What Caused The Korean War History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea on 25th June 1950, with about 89,000 of his troops and tanks achieving total tactical and strategic surprise against only 38,000 South Korean soldiers. They were fully armed with heavy weapons and equipment supplied by Stalin and the Soviet Union. 
The war that started in 1950 which lasted for three years can be analysed under two aspects: political and ideological. Analysing ideologically, communist within the region of China, Soviet Union and North Korea, desired to secure the Korean Peninsula to be a part of communist bloc. Politically, the West and the USSR growing tensions and the emergence of the cold war intensified the stability that stemmed from a divided Korea.
This essay will examine the causes of the Korean war including factors such as the historical, ideological differences and the primary causes of the war which are believed to be the division of Korea in 1945, the character of both leaders, kim II Sung and Sungman Rhee, as well as the influences of International actors, in particular capitalist West (namely the US) and the communist East (namely the Soviet Union but to a lesser degree, China), and the difference in policies of the United States and the Soviet Union toward North and South Korea.
In order to understand the causes of the war in Korea, it is essential to look at the history of the country. When in the 1880s Korea opened its gates to the western world, pro-Chinese, pro-Japanese, pro-Russian and pro-American factions all emerged, It is also to be kept in mind that Japan ruled Korea for more than 40 years from 1904 to 1945 until the USA and Soviet Union agreed to expels the Japanese territory by the USA taking over the southern region of Korean to the 38th parallel whilst the Soviet Union would occupy the northern part. 
In 1910, when Japanese ruled Korea and established a rough direct over its people, It was then that the elite class such as businessmen, landowners and manufacturers were not irritated but merely continued to do their jobs as the circumstances facilitated them. Conversely, the lower and workers class emerged in opposition and demanded urgent reforms in the country. The Japanese plan was to defend home islands by maintaining control of Korean Peninsula which resulted in political and cultural repression, there was also growth of Communism and Conservative nationalism at that time. As soon as World War II ended the tension was clear, one of the most important features of the post-world war was the appearance of a clear and obvious global competition for spheres of influence between the Soviet Union and the USA. The division of the country by 38th parallel by US and USSR had implicit the continuation of the civil tension as the people were divided politically and ideologically.  The Koreans were not trusted to rule Korea independently.
The region being separated by the USA and USSR was the reason that the country had to remain separated into two halves as both super power countries had their own way to set up the legitimacy and execution of the political and economic issues of the country. These changes having being occurred in the region came to the situation that the regions could not be joined again as a single territory. 
William Stueck argues convincingly;’Soviet-US occupation of Korea, especially without precise agreements on its nature and duration, greatly reduced Korea’s prospects for a smooth transition toward independence and unityâ€¦[and furthermore] the division of the independence movement into Communist and anti-Communist groups compounded the potential problems in constructing a unified, indigenous government’. 
This division was possibly the most significant event in the history of Korea, as, if the country had not been separated by force by the outside powers, arguably there would not have been a Korean War. Of course, this is debateable as, when the Japanese surrendered, the possibility of a civil conflict due to those inequities and imbalances Koreans had suffered historically, was in fact defeated by the involvement of the Soviet Union and the USA. 
The division had many consequences on the economy, one of the most pressing issues was the economic crisis between the two territories following a mass departure of around 2 million Koreans from the North to the South, today the South Korean population is double that of North Korea. This mass exodus was due to the fact that resources were also divided, the North gained in natural resources, whereas the South now had two-thirds of the workforce and the country was in crisis, Therefore, civil tension continued between varying ideologies in the two territories throughout. Furthermore, this division affected the cultures of both Koreas especially in regard to military, political, ideology and foreign alliances. On both sides the tension caused by division meant that the military became important. 
The USA established a military government in South Korea whereas Soviet Union did so in North Korea. The region rule by the Americans was given to 24th corps US Army headed by General John R. Hudge whereas; the Soviet Union gave this responsibility to the 25th Army, the 1st Front of Soviet Far Eastern Front Forces (under Col. General Ivan M. Chistiakov). The masses of Korea opposed the military rule in their respective countries, which caused a high level of dissatisfaction, especially in the South. Furthermore, the US Army was unprepared for the mission to rule South Korea as compared to the Soviet Union. 
