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South Korea

Modern History of South Korea

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Demographics of South Korea
Cultural Aspects of South Korea
The two major religions of South Korea
Important people in South Korean history
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Modern History of South Korea
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South Korea: Modern History


Probably one of the most remembered events of South Korea was also the first event in its modern history.  The Korean War was a surprise attack on South Korea by its northern communist counterpart North Korea.  On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops attacked South Korea at the border of the two nations.  South Korean troops fought well, but could not stop the well-prepared all-out attack by the heavily armed Korean communists and Russian T-3 tanks.  Both China and the Soviet Union supported North Korea.  The United Nations, appealed by South Korea, passed a resolution for North Korea to withdraw and countries to give military support in South Korea.  US troops, along with support from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Canada, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand, Greece, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Columbia, the Philippines, Belgium, and Luxemburg arrived at South Korea to aid them.  General Douglas MacArthur commanded the Allied troops and landed a surprise attack at Inch’on.  From there, the Allied forces forced the Northerners out of South Korea and pursued them into North Korea.  In October of that year, China decided to intervene, sending out a large number of troops that the UN forces had to retreat.  On January 9, 1951, Seoul fell into communist hands, but was under their control for a short time.  Allied forces regrouped and counterattacked on March 12, retaking the city.  At last the Soviet Union called truce negotiations.  But the talks went on for two years until an armistice agreement was reached on July 27, 1953. 

            President Syngman Rhee of the First Republic continued to hold to whatever power was left after the Korean War.  Economic, social, and political problems were everywhere.  Rhee’s and his associates’ decision to not let democratic process run their normal course held some responsibility on the unrest.  War widows, orphans, and the 279,000 unemployed were some other concerns for the government.  The unemployed were angered by the government and when they could, they would show it.  The Liberal Party during the 1960 elections did everything they could, legal or illegal, to make sure they won.  Protests immediately began, mostly by students, against the government interference.  On election on March 15, students protested, and the police fired into the crowd, killing a boy.  The killing at Masan, as it became called, set off major riots.  President Rhee stepped down from office, realizing that power had over come his patriotism.  The students had led the first successful democratic revolution in Korea’s history.  On August 15, 1960, President Yun Po-sun of the Second Republic was sworn into office.  Unfortunately, the new cabinet leaders had little experience in government, and mismanagement ruled over.  The northern communists, having recovered from the war, initiated propaganda on South Korea, being in its awful state.  Under this new leadership, South Korea still could not bring itself back together. 

            Daybreak of May 16, 1961 the military marched into Seoul, and claimed that they had taken over the government and proclaimed a six-point pledge.  The Revolutionary Committee, headed by Army Chief of staff Lt. Gen. Chang Do-yong, set up a new constitution and inaugurated the Third Republic.  Park Chung Hee was elected president and was also elected two more terms after that.  Under his leadership, human and natural resources were effectively organized for the first time in Korean history.  The economy grew at an annual 9.2%.  Per capita GNP increased from US$87 in 1962 to US$1,503 in 1980.  Exports rose from US$56.7 million in 1962 to US$17.5 billion in 1980, 32.8%.  Park continued to run the country successfully, bringing prosperity to all areas, and continued still into the Fourth Republic.  Then Park’s lost some control and he started to gain more power.  He was assonated by the chef of the Korean CIA, and a new president was elected.  The country however was becoming very unstable in all parts.  By the time of the Fifth Republic in 1980, things started to left back up.  More peaceful and stable vents happened through the Sixth Republic, the Kim Young Sam Administration, and the Kim Dae-jung Administration.  South Korea has successfully reestablished itself since the civil unrest after the Korean War.