupted by accusations of violations and other obstacles, necessary agreements were eventually made and prisoner of war lists were exchanged.  The Korean War, which had ravaged both sides of the peninsula for two years and six months, was finally ended on July 27, 1953 with the signing of a cease-fire agreement.  The Korean War had taken the lives of some 6 million men and women, but no definite conclusion was reached.  Besides the violence and the bloodshed, everything had come full circle.  In the midst of all the chaos and international politics, the victims of the war were ultimately the Korean people.[2]

Aftermath and Significance of the Korean War

Since World War II, countries around the world in general have opted to follow either American-led capitalism or Soviet-led communism.  The 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula has served as a good example of this.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union divided the tiny peninsula in half, with the U.S. taking the south and the Soviet taking over the north.  The division brought about tremendous changes, especially in the psyche and morale of the Korean people.  Men and women who were once neighbors became bitter enemies, for no specific reason other than that they now held different beliefs.  This animosity reached a level where war was inevitable, and many believe that the U.S. and the Soviet fueled the war in an attempt to extinguish each other.   

The Korean War is also remembered as a “limited warfare”(Lee) in the following ways:

1.  The war had limited boundaries. 


All battles took place on the Korean peninsula, and no other country was directly         



2. Attack targets, especially aerial targets, were limited.


The U.S. did not allow any attacks near the Soviet and the Chinese boundaries, and China was hesitant to launch aerial attacks on South  Korea.  This was because the countries involved in the Korean War did not want it to turn into another World War.

3.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union refused to face each other directly, though they did counter one another through the Korean War.


4.  The use of weaponry was also limited.


The U.S. and the Soviet both possessed nuclear weapons, but neither actually     used them in the war.


5.  The U.S. and the Soviet both fought with Korean troops or troops from other nations.


The U.S. used South Korean troops and U.N. troops from 15 member countries.  The Soviet Union fought with North Korean and Chinese troops. 


6.  The purpose of the Korean War was limited and not fully understood by                  many. 


Although the U.S. and the Soviet fought the battle fiercely, they both ended up exactly where they had been before the war.


(Lee 85-87)


It is difficult to calculate just how much damage had been done to the Korean peninsula.  Different research institutes show different numbers, but an exact amount has yet to be reached.  But roughly, the death toll for the R.O.K was around 2,000,000, and for the D.P.R.K, about 2,900,000.  In addition, the U.N. troops lost the lives of 150,000 soldiers, of which 140,000 were Americans.  The Chinese Army lost nearly 900,000 soldiers. 

The combined death toll of the R.O.K and the D.P.R.K amounted to 5,000,000, which is one-sixth of the entire population of the Korean peninsula at that time.  Also, most of the victims were civilians, which is a rare tragedy in modern war history. 


The war also caused heavy economic losses—the socio-economic status for both nations plummeted.  For North Korea, industrial production was reduced by 60%, agricultural output by 78%, and 600,000 houses, 5,000 schools, and 1,000 hospitals were destroyed.  For the South, some 900 factories and 600,000 houses were wiped out, and countless civilians, including war orphans, roamed the battle-stricken city in hunger and despair.  However, the greatest loss of all was the loss of love and human dignity in the people's spirits.  The war had planted seeds of hatred and fear in the hearts of North and South Koreans, and those who were once neighbors were now bitter enemies.    

After the Korean War, North Korea worked hard to resolve internal conflicts that had been disrupting the region even before the war.  Everything was now centered around Kim Il-sung, the supreme dictator, and intensive educational programs were launched to make North Korean citizens wary of their Southern neighbors and the U.S.  Kim Il-sung was deified, and every aspect of daily life came to revolve around him.  In an attempt to rebuild the economy, North Korea began to focus on heavy industries.  However, this policy faced serious problems. North Korea was severely lacking in their labor force because a large number of people died in the war or took refuge in the South.  To counter this, the North Korean government set up new policies which included the following:

First, rapid industrialization was to be the main goal.  Second, they needed to raise specially-trained professionals.  Third, women's labor force was to be better utilized, and fourth, infant mortality rate had to be reduced by new, more effective health programs. 


