Republic of Korea

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Republic of Korea
Flag of Republic of Korea
Coat of arms of Republic of Korea
Coat of arms
Location of Republic of Korea
Official languagesKorean
Dominant mode of productionCapitalism
GovernmentUnitary corporatocratic republic
• President
Yoon Suk-yeol
• Prime Minister
Han Duck-soo
• Speaker of the National Assembly
Kim Jin-pyo
• First Republic
1948 August 15
• Total
100,363 km²
• 2019 estimate
CurrencyKorean Republic won (₩) (KRW)

The so-called Republic of Korea (ROK), also known as Capitalist Korea or South Korea, is a bourgeois liberal republic that serves as a U.S. puppet state[1] and colony[2] located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. The northern part of the peninsula is governed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as People's Korea.

According to the south Korean People's Democracy Party (민중민주당), writing in a 2020 Liberation School article, "south Korea is a complete colony occupied by the U.S. military, is politically oppressed by the U.S., and is economically subordinate to imperialist countries, including the U.S. After the military coup of 1961, the rule of fascist military dictatorships continued for 30 years, and since then a pro-US neoliberal regime has operated in the country. It is severely exploiting the workers, farmers, and all the people."[2]

According to the same party, the Korean reunification and peace struggle is contingent on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and therefore U.S. military withdrawal from south Korea is "the most desperate and preferred struggle task for the whole Korean nation to solve.[2]

Since its inception, the ROK has been riddled with corruption and political scandals. All four living former south Korean presidents have been sentenced to prison for various crimes ranging from abuse of authority to bribery and embezzlement.[3][4][5][6][7]

History[edit | edit source]

Early history and Japanese occupation[edit | edit source]

See main article: Korea

Some of Korea's major historical periods leading up to the contemporary period include the period of Gojoseon (2333 B.C.-108 B.C.), the Three Han States Period, the Three Kingdoms Period, the North-South States Period (668-918), the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897), the relatively short-lived Korean Empire (1897–1910), and the Japanese colonial occupation period (1910–1945).[8][9]

Throughout its history, Korea has been faced with various foreign attacks and disturbances. For example, Korea faced invasion by Japan during the Imjin Wars of the 1590s[8] and disturbances such as imperialist gunboat diplomacy in the 1800s.[10] As independent scholar Jay Hauben observed in The Jeju Weekly, Korea "remained independent despite 500 years of efforts of bigger powers to dominate it" until it was subjected to Japanese rule in 1910.[11]

During the Japanese occupation era, which lasted until Japan's defeat in 1945, Korea's economy was developed to serve the interests of the Japanese empire, with Korean industry developing as an "appendage" of Japanese industry, hindering the normal development of Korea's national industry.[12] The southern part of the Korean peninsula was predominantly agricultural, and was considered the "rice bowl" of the country as it supplied a greater portion of the food for Korea. As a colonial economy, it was tightly controlled in the interest of creating a rice surplus for Japan.[13]

As Kim Il Sung summarized, during the colonial period, Japan turned Korea into "a source of raw materials and labour, a market for their commodities and a military base for aggression against the continent."[14] Additionally, under colonial rule, Koreans were subjected to kidnapping and slavery in the form of forced labor and sexual slavery (the latter are known as comfort women), on top of facing extensive political repression and cultural erasure.[15]

A Liberation School article explains that as economic and anti-colonial demands mounted under the occupation, resistance to Japanese colonialism grew and communists and anarchists "began meeting in the borderlands of Russia, China, and Korea." On March 1, 1919 a massive Korean independence protest movement was launched. Since 1931, nationalist and communist guerrillas struggled in the mountains of Manchuria against the Japanese, and Kim Il-Sung emerged as a particularly effective leader during this period.[15]

US occupation[edit | edit source]

U.S. forces lower the Japanese flag in Seoul and replace it with the U.S. flag.

After Kim Il-sung liberated Korea from the Japanese Empire, in an "outburst of meetings and organizing" that "came out into the open all over Korea" after Japanese surrender, activists throughout the Korean peninsula began to plan and organize to replace Japanese rule and dominance. Groups of local people gathered in most villages and cities and sought ways to replace the police and pro-Japanese administrators with people who had resisted Japanese rule.[11] A left-leaning nationwide organization established by Koreans known as the Alliance for National government as well as many local People's Committees enjoyed widespread popular support throughout the country. However, the U.S. Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) did not recognize the new state declared by the People’s Committees, and Korea was divided across the 38th parallel by two American officers who had never been to Korea.[16] The U.S. occupation of the southern half of Korea was announced in Proclamation No. 1 by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur on Sept. 7, 1945, with the statement that “All powers of Government over the territory of Korea south of 38 degrees north latitude and the people thereof will be for the present exercised under my authority.”[17]

In "A Policy of Amateurism: The Rice Policy of the U.S. Army Military", Kim Jinwung writes:

When news arrived that the United States was planning to occupy southern Korea, [Yeo Un-hyeong's[Notes 1] Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence] called a national convention in Seoul on September 6 to give his regime the stamp of legitimacy. Yeo and his followers wanted to quicken the process of establishing a new government before the Americans arrived. Yeo proclaimed the establishment of the Korean People’s Republic, with a cabinet that included distinguished nationalists of all political persuasions, right and left. But the body was clearly influenced by the left, with Communists playing key roles.[13]

However, the U.S. refused to recognize this organization, and General John R. Hodge, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces in Korea, outlawed the people’s committees and created new local councils under conservative control.[13] In an article titled "People's Republic of Korea: Jeju, 1945-1946", Jay Hauben describes the situation:

On Sept. 8, 21 US warships arrived in Incheon to supervise in the name of the Allies the surrender of the Japanese Governor-General of Korea and the 200,000 Japanese military personnel and their equipment and property south of the 38th parallel. US General John Hodge commanded the US landing. The US party was met by an English speaking committee of the PRK [People's Republic of Korea] to welcome it to Korea in the name of the people and newly emerging government of Korea. General Hodge refused to meet with them. His mission was to head the United States Military Government In Korea (USAMGIK) and he would not accept that there was already a newly forming government of Korea.[11]

Due to the People’s Committees enjoying such widespread popular support, the USAMGIK resorted to dissolving the committees by force so that the U.S. could effectively rule the country.[18] As noted by Hauben, "The USAMGIK had as its mission to prevent a Korean government friendly to socialism or communism or leftism in general. That mission required that the left leaning majority of the Korean people had to be diverted."[11]

An opinion poll appearing in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper on August 13, 1946 showed a majority of respondents favoring socialism and less than 15% supporting capitalism.

