How 2 Colonels and a National Geographic Map Divided Korea

March 2, 2018 Topic: History Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: North KoreaSouth KoreaKorean WarKim Jong UnMilitaryHistoryTrump

How 2 Colonels and a National Geographic Map Divided Korea

A tragic story of a people still divided and how it happened. 


Once in office, Rhee used authoritarian tactics to suppress political opponents, many of whom were assassinated by his supporters. In Jeju, the South Korean military waged a counterinsurgency campaign that killed between fifteen and thirty thousand locals through village burnings and mass executions. A separate rebellion in southwestern Jeolla Province was also bloodily suppressed in October 1948. That same month, the Soviet Union officially recognized the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under Kim Il-sung.

By 1949, both Soviet and American troops had withdrawn from the peninsula, leaving behind violently irreconcilable regimes that both claimed to be the only legitimate government of Korea. A hastily conceived temporary compromise had resulted in the permanent division of a nation, and sowed the seeds for more than seventy years of conflict.


The two newborn states would eventually pursue starkly divergent paths—but before that, one of the two would call upon its international backers for the firepower to invade the other.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: Reuters