History


The establishment of the US military government in Incheon on September 8, 1945 after the defeat of the Japanese to the Allied Powers signals the beginning of South Korea’s history. Lt. General John R. Hodge took control of the newly created government. During this period, South Korea was under great political and economic chaos because of different reasons including the effects of the war. The nation’s first constitution was established on July 17, 1948 following the general election of May 10, 1948. Consequently, the First Republic of South Korea was officially founded on August 15 with Syngman Rhee as the first president.


South Korea’s Second Republic was characterized by immense democratic ruling. Yun Po Sun was voted president on August 13, 1960 with Prime Minister Chang Myon acting as head of government. On May 16, 1961 Major General Park Chung-hee headed a coup d’ etat putting that eventually overthrew the Second Republic. Park was reelected in the 1967 election assumed presidency for 2 years and again won the elections in 1969 and 1971. During his administration, South Korea began to establish its international roles in the global community and its economy also grew significantly. In November 21, 1972, the country adopted the Yusin Constitution that provided Park with valuable control of the parliament. In 1979, Park was assassinated by Kim Jae-kyu that resulted in strong opposition against authoritarian rule and the Fifth Republic emerged. The city of Gwangju witnessed a historical and violent conflicts and riots among National University students and the armed forces.


The Sixth Republic started with Roh Tae-woo who was elected in 1987 and one of Major General Chun Doo-hwan’s colleagues. In 1992, Kim Young-sam was elected president and became South Korea’s first civilian leader in 30 years. During this period, the country pursued the so-called “Sunshine Policy” which was a progression of efforts to resolve issues with North Korea.


U.S. Military administration 1945–1948
Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the Allied Powers on 15 August 1945. General Order No. 1 for the surrender of Japan (prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of U.S. military forces and approved on 17 August 1945) prescribed separate surrender procedures for Japanese forces in Korea north and south of the 38th parallel. After Japan’s surrender to the Allies (formalised on 2 September 1945), division at the 38th parallel marked the beginning of Soviet and U.S. trusteeship over the North and South, respectively. This division was meant to be temporary and was first intended to return a unified Korea back to its people until the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and Republic of China could arrange a trusteeship administration. In February 1945 the Yalta Conference discussed the issue of trusteeship for Korea. U.S. forces landed at Incheon on September 8, 1945 and established a military government shortly thereafter. Lt. General John R. Hodge, their commander, took charge of the government. Faced with mounting popular discontent, in October 1945 Hodge established the Korean Advisory Council. A year later, an interim legislature and interim government were established, headed by Kim Kyu-shik and Syngman Rhee respectively. However, these interim bodies lacked any independent authority or de jure sovereignty, which was still held by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea based in China, but U.S. leaders chose to ignore its legitimacy, partly because of it communist alignment. Political and economic chaos – arising from a variety of causes – plagued the country in this period. The after-effects of the Japanese exploitation remained in the South, as in the North. In addition, the U.S. military was largely unprepared for the challenge of administering the country, arriving with no knowledge of the language, culture or political situation. Thus many of their policies had unintended destabilizing effects. Waves of refugees from North Korea and returnees from abroad also helped to keep the country in turmoil.

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