In addition, policies regarding reunification were also revised.  The North Korean government came to realize that reunification through war was impossible.  Instead, they planned to topple the democratic South Korean government by starting a revolution within South Korea.  Politically, North Korea became closer to China, while its relationship with the U.S. and the U.N. worsened dramatically.   North Korea opted for a "closed-door policy" towards all nations except those with Communist governments.  Citizens continued to base their daily life and system of values around Kim Il-sung. 

In recent years however, with the downfall of communism, change has been inevitable for North Korea.  Its once-shut doors have started to open, and new reforms are being introduced.  In recent times, North Korea has shown this change through “Najin-Sunbong Economic Reforms” and “Mt. Kumgang Tours.”

(Eberstadt 47-49; 100-102)

(Cumings 371-374)


Whereas North Korea recovered relatively quickly, the South was still amidst chaos and disorder.  The South Korean government had confidently declared, "If war breaks out, we'll eat lunch in Pyongyang (North Korean capital) and eat dinner in Shinuiju (northern region of North Korea)!”(Lee 28).  But in reality, South Korean politicians were too busy securing their own safety to really help the citizens.  The incompetency of President Rhee's government raised doubts among many. 

To make matters worse, the flood of refugees from the north only heightened the chaos even more.  In the midst of all this, the South Korean army emerged more powerful than ever from the war and eventually took over the nation.  They ruled the republic in typical military fashion.  This military regime did have some advantages.  For one thing, their skills and experiences from the military could be easily adapted to politics.  Also, their rigidity and self-discipline prevented corruption scandals and strengthened national security.  

However, placing the country under military rule had its disadvantages.  The society was somewhat constricted, and matters such as human rights and freedom of expression were unconditionally denied.  The military government even tried to justify their dictatorship by taking advantage of the shaky North-South relationship.  But in any case, they improved the R.O.K's economic status significantly, and the nation underwent rapid industrialization. 

Today, South Korea is not the nation it had been 50 years ago.  The war orphans who had roamed the streets 50 years ago have stood up to rebuild their lives.  They have stood up to build houses and factories, to pave new roads, to manufacture equipment and to rebuild the nation.  In recent years, the R.O.K has grown faster than any other country in the world, and as a developing country, it was the first nation (along with Mexico) to stage the Olympic Games.  

Effect on Other Nations

The Korean War gave many Western nations a reason to strengthen their military power.  The U.S. increased their national defense budget by nearly 5 times from the end of WWII to the end of the Korean War.  The U.S. Air Force set up bases all around the world, and the U.S. Marine Corps started building ships that can carry nuclear weapons.  At the beginning of the Korean War, nuclear weapons numbered only about 400; this figure shot up to 1000 by the end of the war.  Meanwhile, Capitalist nations of the West realized that they had to come together in order to protect themselves from Communist invasions. NATO, based in Western Europe, grew in power and unity. 


Japan also emerged from the war with added gains.  The U.S. decided to develop Japan to maintain security in the Far East.  Japan was allowed to stock up on weapons, and it received aid from the U.S. to build new factories.  Japanese industries, which have been struggling since Japan's defeat in WWII, now grew and flourished.  Japan's vertical growth seemed to know no bounds, and this period of development played a key role in shaping Japan into the powerful country it is today. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. believed the Korean War to have been part of the Soviet's "red conspiracy" and began the witch hunt for communist sympathizers.  Possible targets like Rosenberg were executed, and all others who were suspected of holding communist views were banished.  As shown in these examples, the Korean War aggravated the already-tense relationship between Capitalists and Communists, deepening the Cold War.

The Korean War affected the Communist nations quite a bit as well.  When war broke out, China was a fledgling nation, barely 1 year old since its foundation.  The Chinese have struggled for over 10 years to build their own nation.  Eventually, they succeeded in driving U.S. backed Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang to Formosa (present-day Taiwan).  Although many issues remained unresolved in China, some believe now that Mao had used the Korean War as an opportunity to take care of these issues.  He expelled all those who were against him and strengthened his regime.  In addition, the Korean War influenced China's foreign policies in numerous ways.  China was branded by the U.N. as an "invader," hurting its diplomatic relationships with many other countries.  It was only admitted into the U.N. in 1971, 20  years after the end of the Korean War.  The war had stimulated the growth of Capitalism, but at the same time, it thwarted the course of Communism.