In August 1946, the newspaper Dong-A Ilbo published the results of various opinion polls seeking information about the kind of government the people of Korea wanted. Of those surveyed, when asked about which system they agreed with, 14% of respondents answered "capitalism" (1,189 people), 70% answered "socialism" (6,037 people), 7% answered "communism" (574 people), and 8% responded "do not know" (653 people).[19][20]

Following General MacArthur's Proclamation No. 1, the USAMGIK became the official ruling body of south Korea (in the eyes of the U.S.), from 1945 to 1948, until the establishment of the Republic of Korea on Aug. 15, 1948. Through this series of events, the Korean Peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel, the south was occupied by the United States, the People's Committees were suppressed, many Japanese colonial era collaborator police and officials were placed back into positions of power, and a fascist dictatorship led by Harvard graduate Syngman Rhee was installed.[21]

Suppressed criticism in official U.S. military history of Korean War and U.S. occupation of Korea[edit | edit source]

In the work From Occupation to War: Cold War Legacies of US: Army Historical Studies of the Occupation and Korean War, Seoul National University professor Chung Yong Wook writes that "a divergent understanding" of this era "was repressed or rooted out by force in the US and around the ‘free world'" due to the official U.S. history of the war being written in the context of the emerging Cold War. Military historian Richard Robinson, who wrote a work critical of the U.S. role in Korea, Betrayal of a Nation, was unable to find a publisher for his work and it remained in manuscript form. I.F. Stone's work The Hidden History of the Korean War (1952) which was also critical of U.S. conduct in Korea was removed from many libraries. Professor Chung notes that "military historians were not, in essence, allowed to criticize information given to them, nor did they have leeway in interpreting and critiquing facts, they were left only to describe sanitized history" at all stages of the information-gathering and history-writing process.[22]

According to Richard Robinson, who had been working as a historian for the military during the occupation, the official American military history of the occupation is "highly prejudiced and inaccurate" adding that the official U.S. histories were "written upon explicit orders not even to imply criticism of anything American" and says that "if the truth were known, the American occupation of south Korea was incredibly bungled by an incompetent and corrupt administration—all in the name of American democracy."[23] Robinson had his work suppressed as he expressed criticism of the U.S. military government's failures in Korea and eventually was compelled to leave the country.[23][24]

USAMGIK disregards People's Committee's rice management, establishes rice "free market"[edit | edit source]

During Japanese colonial rule, the Japanese placed rigid controls on the people of Korea to build up a food surplus. When the U.S. forces arrived in south Korea, they found that "Japanese control over rice had been loosened or altogether abolished" and that instead, "the Korean People’s Republic (KPR) and people’s committees managed food stocks, and according to American accounts, 'after the Koreans drove the Japanese police out, [the leaders of the KPR and people’s committees] took over the rice collection machinery and were operating it successfully when the Americans arrived.'"[13] As the Americans largely did not acknowledge the authority of the People's Committees and were trying to establish an anti-communist government in south Korea, they struck down the management system that had been operating under the People's Committees and replaced it with a "free market" in rice. In Ordinance 19, USAMGIK describes this as "giving to every man, woman and child within the country equal opportunity to enjoy his just and fair share of great wealth which this beautiful nation has been endowed".[25][13]

In "A Policy of Amateurism: The Rice Policy of the U.S. Army Military", Kim Jinwung describes the results of the free market policy of the USAMGIK:

The immediate effect of the free market policy was a steep rise in the price of rice and resultant hoarding and speculation. Poor distribution of food led to food shortages and hunger in cities, despite a bumper harvest in 1945. Additionally, the rice-based south Korean economy inevitably began to suffer from massive inflation. It was quite natural then that the black-market should grow and prosper; it was expected that the lure of black market prices would stimulate the flow of rice into the black market. The result was that “rice disappeared almost entirely from the market.” Through its free market policy, the U.S. military government lost the main strength of the south Korean economy—its ability to extract large surpluses of grain—and caused in its stead spiraling inflation, near starvation in early 1946, and a general economic breakdown. The price of a bushel of rice increased from 9.4 yen in September 1945 to 2,800 yen in September 1946. Landlords, police and other government officials, and wealthy individuals engaged in speculation on a wholesale basis.[13]

In the wake of this policy, USAMGIK was "flooded with complaints and petitions from Koreans demanding that price control and rationing be resumed and that the American military government take drastic action to stop rice hoarding."[13] However, it seemed to many that USAMGIK was "reluctant to move against the principal hoarders" due to them being Korean businessmen who the government who had been relying on for advice.[13] By 1946, the U.S. rescinded the free market and implemented rice rationing. A U.S. summation of the U.S. army military government activities in Korea stated that public attention was "focused on the threat of hunger" at this time.[26] As the situation continued, U.S. rice rations eventually fell to half of the ration size that had been received under the Japanese colonial administration during World War II, and newspapers published accounts of famine and starvation, further disaster only being averted by eventual shipments of U.S. grains as emergency relief. In addition, "the deteriorating food situation forced the Americans to revive the old Japanese rice collection system" which was unpopular with farmers.[13] The USAMGIK eventually formed local boards composed of local police officials, elders, businessmen, and landlords approved by the USAMGIK to manage the collection of rice quotas, but created no system for appeal to adjust the quotas. Under this program, many farmers were arrested or faced violence for not meeting their quotas.[13]

Re-appointment of Japanese colonial officials under U.S. occupation[edit | edit source]

The USAMGIK had a policy of rehiring officers from the Japanese colonial era, which it tried to justify by the need to implement effective governance. This failure to prosecute officers who had collaborated with the Japanese and re-instatement of their power increased public resentment against the U.S. regime.[18] Instead of fully enjoying their independence, people were being victimized by the same oppressive police officers and corrupt public officials as under Japanese colonial authority.[27] The U.S. occupiers created an army staffed by former Japanese officers and rebuilt the Korean National Police (KNP) of the Japanese occupation era.[28]

Conflict between occupation forces and people's committees[edit | edit source]

Richard Robinson, the chief of the Public Opinion Section of the Department of Information of the USAMGIK, who had been present in Korea and contributing to the official U.S. military historical record at the time, later gave his observations about the People's Committees and the USAMGIK's policy of rehiring officers from the Japanese colonial era:

It was safe to say that for the most part the local People's Committees in these early days were of the genuine grassroots democratic variety and represented a spontaneous urge of the people to govern themselves. . . . They resented orders from the Military Government to turn the administration of local government over to American Army officers and their appointed Korean counterparts, many of whom were considered to be Japanese collaborators. It seemed like a reversion to what had gone before. Bloodshed ensued in many communities as local People's Committees defied the Military Government and refused to abandon government offices. Koreans and Americans met in pitched battles, and not a few Koreans met violent death in the struggle.[29]

Robinson then gives an example of an incident which he refers to as "typical" of this period. According to Robinson, in the small community of Namwon in North Jeolla province, the Japanese had turned over considerable property to the local People's Committee just prior to the arrival of the Americans. The U.S. military government then demanded the property, but the People's Committee refused to turn it over to the U.S. military government. Robinson states that five leaders of the Committee were arrested by the local Korean police, adding that "the police chief was captured and beaten by Committee members and the police station attacked by a large crowd of irate citizens." He says that the station was guarded by American troops, and that when the Koreans refused to disband, "the Americans advanced with fixed bayonets," resulting in two Koreans being killed and several injured.[29]

Within a year of the U.S. occupation, uprisings began in 80 cities and hundreds of villages. After the suppression of the People's Republic of Korea, widespread strikes and protests began followed by a guerrilla movement. By December 1947, the KNP had arrested over 21,000 leftists, and the amount of political prisoners was more than under the Japanese occupation. By 1948, resistance forces controlled most of the inland villages in south Korea. The KNP arrested so many people that it ran out of space in prisons and forced an additional 70,000 people, including 30,000 communists, into concentration camps. By 1950, the south Korean government and U.S. occupation forces killed between 100,000 and 200,000 dissidents.[28]

First Republic (1948–1960)[edit | edit source]

Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만), president of the ROK First Republic from 1948-1960, was described as an "extreme rightist" in a 1948 CIA report.[30]

After rejecting Soviet proposals for all-Korean elections, the United States created a UN committee of Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and the defeated Kuomintang from China to supervise elections in the southern zone. Koreans from all parts of the nation organized a National Unity Conference in Pyongyang that met three weeks before the US-sponsored elections. Many leftist parties and some right-wing parties boycotted the elections. The Korean National Police and right-wing thugs attacked communists, while people who did not vote would lose their land and ration cards. Syngman Rhee won the rigged elections and took power as the first president of the south. During the elections, Kim Sok-won led a parade in Seoul of 2,500 Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese.

