World War II’s effect on nations all around the globe could not be overstated and its imprint on the Republic of Korea was no exception. The union of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan proved to be a dangerous and malignant disease to world peace as each country’s greed for conquest seemed to stir each other’s. The terror the Axis Powers inflicted upon the world showed countries the ugly side of globalism and how easy it would be for malicious nations to band together and force the planet into a bloody conflict. While historical focus is usually attuned to Nazi Germany’s alarming conquest of Europe, they were not the only aggressors as Mussolini’s assault in North Africa and Japan’s spread across Asia could be just as heinous or even worse.
Specifically, Korea found itself under the domineering occupation of Japan who already annexed the peninsula in 1910. The empire had gone about crushing Korean culture to implant their own. The occupation was brutal where humiliating and atrocious war crimes were committed by the Japanese. Japan’s stranglehold over Korea maintained for 35 years until the end of World War II when Russians and American troops jointly liberated the Koreans from their imperial captors. This was facilitated by the Americans who worried that if the Soviets controlled the whole of Korea, not only would they influence the entire peninsula under their thrall but use the territory to occupy Japan which later proved to be not unfounded. Nonetheless, Korea’s 35-year capture provided sufficient motivation for Koreans to prepare for national defense at the end of the war. In this regard, the United States was instrumental in helping the ROK build the foundation of a military force in 1946.
On top of that, the war’s aftermath instantly created a new paradigm in the Cold War where capitalist and communist countries vied for influence across Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia as proxies for tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. After Japan’s defeat in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, Korea was being administratively managed by both the Soviet Union and the United States who divided their sections at the 38th parallel. As time went on, the Russians and the Americans would dig deeper and deeper into their aggression towards each other, spurring smaller allies to wage war on behalf of their ideological superiors. This notion would hit close to home for the Republic of Korea when the communist North Korea invaded the country five years after World War II.
When North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel to take on its southern neighbor, it did so with extensive military training and resources provided by the Soviets whose devotion to communist expansion led to backing violent insurrections to achieve their goals. On the other side, the United States had opted not give the South Koreans heavy weaponry or equal training to that of the North Koreans out a sense of fatigue over global war. This left the South Koreans at a military disadvantage, however, producing a need for the Americans and the United Nations to get involved to save their Korean allies. After the bulk of the conflict was over and relations more or less stabilized if not exactly warmed, the objective of America and South Korea moved towards to modernizing the latter’s defense infrastructure. The United States then committed to a full investment into South Korean defense by giving elaborate military training, consultation, and resources through the late 50s and into the 60s. When the United States scaled back troop size in South Korea during the 1970s, the country developed its own self-reliant defense force in the image of its western ally.