Recent Conflict between the North and South

Even after the cease-fire in 1953, all was not well on the newly divided peninsula.  The R.O.K. and D.P.R.K continued to regard each other as an enemy and potential threat to the well-being of their nation.  On August 18, 1976, two U.S. Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers in the joint security area in the truce village of Panmunjom, where they had been trimming trees.  What started out as an argument between the U.S. soldiers and North Korean soldiers over the permission to cut the trees had escalated into more bloodshed.  After the incident, U.S. President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger strongly protested to North Korea in a statement and ordered the U.S. commanding post in Korea to place its troops on combat-ready status (DEFCON 3). In the meantime, the U.S. began to relocate a fighter-bomber squadron and a marine unit from Okinawa to Korea, while ordering 2 carriers, Ranger and Midway, to move into Korean waters.  Eventually, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, as the supreme commander of the North Korean People's Army, sent a written apology to the head of the U.N. commanding post. The commanding post and North Korea began talks from September 1 and agreed to draw a borderline dividing the joint security area into the south and the north, as well as to hold independent responsibilities for maintaining their respective areas.

Many more lives were sacrificed due to the political enmity between North Korea and South Korea.  On November 28, 1987, a Korean airliner carrying more than 100 passengers exploded over the Bay of Bengal with no survivors.  It was soon discovered that the explosion was actually a meticulously planned terrorist act carried out by two top-notch North Korean agents.  One of the agents, who survived, confessed that her and her partner had planted a time-bomb, hidden in a radio set and a liquor bottle, in the overhead compartment of the plane so that the plane would explode mid-air.  She added that they committed the terrorist act after being directly ordered to do so by Kim Jong-il, for the purpose of hindering the 1988 Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Seoul.

 Nearly ten years later, on September 18, 1996, along the Tonghae Expressway in Kangdong-myun, Kangnung City, a taxi driver spotted 2 suspicious figures and a stranded vessel and reported this to the police.  The stranded vessel turned out to be a small North Korean submarine, so the South Korean army and police quickly began clean-up operations.  During this operation, the police confiscated 4,380 items including rockets used in battles, M-16 and AK rifles, and forged identification papers. They also seized steersman Lee Kwang-su, a high-ranking North Korean official, and discovered the bodies of 11 agents, presumed to be shot dead for botching up their operation.  The South Korean army began search operations to seize the rest of the North Korean team, who had fled the scene.  Though they found and killed 13 North Korean agents, 11 South Korean soldiers, 2 police officers, and 4 civilians were also killed.  According to Lee Kwang-su, who was captured alive, the submarine team had been part of the 22nd naval troop for espionage operations in the South.  Twenty-six of them had penetrated into South Korea in December 1994 using a 300-ton submarine to collect information about Kangnung Airport and the Yong-dong power generators.  Their mission was to gather information about the South Korean army to prepare for war, and to assassinate key politicians attending a nation-wide event in Kangwon-do. 


In another similar incident which took place on June 22, 1998 at around 4:33 PM, a North Korean submarine was caught in a fishing net off the coast of Sokcho, Kangwon-do.  Tangled helplessly among squirming mackerels, the submarine was swiftly captured and dragged to Tonghae shore the next day by a South Korean marine troop.  The submarine contained the bodies of 9 North Koreans, including technicians and intelligence agents.  The submarine used in this operation was a sophisticated, high-tech vessel, designed to evade radar detection.  It was an ideal vessel for espionage missions, weighing 70 tons and measuring 20m by 3.1m.  This was the first time that a North Korean submarine penetrated South Korean waters since the September 1996 incident in Kangnung. 