The First Republic was the government of south Korea from August 1948 to April 1960. Syngman Rhee ruled for the entire existence of the first republic. The first republic was characterized by Rhee's authoritarianism and corruption, limited economic development, strong anti-communism, and by the late 1950s, by growing political instability and public opposition to Rhee.

Prior to being flown in to Korea by the OSS (precursor to the CIA), Rhee had been living in the United States for over thirty-five years, earning an M.A. at Harvard and a Ph.D. at Princeton.[31] According to Max Hastings, in The Korean War:

Rhee's backing from the Military Government was a decisive force in his rise to power. [...] There is no murkier episode in the history of the American occupation than the return of Rhee to Seoul. The Military Government firmly denied not only complicity but prior knowledge of this. Yet all the evidence now suggests that General Hodge and his staff participated in a carefully orchestrated conspiracy to bring back Rhee, despite the refusal of the State Department to grant him a passport. A former deputy director of the wartime OSS, Preston Goodfellow, prevailed upon the State Department to provide Rhee with documentation. There appears to have been at least a measure of corruption in this transaction. Rhee got to know Goodfellow during the war, when the Korean mendaciously suggested to the American that he could provide agents for operations behind the Japanese lines. After the war it seems almost certain that Goodfellow assisted and raised money for Rhee in return for the promise of commercial concessions in Korea when the doctor gained power. Rhee flew to Seoul in one of MacArthur's aircraft. Despite the vigorous denials of the U.S. Army in the Far East, it seems likely that he met secretly with both the Supreme Commander and Hodge during his stopover in Tokyo. Rhee, it is apparent, was their nominee for the leadership of a Korean civilian government.[31]

A 1948 CIA report wrote that "there is every prospect that Rhee's accession to power will be followed by intra-party cleavages and by the ruthless suppression of all non-Rhee Rightist, Moderate, and Leftist opposition," characterizing Rhee as an "imported expatriate politician" and "extreme rightist" and demagogue "bent on autocratic rule", who would be an "unpopular" figure who would play into communist propaganda due to his extreme rightist orientation, and stating that the U.S. throwing their full support behind him could potentially be "a source of future embarrassment to US policy in the Far East."[30]

During the First Republic, the number of U.S. troops decreased, but many intelligence officers and combat specialists continued to occupy south Korea. Resistance against the occupation continued to grow, reaching 3,500 to 6,000 guerrilla fighters by early 1949. Rhee created the National Guidance League to make leftists to reject reunification and forced 300,000 people to join. He also created the National Security Law, which still exists today and criminalizes recognition of the DPRK as a legitimate state. Almost 190,000 people, including members of the National Assembly, were arrested under this law up to December 1949.[32]

Jeju People's Committee[edit | edit source]

After liberation from Japanese colonization, the Jeju People’s Committee was formed with the head of the Farmers' Guild and the Fishermens' Guild as its leaders. According to the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation, "In every aspect, the Jeju People’s Committee was the only political party and the only government in Jeju" after liberation from the Japanese. E. Grant Meade, a USAMGIK officer, said, “The Jeju People’s Committee was the only political party in the island and the only organization acting like a government.”[27] The committees had the respect and support from most villagers. Committee members were known in their communities from their long years as school teachers, union leaders and for resistance to Japanese abuses or for their organizing work in Japan. When the USAMGIK arrived on Jeju, it found that the Jeju People’s Committee and all the village and county People’s Committees were functioning successfully as a de facto government with popular support. The USAMGIK did not disturb or challenge this de facto government. This was unusual because the USAMGIK had as its mission to insure that a right leaning government hostile to socialism emerged in Korea.[11] Unlike in the mainland, where the People's Committees were immediately disregarded and systematically dismantled by the USAMGIK, the People's Committee on Jeju Island remained intact for a longer period, serving as the island's main governmental body until 1948 when it, too, was violently dismantled in conjunction with the process of the Republic of Korea being officially established that year.

Jeju Uprising and Massacre[edit | edit source]

See main article: Jeju Uprising

Banner of the Northwest Youth League, a right-wing paramilitary group who assisted government forces in the mass murder of Jeju islanders in the name of anti-communism.[33]

In 1948, in a series of events known variously as the Jeju Uprising, the Jeju 4.3 Incident, and the Jeju Massacre, an uprising occurred on Jeju Island, followed by a scorched earth style retaliation undertaken by government forces and right-wing paramilitary groups to root out communist influence on the island. The Jeju massacre was the second largest massacre in south Korea's modern history,[34] the death toll listed by the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation being approximately 30,000 people, or one-tenth of the island's population.[35]

Although the People’s Committees in other regions were either dissolved by the USAMGIK or operated under different names, the Jeju People’s Committee remained intact and enjoyed strong support. This was largely due to the pro-Japanese faction being relatively weak in Jeju. Many people who had fought for independence against the Japanese returned to their hometowns and became members of the People’s Committee in Jeju.[27] However, Many Jeju islanders resisted the division of the Korean Peninsula and strongly protested the first election that was scheduled for May 10, 1948, that would confirm the formation of the Republic of Korea south of the 38th parallel. Their resistance to the division of the peninsula and the establishment of the Southern regime triggered a brutal suppression by government forces.

According to The Jeju 4·3 Incident Investigation Report, "In around the middle of November 1948, uncompromising repression operations were carried out. Under these operations, a curfew was imposed on the residents of the upland areas and if anyone broke it, he or she was executed without exception. From the middle of November 1948 to February 1949, for about four months, the anti-guerrilla expeditions burned down the upland villages and killed the residents collectively. [...] During this period, the casualties were the highest and most of the upland villages were literally burnt to the ground."[36] A combination of government forces and violent far-right paramilitary groups, notably the far-right anti-communist Northwest Youth League, carried out these attacks.[33]

The camellia flower can be seen in the island of Jeju as a symbol of the 4.3 incident's victims. Above: A camellia flower pin. Below: Camellia flowers forming the shape of Jeju Island.
Death toll of Jeju massacre and long-term imprisonment of Jeju islanders[edit | edit source]

Because the facts of the Jeju massacre were officially suppressed for over fifty years, only coming to light in January 2000 when a Special Act was decreed by the south Korean Government calling for an official investigation of the incident, an official death toll could not be established until that time. Additionally, discoveries of mass grave execution sites, such as the mass grave uncovered in 2008 near Jeju Airport, illustrate the difficulty of calculating the massacre's true toll.[34] According to a report by the National Commission on the Jeju April 3 Incident, 25,000 to 30,000 people were killed or simply vanished, with upwards of 4,000 more fleeing to Japan as the government sought to quell the uprising. As the island’s population was at most 300,000 at the time, the official toll was one-tenth of the inhabitants. However, some Jeju people claim that as many as 40,000 islanders were killed in the suppression.[34] Some estimates claim as many as 60,000 people may have been killed by the end of these events.[37] The 30,000 death figure, or one in every 10 Jeju residents at the time, is a common figure given for how many people lost their lives during this period, and is the one cited on the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation website.[35]

One result of the decades-long suppression of the facts of the massacre is the long-term imprisonment of Jeju islanders arrested on suspicion of being communists during the conflict. Many of those arrested on these charges died in captivity. Others remained in prison for up to 20 years, and those who had been released were not cleared of their criminal records, and were ostracized by the community or disadvantaged in their job applications for having criminal records. Decades after being arrested, some of the remaining victims had their names legally cleared of the charges in 2019, due to a ruling that found that the military court of the time did not follow proper legal procedures, made groundless charges, and that there were no court records found from the time explaining why those arrested were given such harsh sentences.[38]

Fatherland Liberation War (1950–1953)[edit | edit source]

See also: Korean War, List of atrocities committed by the United States of America#Korean War

This period is generally referred to in English as the "Korean War", in DPRK as the "Fatherland Liberation War" (Korean: 조국해방전쟁), and in south Korea as the "6.25 War" (Korean: 6·25 전쟁). In China it is sometimes referred to as the "Korean War", and some specific battles are referred to as the "War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea" (Chinese: 抗美援朝战争). This period is also referred to by some in English as "The Forgotten War" or "The Unknown War."

