Korean History and Its Impact Today

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By growing up in England, in history we all learn about the Tudors, the Stuarts, the First and Second World Wars and so on. There is only diversity in what you learn as you decide to study history as a subject, only as you progress into A levels and pursue history at degree level in University. Therefore, I would like to share places I have visited that I have found fascinating, by their culture and by their history.

One such place is South Korea, a country that is gaining a lot of attention in the music and entertainment industry globally and becoming an increasingly popular country to visit for foreigners. But did you know the Korean War has never actually ended? Did you know about the Comfort women victims? This is a country that we do not learn much about but is very interesting to talk about. Therefore, I thought to give some brief knowledge about key parts in Korean history.

An interesting but upsetting part of Korean history is the story of comfort women. These were women who – as young as fourteen – were ripped from their homes and sent abroad to work as sex slaves during World War Two when Japan occupied Korea. This is an issue still widely debated in South Korea today for many feel they have not received a good enough apology from Japan, who finally compensated in 2015 that included $8.3 million to the surviving victims. While many see this as a step forward in Japan and South Korea’s relationship – especially considering they are allies – others feel this is not enough. In addition to this, in 2018, the Mayor of Osaka, Hirofumi Yoshimura, in Japan announced he was ending the relationship with San Francisco due to a bronze statue in San Francisco’s Chinatown of comfort women by the Filipino, Korean and Chinese communities there. Which begs the question of Japan’s sincerity in their apology.

In San Francisco, a memorial for the ‘comfort women’ victims in the Second World War.

 

Another period of Korean history is the Korean War, which spanned from 1950 to 1953, in fact in 1951 a stalemate occurred until 1953 when an Armistice Agreement was signed, thus creating the DMZ (Korean Demilitarised zone) in-between North and South Korea. This war is often referred to as the ‘Forgotten War’ despite there being more than 100,000 casualties of United Nation soldiers and millions of Koreans dead, this was due to its occurrence so close to the end of the Second World War prior, and then the Vietnam War after. Yet, a peace treaty has never been signed and so technically, the two nations are still at war – leading to men in South Korea having conscription for roughly two years, while men in North Korea for roughly eleven years and women for seven! Nowadays, considering national service was abolished in 1960, I do not think anyone in Britain could ever imagine conscription seeing as we are more of an individualistic, than collectivistic society. Nor do we have a possible threat so close to our border.

Nevertheless, South Korea has progressed and developed to becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world, whilst in comparison, North Korea remains mainly closed off from the rest of the world. In recent years, South Korea has had more of a presence on the international stage in the entertainment industry, with the explosion of Kdramas and most notably, Kpop into the western world with artists such as Psy with the hit song Gangnam Style, BTS and Blackpink. South Korea also has had huge capitalist success with companies such as Samsung, Hyundai and Kia Motors as well as becoming an important economic power.

I have visited South Korea many times and I heavily suggest you go if you have the chance! My suggestion would be in spring when it is the prettiest!

 

Here are some sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44646267

https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/korean-war

Link to the story of a Korean comfort woman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsT97ax_Xb0&t=1s

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/who-are-comfort-women-why-are-u-s-based-memorials-n997656

https://thediplomat.com/2017/01/the-final-and-irreversible-2015-japan-south-korea-comfort-women-deal-unravels/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/japan-city-snubs-san-francisco-over-comfort-women-statue-n916471?icid=related

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