These incidents proved to the South Korean public that North Korea may appear open and even friendly on the outside but that they have been actually planning for an all-out attack.  Even during the 1996 Kangnung Incident, economic relationships between the North and the South had been progressing, with South-funded construction projects going underway in North Korea.  Since 1953, North Korea had aggravated North-South relationships with attacks along the DMZ and with their armed espionage missions to South Korea.  Since 1970, there has been 309 of such incidents, and since 1990, 15 more.  These aggravations have been a disappointing reflection of the two different faces of the North Korean government.

Hope, and On the Road to Recovery

In recent years, South Korea has sought to improve its political relations with North Korea in various ways, one of them being cultural means.  For the upcoming 2002 WorldCup championships, which South Korea and Japan are co-hosting, the South Korean committee has been encouraging the North to participate in the games through proper measures.  Also, the committee is considering ways to stage some of the games in North Korea as well.  From the public point of view, many Korean citizens are hoping that the WorldCup tournaments would be an opportunity for the North and South to put aside their political differences and come together as a friendly team.

Media portrayal of North Korea had come a long way since the 1960s as well.  What had once been an exaggerated and often hateful depiction has changed into a warmer, more compassionate portrayal.  A few of the highest-grossing South Korean movies have been about North Korea-South Korea relations, ranging from a love story between two agents in “Swiri” to a tragicomic tale of a hapless North Korean agent in “Agent Rhee Chul-Jin.”  In both blockbuster films, North Korean agents and civilians are empathized and even romanticized. 

On a sociological sphere, there seems to be even more hope for the divided neighbors.  I conducted an interview with Professor Gi-Wook Shin from the Sociology department at Stanford University, in which he told me of his research on the “ethnic homogeneity-national unification thesis” and the South Koreans’ stance on reunification.  In basic terms, the thesis states that the divided Korean peninsula must and will be reunified because the Korean people have been ethnically homogeneous for a thousand years (Shin).  According to his research, South Korean citizens regard themselves as a homogeneous race, and they believe that they are all united under a common ancestry.  Professor Shin conducted this research because whereas the ethnic homogeneity-nation unification thesis has been popularly held among citizens, it has not yet received empirical scrutiny.  Indeed, the quantitative findings in his survey were consistent with popular belief.  In a nationwide, randomly-sample survey conducted by a leading Korean research firm, results indicated the following:

-                          93% of respondents “strongly agree” or “agree” that their nation has a single bloodline.


-                          83% of respondents consider Korean descendants living abroad, even though they are legally citizens of a foreign country, still belonging to the han race (common ancestor).


-                          South Koreans hold a positive view of North Korea in many respects.

o       91% of respondents see the North as having less pollution.

o       67% of respondents feel that the North maintains and preserves tradition better than the South.


-                          At the same time, South Koreans are critical or wary of the North Korean state and system.

o       82% of respondents believe that North Korean civilians are victims of the Communist regime.

o       62% see national division as a consequence of Kim Il Sung and his Communist government.


-                          Finally, 80% of respondents feel that the North and the South must form a unitary nation-state, and 71% believe that reunification would mean the recovery of hanminjok, or ethnic homogeneity.


(Shin 23-26)


Prospects for the Future: North Korea, South Korea, and the United States

 since September 11th


            A popular prediction these days is that North Korea-United States relations will be back in the spotlight, as soon as the dust clears away a bit from the September 11 incident.  Since his declaration of war against terror, U.S. President Bush has been making a concerted effort to draw a clear distinction between allies and enemies, as reflected in his famous quote: “you’re either with us or against us.” Experts foresee Washington reconsidering everything—including a much harder line on any and all that qualify as pariah states.  In response, the North Korean government has stated that it is completely against all forms of terrorism, as well as retaliation against terrorism itself.  On November 6, 2001, the North Korean Foreign Ministry announced that North Korea would “sign the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and accede to the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages”(Korean Government Homepage).  However, the North Korean government has also spoken sharply against the U.S. attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Rodong Shinmum, a major North Korean publication, has told the public that “blood only brings more blood” and has even criticized South Koreans for making a show of support towards the U.S. 