In the U.S., the war was initially described as a "police action" as the United States never formally declared war on its opponents.[39] According to the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Historian, "When north Korea invaded south Korea in June 1950, the United States sponsored a "police action"—a war in all but name—under the auspices of the United Nations. The Department of State coordinated U.S. strategic decisions with the other 16 countries contributing troops to the fighting. In addition, the Department worked closely with the government of Syngman Rhee, encouraging him to implement reform so that the UN claim of defending democracy in Korea would be accurate." The U.S. Department of State's description of the war notes that "The Korean War was difficult to fight and unpopular domestically" and that "The American public tired of a war without victory."[40]

The People's Democracy Party (PDP) of south Korea characterizes the conditions that led to the Korean War as follows:

Objectively, there were 2,617 attacks from the South to the North during the year of 1949 under pro-U.S. and far-right Rhee Seung-man regime. Therefore, it cannot be viewed that the war broke out exactly on June 25th, 1950. The U.S. military government forcefully dissolved the people’s committees that were formed as independent South Corean people’s organizations and exhaustively massacred and oppressed the national liberation movement forces and patriotic and democratic forces after the U.S. army came into South Corea in September 1945 as an occupation force.

All the people except the minimum of pro-U.S. and far-right forces held the “Joint Meeting of Representatives of Political Parties and Social Organizations in the North and South of Korea” in April 1948, in Pyongyang, and decided to immediately withdraw the U.S. military and to establish a unified government by the Corean nation’s power and initiative.

However, the single government of the South was established by the U.S. and the intervention of the UN, which was under the domination of the U.S. Then, North Corea had to establish their own government. The condition for an outbreak of the Corean War had developed.[2]

The PDP stated that the U.S. had become the head of imperialist forces after World War II, and Korea was the first country it invaded. The PDP characterizes the war as a battle between the Korean nation and U.S. imperialism, and also notes that "it was the first war that U.S. imperialism fought against a small country and lost."[2] Alan Winnington, a British correspondent in China and Korea for the Daily Worker, provides a description of the apparent ignorance of U.S. soldiers at the outset of the war, by interviewing POWs caught by the People's Army. Winnington writes:

I asked every prisoner I met: “Why are you fighting in Korea?” Not one could give a clear answer. Most said: “I don’t know.” Some said: “It’s something to do with the United Nations, they told us.”

A few had heard of Rhee. None knew of Kim Ir Sen. With one or two exceptions, Privates—nearly all teen-agers—said they had joined the army to “see the world”, “get out of the draft” or “save some money”. Their general view of the Korean war was summed up by Edward Sorea, nineteen-year-old Private of San Bernardino, California. He said: “I just wanted to travel. It was peace-time. Who in hell thought there would be a war? One drops on you from out of a clear sky.”

You cannot find one American soldier who is concerned whether America wins the war or not—rather you meet many who want the Koreans to win quickly so that they can “get back home". “Win or lose”, they say, “American people have nothing to gain". Soldiers like that make bad fighters—just how bad can be seen by taking a trip down the main road from Kumchon, near the 38th Parallel, to Yongdong, near Taegu, in the South.[41]

Winnington contrasts the apparent cluelessness and lack of resolve of American troops with his observations of the attitudes of Koreans:

[T]he ghastly destruction of homes and lives that has gone with it has made the whole nation furious. Even former apologists of America are now their bitter enemies.

On roads you can meet men by the hundred who tell you: “My home was bombed in . . . so I sent my wife and children to relatives in the country and I’m oil to volunteer.” In Wonsan, the wife and children of a worker, Wan Wun Chu, were killed in a raid while he was at work. “They are dead and I cannot call them back,” he said. “If I die it is little now. But I would give my last drop of blood to get revenge and drive those murdering dogs from our country. They tell me my place is in production and I will work my fingers to the bone to produce more for the army.”

Every village I visited proudly told me not only how many men had gone into the army but also how many volunteers were waiting to be accepted. There is no lack of the finest quality fighting men; men who were bred in the countless thousands of mountains that cover Korea; volunteers who know why they want to win.[41]

Winnington sums up his 1950 assessment of the Korean War's outbreak by saying "Korea has repudiated Syngman Rhee and the Americans. All the Korean people want Korea to be reunited and ruled by Koreans. No regime can exist that has been repudiated by the people and this war can only be won by the Koreans just as the war in China could only be won by the people. This is one of the iron facts of the twentieth century. [...] In China the pattern was the same; America supported the most corrupt and hated enemies of the people, led by Chiang Kai-shek, backed them with more than ‘$6 billion, sent them military aid and advisers—and produced their great fiasco. [...] It is America which has invaded Korea. To defend the interests of Morgan and Rockefeller, of Dupont and the steel barons, to restore the land to the feudal landlords, to drive the people back to penury, to maintain a war base against the peaceful Soviet Union."[41]

Support for DPRK among south Koreans during the war[edit | edit source]
1950 CIA document stating that more than 50% of Seoul students were actively aiding communists, many volunteering for the Northern Army, and that the working class of Seoul generally supported the North.[42]

The Korean War and the following decades were characterized by massive arrest campaigns and mass killings to suppress communists as well as anyone else suspected of opposing the highly unpopular Southern regime. In 1950, when the DPRK attempted to reunify the country, Rhee's forces retreated and killed at least another 60,000 supposed communist sympathizers.[43]

In a 1950 CIA memorandum, after the Northern Army had taken over Seoul, Central Intelligence Director and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral R.H. Hillenkoeter reported that "over 50% of Seoul's students are actively aiding the Communist invaders, with many voluntarily enlisting in the Northern Army" and that among Seoul's population, "the working class generally supports the Northern Koreans, while merchants are neutral and the intelligentsia continue to be pro-Southern," adding that the streets of Seoul were "crowded [...] with youths engaging in Communist demonstrations.[42]

The People's Democratic Party of south Korea, interviewed in 2020, said that "almost all workers and peasants in the South rejected the U.S. military" and added that "According to North Corea’s data, about 400,00 peoples in the South voluntarily enlisted in the North Corean military when the Corean war started."[2]

According to Kim Sin Gyu, a north Korean correspondent present in Seoul at the time: "When the city was first liberated, the citizens of Seoul welcomed the Korean People's Army. I remember hearing people say, 'We heard the north Korean communist soldiers were a monstrous rabble, with the horns of devils and red faces. But seeing them now, they are the same as us. The soldiers are young and brave and handsome.'"[44]

Alan Winnington, a Daily Worker correspondent present in Korea in 1950, wrote:

Every evening, the countryside of Korea, especially in the South, boils with life. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and townfolk converge on roads and in a matter of hours have repaired the bomb damage of the previous day by the sheer weight of limitless, willing human labour. While that is going on, hundreds of thousands of others are resuming their trek south from where they stopped at dawn; managing countless oxcarts over remote by-ways; carrying loads of food and munitions on their backs. All these reconstruction and transport workers are volunteers, unpaid, providing their own food and materials, with their own militia to protect them from stray enemy troops, self-supporting, familiar with the terrain and determined to put an end to foreign occupation of their country. [...] In places where I checked the figures, I found that practically every available man and many of the women had taken part in one or other side of the Civilian War Service. Below the Parallel, in Koyang County near Seoul, in twelve days 54,085 men had volunteered out of a total population of only 180,000. During the advance of the People’s Army in this area, the local People’s Committee had mobilised 1,000 oxcarts in a single night for a transport emergency. I personally never met a peasant—except old and infirm—who had not helped the army in some way. And in cities, every evening you can see the reconstruction workers gathering in their thousands with spades, crowbars and ropes. At least half of these are women, who refuse to be kept out of even the heaviest and most dangerous work of rescue and fire-fighting during the raids.[41]

