Bluster and North Korea

Nobody would be worried about missiles fired from North Korea if the Yalta Conference of February 1945 had turned out differently.

The Yalta Conference was the second of three meetings involving the heads of state of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union during World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin had met in Tehran, Iran, in 1943. All three also attended the Yalta Conference on the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea. The third meeting, held in Potsdam, Germany, also included Stalin, but Roosevelt had died and been replaced by Harry S Truman. Churchill was still alive, but Clement Attlee had displaced Churchill as Prime Minister.

These meetings had two purposes. They helped the allied governments cooperate in their war against the Axis powers, and they also helped those governments plan for the post-war era. For example, as the United States and the United Kingdom planned their D-Day invasion, they were able to persuade Stalin in Tehran to launch an invasion of German-held territory at about the same time to pin German troops on the eastern front. The partition of Germany following the war was also determined at these conferences.

Probably the most important agreement made in Yalta was that each of the allied powers would set up governments in the lands that they captured from the Axis. Aside from eastern Germany, the Soviet Union also formed governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary at the end of the war. Churchill and Roosevelt had insisted that free elections be held-especially in Poland-and Stalin promised that such elections would be held. Instead, all those countries were placed under governments following the Soviet system, and they remained under Communist Party rule until 1989.

Stalin also promised that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan roughly three months after the surrender of Germany. This promise he kept. In the beginning of August, Soviet troops entered Korea and began battling the Japanese forces occupying the country. This Soviet invasion factored into President Truman’s decision to rush the end of the war by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, although his fear of the loss of life that would be caused by a conventional invasion of Japan was a larger concern. When Japan surrendered, Soviet forces had captured the northern half of Korea, and they invoked the Yalta agreement to create a Soviet-sponsored government there as well. Roosevelt and Churchill had never intended Korea to be divided, but Truman and Attlee were not about to concede all of Korea to the Communists. Korea was split into two countries, and today it remains two countries under separate governments.

North Korea is the only Communist nation to be ruled by a single dynasty. Three generations of the Kim family have ruled North Korea since 1945. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea, setting off a three-year war which would later spawn an eleven-year television show called MASH. The United Nations condemned the invasion. Soviet representatives in the UN were absent that day, so they failed to veto the UN’s decision to send troops to support South Korea. (This is generally offered as proof that Kim and North Korea were invading on their own and not under instructions from the Soviet Union.) When the UN forces prevailed against the North Korean army, Chairman Mao sent reinforcements from the Peoples Republic of China, and the war became a stalemate that was settled by treaty in 1953, leaving things much as they had been before 1950.

The division of Korea became an interesting test case for different economic beliefs. With the support of the United States, South Korea built a capitalist economy, while North Korea built a socialist economy inspired by that of the Soviet Union. South Korea has blossomed into an economic power, while North Korea has remained stagnant economically. The government of North Korea has invested heavily in military equipment, including atomic weaponry and missile technology. With little opportunity to boast about anything else, the North Korean government regularly reminds the world of its power. The United States in particular has responded to these reminders with its own reminders of American military power.

I teach history classes. I am more qualified to discuss the past than to predict the future. I can say with confidence, though, that governments like those in North Korea and Cuba are doomed to failure sooner or later. No matter how hard they try, despots can only fool their people for a while. News of what people in other countries possess leads to discontent and a desire for change. At some point the mistakes made at the Yalta Conference will be upended and freedom will prevail, even in North Korea. J.


18 thoughts on “Bluster and North Korea

  1. I had forgotten how Korea got split. Thanks for the reminder. It is interesting how China has become far more dominant over North Korea than Russia, but that is the significance of economic power.

    FDR served as president far too long. Overall, his presidency was a disaster. I guess he served as a fairly decent war leader, but he made the Great Depression worse, and I have a hard time figuring out anything he did to improve the post war period. The man was just too interested in the acquisition and exercise of power.

