The Korean War was a major civil war on the Korean peninsula soon after World War II (see Pacific War). It became a significant engagement for both the United States (leading the United Nations forces) and the People's Republic of China. The resulting stalemate divided the country and a people by creating the nations of North Korea and South Korea.
After Japan's defeat at the end of World War II, the Korean nation was liberated but soon became divided by the ideological struggle starting the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Kim Il-sung established a communist regime with the support of the Soviet Union in the North, while Syngman Rhee established a capitalist regime with the support of the United States in the South. The North and South governments both claimed authority over the entire peninsula, and antagonism from both sides eventually led to an invasion of the Southern part by the North.
The United States military returned to support the South Korean forces, but the prospect of American troops on the Chinese border led to a counter invasion by massive Chinese reinforcements. The war lasted three years and saw the capital Seoul change hands no less than 4 times.
The result was a stalemate and the country was cleanly cut in half, with the Communist North and Capitalist South developing into two extremely different nations today. Although there has been relatively little violence since the armistice, there has been very little progress toward concluding a peace treaty in the 50 years since.
Korea is rather unique in having an officially active war zone that you are able to visit. The Demilitarized Zone has been on edge for over 50 years and shows no sign of ending. Although the two Koreas remain technically at war with each other, and there have been military skirmishes (and deaths) over the years, there has been nothing resulting in a resumption of open warfare.
- Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
- The 1 Panmunjom peace village, where negotiations carry on to the present day
- 2 Dandong, in Northeast China, is right on the Yalu River which forms the border with North Korea. The Chinese half of the Yalu River Bridge, bombed during the war and never restored to its original state again, is intact and open for pedestrians.
- 3 United Nations Memorial Cemetery (재한유엔기념공원), 93, UNpyeonghwa-ro, Nam-gu, Busan 부산광역시 남구 유엔평화로 93. The only official United Nations cemetery in the world, it serves to honor the memory of soldiers from 16 nations who fought and died for the freedom of South Korea. This location is very far away from the DMZ on the south coast of the nation. Free.
- 4 The War Memorial of Korea (전쟁기념관), 29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29 (용산동1가). 09:00 - 18:00 (Closed Mondays). The original headquarters of the South Korean infantry, this is now a large museum dedicated to the Korean War over 8 exhibits.
- The 5 Imjin River, a tributary of the Han River, crosses the Demilitarized Zone. Just south of the river lies the Gloucester Valley Battle Monument, which stands on the site of the battlegrounds of Hill 235.