In addition, the North Korean government has expressed its discontent at still being considered a “rogue state” to the U.S.  To this day, North Korea continues to consolidate the principles of socialism in its government, economy, and education.  It is common to see the North Korean media urging the easily-fascinated younger generation boycott U.S. goods and ideas.  It is interesting to note, however, that they are far more accepting of South Korean influences, and sources claim that South Korean products such as television sets and instant noodles are even glamorized as luxury items.  In a nutshell, the North Korean attitude seems to be cold and wary towards the West, but warmer towards its southern neighbor.

Experts in North Korea-South Korea relations have mixed opinions about the future of North Korea.  According to Professor Shin, one must consider the outcome of South Korea’s next presidential elections which will take place in 2002.  Although the current president, Kim Dae-Jung is vocally pro-reunification, it is difficult to tell whether his successor would have the same stance.  Since provincial divisions and rivalry are a big deal in South Korea, a new president elected from a different province as Kim may hold drastically different views in all political matters. 

I was also fortunate enough to talk to Dr. John Lewis at CISAC at Stanford, a longtime expert on North Korea-U.S. relations.  He started out by saying that not much has happened in North Korea since September 11 on an international level, but that the incident “created a slightly better context of what is to happen.”  Dr. Lewis also informed me about the difficulties in bridging the relationship between North Korea and the U.S. due to President Bush’s distrust of North Koreans.  Bush “dislikes and distrusts” the North Koreans and is extremely wary that they would breach future agreements with the United States.  I found this to be consistent with how pro-unification groups in South Korea are not as supportive of Bush as they were of Clinton in dealing with North Korea.  In conclusion, the future of relations between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States seems rather ambiguous and unpredictable.  Advancements such as friendly talks and agreements are outweighed by unspoken doubts and overly cautious stances.  The good news is, however, that one thing is clearer than ever: both North Korea and South Korea have warmed up towards each other significantly, and people believe that a lot of hope exists for the two nations.  Even though reunification may not be feasible in the next few years, both sides can definitely count on increased communication and peace for the near future.  They have indeed come a long way, a long, 50-year-old winding road towards a vision of hope and peace. 







The Korean War: A Brief Timeline





June 25: The North Korean People’s Army crosses the 38th parallel and invades South             

               Korea (Republic of Korea).  The UN Security Council calls for a withdrawal of     

               North Korean troops, and the UN Secretary-General announces, “This is war

               against the United Nations.”


June 27:  UN Security Council calls for its members to support South Korea. 

                US president Harry S. Truman commands US Air Force and US Navy

                 to help South Korea. 


June 28:  North Korean troops capture Seoul; first combat missions over Korean flown

                by the US Air Force.


July 3:  North Korean troops capture Inchon.


July 7:  General Douglas MacArthur is appointed Supreme Commander of United

             Nations Command in Korea.


July 20:  North Korean troops seize Taejon.  Major General William Dean is taken



 Aug 10:  Warren Austin, UN delegate from the US, states that the goal of the UN is

                the unification of Korea.


Aug 17:  US Marines attack No-Name Ridge, gaining the first military victory of the UN



Sept 28:  UN forces recapture Seoul.


Oct 1:  South Korean troops cross the 38th parallel; Gen. MacArthur calls upon North

            Korea to surrender.


Oct 19:  UN forces capture Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.


Oct 25: Chinese forces, under the order of Mao Zedong, begin their offensive in Korea.


Dec 5:  Chinese troops capture Pyongyang.






Jan 4:  Chinese and North Korean forces capture Seoul.


Feb 1:  UN General Assembly labels China “aggressor.”


Mar 15:  UN forces recapture Seoul.


Apr 11:  President Truman relieves MacArthur as Supreme Commander of UN

              forces and replaces him with General Matthew Ridgway.


May 20:  UN forces halt the Chinese offensive.


June 30:  General Ridgway offers to discuss a cease-fire.


July 1:  North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and commander of the Chinese force

             Peng The-haui agree to cease-fire talks.


July 10: Truce talks begin in Kaesong between the UN delegation and the Chinese/North

              Korean delegation.