The Moscow agreement was a great shock to the Korean people, who expected independence. They directly launched a nationwide movement opposing the trusteeship. The communist initially opposed trusteeship, but quickly changed their attitude later under a directive from the Russians. After Moscow conference divisions deepened between North and South, resulted in an economic, political and social unrest in South. The USA support was wavering and hesitate to support South who wanted a change in their political and economic position. However, the Soviet determination for North was to dominate through Communism. The USA still kept on safeguarding its own interest and tried every way in which Communist party could be stopped to come into power if Korea was reunited. 
The United States policy toward Korea was non-ideological, at that time, the US considered Korea nothing more than a secondary objective to the security and defence of Japan. Korea continued to be a secondary objective because partly of the great distance between the two countries and partly because the US thinks that Korea is a minor strategic value. 
On the other hand, the Soviet Union had a historical interest in Korea, North Korea was vital to the ideological interests, and strategic objectives of the Soviet Union to safeguard the rights obtained in Manchuria in return for the declaration of war against Japan in the final days of World War II, This was all the more so because of their need to cope with the American influence in South Korea, and the growing communist influence in China. Therefore the policy of the Soviet Union toward North Korea was constantly strong from the start. 
“With the rise of Marxism- Leninism in Russia in 1917 and the emergence of the struggle between Nationalists and Communists in China in the 1920s, Korean exiles inevitably took sides, with traditionalists of a Confucian stripe looking to the Nationalist Chinese, Liberals of a capitalist, democratic bent appealing to the Unites States, and radicals casting their eyes toward the Soviet Union and/or the communist Chinese”. 
Americans entered South Korea to keep Japan disarmed, but it was clear that they were unaware of the development they had to make in the region. The United Commission as forced by the USA voted for elections in Korea, the communist bloc of the region boycotted the elections and Syngman Rhee was declared as the President of South Korea.  It can be argued that the UN intervention is a fledging organisation which been forced into action. There was a little credibility due to alignment with the US.
South Korea was not fully prepared for the war because the South Korean leader had not been much aware of the war issues as compared to North Korean leader Kim II Sung who appeared to be in power assisted by Colonel Alexandre Ignatiev and General Ternetiv Shytykov who were a part of the Soviet occupying force. Communism was quickly spread throughout the country by the police oppression, pressure and violence. 
‘There was no attempt to examine closely the communist ideology of the leftists, to discover how far they were the creatures of Moscow, and how far they were merely vague socialists and nationalists who found traditional landlordism repugnant. No allowance was made for the prestige earned by the communists’ dominant role in armed resistance to the Japaneseâ€¦ Given time and encouragement, [the KPR]..might have offered South Korea its best prospect of building a genuine democracy’. 
The failure then, ultimately of the US in Korea, was to side with reactionary, conservative factions who were inextricably linked to the period of Japanese colonial rule. In their view, they found it easier to deal with the ones that have had been for the same tasks and orders at the times when Japanese used to rule the nation, as opposed to helping to organise and mustering a viable future leadership from the many leftist factions, which though often divided among themselves nevertheless had the genuine support of a significantly large section of the Korean population. But if this was a US failure then it was also a failure of the Soviets as both countries chose to exclude the Korean leaders from any representation of the country, aimed at setting up a five-year trusteeship for the nation in question, prior to free elections being held. ‘ In the meantime, it was decided that the US and USSR, respectively, would take responsibility for governing the two halves of the country: in the south General Hodge led a US military government, and in the north the Soviets oversaw a communist-style rule’. 
It was decided in 1946, that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would start to shape her military in order to protect her interdependence, this idea was urgently shaped into reality and at the end of that year they had created two divisions. North Korea kept on doing reforms in the army so that the South could find no way to harm it. By 1949, the military was equipped with a tank brigade, engineers, signals, anti-aircraft artillery, and one more infantry division. They were also on the initial stage to create their navy and air force, furthermore they sent two infantry divisions to fight in Manchuria against the Chinese Nationalists specifically in order to gain experience needed to be ready for any offensive attack against South Korea. 
