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27 August 2017


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Babak Makkinejad

Let me be the first to congradulate you on this excellent synopsis of the last 100 years of korean political history; very even handed.
One quibble would be the omission of the Agreed Framework and Bill Clinton's personal responsibility for the current situation.

Old Microbiologist

Excellent! Thank you.


Many thanks.


Impressive !
Merci, Monsieur Polk.


Reasonably good and even-handed summation of the main points. One potentially glaring omission is the current holders of power in South Korea, the self-claimed "democratic left," who are neither particularly democratic nor any leftist, but no less unscrupulous although perhaps less violent than the Park or Chun governments. This is a critical faction, though. Many Western "friends of North Korea" think that this magical faction can somehow conjure up something that would bring about solutions that would miraculously make everyone happy, except for the "evil imperialists" in Japan and U.S. As I see them, though, while these guys are glib with words, they double cross everyone on a whim. Such flippancy could easily make the situation far less stable.

Keith Harbaugh

Dr. Polk,

First, thanks very much for this thorough and much needed review of U.S./Korean relations.

Concerning a specific aspect of those relations,
can you recommend references explaining why
the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea, and any other relevant nations
have never signed a peace treaty?

I can understand (if not agree with) the impasse now between NoKo and the U.S. over nukes, denuclearization, and ICBMs,
but that does not explain why the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s went by,
with nine U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower-34 to Clinton-42,
without NoKo and the U.S. being able to agree to a peace treaty.
And then of course, there is still the same question for the post-2000 time period.

Obviously, the answer(s) will include domestic politics in each country,
plus each other's view of geopolitics and their objectives in that realm.

The best answers to that question I could find are:
and more specifically
However, the Niksch Congressional Research Service note only covers the situation circa 2010.

Thank you for any references you can suggest.


I look forward to part two, thanks.

In 1960 when stationed at Camp Fuji in Japan, there were several nearby villages that were mainly Koreans. The Japanese called them Gaijin, the same name they used for us GIs. They were leftover laborers from WW2 that had never been repatriated. They were a friendly people, although we were warned to stay away from them as it was assumed by the brass that Kim Il-sung had agents among them.

Years later I got to Korea. It was only two months up near Uijongbu, well short of the time that Army 2nd Division vets spent there. But I loved the place even though it was freezing cold in January and February. The ladies all had apple cheeks like they were from Buffalo or Minneapolis. Chestnuts were being roasted on the street corners.

And the people there were friendly and hard working. As are the Koreans in every American city that has a Little Seoul. Why are the northerners different? Or are they different? Does it go back to the ancient Goryeo & Silla kingdoms?


Thank God for accurate historians.

Noah Way

Misses some of the perspective offered and questions raised by Stone's Hidden History of the Korean War but is nonetheless an solid, insightful history.



They are not. the "North" and "South" factions mentioned in the article, actually, have nothing to do with "North" and "South" of the country, as much as the homes of the leaders of the respective factions having been in northern and southern parts of Seoul. Vast numbers of people who are "South" Koreans are actually from the North--Syngman Rhee was himself from the North, via a few decades in United States, and he surrounded himself with fellow anti-communist exiles from the North (which probably explains a lot). While obscured by much propaganda, Kim Il-Sung's family is originally from the Southwestern part of (South) Korea, albeit a few decades older. All the rot about Goguryeo and Silla are fake histories, nonsense concocted over the past half century or so to make some of the divisions far older than they really are.


There is a curious analogue between Korean political leaders of 20th century to Middle Eastern ones.

Syngman Rhee was Ahmed Chalabi, decades before Chalabi. A scion of an influential family, educated in United States (a Princeton PhD), skilled predominantly in sweet-talking American politicians and not much else, but was shrewd enough to realize that in the post-World War 2 world, you had to align with United States or Soviet Union, and he naturally chose United States.

Kim Il-Sung, although decades younger, is almost exact counterpart to Syngman Rhee, except vis-a-vis Soviet Union. Like Rhee, he realized that the post World War 2 world required aligning with one of the superpowers and, after a decade plus in exile in Soviet Union, he chose USSR.

