The new President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had just been in office a few months when the Armistice agreement between the United Nations (UN), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was signed in Panmunjom on 27 July 1953 (the Republic of Korea did not sign the agreement). As a result of the Potsdam Agreement signed at the end of World War 2 in 1945 between the United States, the USSR, Great Britain and China, the United States occupied southern Korea and the USSR northern Korea when Japan surrendered unconditionally.
The plan was to unify the American and Soviet occupied areas into a united Republic of Korea and hold elections in 1947. It did not happen. Korea ended up split into two separate countries like Germany was being split in Europe.
The two went to war in 1950 as North Korea, also known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea invaded the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea). As a result, the United Nations (lead by the United States) intervened and drove the DPRK north, but when the UN approached the border with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and the Peoples Volunteer Army (PVA) both of the PRC, counterattacked. After three years of fighting, the 38th parallel, the original border of the two Koreas renewed its role as a frontier. More than 1.2 million combatants (and an unknown number of civilians) on all sides died before the truce was signed on this day in 1953.
The truce was signed in Panmunjom on 27 July 1953, resulting a 60 year truce and exchange of prisoners of war, and settlement of personnel that did not to be repatriated to their homelands. North Korea calls it a victory, and the United States calls it a “police action” and nicknames it “The Forgotten War;” the truce ended most of the fighting but what follows is a list of a few of the major actions that have occurred in the last 60 years.
There have been nine presidents of the Republic of Korea and three leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The current chiefs of state of both countries are descendents of earlier heads of state.
The year 1968 saw a major escalation in cross-border tensions and with tensions between the DPRK and the United States. On 21 January, an assassination squad was intercepted near the Blue House, the ROK president’s official residence. Two days later, the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), an “environmental research ship” was attacked and captured in international waters. The crew was returned to the United States after 11 months. A few months later, a United States Navy surveillance aircraft (EC-121) was shot down 90 miles off the North Korean coast, with the loss of the entire crew. A Korean Airlines aircraft was blown up in Rangoon, Burma (1987), and another shot down under mysterious circumstances over the Soviet Union (1983).
On a more positive note, the Summer Olympic Games at Seoul, ROK’s capital, was a high point of that nation’s history in stark contrast to its state in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, both the United States and the Soviet Union withdrew their tactical weapons from the Demilitarized Zone—a strip of land across the entire Korean border. Troops still patrol this region, however.
There have been maritime incidents as well. A submarine surfaced near Gangneung, ROK in a failed attempt to extract a DPRK reconnaissance unit. Eleven of the 25 were killed by sub crew members, one was captured and the rest killed during the manhunt. The Cheonan (PCC-772) sank with the loss of 46 crew members on 20 March 2010. Eight months later, ROK and DPRK exchanged fire after a North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island in the ROK, causing the deaths of 16 South Korean Marines and three civilians.
Both Koreas have been sending rockets into space. However, South Korea has been open in its wishes to explore space, and the North’s launch attempts have been laced with vocalized threats against the United States, Japan, and South Korea. South Korea’s first successful launch this year was lauded and DPRK’s launch of its Kwangmyongsong satellite in 2012 was condemned because the of the differences in attitude between the two Koreas (ROK is open and non-aggressive, but DPRK is secretive and bellicose).
The Korean War is looked upon as one of the first major actions of the Cold War. The 27 July armistice 60 years ago only did not bring with it a treaty of peace, only a truce. With the gesturing, military raids, rhetoric, and even “space spectaculars” it appears that it is a continuing the Cold War in one part of the globe: the Korean Peninsula.