    Liked by 1 person

    • China has been active in the politics and culture of Korea for centuries. Russia and the United States are the new kids on the block. At one point, Korea was divided among three warring kingdoms. One of them, the Silla, invited the Chinese to help them conquer the other two. The history of what happened next varies, depending upon which country you ask. According to Koreans, once the Silla had achieved the unity of Korea, they told the Chinese soldiers to go home. When the Chinese refused to leave, the Silla drove them out and established their independence, ruling a united Korea for more than five hundred years. According to Chinese historians, the Silla promised to make Korea a vassal kingdom of China. China respected its token independence–what one might call “home rule”–and continued to call the shots in Korea for all those centuries. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for a great post. I am one of the few who actually recognize that history has much to teach us. If you can manage to instill that truth in even one of your students, you will have done your job well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s not for nothing the saying goes “history repeats”. I agree with you that situations like we see nowadays in North Korea or Cuba cannot continue on forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There were underlying troubles during the Yalta conference… Churchill was treated poorly by both Roosevelt and Stalin.
    They would often meet alone and secretly without including Churchill…who, when realizing what was happening, had his feelings greatly hurt.

    Stalin did not care for Churchill and felt Roosevelt was easier to work with as he was more willing to acquiesce or “give in” without arguing.

    Roosevelt had little patience for Churchill despite Churchill greatly admiring the American president , especially early on in their relationship.

    By the time of the Conference, Roosevelt was already sick, visibly worn and tired—he was
    quick to do what Stalin wanted as he was simply a weary man.

    Churchill tried to convey his concerns regarding Stalin to Roosevelt but FDR considered much of the worry to be of little to no consequence…he chalked it up to Winston merely being Winston.

    Churchill left the conference very frustrated.

    It is amazing when we look back at that time and of how a small handful of world leaders shaped our lives to this day as they cut and chopped nations up into pieces of a pie —only creating further problems (The Balkans to name but one) for another day….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have rescued this comment from the spam list. Sorry it dropped in there.
      Not only was Roosevelt ill and tired (and a bit naïve about Stalin’s intentions), he put a lot of trust in a certain aide named Alger Hiss. Roosevelt died before it was revealed that Hiss had been an active member of the Communist Party in the United States and even spied upon his government. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oooooo, the plot only thickens!!!!
        I have an entire antique cabinet / book shelf that was my grandmothers that is filled to the brim of my Churchill books.
        I think it was after reading the Jon Meacham book about Roosevelt and Churchill, several years back, that my feelings really began to turn against Roosevelt.
        Feelings that were only deepened when I read A Daughter’s Tale by Mary Soames—the youngest Churchill child.

        But the best I’ve read is God and Churchill by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley. Sandys is Churchill’s great grandson…it gives such a warm insight and is exceedingly timely…

        Thank you for finding me 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good history lesson as usual my friend. The only thing I would add is the small note that the war didn’t end in 1953 with a Peace Treaty; it was merely an Armistice. Technically, the two countries have remained at war since that time. That fact has been notable to folks who have served in the armed forces over there, as things are, and have always been exceedingly tense over there. Did not know that about the Soviets being absent at the vote; that explains some things for me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • For that matter, it was not a war, technically. North Korea invaded South Korea without declaring war. Members of the United Nations supported South Korea without declaring war. China supported North Korea without declaring war. North Korea, the United States, and the Peoples Republic of China signed the Armistice; South Korea never signed it. So technically, the hostilities never ended. J.


      • Ha yeah, good point! But your last thing, that technically the hostilities never ended, that is very painfully true. I love your history lessons J. They always provide food for thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoy the study of history. Hated it in school! At some point in my late 20’s I became interested in my British/Scottish and German ancestry, started investigating it, and became completely hooked on the histories of my ancestors. I’m particularly interested in the English Anglo-Saxon period/transition to Norman England and on through the middle ages up until roughly the Reformation. But yeah, history in general rocks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • People who think they don’t like history usually confuse history with trivia–memorizing names and dates and so on. As a history teacher, I work to give context to the events rather than forcing students to memorize the trivia. When they want to know something, they can look it up. I give them reasons to want to look them up. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoy your history lessons and receive much benefit from them. My “history lessons” ending when college did. What I have learned since then is only in bits and pieces while my life whirled around home and elementary school. I’m woefully ignorant of 20th century political and geographical changes even though I lived through them all – sitting here in the USA safely on the sidelines. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aside from Pearl Harbor and 9-11, our history has been relatively safe, secure, and comfortable. People remember a few landmarks–assassinations and explosions, for the most part. But the flow of human history is fascinating, and that knowledge helps current events to make more sense. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting article Salvageable that offers much needed background and context to today’s N Korea crisis. I was not aware of this history and much appreciate the lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

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