One thing about both Rhee and Kim is that neither was a "puppet" of the superpowers. Rather, they decided to become the puppeteers to the superpowers, and they did it rather well. Kim was able to hoodwink Stalin into giving him considerable armaments and other material support for his scheme of unifying Korea by force. Rhee was able to hoodwink a great deal of economic aid from US that mostly went wasted in 1950s. After 1950s, though, Kim seems to have picked up some habits of other developmental, nation-building dictators like Hussein or Assad.

Kim Koo, a not-so-well-known leader outside Korea (and he was the prominent rival to Rhee who was assassinated in 1949), was a Korean Yasser Arafat. Basically a terrorist mastermind throughout early half 1900s, mostly targetting Japanese figures, but not always (the organization he was affiliated with--not yet in a position of leadership just yet--was responsible for assassinating a pro-Japanese American politician, for example). He believed naively that, once Korea became independent, it could go back to being a hermit kingdom and withdraw from the world. Neither Kim or Rhee liked him much, although he was too famous to be attacked directly--until he was "mysteriously" assassinated.

Park is a close analogue to Saddam Hussein. Similarly brutal dictator, similarly uncommitted to one side or the other in the Cold War (although he was much closer to United States than Saddam was to either side), similarly created to creating a modern nation (in multiple senses) by force, and similarly sought an "independent" path through, among others, a nuclear program, and yes, similarly divisive figure--fanatically believed by many even decades after he was shot, and fanatically despised by equally many still.

Babak Makkinejad

The ancient Pakche vs. Goguryu rivalry?



Polk sends me and several other people his material. I sometimes post it if I think it is interesting. he is unlikely to reply to your comments. pl


K_H_C -

Thanks for that. Although I was not asking about Rhee or Kim or other north-to-south or south-to-north emigres. Only asking about common people, farmers, small businessmen, or the man in the street. Like the ones I met in Seattle, Uijongbu, or in Takigahara, Japan. Or the Korean Marines I met in VN and exchanged C-rations with south of Danang.

If I understand your response to my question correctly, you are saying the northerners are not different and so are just as friendly and hard working as the southerners that I met in the past. Yes?

They (Professor Polk's 'people of the north') seem hard working to me; they would have to be to survive the Kim regime. Friendly, who knows? Some tourists have said yes, but they were probably on a Potemkin tour and never saw ordinary people.



The rivalries shifted over time. Mythologically, Pakche was founded by half-brother of the second king of Goguryeo , with a rivalry that lasted until 6th century or so. Then Pakche and Goguryeo became allies against Silla and Tang China. Of course, a modern might joke that this is showing up again--the Southwestern part of South Korea, the home of the alleged "democratic leftists," acting as if they are spokespeople for the North Korea sometimes. (Pakche was in the Southwest; Goguryeo was in the North.) Of course, all these presuppose that these early medieval kingdoms have anything to do with modern Korea: Japanese asserted, on largely mythological grounds, that they are the descendants of the Paekche (which showed up in late 1930s/early 1940s Japanese propaganda as assertion that Japanese and Koreans are fraternal peoples with common ancestry--it is an old trope going back centuries, asserted on both sides when convenient, by the way, although not very politically correct now), while the Chinese today are asserting that Goguryeo is not Korean at all, but Chinese. (not entirely unjustified--they were not Han, but the Jurchen people of Manchuria, the founders of the last Chinese imperial dynasty, always did assert, again on mythological grounds, that they are descended from Goguryeo). So, a lot of old mythologies being rehashed in new guises to fit contemporary politics, without much other than newly "correct" ancient history.

The real divisions are much more finegrained: there is some overlap between the old maps and the real divisions because old kingdoms were centered around different river valleys separated by geographic divides like mountain ranges. South Korea alone has at least half a dozen regionally aligned "tribes," although only 3-4 are relevant because of the numbers--Park, Kim Dae Jung, Kim Young Sam, and Kim Jong Pil's factions are the four major groupings (obviously, all with different figureheads now), and whoever holds power in Seoul depends on how these factions align relative to each other. Northern Korea has 4 or 5, but only 1 or 2 have been historically populous enough to be relevant--and I don't think it has mattered much last few decades.


