In 1945 after the end of World War II and the dissolution of the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy), Korea, which was previously under Japan's rule, became occupied by both the United States and the Soviet Union. The nation was divided along the 38th parallel into the North and South --North Korea went under Soviet control, and South Korea was placed under U.S. governance.
Korea was also divided along ideological lines. South Korea was established as a democracy in the Western tradition, and North Korea soon took on the mantle of the Soviet Union's communist regime under Josef Stalin, that nation's totalitarian dictator.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded the South in hopes of spreading its form of government. This act immediately spurred a strong condemnation from the United Nations and a call for support of the South.
On June 27, President Truman answered that call and sent American troops to the region; they were soon joined by forces from 15 other nations. American general Douglas MacArthur, five years removed from his World War II leadership success, was appointed by Truman to be supreme commander of the entire allied effort.
The North garnered support as well --massive amounts of artillery from the Soviets and waves of troops from Communist China.
The campaign soon turned into a brutal war of attrition, ultimately settling into the 38th parallel. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, but only after devastating casualties: in addition to over 30,000 American soldiers losing their lives, close to 4 million Korean soldiers and civilians were killed as well.
The conflict also had the resounding effect of amplifying the noise of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with North Korea consolidating its power as a Soviet-backed military dictatorship and the South a U.S.-supported democracy.
Today, under totalitarian dictator Kim Jong Il (also known as the Dear Leader), North Korea continues to function as a secretive, militaristic regime. Political propaganda pervades the nation, with huge portraits of Kim Jong IL and his deified father, Kim IL Sung (the Great Leader), towering over the cities' transportation networks.
North Korea also has the world's fifth-largest military, hundreds of ballistic missiles, and, as recently acknowledged, nuclear-weapons capability. It recently claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon.
In great part as a result of its costly military build up, though, North Korea has undergone severe economic problems, leading to at least 2.5 million of its people starving to death in the past decade.
Currently, the U.S. and its allies are intent on seeing North Korea cease its nuclear program, since not only the region is at risk, the U.S. also fears that the North may be developing long-range missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads thousands of miles away to the American west coast.
1. Online NewsHour In-depth Coverage of North Korea: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/asia/northkorea/
2.Copy of Online NewsHour article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/asia/northkorea/relations.html
2. Background information (see above)
3. Maps of the region:
4. List of relevant terms (see below)
1. Have the students carefully read the background information and the Online Newshour article (either prior to the lesson or in class).
2. Briefly review the relevant terms with the class.
3. Distribute the maps.
4. As the students refer to the readings and maps, have them answer the following questions, either in small groups or individually. (Possible answers are provided):
1. In theory, North Korea is a communist nation, which calls for equal distribution of its wealth, a one-party political system and a single ruler of the nation. From what we know, how closely does North Korea's government resemble the one envisioned by Karl Marx's communist doctrine?
The nation is ruled by a dictator, Kim Jong IL, and there is essentially only one political party; however, economically, a great number of North Korea's citizens are experiencing staggering poverty, and so the country is not distributing the goods and services equally among its population. For more information on Marx's philosophy, see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/prof_karlmarx.html)
2. China has decided recently to distance itself from the aggressive stance of North Korea, even though the two nations share a governmental and economic philosophy. Also, China along with the Soviet Union was the North's chief ally during the Korean War. Why do you think China has not thrown its support behind North Korea during the recent tensions?
China, although technically a communist nation, has begun to open its trade markets. A huge amount of exported goods come from China, whereas North Korea is essentially closed off to trade with the rest of the world. Like North Korea, China has a huge military as well as nuclear weapons. China, though, has chosen to maintain its military primarily as a defense against possible aggression, not as a means to intimidate and create fear in other nations. For the most part, China has realized that isolationism in today's global marketplace is an imprudent practice.
3. Referring to the maps of the region, why might it be foolish for the North to once again invade the South as it had done in 1950?
North Korea's alliances have changed markedly. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and Russia, the largest of the former Soviet republics, is now allied with Western nations such as the U.S., France and Great Britain. Communist China, although in theory an ally of North Korea, for economic and diplomatic reasons is reluctant to commit its massive military to her defense. Japan is now a close ally of the U.S., and if North Korea were to invade the island, the U.S. would be responsible for coming to its aid. Lastly, South Korea not only has a large standing army itself, but as the Online NewsHour article points out, it is also home to thousands of U.S. and United Nations troops.
4. Seoul, the political and economic capital of South Korea, is situated close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and would presumably be the first target by an attack by the North, many of whose missiles are fixed on the city. Why do you think Seoul continues to thrive as a city and economic force in the world despite the constant threat under which it lives?
Seoul has the protection of both its own substantial military and that of the U.S. as well. Similar to Japan after World War II, Seoul, after the Korean War, was able to focus on developing as an economic power with the close assistance of Western market-driven nations such as the U.S. South Korea has been guaranteed the ongoing protection of the U.N. and the United States, and clearly benefits from the military presence. However, there has been growing resentment in the South Korean population of having American troops stationed in their country for so long. How the nation's economy would react if the forces pulled out remains to be seen.
5. Discuss the responses as a class.
Source: Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition
Armistice: a temporary stopping of warfare by mutual agreement
Cold war: hostility and sharp conflict between nations, as in diplomacy and economics,
without actual warfare
Communism: a form of government characterized by a classless and stateless society and the equal distribution of economic goods, and to be achieved by revolutionary and dictatorial, rather than gradualistic, means
Propaganda: any systematic, widespread dissemination or promotion of ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. to further one's own cause or to damage an opposing one
Totalitarian: characteristic of a government in which one political party or group maintains complete control under a dictatorship
War of attrition: a war in which there is a gradual wearing down or weakening of both sides of the forces, opposed to there being a decisive victor at any point
North Korea has recently admitted to testing nuclear weapons. The United States and other nations, under the authority of the United Nations, are currently considering economic sanctions in order to persuade them to cease and dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.
North Korea, of course, is in dire need of economic aid and sanctions could have significant impact.
For this activity, your students will be asked to play the role of negotiators at the diplomatic table. It need not be a recreation of the Korean crisis (or any other historical model), but by staging a similar situation, the students could gain insight into the complexities of what is currently happening in the world.
To guide the process, you may wish to have the students address the following questions beforehand:
- What specific nations are involved in the negotiations?
- Like the North Korean situation, are the negotiations geared towards one country in particular, or do both sides need to compromise?
- What specific conflicts between the nations led to the negotiations?
- What are the specific demands of each nation economically, militarily, and geographically?
- If diplomacy fails, what would be the consequences? Were these consequences understood before the negotiations began? Are they still avoidable?