U.S. war crimes[edit | edit source]

See also: List of atrocities committed by the United States of America#Korean War

During the Korean War, U.S. troops killed large numbers of Korean civilians and engaged in copious firebombing with napalm, and, as was eventually revealed through declassified documents, had at certain times a policy of deliberately firing on south Korean refugee groups approaching its lines.[45] In an article of the Asia-Pacific Journal, Kim Dong choon writes that "Few are aware that the Korean authorities as well as US and allied forces massacred hundreds of thousands of south Korean civilians at the dawn of the Korean War".[46] There were also incidents of U.S. pilots ignoring their orders to stay within Korea and flying beyond its borders, strafing military targets in China and the Soviet Union.[44] According to U.S. Naval Captain Walter Karig, in his book Battle Report: The War in Korea:

[W]e killed civilians, friendly civilians, and bombed their homes; fired whole villages with the occupants--women and children and ten times as many hidden Communist soldiers--under showers of napalm, and the pilots came back to their ships stinking of vomit twisted from their vitals by the shock of what they had to do.[47]

United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay, commander of the U.S.'s Strategic Air Command, gave a similar description of the U.S. military's conduct in Korea, saying:

[W]e went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea [...] some way or another, and some in south Korea, too. We even burned down Pusan—an accident, but we burned it down anyway. The Marines started a battle down there with no enemy in sight. Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?[48]

In a 1950 pamphlet entitled "I Saw the Truth in Korea", written by Alan Winnington, correspondent in China and Korea for the Daily Worker, Winnington describes the actions of U.S. forces in Korea, documenting massacres with photographs and describing the aftermath of bombings:

[F]ive years ago we and the Russians were allies of the Americans in the war against the Nazis. Since then, Roosevelt and his colleagues have gone and atomic diplomacy has taken their place. But still, what I saw Americans doing in Korea shook me to my heels. I suppose all my life I’ve been listening to propaganda about America being a civilised nation and some of this must have sunk in. Somehow, I never quite thought of Americans doing exactly what the Nazis did until I saw it with my own eyes. [...] A thousand tons of bombs; a town obliterated; over 4,000 casualties in all; tens of thousands made homeless and bereaved—all to damage a rail-track. Does it make sense? This is bombing in the fashion that no British town ever met. I saw Coventry and I was in London all through the ‘blitz and I saw Wonsan after these raids. It was far worse than the worst the Nazis ever did.[41]

In addition to the U.S. military's practice of fire-bombing civilian targets and firing on refugees, many south Korean civilian casualties occurred due to the American soldiers' inability to tell apart North and south Koreans. As described by an anonymous U.S. officer on the U.S. Defense Department radio program called "Time for Defense", "What makes it so difficult over here is that you can't tell the damn north Koreans from the south Koreans, and that's caused a lot of slaughter" (audio file).[49] It may be argued that the policy of firing on groups of refugees was a result of this, as described in the 1988 documentary Korea: The Unknown War, which observes that "American troops found it difficult to distinguish friend from foe," and that "the North Koreans had infiltrated refugee columns, and in the ensuing confusion, innocent civilians became casualties." According to the documentary, one American general allegedly commented, "If they look organized, shoot at them."[44]

Left: An unsigned Air Force memo from July 25, 1950 seeking alternatives on the policy of "strafing civilian refugees" which "is sure to receive wide publicity and may cause embarrassment to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. government." Right: A July 26, 1950 letter from the American embassy to the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State saying, "If refugees do appear from the north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot."

One example of the U.S. policy of firing on groups of refugees is the incident of the Nogeun-ri massacre, also written as No Gun Ri (Korean: 노근리). The incident was little-known outside Korea until publication of an Associated Press story in 1999 in which U.S. veterans corroborated survivors' accounts, and details gradually became more widely known. In July 1950, American soldiers shot "hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge".[50] U.S. veterans spoke of 100 or 200 or "hundreds" dead and described "a preponderance of women, children and old men among the victims", while Korean witnesses said 300 were killed at the bridge and 100 in a preceding air attack. One Korean witness commented that "the American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies." One of the U.S. veterans described it as "wholesale slaughter."[50]

Although this incident had gone unacknowledged for decades, in 2001 the U.S. Army acknowledged the killings, calling them a "regrettable accompaniment to a war." In 2006, it was revealed that among documents omitted from the 2001 U.S. report, there was a declassified letter from the U.S. ambassador in south Korea, dated the day the Nogeun-ri killings began, saying the Army had adopted a policy of firing on refugee groups approaching its lines.[45] Some U.S. veterans have also described other refugee killings as well, when U.S. commanders ordered their troops to shoot civilians as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers, and declassified U.S. Air Force reports allegedly show that pilots also sometimes deliberately attacked "people in white" (referring to white peasant garb), suspecting that disguised north Korean soldiers were among them.[50]

Armistice Agreement (1953)[edit | edit source]

The armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. The signed armistice established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the de facto new border between the two nations, put into force a cease-fire, and finalized repatriation of prisoners of war. The DMZ runs close to the 38th parallel and has continued to separate north and south Korea since the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.

U.S. abrogation of armistice paragraph 13d, introduction of nuclear weapons into South[edit | edit source]

Paragraph 13d of the agreement mandated that neither side introduce new weapons into Korea. At a meeting in 1957, the U.S. informed the north Korean representatives that the United Nations Command no longer considered itself bound by paragraph 13d of the armistice,[51] and in 1958 the U.S. abrogated paragraph 13d of the armistice by introducing nuclear weapons into south Korea.[52]

End of the First Republic[edit | edit source]

In 1960, Rhee was forced to resign due to mass protests across the nation after the body of a student killed by police was found floating in the harbor.[53] As a result of this, he fled to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he remained in exile until his death.

Second Republic (1960–1961)[edit | edit source]

Park Chung-hee, the leader of the third and early fourth republics, in a Japanese military uniform

After Rhee's overthrow, bourgeois democracy was briefly restored under president Yun Bo-seon.[54] The second republic was founded during the April Revolution mass protests against President Syngman Rhee, succeeding the first republic and establishing a parliamentary government. After thirteen months it was overthrown by the south Korean Army in the May 16 coup led by Park Chung-hee. Park had fought for the Japanese during the occupation and took the Japanese name Takagi Masao.[55] In 1961, the ROK declared all socialist states its enemies and founded the KCIA, a brutal secret police agency that routinely imprisoned and tortured dissidents. The KCIA required union leaders to pledge loyalty to the state.[56]

Third Republic (1963–1972)[edit | edit source]

The Third Republic was founded on the dissolution of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction that overthrew the Second Republic and established a military government in May 1961 when, on May 16, General Park Chung-hee, the father of future president Park Geun-hye and former Japanese collaborator, took power in a military coup. After serving for two years as chairman of the military junta, he was elected president in 1963, which is considered to be the start of the Third Republic. Park ruled as a military dictator for 18 years and sent 320,000 troops to support the South Vietnamese puppet state in the Vietnam War.

Korean DMZ conflict[edit | edit source]

The Korean DMZ conflict was a series of low-level armed clashes between north Korean forces and the forces of south Korea and the United States, largely occurring between 1966 and 1969 at the Korean DMZ.