The main aim of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was to safeguard the workers’ republic and the acts and the efforts of the Workers’ Party as well as the creation of forces was the reason why the government remained active. In the meantime, Kim II Sung kept on getting stronger and appeared as the Premier of DPRK in 1948 and was nominated as the Chairman of North Korean Workers’ Party in 1949.  He was Known as great leader in North Korea.
Conversely, Rhee appeared as a leader of South Korea who was anti-communist. He wanted the China civil war to end in favour of the Nationalists. Among his concern was to wash away the Communist and demolish any Communist power or influence in Korea before the situation get worse and developed into a civil conflict. He, as with the Americans, believed that the Communists in Korea were a puppet of the Soviets; therefore, he believed that some kind of police intervention was needed to limit their influence. As his thoughts involved any actions that kept the communists away, he ideologically influenced the minds of people and made certain reforms to forcefully strengthen the country which drew an ideological line between North and South Korea. 
The USA did not seem to back any actions or thoughts of Rhee as they were aware of the fact that Rhee attempts to attack the Northern part, the circumstances would not appear in favour of either. The USA could not be seen to be supporting any attack against the North as it would be regarded as an attack against the Soviet Union. South Korea was somehow in control of Rhee and he kept on using the force against the communists especially after 1946 elections.  South Korea was blamed for the start of the conflict. Rhee prompted border clashes prior to the invasion from the North such as that he executed some of the Northern civilian because they were spying and this was the ignition of the war. “This idea that South Korea began the war was also insisted by Cummings who said that Rhee deliberately went for such actions so that “the USA would support and intervene which will allow Rhee and his forces to invade North Korea”.  On the other hand some argue that it was indeed North Korea who began the war and therefore had to plan the situation before hand and did such actions to initiate the war. Nonetheless this does not mean that Kim II Sung from North Korea was the one who necessarily caused the war.
In May 1950, the strengths and weakness of North Korea and South Korea described as follows: It says that North Korea had organised areas with strong military and efficient divisions. North Korea had the potential that if guerrilla war started, it would be able to defeat the other side. Conversely, the South Korea did not have much potential to fight against the North as it was politically bent into conflicts and was equally losing its economic grip. Moreover, the military was far less efficient than that of the North. Tension along the 38th parallel had been serious since 1947 but was worse on some cases. It was assumed that any time the civil war could begin nevertheless the tactics that were to be used in the war were still unknown. 
To understand the reasons for the escalating hostility between the super powers countries over Korea, related in developments in China. As the year 1949 was marked with the independence of People’s Republic of China, it was then that the communist leader Mao Zedong appeared as victory over Nationalists forces on the country.  The Chinese were fully supporting the Communists in North Korea, Furthermore, tens of thousands of North Korea troops were receiving their military training and equipment from China. Mao Zedong also attempted to insist for a reunite of Korea in which communist will rule and the whole region will appear as a strong communist bloc of the region. South Korea and the USA were totally aware of the developments and were really concerned about the strong communist being spread in the area.  It worth mentioning here that North Korea assisted Mao’s communist during civil war. From UN perspective, UN refused to accept Legitimacy of communist rule and suspended China’s membership.
As the communists gained strength in the region, the Americans and South Korea feared that this will end in a complete failure of the Nationalists. For this reason, Taiwan was used as a final weapon to weaken the communists. It is evident that the inhabitation and alteration in Taiwan were clearly tied to the Korean issue as the Nationalists could only be strengthened in that way. The Nationalists on Taiwan heartedly supported South Korea and showed full opposition to the emergence of communist’s strengths. The USA feared that having communists spread in the region means that the full control of region will be under the Soviet Union or China power, For the Americans, the advantage they feared which could be gained by Stalin in case the Taiwan was occupied or won by communist and therefore made them decide better defensive action for the stabilisation of South Korea. 
