When World War II ended, Korea became a divided nation. North of the 38th parallel, Japanese troops surrendered to the Soviets while South of this line, the Japanese surrendered to the Americans. One was the Communist industrial north. The other was the non-Communist rural south.
Soviets gambled that the United States would not defend South Korea. So, they supplied North Korea with tanks, airplanes, and money in an attempt to take over the peninsula.
Standoff at the 38th Parallel On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans swept across the 38th parallel in a surprise attack on South Korea. Within days, North Korean troops had penetrated deep into the south.
President Truman was resolved to help South Korea resist Communist influence. When the matter came to a vote in the Security Council, the Soviets were absent. A total of 15 nations, including Britain and Canada, participated under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur launched a surprise attack. Soon about half of the North Koreans surrendered. The rest retreated.
Then, in October 1950, the Chinese felt threatened by the American fleet off their coast. They sent 300,000 troops to aid North Korea. The Chinese drove UN forces southward and finally captured the South Korean capital, Seoul. By 1952, UN troops had recaptured Seoul and regained control of South Korea. Finally, in July 1953, the UN forces and North Korea signed a cease-fire agreement.
After three years of fighting, the border between the two Koreas was set near the 38th parallel. In North Korea, the Communist dictator Kim Il Sung established collective farms, developed heavy industry, and built up the country’s military power. At Kim’s death in 1994, his son Kim Jong Il ascended to power when North Korea developed nuclear weapons. However, it continues to struggle with shortages of energy and food.
On the other hand, South Korea prospered, thanks to massive aid from the United States and other countries. In the 1960s, South Korea concentrated on developing its industry and boosting foreign trade. A succession of dictatorships ruled the rapidly developing country. With the 1987 adoption of a democratic constitution, however, South Korea established free elections. During the 1980s and early 1990s, South Korea claimed one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.