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The History of North and South Korea

A nation's separation goes deeper than a line on a map; it splits the hearts of its citizens. People unified for generations are now divided and forced to acknowledge the political division over the bond of language, history, and culture. The Korean peninsula was a united territory ruled by the Joseon dynasty for more than 500 years, beginning in 1392 after the Goryeo dynasty fell. Even though North and South Korea are on the same peninsula today, they remain two distinct nations.

The regional language remains Korean (though the North speaks a more orthodox version). They celebrate the same holidays, enjoy spicy food, and respect their elders; however, the differences between the countries undoubtedly outweigh any similarities.

The Kim dynasty's dictatorship has governed North Korea since 1948. The country is also 50 years behind global infrastructure development standards and has over one million men in the military (thanks to forced conscription). On the other hand, since the early 1960s, the South Korean economy has grown dramatically. South Korea was transforming itself from a poor agrarian society to one of the world's most industrialised nations at the time. This expansion was primarily driven by the development of export-oriented industries and an abundance of highly skilled and educated labour, which was aided by strong government support. The purpose of this article is to explain the history of Korea's division.


The Division of Korea

Korea was occupied by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and formally annexed five years later. It suffered under Japanese colonial rule for 35 years—until the end of World War II, when it was divided into two nations. Allied leaders questioned the fate of Korea after Japan surrendered during WWII. The leaders agreed that Korea would be liberated from Japan but placed under international trusteeship until the Koreans were deemed ready for self-rule. So, after 35 years, Korea was no longer under Japanese control, but the freedom was short-lived. On the same day that the Japanese left, the Soviet Union invaded Korea.

The Soviet Union supported the North, while the United States supported the South, separated by the 38th parallel. This assisted in dividing the country into two equal halves running east to west along the 38th parallel. In 1947, the United Nations oversight elections in both the North and South in order to form a single democratically elected government. There was a significant lack of trust, and the election could never take place. The Soviets obstructed the elections in the North, instead supporting communist leader Kim II Sung as the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). In the South, where the US supported Syngman Rhee as the leader of the Republic of Korea, the situation was similar (ROK).

The Korean War (1950–1953) was the first military conflict of the Cold War. It represents that reuniting the country was impossible. The invasion of South Korea was triggered by 75,000 North Korean People's Army members on June 25, 1950. The Korean War was a conflict between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), in which at least 2.5 million people died. It was also a civil war that became a proxy war between superpowers fighting over communism and democracy. The differing political ideologies within Korea were further polarised by the influence of the region's respective superpowers; the Soviets backed communism, while the US represented capitalism.

The war reached international proportions in June 1950, when North Korea invaded the South, aided and abetted by the Soviet Union. The United Nations, led by the United States, entered the war on the side of the South Koreans, while the People's Republic of China aided North Korea. After over a million combat casualties on both sides, the fighting ended in July 1953, leaving Korea divided into two hostile states. Negotiations in 1954 resulted in no further agreement, and the front line has been accepted as the de facto border between North and South Korea ever since.


Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.


References/ Further Reading

Bajpai, P. (2020). Why North Korea and South Korea Are Separated. [online] Investopedia. Available at:

Imperial War Museums (2018). A Short History Of The Korean War. [online] Imperial War Museums. Available at:

Khyatee Shah (2019). Why Is Korea Divided Into North And South? [online] Science ABC. Available at:

Pruitt, S. (2019). Why Are North and South Korea Divided? [online] HISTORY. Available at:

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