In terms of President Truman involvement and the USA, it is obvious that they were awkward as they had not completely closed the chapter of World War II and still feared the Communist lobby to overrule them. As McCarthyism spread and communism kept on making its roots stronger across the world. This fear was also felt in Truman’s government and they were afraid of the spread of communist around the world. As Mao Tse-tung gained power in China and the Soviet Union went for nuclear tests in 1949, the USA was even worried about communism and altered their foreign policy which was deeply dependent on the developments of Asia. 
The Soviet Union did not cooperate with the USA and did not answer any attempts that the USA military governments in South Korea made. For this reason, the problem of solving the dispute between the North and South Korea was moved to the back row. The Americans tried to discuss and come up with an agreement to solve the economic and refugee problems and establish political measures for the future of Korea. The first priority of both super power governments was to have their own problems solved. 
Developments in Asia were the reason that the USA feared the world to a large extent depended on the South Asia politics and the decisions that the countries in South Asia made. North Korean invasion made the USA redesign their thoughts about Asia. The American foreign experts thought that the Soviet Union has somehow lost some power in the region and it is China that gained power gradually and become a danger in South east Asia. 
Americans at that point realised significance importance to remain in the scenario. It argued that Domino principle of Stalin’s communism had to be stopped in the region and if not urgently brought to a halt, communism will influence the Western Europe and therefore will be a great danger to invade Europe as well. Analysing all the circumstances, it was decided that the USA start aiding South Korea which was formally announced by President Truman on 27th of June 1950. 
In Conclusion, it is illustrated that no one can ignore the differences in the ideology and political affiliation of North and South Korea; this was not necessarily the basis for the conflict in Korea. It is evident that the attempt of North Korea to invade the South ignited war, but the attempts of South before invasion could not be simply ignored. The situation that created instability from 1945 to 1950 was because of South Koreas attempts to stop communism from being spread at any cost. Before being invaded, Korea as a country had many social and political issues that needed to be dealt with sincerity. The activates and policies of the two super power are the reason that Korea could not be reunited afterwards. The United States did not wish to see South Korea incorporated within the communist sphere but would make the defence of South Korea a priority.
It was the Soviet Union that supported Kim II Sung to act against South Korea from April 1950 to June 1950. It was perceived by Russia that it will result in support of North Korea from inside the Southern part and that the USA might not be able to handle the issue. China was involved deeply before June 1950 and Kim II Sung told Mao Tse-tung that it would be necessary for China to intervene.
The Korean War was both a civil and an international war. The two Korean states failed to resolve the issue. 38th parallel kept on bearing tensions ignited by both North and South Korea for many years which finally made North Korea to start war against South in which the Soviet Union completely supported North Korea. Kim II Sung and Syngman Rhee equally heated the issue and remained the centre of wrong activities from 1948 to 1950. 
The Korean issue could not be tied to just one actor; it had many actors that acted for their own benefit with non-playing role for the benefit of united Korea. It is understood that the international powers played their role as per the wishes of Kim and Rhee but more specifically all the super powers deep inside wanted their own interests to be safeguarded behind the curtains of Korea. The Soviet Union and the USA never purely identified that reunited Korea as the major cause but their failure to understand the issue and act accordingly brought the situation to such an extent where war continuously emerged. North and South Korea both are to be blamed for making matters worse as well as the super powers that did not understand the conflict from its soil. After Chinese military intervention, the USA was more concerned about communism being spread. Korea was a victim of her own leaders and of the mutual suspicions and hatreds of the superpowers in the Cold War.
Finally, it is very vital that this essay has shown the international and historical context of the conflict. However, due to the conflicting ideas from revisionists and traditionalists it is difficult to establish a clear blame here. Although, North and South leaders were not passive in this war, they had a very strong military and political role to play. Both Kim and Rhee managed to use their international actors. James Matray argues that ‘ultimately Soviet- American failure to co-operate prevented Korea’s peaceful reunification’  which is a major factor to cause the war.
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