Fourth Republic (1972–1981)[edit | edit source]

Riot troops attacking protestors during the Gwangju uprising

The Fourth Republic was founded on the approval of the Yushin Constitution in the 1972 constitutional referendum, codifying the de facto dictatorial powers held by President Park Chung-hee. The Fourth Republic entered a period of political instability under Park's successor, Choi Kyu-hah, and the escalating martial law declared after Park's death. Choi was unofficially overthrown by Chun Doo-hwan in a coup d'état of December Twelfth in December 1979, and began the armed suppression of the Gwangju Democratization Movement against martial law.

After Park Chung-hee's assassination on 26 October 1979, General Chun Doo-hwan took power. During his presidency he perpetrated the largest massacre of Korean civilians since the Korean war. In May 1980, protests against martial law began in Gwangju, which were met with special warfare troops. Estimates vary as to the amount of casualties, but they range from 165 at the most conservative, to over 300. Some also claim that up to 2,300 civilians were killed in the Gwangju massacre, in response to the May 18 uprising also known as the Gwangju uprising.[57]

An article in The Nation states that the 10-day revolt known as the Gwangju uprising was triggered when students and other citizens protesting the military coup were attacked by airborne special forces "with a viciousness and cruelty that Koreans had not experienced since the darkest days of the Korean War." The article further states that "The armed resistance by Gwangju’s citizen militia liberated the city from the marauding troops. The townspeople, freed from decades of military rule, kept their city running, buried their dead, and transformed themselves into a self-organized system of mutual aid they now call the Gwangju Commune." On May 27 Korean Army troops were released from their usual duties on the border with DPRK to reoccupy Gwangju. The official death toll from the uprising stands at 165, but residents believe that more than 300 people were killed, with dozens still unaccounted for.[58]

The Fourth Republic was dissolved on the adoption of a new constitution in March 1981 and replaced with the fifth Republic of Korea.

Fifth Republic (1981–1987)[edit | edit source]

The fifth republic was established in March 1981 by Chun Doo-hwan. The fifth republic faced growing opposition from the democratization movement of the Gwangju Uprising, and the June Democracy Movement of 1987 resulted in the election of Roh Tae-woo in the December 1987 presidential election. The fifth republic was dissolved three days after the election upon the adoption of a new constitution that laid the foundations for the relatively stable democratic system of the current sixth Republic of Korea.

Sixth Republic (1987–present)[edit | edit source]

The Sixth Republic was established in 1987 with Roh Tae-woo as its first president[59] and sixth president of south Korea from 1988 to 1993. Roh's election was the first direct presidential election in 16 years. His presidency was followed by Kim Young-sam (in office 1993–1998), the first civilian to hold the office in over 30 years. After this came the presidency of Kim Dae-jung (in office 1998–2003), known for his "Sunshine Policy" of engagement through dialogue and economic and cultural exchanges with north Korea.[60] This was followed by the presidencies of Roh Moo-hyun (in office 2003–2008), and Lee Myung-bak (in office 2008–2013).

South Korea's next president, Park Geun-hye (in office 2013–2017), is the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee. Park Geun-hye was in office as the 11th president of Korea until she was impeached and convicted on corruption charges following public demonstrations, commonly known as the Candlelight Revolution or Candlelight Demonstrations. She became the first south Korean president to be removed from power by impeachment, and was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but received a pardon and was released in 2021 after serving just under 5 years.[61] Park Geun-hye's presidency was followed by Moon Jae-in (in office 2017–2022). The 13th and current president of Korea is Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party.

Politics[edit | edit source]

Military command[edit | edit source]

Since the Korean war ended in 1953 with a ceasefire, the US has maintained control over the south Korean military.[62][63][64][65][66] US Forces Korea were integrated with ROK forces into a Combined Forces Command, which was in turn integrated into the United Nations Command. All three commands are headed by the same person, a four-star US general[64][66] (currently General Paul J. LaCamera[67] who took functions in 2021).

South Korea has operational control (referred to as OPCON) of its military under armistice conditions, but the United States would take over in wartime, and the U.S. combatant commander would be able to direct, organize, employ, assign command functions to, or suspend the duty of subordinate South Korean commanders and forces. In essence, if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, south Korea would supply the overwhelming majority of the fighting force, which would then be placed under U.S. operational control.[63]

Throughout the history of the US-ROK arrangement, the U.S. and ROK have engaged in a back-and-forth trying to determine what degree of control each party should have under this relationship, with the U.S. often showing a reluctance to relinquish control over the ROK's military, and ROK leaders at times expressing a wish to have more control over their own military, and at other times expressing acceptance of the U.S.'s authority over the ROK military in wartime.[65]

NATO alliance[edit | edit source]

Mark Esper, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Raytheon lobbyist, delivering a speech at Think Tank 2022, which was focused on issues facing the Korean peninsula. Esper stated, "It is said that the United States does not seek to build a, quote, "NATO for Asia". And I say, 'Why not?'"[68][69]

On February 26, 2022 (KST), former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Raytheon weapons manufacturer lobbyist, Mark Esper, delivered a speech at the 4th Think Tank 2022 Forum,[69] which is a think tank associated with Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon,[70] the wife of late millionaire[71] Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder and self-proclaimed messiah of the generally right-wing, anti-communist Unification Church.[72] Speaking at this event, weapons industry lobbyist Esper emphasized the need for full cooperation between the U.S., south Korea, and Japan in the face of challenges posed by north Korea and China, saying:

It is said that the United States does not seek to build a, quote, "NATO for Asia". And I say, "Why not?" We should have lofty goals and high expectations and not let history and distance confound us. America's European allies overcame a brutal history to form a collective security arrangement to deal with Soviet Russia. There's no reason why the same can't happen in the Indo-Pacific as we increasingly face off against a recalcitrant north Korea and aggressive communist China.[68]

Esper stated that he is a "big believer" in the quadrilateral security dialogue known as "The Quad" a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that is maintained by talks between member countries, which Esper says is "rightly viewed as a unified response to China's rising military and economic power." He states, "I believe south Korea should be the next partner to join the Quad, transitioning it into the Quint."[68]

The former Raytheon lobbyist and defense company Epirus Inc. board member then went on to say that "America's allies and partners need to invest at least two percent of their GDP for defense and invest in the right capabilities," listing long-range precision strike capabilities, air and missile defenses, advanced submarines, and fifth generation fighter aircraft as examples, and noting that the Republic of Korea has already met this two percent mark.[68] Esper describes that these weapons investments will help the region deter Chinese and north Korean "aggression" and states that a "reinvigorated work plan with the DPRK should begin with the complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North."[69]

In June 2022, the south Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol declared he will participate in the 3rd NATO Summit of 2022.[73] The director of the National Security Office Kim Sung-han declared not much later that south Korea will establish a "diplomatic mission" to NATO in Brussels to coincide with President Yoon Suk-yeol's participation in the Summit. According to Sung-han, this mission will make south Korea "able to increase information sharing and strengthen our networks with NATO allies and partners and establish a Europe platform that is worthy of our [global] status".[74]

Unconverted long-term prisoners[edit | edit source]

A demonstration calling for a second repatriation of unconverted long-term prisoners in south Korea. The sign reads "Call for second repatriation of non-converted long-term prisoners" ("비전향장기수 2차 송환 촉구").

