north and south



Korea, before 1950





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Conflict Among Korean Nation

The opposition between Kim Il-Sung and Syng-Man Rhee became more evident when on December 1945, a decision at the Moscow Conferenc made by United States and USSR was announced to Koreans. Even after acknowledging Korea’s independency during previous conferences, foreign ministers declared Korea to be fully independent after five-years of trusteeship.[1] Nationalist Syng-Man Rhee strongly opposed to this idea, while Kim Il-Sung favored the decision, as he found it helpful for the formation of communist empire on Korea with the advocation of USSR.[2] Due to the continuous hostility between North and South, the United States passed on the issue to the United Nations (UN). In 1948, an UN Temporary Commission for Korea (UNTCOK) was established up.[3] The Northern Korea, however, rebuffed UN's entrance to their sector. Meanwhile, a separate free election was held in the Southern Korea, making Syng-Man Rhee a first elected president of the Republic of Korea.[4] After the settlement of Southern Korea’s government, Kim Il-Sung was also appointed as the Prime Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by the north Koreans, and formed a new nation.[5] Forming of two governments of different ideology and foundation within one country becomes a significant event that foreshadows the indication of a civil war.

kim and rheeKim and Rhee

The situation in Korea was at its worst condition as it was possible to expect a peaceful unification between the North and South. However, both Kim Il-Sung and Syng-Man Rhee restlessly desired to unite the peninsula and they did not fear to use military force for this matter as neither one of them accepted the other’s ideology. Spies were executed when found across the border, and many gun-involved aggressions broke out near the 38th parallel; even though the incidents were “faint,” there was a “chain of violence,” between the North and South Korean armies and it almost reached up to the point of the Korean War.[6]

Rhee and his South Korean officers greatly wanted to march into the North. He had spoke to his adviser Dr. Robert Oliver that “North Korea should be recaptured by the force of arms to fulfill the UN’s mandate that the Republic of Korea government is the only legitimate government,” and “to fulfill the ancient nationality of Korea.”[7] Despite this statement, South Korea made no preparation of an army and was in no state of military preparation, thus when the invasion came from the North, it appeared as a surprise to many South Koreans.[8]

On contrary, for Kim, he had more organized military plans to lead the unification of the peninsula. After the establishment of North Korea, Kim increased the size of Northern Korean armies and formed a meeting with Stalin on March 1949 to discuss the possibility of a war in Korean Peninsula.[9] He showed his want to “touch the South with the point of a bayonet,”[10] and he spoke to Soviet ambassador Shtykov on January 17th 1950, that "[he] can't sleep at night because [he is] thinking of the unification of the whole country.”[11] Furthermore, it is regarded that Kim became more and more impatient as Mao Zedong came close to unifying all China under the Communist regime and he was frustrated to see Mao’s success yet himself being an “incomplete dictator.”[12] Therefore, when Stalin finally gave him the permission to invade across the 38th parallel, Kim directly initiated the first attack across the border on 4 A.M. of June 25th, 1950, and thus began the Korean War.[13]


Not only the enmity between the North and South, but also Rhee and Kim’s pride and the nationalism of korean population were the major factors that originated the Korean War. Kim believed that if only he is granted with Soviet’s permission, “he could conquer the region in virtually no time.” Syng-Man Rhee was also convinced that “he could easily conquer the North.”[14] It is also reported that Kim have thought “if the [invasion] is postponed, then [he] may lose the confidence of the Korean People.”[15] In addition, numerous korean civilians rose in revolt for the unification of a nation, and apparentely when the North’s bid to reunify the Peninsula was told, the South replied with wide range of support;[16] showing the nationality of Koreans and their desire of unification.

Though it is evident that the accumulation of North and South Korea’s conflict has caused the Korean War, the question of who initiated the war is unclear among the North koreans. The Communists protested that the war was started by the South. In fact, many North Koreans believe this statement as many of them were exposed to Syng-Man Rhee speeches on his desire to recollect North Korea on radio.[17] Moreover, when the war broke out, South Korea incorrectly reported on papers that the Southern army had charged into enemy’s position, when the battlefront was actually descending to the edge of the South, causing difficulties to the Southern army. The North tactfully used this false report to assert South’s invasion across the border line.[18]

Nevertheless, existing evidences point that the initiator of the Korean War was North Korean armies with the order of Kim Il-Sung. Yoo Sung-Chul, who was the director of North Korea’s military operation during the Korean War era, recalls that “to hide that Kim Il-Sung  invaded the South by first,” the North reacted as if South Korea showed aggressive approach across the 38th parallel, and named their invasion “a counterattack order.”[19] One of Kim’s former aide and translator speaks that “in order to provoke a war and show that it had been started by the South,” the North Koreans put some of their units into green border-guard uniforms two days before the military operation and they then made an incursion into South Korean territory, drawing the South into battle. Thus the South Koreans started shooting at the North Korean border guards.[20]

Still, regardless on who initiated the war, it is important to notice that the origin of the Korean nation’s conflict was prominently a cause of the Korean War and both North and South hold the responsibility for it. 



Becker, Jasper (2005). Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. p. 53.

6.25전쟁 발발 배경과 진행과정 (the Outbreak of Korean War and its Progress). War Memorial. 2007.




Korean War in color: PART 3, Yeosu - Sunchon Rebellion (1948-1949), Goldhil Entertainment, November 25th 2005


Times Magazine, June 5th, 1950,


Goncharov, Sergei, Lewis, John and Xue Litai; Uncertain Partners, Stanford University Press, 1995, p.138

Shtykov cable to Stalin, 19 January 1950, AVPRF.

David Halberstam; The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, Hyperion, 2008, p.47

6.25전쟁 발발 배경과 진행과정 (the Outbreak of Korean War and its Progress). War Memorial. 2007.

David Halberstam; The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, Hyperion, 2008, p.48

Shtykov cable to Stalin, 19 January 1950, AVPRF.

Cumings, Bruce, The Origins of the Korean war, , Princeton University Press (1981, 1990)




Paul Lashmar, New Statesman & Society; 2/2/96, Vol.9 Issue 388, p24, 2p, 1bw

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