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Background of the Conflict

Korea is a beautiful land in Asia that has a long and rich history. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Japanese annexed and occupied the Korean peninsula.

During the course of the Second World War the leaders of the Allied nations of Great Britain, the United States and China met to decide what would be the fate of Japan and her territories when hostilities ended. In their Cairo Declaration of November 1943, they promised that "in due course Korea shall become free and independent."

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945 the Soviet Union occupied North Korea; the United States took over control in South Korea. The 38th Parallel was chosen as the dividing line. It was assumed that the occupation would be temporary and that a unified, independent country would eventually be formed.

Unfortunately, the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945 did not bring peace to the world. The western allies soon found themselves engaged in a new struggle with their former ally the Soviet Union. As the Cold War developed in other parts of the world, in Korea the 38th Parallel gradually hardened into a permanent boundary. In the north the Russians established a communist regime which they proceeded to arm. In the south the United States set up a shaky democracy under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. Complicated by the artificial boundary, the economic and political situation grew desperate, and by 1946 Syngman Rhee was appealing for an end to the division of his country.

In September 1947 the United States announced its intention of laying the whole matter before the United Nations. The Soviet Union countered by suggesting that both sides withdraw their forces leaving the Koreans free to choose their own government. The Americans rejected this proposal which would have left the South Koreans at the mercy of the heavily armed north. They submitted the problem to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Assembly, on November 14, 1947, created a Temporary Commission to Korea to supervise free and secret elections and to oversee the withdrawal of the occupation forces. As the Communists denied the Commission access to North Korea, it was directed to implement the program in those parts of the country which were accessible. On May 10, 1948, elections were held in South Korea; on August 15, the Government of the Republic of Korea was established. This Government was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly which recommended the withdrawal of occupying forces and established a new United Nations Commission. The Soviet Union immediately created in North Korea the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" under the control of a communist guerrilla leader, Kim II Sung.

In December the Soviet Union announced that it had withdrawn its troops from North Korea and thus forced the United States to follow suit in South Korea. The South Korean Army, armed with small arms and mortars and without tanks, heavy guns or aircraft, was left to face a large, well-equipped North Korean force.

Trouble soon flared up along the border as both sides claimed the right to rule all Korea. North Korean patrols began to invade the southern Republic and the United Nations Commission repeatedly warned of impending civil war.

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