Ever wondered why there’s a North and South Korea? How the Koreans might feel about the countries that surround them? A podcast called “Korea - The Story You’ve Never Heard” answers all that and more.
Personal note: I didn’t think I liked history, but I found this surprisingly engaging. Especially captivating is the real audio footage from Dean Rusk, who had first hand knowledge of and was instrumental in the events that took place at this time.
(please excuse or point out any errors here, I’m am transcribing manually some things I heard while listening to this)
1886. Korea is isolated from the world. After what they saw in the opium wars, they wanted it this way. A US gunboat repurposed my civilian merchants charges up a river into the country and is told to turn back. They keep heading towards Pyongyang. The ship is burned and all the crew killed. That ship was the USS General Sherman. North Korea’s current leader claims to be a descendant of people who destroyed this boat.
1891. A few years later, the US sends a boat to investigate what happened. It’s also told to turn back, and there is a fight, killing hundreds of Koreans. The US essentially gives up on Korea at this point.
1903. Russia has a 12mi border with Korea on the Japan sea, and they want the ice-free ports of Northern Korea. Japan also wanted Korea. Russia proposed letting Japan run everything below the 39th parallel (not the 38th, where it is today). Japan said no and declared war in 1904.
1905. America mediated the peace treaty (via William Howard Taft) and made a “secret deal” source to allow Japan a free hand in Korea if Japan would stay out of the Philippines. This resulted in 30+ years of very heavy handed Japanese occupancy of Korea.
1945. Japanese surrendered and the US and Russia split Korea on the 38th parallel for the purposes of helping Korea rebuild. This was apparently a rapid decision by Dean Rusk, much was happening at the time. The Korean people felt no such north/south divide before this time.
1948. After a breakdown of talks with the Soviet Union, the US hands interest in Korea to the United nations. They call for an election, but the Soviets did not recognize a UN sponsored election. The republic of Korea is formed in the south. There were a lot of border clashes in 1949. Koreans did not consider themselves either communist or democratic. source
1950. North Korea invades the south, and the US quickly moves to back the South Koreans. The audio first hand account of the US’s reaction to this from Dean Rusk is amazing. The US involvement caused the North to halt, and we turned the tide. MacArthur possibly wandered too far north, provoking China to respond.
1953Korean War ends. Both sides stopped about where they started at the 28th parallel.
2,862,000total lives lost.
If you’d like to listen to the full podcast (and I recommend that you do), here are the full episode links:
- How it all Began
- How Korea was Divided
- Fumbling towards a war
- The Korean War
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