Key Factor in the Outbreak of a Major Conflict in Korea in June 1950

1 January 2017

On the other hand, there are a large number of other factors that were, or could have been, decisive reasons for the outbreak in Korea. The revisionist theory speculates that the key factor in the outbreak of a major conflict was the instability and hostility within Korea. Despite how it is viewed today in comparison to North Korea, South Korea (or the Republic of Korea) was not as ‘democratic’ as it truly claimed when created in 1948.

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Syngman Rhee’s regime was extremely repressive, and frequently imposed policies that were neither fair nor impartial on citizens; crack downs on communist-inspired rebellions were very fierce. In October 1948, 2000 police mutinied at Yeosu because they sympathized with the rebels, who protested against the government’s unfair land policy (their form of redistributing once Japanese-owned land) and the use of colonial police (police trained by the Japanese). North Korea, on the other hand, gained its independence more peacefully, and projected to outsiders, with the use of propaganda, a sense of unity.

Many South Koreans at the time were drawn towards this image, which only strengthened the collective idea that Korea should be integrated and unified; this encouraged both sides to wish to invade the other. Also, contrary to the traditionalist view that war broke out as a result of Stalin’s eagerness to spread communism, a new theory deduces that though Stalin was the originator in the game, his eagerness was not due to the desire to spread communism, but formed by his hopes of creating another Soviet bloc in East Asia.

Many factors during that period could have made him confident of his ability to achieve this aim; on top of gaining China as a new communist ally, the USSR had also managed to detonate its atomic bomb in 1949, four years earlier than the US had predicted it would. Kim’s additional promise of a decisive victory if North Korea were to proceed with an invasion, as well as Mao and Stalin’s assumption that Korea was trivial to the US (judging by its withdrawal of troops in 1949, and Secretary of State Acheson’s exclusion of Korea from the defensive perimeter) could have made Stalin eager for an invasion of the south.

Furthermore, a large number speculate that the Korean War in general had neither been the result of mere conflict between Koreans in the north and south, nor the result of actions by one or the other of the superpowers. Many believed that Korea was the medium through which both superpowers decided to go in to combat. The Cold War tensions that had developed between these two countries since 1945 precluded any possibility of their engaging in full frontal attack against each other, as both were in possession of the atomic bomb, and acknowledged that open war would lead to Mutually Assured Destruction.

It was believed that the US and the USSR were the actual originators of the Korean conflict, whereas the Koreans and the Chinese were only the facilitators. Many saw the North Korean invasion of South Korea as Stalin’s direct challenge to Truman and the US, and not merely the result of conflicts within Korea, or even a hope to spread communism; his incentive was created in relation to the Cold War. This motivation might have also been a key factor in the outbreak of the conflict.

Lastly, one major factor that played a part in the outbreak of a major conflict was the opposition between the individual leaders, Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung. Both leaders were exceptionally nationalist; though both wanted to create a united Korea, each wanted this new Korea to be under his rule with himself as the ultimate leader. Syngman Rhee hoped for the unification of Korea under his leadership, because he wanted to create a safeguard against communist China and the Soviet Union, since both countries bordered Korea.

But to do this, Rhee needed the economic and military support of the US. Kim, on the other hand, did not want to create a unified Korea dependent on the support of the Soviet Union, but a communist country independent and insulated. Either way, these incentives prompted both leaders to seek their ‘benefactors’ for help. Kim managed to persuade Stalin to aid his invasion of South Korea in June 1950, and Rhee finally got the support of the US to retaliate.

Overall, I believe that Communist aggression was definitely a main factor in the outbreak of a conflict, but this Communist aggression on the North Korean side was most likely spurred on by the individual incentives of Kim Il Sung, as well as the support of Stalin and Mao. South Korea also played a part in bringing about this eventual outbreak, impelled by Syngman Rhee and the communist-fearing USA. In conclusion, I believe that Communist aggression was a vital factor, but not necessarily the key factor in the outbreak of a major conflict in Korea in June 1950.

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