The tour for 7th ID troops was also 13 months in 67-68. The Blue House Raid and Pueblo resulted in many "extensions" for soldiers who were rotating.


One quibble would be the omission of the Agreed Framework and Bill Clinton's personal responsibility for the current situation.

explain. Would you be so kind?

Random choice from the very, very top of my mind:

They differ over the causes of this confrontation and over the size, range and impact of the weapons that would be fired, but no one can doubt that even a “limited” nuclear exchange would have horrifying effects throughout much of the world including North America.

The first time during the last decades, I stumbled across the suggestion: "why not use nuclear arms? After all that ended the war with Japan." was in a O'Reilly 2006 interview with Yaron Book.

What I missed at the time was that it apparently was an ARI/Objectivist demand as early as Sep 28, 2001. Without checking thus even before crazy Yaron took over at ARI and as CEO had enough 'communications' staff on his hand to make matters disappear on Wikipedia.



Who are the ones discussing a "limited" nuclear exchange by now? And who are the experts behind the fact that nuclear arms surfaced in Trump's foreign policy speech? And what did those experts have in mind?


raven -

Did not intend to slight the 7th ID. Chalk it up to ignorance on my part about disposition of Army units.

During the same timeframe you mention there were many other incidents and border incursions into the South. Not clear to me whether it was a Pyongyang reaction to Park, or an act of solidarity with North Vietnam, or both?


Thank you for this tutorial in the history of the Korean peninsula.


Not at all most people have no idea there we're tow infantry divisions there at that time. This is pretty god even though it's almost 20 years old.


You are right that there were quite a few contacts with the NK's in that time and It seems remote that there wasn't coordination between the two given the timing of the two major incidents and Tet.


Tidewater says to All,

Wikipedia says that 3.4 per cent of the total population of South Korea are foreigners. The estimate is about 2,034,878 people working there. Half of these are Chinese. (1,045,533). There are 150,778 Americans. Canada contributes 27,363. Australia 9,764. UK is 7,896. New Zealand 3,917.

There are 30,098 Russians. From Thailand, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, come about another 400,000.

For these workers to leave abruptly, if commanded or warned by the United States, would severely damage the South Korean economy. Further, there would be enormous anxiety as to what was coming.

What would be coming? NBC warfare. North Korea has multiple rocket launchers, as well as other missiles, that can range down as far as Osan and Pyeontaek, which means that Camp Humphreys and the Desiderio airfield could receive scores of hits from dirty warheads worse than Cobalt bombs.

Question: does North Korea have torpedoes or naval mines armed with dirty warheads? A torpedo could deliver 600 pounds of dirty bomb. Does North Korea have supercavitating torpedos? These have maneuver problems, but not if launched at a fixed target on a straight line. Several dirty torpedos hitting a concrete pontoon wharf (there are thirty foot tides) could effectively shut down a commercial exit port like Pyeontaek Port.

Or Guam.

Hey, how about Sasebo, or Yokosuka? Off the wall---why not Fukushima all over again?

Would the South Koreans decide to slow things up, simply make it more and more difficult for Americans and others to leave? Perhaps establish holding camps?

I think the South Korean military, if it realized that the United States was taking actions which would almost certainly mean the destruction of much of the entire Korean peninsula, would turn on the Americans.

I don't think Americans understand the Koreans, either the northern or southern ones. They can become very dangerous. Very unpredictable. They will do anything. They always have.

ex-PFC Chuck

A most insightful piece. Please thank Dr. Polk for me and I presume the rest of us.


Raven -

Thanks for the link. Interesting read. Many years ago a local veteran who had served with the UN in Truce Village at Panmunjom gave us a slide show brief on the axe murders by a group of KPA soldiers. He was not there himself at the time but was part of the build-up immediately after. Mid 70s I think it was.

That was a bit of an overly hostile reaction to a tree trimming.

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you.


Captain Art Bofanis (promoted to Major posthumously) was a member of the West Point Class of 1966 featured in "The Long Gray Line" by Rick Atkinson. That class suffered 30 KIA's in Vietnam and members were instrumental in the building of the Wall. He had thee days left on his tour when he was killed.

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