Oct 25:  Second attempt at truce talks, this time at Panmunjom.


Dec 18:  Prisoner of war lists exchanged.




May 7:  General Mark Clark replaces General Ridgway as Supreme Commander of the

             UN forces.


June 10:  American troops use force to put down the prison riot by Chinese and North

               Korean POWs at Koje Island.


Oct 8:  UN leaves truce talks until China and NK accepts its proposal on the POW



Nov 4:  Dwight Eisenhower elected president of the USA.




Mar 28:  China and NK accepts the UN proposal to discuss the exchange of wounded and

               sick POWs.


Apr 20:  Operation Little Switch (exchange of sick and wounded prisoners) begins.


Apr 26:  Truce talks resume again at Panmunjom.


June 9:  Agreement reached on POW exchange, but the South Korean National Assembly

             rejects the truce.


June 14:  Chinese and NK troops launch major offensive in eastern Korea.


June 18:  SK president Syngman Rhee order that 28,000 prisoners in NK be freed and

               returned to SK.


June 20:  China and NK accuse UN of complicity in the freeing of prisoners and leave the

                truce talks. 


July 8:  China and NK agree to Gen. Clark’s proposal that the truce talks resume without

             SK participation.


July 11:  President Rhee agrees to support the truce.


July 27:  The cease-fire agreement is signed and the Korean War ends.


Aug 5:  Operation Big Switch (exchange of prisoners) begins.


























Casualties from the Korean War










































New Zealand




North Korea












South Africa




South Korea




Soviet Union












United Kingdom




United States



















Information and statistics from


Map of the Korean Peninsula






Works Cited


Cumings, Bruce.  The Origins of the Korean War (Vols. I and II).  Princeton: Princeton

            University Press, 1990.


Cumings, Bruce.  Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship, 1943-1953. 

            Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.


Cumings, Bruce.  War and Television.  London: Verso, 1992.


Eberstadt, Nicholas.  The End of North Korea.  Washington D.C.: The American

            Enterprise Institute Press, 1999.


Foster-Carter, Aidan.  “Could North Korea be in the Firing Line?”  Pyongyang Watch.

            27 Sept. 2001. 30 Oct. 2001 <>.


Higgins, Holly.  “Stay the Course on North Korea.”  Institute for Science and

            International Security.  7 Mar. 2001.  1 Nov. 2001 <



Lee, Won Bok.  The Korean War (Parts I and II).  Seoul: Dong-A Publishing Co., 1997.


Lewis, John.  Personal Interview.  20 Nov. 2001.


Noh, Jae-Hwan.  “North Korea-U.S. Relations Clearing Up?” 14 Nov. 2001



“Pyongyang Report: Korean People Show Deep Interest in U.S. Attack on Afghan.”

            The Pyongyang Report.  14 Nov. 2001 <



Oh, Young-Jin.  “Sunshine Coming Out of the Clouds.”  21 Oct. 2001 <http://www.



Research Institute for New Korea.  27 Nov. 2001


Internet Homepage of the Association of Korean Historical Studies.  27 Nov. 2001



Shin, Gi-Wook, and Ho-Ki Kim.  “Ethnic Identity and National Unification: Korea.”

            Diss. University of California, Los Angeles, 2001.


Shin, Gi-Wook.  Personal Interview.  20 Nov. 2001.


“Withdrawal of U.S. Troops Urged.” KCNA.  30 Oct. 2001 <



















[1] All references to Russia in context of the Korean War will be to Soviet Union, its former title, for the sake of historical accuracy. 

[2] All historical information and statistics included in this section are from the following sources:

                Lee, Won Bok.  The Korean War (Parts I and II).  Seoul: Dong-A Publishing Co., 1997.

                Cumings, Bruce.  The Origins of the Korean War (Vol. II).  Princeton: Princeton University Press,


                Cumings, Bruce.  Child of Conflict.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983. 

                Research Institute for New Korea.  27 Nov. 2001

                Internet Homepage of the Association of Korean Historical Studies.  27 Nov. 2001