Refugees during the Korean War

Storm over Korea Part I

On March 26, 2010, the naval vessel “Cheonan” suddenly sank near the informal sea border between North and South Korea. 46 South Korean soldiers followed in the depths. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has set up an international commission of inquiry. It determined that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo. Since then, there have been storms between the two Korean states, with military exercises and war threats. The crisis has also led to quarrels between the United States and China.

  • What is the difference between the two Korean states?
  • Where did the “sunshine policy” go?
  • Will the two Korean states be reunited?

2: The sun that did not shine bright enough

Everything looked so bright ten years ago. In June 2000, South Korean Liberal President Kim Dae Jung paid an official visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. There he was warmly received by “dear leader” Kim Jong Il, who had taken over power from his father, “the great leader” Kim Il Sung, when he died in 1994. The democrat from the south and the dictator in the north agreed on a national reunification plan . Their country had been divided into a Soviet and an American occupation zone by the end of World War II, and by 1948, Communists and anti-Communists had each established a republic in the north and south.

With the blessing of the Soviet Union and China, North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950 in an attempt at reunification. It failed when the United States, with the support of the UN Security Council, decided to intervene and save the republic in the south. Since World War II, no war has had as many casualties in one year as the Korean War in 1950 (between 400,000 and 750,000). The fronts waved back and forth. Most killed were Koreans and Chinese, but many Americans also lost their lives.

Towards the end of the year, troops dug themselves down along a front at 38 degrees latitude , roughly where the border was from before the war, and the major offensives of 1951 failed. In 1953, the parties agreed on a ceasefire. It was still valid when Kim met Kim in 2000, and has not since been replaced by any peace agreement. Large forces are still ready on either side of a demilitarized zone so that they can continue the Korean War at short notice.

Kim Da Jung received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his ” sunshine policy “. Instead of freezing out North Korea or trying to break Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship, he wanted to bring the North Koreans into the heat through extensive economic and cultural intercourse. The hope was that Kim Jong Il would eventually feel secure enough to carry out economic and political reforms. According to SUNGLASSESWILL, North Korea had lagged far behind South Korea in economic development and in 1997-98 went through a terrible famine that killed as many as two million people.

Today, we can see that the sunshine policy failed , although Kim Dae Jung’s successor as President of South Korea in the years 2004–07, Roh Moo Hyun, continued the policy of his predecessor. However, it had some positive effects: Kim Jong Il allowed families who had been separated from the war fifty years before to meet. He had a tourist area in the north established and an industrial zone where low-paid North Korean workers worked for South Korean companies. Many North Koreans then discovered how much better the South Koreans were.

Apparently, Kim Jong Il was inspired by the communist states of China and Vietnam to allow some reforms, but then he tightened again. North Korea remained a personal dictatorship with a command economy in which the military seized a far larger share of gross domestic product than in any other country, probably 20-25 percent. Kim Jong Il chose to rely on the country’s generals and in 1994 launched the so-called songun or military-first policy . The military should always have first priority.

At the same time, another head of state helped to undermine sunshine policy: US President George W. Bush. He openly hated Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship, calling North Korea, Iraq and Iran “the axis of evil .” The response from North Korea was nuclear weapons. It would deter the United States from attacking militarily, Kim Jong Il probably reckoned. Bush attacked Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein, who had no nuclear weapons. With the help of atomic bombs, Kim Jong Il could count on avoiding the same fate.

Probably the United States did not intend to attack North Korea militarily. Instead, Bush accepted an invitation from China to enter into six-party talks on Korea with Japan, Russia and the two Korean states. There were endless rounds of partial agreements, breaches of agreements, breaches of negotiations and new talks. At the same time, North Korea developed and tested long-range missiles. The country acquired its first bombs and carried out test explosions in 2006 and 2009.

Refugees during the Korean War