The division of Korean into South and North did not occur until the end of World War II. In 1945, the rule of Japan over Korea for 35 years ended. A part of the peninsula was occupied by the Soviet Union and the United States. The boundary was along the 38th parallel. The negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States began with the Cold War and unified Korea. Elections supervised by the UN were held in the south occupied by the UN. The election was won by Syngman Rhee and the new leader of North Korea was Kim Il-sung. This established South Korea’s Republic of Korea and was followed by North Korea’s Democratic People’s Republic. The South supported the United States while the North was supported by the Soviet Union. Both governments claimed sovereignty over the entire peninsula. The Korean War began in 1950 and ended in 1953 but the stalemate separated Korea.


In 1905, the Russo-Japanese War came to an end and in 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan. Gojong was removed as the Korean Emperor and radical and nationalist groups began to emerge. They failed in their efforts to unite a single national movement. The Cairo Conference was in 1943 and Chiang Kai-shek, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met to talk about what should happen to the colonies of Japan. They agreed any territory gained by force should be lost. Roosevelt believed in a trusteeship over Korea but permission was not obtained from the other powers. Two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and three months after the hostilities in Europe ceased, war was declared on Japan by the Soviet Union.


The United States government was concerned the Soviet troops would completely occupy Korea. On August 10th of 1945, Charles Bonesteel and Dean Rusk were sent to define an occupation zone for the Americans. They chose the 38th parallel because it divided the country almost equally in half and the Americans controlled the capital of Seoul. Sixteen million Koreans were placed in the American zone and the Soviet zone acquired nine million. This agreement received approval on August 17th of 1945. By August 14th, the Soviets had control of the north-east and they landed at Wonsan on August 24th. Pyonygang was reached by the Red Army on August 24th. General Abe Nobuyuki established contact with influential Koreans to begin handing over the power. The People’s Republic of Korea was founded in Seoul on September 6th of 1945.


The Moscow Conference of 1945 placed Korea in a trusteeship for five years between Britain, the Republic of China and the United States. A unified administration failed due to antagonism regarding the Cold War. This further divided the two zones and by May of 1946 a permit was required to cross the zones. In September of 1947, United States and Soviet troops withdrew so the people of Korea could form a government. Thousands of peasants and laborers rose against the military government in September of 1946. The uprising was defeated and the South Korean elections continued. Syngman Rhee created a Korean independent Republic in the south. The military campaigns conducted by the government resulted in the deaths of 30,000 to 100,000 people.


The front line stabilized in 1951 near the 38th parallel and an armistice was considered by both sides. Rhee demanded continuation of the war until he unified Korea under his leadership. The armistice was supported by the communist side with the 38th parallel as the basis. The proposition of the Americans was for a line passing through Pyongyang but a military line was agreed upon by the North Koreans and the Chinese.


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