Main article: Unconverted long-term prisoners

Unconverted long-term prisoners is a term which refers to political prisoners imprisoned in south Korea, generally on charges of "anti-state" activities or views in support of communism or DPRK. While in prison, many of them were held in solitary confinement and subjected to extensive torture while being pressured to sign a "conversion" statement renouncing communist or left-wing ideology.[75] In the 1990s, some of the unconverted prisoners began being released. Some chose to remain in south Korea while others sought to be repatriated to DPRK.[76] Some were able to return to DPRK, notably 63 of them in the year 2000,[77][78] but others remained in the South, being denied their requests for repatriation.[79] Those who returned to the DPRK were met with celebrations and awards,[80] while those remaining in south Korea faced difficulties including ongoing health issues from their long imprisonment, living in poverty, not being given social security numbers,[76] and being subjected to ROK state surveillance under the Security Surveillance Act.[81]

Many who participated in the repatriation in the year 2000 and many of those who remained in south Korea made their decisions based on their impression at the time that there was going to be more freedom of movement between ROK and DPRK thereafter. In an interview with Liberation School, former prisoner Ahn Hak-sop, who chose to remain in the South when the 2000 repatriation happened, said one of his reasons was that he "thought it was a temporary situation." Anh also notes regarding two prisoners released alongside him, that "Those comrades went to the North because they thought that shortly there would be free movement between the two states. They went to the North to study and thought they would come back later." Regarding his own intention to stay in the south temporarily, Anh elaborated: "[T]here were young progressive people here in the South, and they asked me to stay. [...] We have to keep struggling here for the withdrawal of US army, the peace treaty, and peaceful reunification. I decided to stay here to fight for these goals. In 1952, I came here to liberate the southern half of the peninsula, and I need to stay here and continue that struggle."[81]

Those who oppose or criticize the repatriation of these former prisoners generally do so on grounds of demanding that DPRK start repatriating people back to the south as well.[77]

National Security Law[edit | edit source]

The National Security Law is a south Korean law enforced since 1948 with the avowed purpose "to secure the security of the State and the subsistence and freedom of nationals, by regulating any anticipated activities compromising the safety of the State." Behaviors or speeches in favor of the DPRK or communism can be punished by the National Security Law. In an article from The Diplomat, it was referred to as a "Cold War holdover" that "allows the government to selectively prosecute anyone who 'praises, incites or propagates the activities of an anti-government organization'" which the article describes as "a deliberately vague clause that broadly implies the north Korean state and its sympathizers." The article continues, explaining "Under Article 7, individuals have been prosecuted and imprisoned for merely possessing north Korean publications or satirically tweeting north Korean propaganda. In recent years this clause has been harshly criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who claim the government abuses the law to repress dissenting voices."[82]

Anti-imperialist, anti-U.S., and pro-unification struggle in south Korea[edit | edit source]

The Unification Vanguard of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions unfurls large banners reading "This land is our land, YANKEE GO HOME" and "Stop practicing for a war of aggression" in an August 2022 demonstration against US-ROK joint military exercises.[83][84]

According to the People's Democracy Party (PDP), a revolutionary workers' party in south Korea, the continued U.S. military occupation of south Korea is the primary barrier to peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. The PDP, co-authoring a 2020 Liberation School article, writes:

The peace of the Corean Peninsula is possible only after the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. The U.S. troops are occupation forces in South Corea and invading army to North Corea. So their withdrawal is the most desperate and preferred struggle task for the whole Corean nation to solve. The present war crisis escalating to a high level proves that peace in the Corean peninsula cannot be realized unless the U.S. troops are withdrawn from South Corea.

As long as the U.S. troops are stationed in South Corea and war exercises are conducted against North Corea, the prospect for peace is bound to be dark. We are convinced from our historical experience that if we develop the struggles for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops into a popular uprising of the South Corean people, and if the whole Corean nation can struggle together in great unity, we can withdraw the U.S. troops from South Corea.

[...] True peace is possible only without imperialism; the head of imperialism is the U.S. We have an opinion that a true peace movement should be an anti-imperialist movement and an anti-U.S. movement. We believe that the progressive and peace-loving forces of the world can and must conduct an anti-imperialist, anti-war struggle, to halt all wars in the world by U.S. troops and to withdraw all U.S. troops stationed overseas. The key is the formation of an anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. united front and anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. joint action.[2]

South Korean students surprise rushing U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris' official residence in 2019, using ladders to climb over the wall, with signs saying “leave this land” and shouting "Stop interfering with our domestic affairs" and "We don’t need U.S. troops."[85][86]

In 2019, 19 south Korean students were detained after several used a ladder to climb over the wall into the grounds of the U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris' residence in Seoul in protest against the U.S. troop presence in the country. A spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul said that approximately 20 Korean nationals illegally entered the official residential compound of the U.S. Ambassador and attempted to forcibly enter the residence itself. In a video broadcast from inside the compound, the activists accused the United States of demanding a 500% increase in the cost of keeping some 28,500 troops in south Korea, holding a banner saying "Leave this soil, Harris" and shouted "Stop interfering with our domestic affairs!" "Get out!" and "We don’t need U.S. troops!" before being marched out of the residence by police. The students had also attempted to break into the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in 2018, before being stopped by police. A Reuters article notes that the student group also "held a forum to present their 'research findings' on the achievements of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, lauding him as a caring and influential leader."[85][86]

Nodutdol (Korean: 노듯돌), an anti-imperialist, pro-unification organization of diasporic Koreans,[87] notes in their 2020 pamphlet "Sanctions of Empire" that Ambassador Harry Harris has been obstructive toward inter-Korean reconciliation, blocking efforts by the Moon Jae-in administration to develop tourism into the DPRK, claiming that "independent" tourism plans would have to undergo US consultation, emphasizing that the items inside south Korean tourists' luggage could violate sanctions.[88]

On Jeju Island, located off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, a decade-long protest of the construction of a naval base has been ongoing. Activists noted in a 2013 statement that the base will only worsen the likelihood of Koreans being pulled into a US-China conflict: "Jeju naval base will be an outpost of the U.S. maritime military alliance, together with Japan, targeting China, rather than a strategic point of independent national defense. With the U.S. Pivot to Asia strategy, the chances of South Korea’s getting pulled into conflicts between the U.S. and China increase."[89] Although the base eventually completed construction, protestors continued to oppose it with demonstrations and attempted entries into it, saying that although it is nominally a south Korean base, it is "a place where cutting-edge strategic assets in the US military can stop by whenever they please according to American interests."[90] In 2020, an activist was arrested for trespassing on the base and destroying government property.[91]

People rally against the ROK-US military drills, Aug. 13, 2022. Banners say "Stop war exercises! No to USA!" (Korean: 전쟁연습 중단! 미국 반대!)

On August 13, 2022, thousands of south Korean unionists and their progressive supporters rallied in downtown Seoul to protest against joint US-south Korea war game exercises. In a video uploaded by Press TV, Oh Eun-Jung of the National Teachers Union was quoted as saying "The threat of nuclear war is growing on the Korean peninsula, conservative forces of Yoon Suk-yeol in south Korea and those in the U.S. are frantically conducting aggressive war drills in the sky, the land, and the sea, and are about to start large-scale military exercises, aimed at the invasion of north Korea. We must stamp out this behavior of anti-reunification forces." In the same video, construction worker Lee Seung-Woo stated, "We not only oppose the war exercises, but we want the U.S. Forces Korea, which is actually controlling and interfering with the Korean peninsula to leave this land. We believe that only then will the eighty million Koreans from both north and south be able to live peacefully."[92]

The media company Sovereignty Broadcast (Korean: 주권방송), additionally going by the name 615tv on some of its social media accounts, uploads educational and informative videos its to YouTube page regarding the peace and unification struggle in Korea. According to the channel's about page, it is an internet media company that deals with peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula and various current affairs topics in Korea.[93]

Censorship[edit | edit source]

Until 1973, images of Kim Il-sung were banned in south Korea. The southern secret police falsely claimed that Kim was an impostor who had not been involved in the guerrilla resistance against Japan. In 1989, the police state arrested an average of 3.3 Koreans every day under anti-communist censorship laws. Many anti-capitalist books are banned, even some by non-Marxists. In 2011, southern authorities deleted over 67,000 internet posts that were critical of the ROK or United States. Left-wing music such as the Song of the Red Flag (which is even used by the social democratic UK Labour Party) is also illegal under the National Security Law.[56]

Government-sanctioned prostitution and sex trafficking victims[edit | edit source]

Women who were encouraged by the South Korean government to work as prostitutes near US military bases hold a press conference outside of the Seoul High Court in the Seocho neighborhood following a court ruling on their case on Feb. 8, 2018.

