Thursday, June 01, 2006

Japanese Rule over Korea, is it to blame for the two Koreas?

As we know, Korea is divided into two groups: Socialists in the north and free market capitalists in the south (as I see them today). Both of these groups grew out of a united Korea, which up until western persecution to get "with the times and become civilized" had been a very prosperous and peaceful nation. Should we blame the Japanese occupation and illusion of grandeur for "100,000 million heart beats for a single emperor" as causing the rift to occur?
On the one hand I want to say yes, if the Japanese didn’t invade and occupy, causing the horrific tragedies that it did the Korea perhaps would still be a united and peace loving nation (both halves that is). Kim Il Sung wouldn’t have become the ever immortal dictator, and today we wouldn’t be on the precipice of a nuclear conflict in the region.
ON the other however, it seems that perhaps Korea just was destined for this, they were shunned by the west when they tried to become westernized, they were shunned when they attempted to voice their redress about the Japanese, and yet they were persuaded by China and Russia who had socialist emerging basis. Perhaps we should be thankful that they nation did become split between two opposing views on how to handle exiling the Japanese.

Your thoughts?


kat said...

I think that the long history of foreign powers interfering in Korea are responsible for splitting the Koreas into North and South, not just Japanese rule. Korea was often caught as a pawn in the international rivalries between these foreign powers and this led to serious internal political problems. There were two groups inside Korea who disagreed about the international influence. The Confucianists argued that the foreign powers should be repelled and that capitalism should not be allowed in Korea. On the other hand, the reformists welcomed the foreign powers and thought that their influence would modernize the country, improve economic development, and make the Korean military stronger.
Korea kept switching alliances with foreign powers to defend herself. After the Japanese defeat in World War II, the Soviets invaded Korea from Siberia to end Japanese control in August 1945. Later, US forces entered Korea from the south. This led to the Korean War and the separation between North and South Korea. So I think that even though Japanese rule was a factor in the split, politics and changing global alliances and the influence of Russia, Europe, and the United States were also factors in the internal differences that led to the separation.

Dave Stira said...

In a class I took with Professor Hershberg, we took a lot of time talking about why Korea split. We went through the traditional historical view, a revisionist perspective, and after that a post-revisionist view.

In the traditional perspective, Korea was, as suggested earlier, just a pawn of foreign powers. I believe that this is entirely true, as other powers have often used Korea as a battleground for influence or simply as a pawn.

The revisionist perspective had a couple of different perspectives. One scholar, Bruce Cumings, suggested that the Korean War was a Korean civil war. I don't find this to be compelling at all. Though the war may have started as such, in the end, the split did not occur simply because Koreans wanted to settle their differences violently.

The post-revisionists generally believe that none of these examples is particularly compelling, and that the origins are much more complicated. They emphasize Kim's secret trip to Beijing, and also Stalin's role in giving the final "green light" to Kim to attack.

I find the final argument to be the most compelling. As is my understanding, Kim had been chomping at the bit to invade the South for years, but only after gaining permission through Stalin and later Mao did he finally attack. I assume that this is because of the tense geopolitics that were involved, and Kim certainly would not want to be left without allies in a war against the US-backed South. My perception was that Korea was just a small unimportant battlefield on which the great powers "duked it out" insetad of starting World War III.