Under cover of night, on 18 June 1953, South Korean President Syngman Rhee released nearly 25,000 “non-repatriate” North Korean prisoners of war (pows). The event occurred just as United Nations Command (unc), Chinese, and North Korean negotiators were preparing to sign a hard-fought armistice agreement at P’anmunjŏm that long had been delayed on the question of voluntary repatriation of pows. unc officials articulated an enduring tale of surprise and betrayal, one that persists in Korean War histories to this day. However, this article, after an examination of unc pow camp records, is able to look beyond their outrage to discover that the u.s. Army, in fact, formulated a deliberate strategy of restraint for a likely prisoner release. This plan grew out of unc Commander General Mark W. Clark’s sympathy for anti-Communist pows and a sense of anxiety regarding the future of u.s. relations with the Republic of Korea (rok). Although no evidence exists to support a claim that u.s. officials formally colluded with the rok government, the u.s. military played a complicit role in Rhee’s pow release.
The decade of the 1950s was a formative period for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (dprk), one that shaped its integration into the international socialist system. This article examines the interaction between North Korea’s internal (institutional) and external (international) integration into the socialist system that, at this time, the Soviet Union and its East European bloc allies dominated. It argues that North Korea was more integrated into the socialist world than its nationalist ideology implied. The 1950s marked the culmination of the dprk’s connectivity to the international socialist world. The narrative begins in the second half of the 1940s with the building of North Korea’s socialist system. It then focuses on East European bloc aid to North Korea during and after the Korean War, as well as the dprk’s reactions to this fraternal assistance. By the second half of the 1950s, North Korea came to associate integration with dependency, generating nationalist impulses in dprk policy and laying the foundation for the juche (self-reliance) paradigm. North Korea’s nationalist ideology was part of a broader post-colonial nation building drive, but socialist interdependency also played a role in the dprk’s divergence, after the early 1960s, from the Soviet bloc and the People’s Republic of China.
In the 1950s, Christianity and educational achievement were the primary means for Koreans to break through the misery and powerlessness that the conflict from June 1950 to July 1953 had caused. Along with education, religion was a promising route in securing familial welfare for South Koreans. Among the several religions and denominations, Protestant churches were more popular for the uprooted people residing in urban areas. These two privately motivated daily activities—education and religion—captured the concern of the Korean people who had lost everything during the war. Under President Syngman Rhee’s “police state” and infrastructural ruin, religious and educational institutions filled the vacuum in the Republic of Korea that the Korean War had left in civil society. The Korean “habitus” of family promotion in the 1950s foretold the fast economic growth of the 1960s and 1970s. This paper will show how South Korea, during that decade, witnessed the formation of a new familialism, which tended to focus on the family’s fortune and money as a final goal. Ethical understandings and political decisions were secondary to the main priority of family promotion.
Scholarly debate about the reasons for Korea’s division at the 38th parallel in August 1945 has not been particularly intense. Early historical accounts accepted the u.s. government’s claim that the United States and the Soviet Union made a hasty decision to partition the country as a matter of military convenience to coordinate the acceptance of the surrender of Japanese forces at the end of World War ii. By the early 1980s, however, new research had established that President Harry S. Truman planned to occupy all of Korea after using the atomic bomb, which was designed to force Japan’s surrender before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War. But when Premier Joseph Stalin sent the Red Army into Korea, Truman proposed dividing Korea to prevent the Soviets from imposing Communist rule on the entire nation. Recently, some South Korean scholars have challenged this interpretation. Relying on new research, they contend that during the Potsdam Conference, u.s. and Soviet officials negotiated a secret agreement to divide Korea at the 38th parallel. This research note examines Won Bom Lee’s article making this argument, showing how it lacks evidentiary support to overturn the standard explanation for Korea’s division.