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The Korean War

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Under such circumstances early on the Sunday morning of June 25, 1950, without any warning or declaration of war, North Korean troops invaded the unprepared South across 38th parallel. It was a well-prepared, all-out attack. South Korea's troops fought bravely, but proved no match for the heavily armed Communists and the Russian T-3 tanks, who were not checked until they reached the Naktonggang river near Taegu.

The Republic of Korea appealed to the United Nations. In response, the Security Council passed a resolution ordering the Communists to withdraw to the 38th parallel and encouraged all member countries to give military support to the Republic. U.S. troops soon began to arrive, and were subsequently 1joined by those from 15 other nations: Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Canada, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand, Greece, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Colombia, the Philippines, Belgium, and Luxemburg. The three Scandinavian countries sent hospitals along with medical personnel.

Under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Allied forces began to take the initiative, and after a surprise landing at Inch'aon, pushed the Communists out of South Korea and advanced into the North.

But in October the Communist Chinese intervened, throwing such large numbers of troops into battle that the U.N. forces were forced to retreat. Seoul once again fell into Communist hands on January 4, 1951. The U.N. forces regrouped and mounted a counterattack, retaking Seoul on March 12. A stalemate was reached roughly in the area along the 38th parallel, where the conflict had begun.

At this point the Soviet Union called for truce negotiations, which finally began at Kaesong in July of 1951, and were transferred to P'anmunjom in November that year. The talks dragged on for two years before an armistice agreement was reached on July 27, 1953.

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Democratic Revolution

In the aftermath of the Korean War, the country was beset with many problems - economic, social and political. The old patriot, Syngman Rhee, unable to see that he had outlived his usefulness, clung tenaciously to power. This refusal on the part of Rhee and his associates to let democratic processes take their normal course was at least partly responsible for the social and political unrest that followed the war.

Social disorder and hostility to the government complicated the already staggering problems created by the war. There were many thousands of war widows, more than 100,000 orphans, and tens of thousands of unemployed, whose ranks were swelled by farmers leaving their land to seek work in the cities. Exact statistics are not available, but in 1961 it was estimated that there were about 279,000 unemployed, of whom 72,000 were university graduates, and 51,000 discharged soldiers and laid-off workers. This provided a powder keg of anger and resentment that waited only for a spark to set it off.

The spark was provided by President Rhee and the Liberal Party in the course of the elections of 1960. Realizing its own unpopularity, the ruling regime used every means, legal or illegal, to rig the elections in its favor. Demonstrations broke out almost at once, especially among students. Protesting against government interference in schools, students rose up in Taegu on February 28, 1960. On March 15, election day, students demonstrated against the election, and police subsequently fired into the crowds. In early April, the discovery at Masan of the body of a student who had been killed by police was followed by a riot.

The most serious demonstrations were in Seoul. Responding to the Masan affair, practically all of the students in the capital poured into the streets. Again police fired on them as they neared the presidential residence and there was bloodshed. Martial law was imposed and troops dispersed the crowds.

Rhee had no choice but to step down. His desire for power had overcome his patriotism in the end. The students had led the people into the first successful democratic revolution in Korea's history, showing that Korean democracy was alive and healthy.

On July 15, 1960, an amendment to the Constitution was adopted by the incumbent Assembly providing for a cabinet system of government with a bicameral legislature. At the same time, the two houses of the newly elected Assembly in a joint session elected Yun Po-sun President of the Second Republic, and he was sworn in on August 15. President Yun nominated Dr. Chang Myon (John M. Chang) as Prime Minister, whose nomination was promptly confirmed by the House of Representatives. At this time, the Liberal Party was replaced by the Democratic Party as the majority party, and it immediately split into the New Democrats and the (Old) Democrats. The Prime Minister belonged to the former while the President belonged to the latter. Neither was strong enough constitutionally or personally to fill the gap created by the sudden ouster of the 12-year-old autocratic rule of President Syngman Rhee.

The new government was unable to cope with the situation in which it found itself. For one thing, most members of the new cabinet, while without question honest people, had little experience in government. The leaders, tasting the long-denied fruits of political power, began to wallow in its corrupting effect. The national economy had been brought to the brink of bankruptcy due to unfair tax collection practices coupled with waste and mismanagement of foreign aid and domestic resources under the Rhee administration. Prime Minister Chang's cabinet not only failed to muster the united support of the populace to cope with such problems, but helplessly stood by and watched daily demonstrations by students who thought they could sway national affairs by parading in the streets.

The North Korean Communists, having recovered from their disastrous adventure of 1950-1953, seized the opportunity of internal disorder in the South to subvert whatever effort the Chang administration could put forth. Elements of doubtful allegiance began urging "Peaceful Unification," a familiar line of propaganda emanating from Radio P'yongyang daily at that time.

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Summary of Korean History


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