Post-War Asia: Korea's Partition & Reconstruction of Japan's Government

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  • 0:05 The Aftermath of WWII…
  • 0:44 The Partition of Korea
  • 3:47 The Occupation and…
  • 6:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will examine post-war Asia. We will specifically focus on the partition of Korea, and the occupation and reconstruction of Japan. We will understand why these events took place, and how their impact is felt to this day.

The Aftermath of WWII and a New Beginning

The aftermath of the Second World War had profound effects on East Asia, many of which are felt to this day. When the Imperial Japanese Army surrendered on August 14, 1945, a date celebrated by the Allies and many in the Western world as V-J Day, or 'Victory over Japan Day,' events were put into place that would permanently alter the geopolitical makeup of East Asia. Of particular importance were the partition of the Korean peninsula and the reconstruction of Japan.

The Partition of Korea

Before we dig into the specifics of the partition of Korea, let's quickly review some background material. For decades prior to World War II, the Korean peninsula was territory controlled by the Empire of Japan. Following the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905, Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. Even though Japanese control over Korea helped bring modernization, the Korean people were looked down upon by the Japanese, and often treated poorly.

As early as 1943, with World War II in full swing, Allied leaders were deciding what post-war East Asia should look like. In November of that year, at the Cairo Conference, U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek met to discuss what would become of the Japanese Empire.

It was determined that Korea should be a free and independent country. When Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, popularly known as... that's right, 'Victory over Japan Day', a provisional government was set up in Korea with the Soviet Union exercising control over the northern half and the United States exercising control over the southern half. Remember, during World War II the Soviet Union and the United States were allies! The boundary between the two zones of occupation was drawn at the 38th parallel.

Into 1946 and 1947 the Soviet Union and the United States could not agree on plans for an independent, unified Korea. The Soviet Union wanted a communist-leaning government installed, while the U. S. wanted a democratic-leaning, pro-American government put in. In 1947, the United Nations ordered free elections to be held to decide the issue. The Soviet Union failed to adhere to the U.N. resolution, prompting further uncertainty.

In August 1948, the Republic of Korea was declared, and formally took over control of the southern half of the peninsula. This is what we know as South Korea. A month later, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was declared in the Soviet zone of occupation. This is, of course, North Korea. Don't let the name 'Democratic People's Republic' fool you - it was anything but democratic, and it was not a republic. To this day, Korea remains divided along the 38th parallel, or the DMZ, which stands for demilitarized zone. Throughout the Cold War, and even to this day, tensions between the two Koreas occasionally erupt into minor displays of force.

The Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan

Following the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945, the Allies occupied Japan. This occupation lasted until 1952. The United States occupied the most important parts of the former Empire, although certain portions of land were controlled by Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union.

General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers by President Harry Truman, and charged with supervising the occupation of Japan. Although MacArthur was supposed to collaborate with other officials, in reality, he became the viceroy of the defeated nation. MacArthur tended to be aloof in his supervision of Japan, preferring to delegate power rather than micromanage. For the average American soldier, the occupation of Japan was a cushy job.

American soldiers typically occupied the best buildings, and lived in near-luxury compared to the destitute Japanese. The Japanese people were humiliated by their defeat, and were generally submissive to their conquerors. Fearful that American troops would rape their women, the Japanese went to great lengths to set up an elaborate system of brothels where 'comfort women' provided services. As venereal disease became a problem, coupled with other issues, MacArthur decided to close the brothels.

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