As described in a 2019 article by journalist Tim Shorrock, "between the end of the Korean War and the early 1990s, more than one million Korean women were caught up in a state-controlled prostitution industry" that was operated by and for the benefit of the U.S. military. They worked in special zones surrounding U.S. bases, in areas licensed by the south Korean government, reserved exclusively for American troops, and monitored and policed by the U.S. Army. Shorrock explains that the system was designed to strengthen the U.S.-south Korean alliance and boost the morale of U.S. military personnel, and for south Korea to bring in foreign currency, with prostitution for this purpose being encouraged as a woman’s patriotic duty to the state. These zones, called kijichon (Korean: 기지촌; "military camp town"), were established around 31 U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy bases in South Korea. Shorrock writes that "in Gyonggi province, which extends from south of Seoul up to the DMZ and was home to the majority of U.S. bases, some 10,000 sex workers were registered every year from 1953 to the late 1980s."[94]

In 2018, Lee Beom-gyun, a judge on an appellate court in Seoul, agreed that the south Korean government had actively encouraged prostitution to boost ties with the United States. Lee ruled that the Korean state "operated and managed" the military camp towns to contribute to the "maintenance of a military alliance essential for national security" and abetted the industry "through patriotic education praising prostitutes as 'patriots who bring in foreign currency.'" He concluded that the government had violated the human rights of its citizens and denounced the practice of segregating "camp town prostitutes in forced internment facilities or through the indiscriminate administration of penicillin, which carries serious physical side effects."[94][95]

The 2019 article describes one sex worker's experience in this system:

One former sex worker starkly laid out the conditions faced by many kijichon women in a documentary film produced by Durebang. “A pimp sold me to a U.S. camp town,” she recalled. “Inside a warehouse, I was raped. The police sent me to the Monkey House, where American medics gave us injections” of penicillin and other drugs to prevent the spread of STDs. After her release, she was required to wear a plastic badge showing she’d been tested—“cunt tags,” she called them. All sex workers and bar owners were required to hang these registration certificates on the walls of their establishments as well.[94]

Choi Hee-shin, a community organizer who grew up in Dongducheon, which surrounds the U.S. Camp Casey, was quoted in the same 2019 article saying, “Lots of people are ashamed of what happened in the camp towns, and want to forget," further stating, "But people like me, we can't forget. The U.S.-South Korean alliance depended on these comfort women."

According to Wellesley Professor Katharine H.S. Moon in Sex Among Allies, a history of military prostitution in south Korea, the "overwhelming majority" of prostitutes in the camp towns were either orphans or abandoned children. Moon estimates in her book that at the peak of U.S. troop strength in the 1980s, the kijichon economy contributed 5 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product. Once they were recruited to the camp towns, women found themselves trapped by debt. They carried out their sex work in rooms they had to rent from the bar owners. They also had to buy all their supplies, including their bed, their clothes, and the phonographs they set up to entertain their American clients.

Shorrock explains that many of the Koreans who seek justice for camp-town sex workers refer to them as comfort women, a term which commonly refers to women whom the Japanese Imperial Army kidnapped and forced to work in military brothels called "comfort stations" during the Second World War. However, the Korean public has generally refrained from treating the kijichon women as victims of imperialism in the manner of the comfort women. Park Jeong-mi, a professor at Chungbuk National University, argues that this sentiment is unfair, and in her research she has found a direct historical link between the Japanese and American systems, as the U.S. military government created an administrative state that was dominated by Koreans who had collaborated with Japan's colonial rulers. The shift from Japanese- to American-coerced sex work was an easy transition, she said: "High-ranking Korean officials who served under Japanese colonial rule were familiar with the comfort station system." Under U.S. pressure, Park said, the south Korean government licensed the bars and clubs that hired the women who entertained the U.S. troops, likening those establishments to de facto brothels.[94]

Sexism[edit | edit source]

Women are only paid half as much as men for the same job.[96]

Rising anti-capitalism[edit | edit source]

In recent years, the term "Hell Joseon" or "Hell Korea" (Korean: 헬조선) has become popular to describe the social anxiety and discontent surrounding high unemployment and poor working conditions.[97][98]

south Korean media has also increasingly included narratives of class antagonism which have been popular successes for Western audiences, with films such as Snowpiercer (2013)[99] and Parasite (2019)[100] and the popular TV show Squid Game (2021).[101][102][103]

With increasing economic stratification, social alienation, and lack of opportunity among young people entering the work force, south Korea has a rate of mental health issues and suicide that is among the highest in the developed world.[104] This undoubtedly is resulting in the development of class consciousness.

The bourgeois media (in south Korea and in the US) carefully ensures that all criticism of capitalism stops just short of providing concrete solutions, lest people become interested in socialism and its various successes around the world.

Labor militancy is also on the rise as 500k south Korean workers walked off in a one-day general strike, protesting against rampant exploitation by the gig economy, high costs of housing, and the highest annual working hours in the OECD.[105]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 여운형, name romanized as Yeo Unhyeong, Yŏ Unhyŏng, or Lyuh Woon-hyung.

References[edit | edit source]

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    Of course, before I went I knew that the Americans were bombing heavily and fighting badly. I knew that Syngman Rhee's troops only existed as scattered units and there was no longer a “South Korean Army”; that effectively this was a war between America and Korea. These facts were common knowledge in the world, but I admit I was mentally unprepared for all I found.

    After all, five years ago we and the Russians were allies of the Americans in the war against the Nazis. Since then, Roosevelt and his colleagues have gone and atomic diplomacy has taken their place. But still, what I saw Americans doing in Korea shook me to my heels. I suppose all my life I’ve been listening to propaganda about America being a civilised nation and some of this must have sunk in. Somehow, I never quite thought of Americans doing exactly what the Nazis did until I saw it with my own eyes.

    We still talk of Coventry as an example of malicious and futile bombing, but the Americans have gone far ahead of the Nazis in what they politely term “Saturation Bombing”. The American style of waging war in Korea is on the same pattern as the Nazis but, bearing in mind the size of the country, even more savage and just as stupid.

    Wonsan is a much smaller town than Coventry, not nearly as large as the London suburb; of Walthamstow. During its first heavy raid in July, B.29 Superfortresses flung 500 tons of high explosive bombs into the town—sixty tons more than Coventry got on that terrible night ten years ago. No targets were aimed at. MacArthur’s communiqué admitted that there was “heavy cloud" which “prevented the evaluation of the effect of the raid”. Actually, visibility was nil at the time, for it was raining hard. In Coventry there were 1,000 casualties that night. During the first raid on Wonsan there were 1,249 killed and the northern half of the town was wiped out In August the raid was repeated, wiping out the other half. No other military objective was claimed than that this town was a rail centre. A thousand tons of bombs; a town obliterated; over 4,000 casualties in all; tens of thousands made homeless and bereaved—all to damage a rail -track. Does it make sense? This is bombing in the fashion that no British town ever met. I saw Coventry and I was in London all through the ‘blitz and I saw Wonsan after these raids. It was far worse than the worst the Nazis ever did.”

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