Even though the Korean War ended in a truce agreement in July 1953, a high level of tension remained between North and South Korea. Although North Korea presented numerous proposals for peaceful unification after signing the truce, none was premised on the notion of the continuation of the existing South Korean government, which made the proposals unacceptable to Seoul.

Throughout the Park Chung Hee era, relations with North Korea were marked by mutual distrust and discord, with only a brief respite between July 1972 and June 1973 when the two sides engaged in high-level negotiations. In July, 1972, North and South Korea issue a joint communique, agreeing to achieve peaceful reunification of the peninsula. Park Chung Hee sent a trusted aid to Pyongyang. Hopes were raised that tensions might be reduced and a way toward unification of the divided nation might be found. Entrenched suspicions made the contentious issues separating the two sides even more difficult to solve, and the talks were broken off. Meanwhile, the armed confrontation continued.

The continuing failure of the negotiations reflected the depth of the gap separating the two Koreas — particularly noteworthy in view of the mellowing international environment evidenced, for example, by China's much-improved relations with both the United States and Japan. There were indications that both China and the United States exerted considerable influence on the Korean negotiations, but without marked effect. Leaders in the north and the south found their ideologies and aims totally incompatible. South Korea's leaders were determined to keep their society free from communism, while North Korea's leaders were committed to the cause of bringing "people's democratic revolution" to the south.

Relations Between South Korea and Japan in the 1960s and 70s

The most important development in South Korea's diplomacy under Park was the normalization of relations with Japan. Although South Korea had traded with Japan since 1948 and the two countries had engaged in negotiations since 1951, disagreement on a number of issues had prevented diplomatic ties. The junta under Park actively sought to normalize relations. Negotiations resumed in October 1961, culminating in an agreement in June 1965 to establish diplomatic relations. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Park settled for a fraction of the "reparations" earlier demanded by Rhee, and Japanese fishermen were given access to South Korean waters outside of the three-mile territorial limit (Rhee had prohibited Japanese fishermen from coming any closer than the medial line between Japan and Korea). Under the treaty, the Japanese government was to provide the capital necessary for an industrialization program and to open up ever-increasing loans, investments (both public and private), and trade. The treaty normalizing relations was denounced as a sellout by the opposition and the intellectuals and touched off prolonged, widespread student demonstrations. *

South Korean-Japanese relations since normalization have been amicable, but were considerably strained by the abduction from Tokyo of Kim Dae Jung in August 1973, which resulted in long and embarrassing negotiations. In 1979 South Korean-Japanese relations entered a new era as the two countries began informal ties on defense matters, such as the establishment of the Korean-Japanese Parliamentary Conference on Security Affairs. *

Relations Between South Korea and the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s

South Korea continued to depend on United States military assistance. In spite of initial United States hesitation about supporting Park in 1961, the two countries maintained close economic, military, and diplomatic ties. South Korea dispatched combat troops to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in 1965 to augment United States forces there, and President Lyndon B. Johnson paid a personal visit to Seoul in October 1966 to show his appreciation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Friction began to develop in the Washington-Seoul relationship after the United States withdrew one of its two divisions from South Korea in 1971 and intensified after Park instituted rigorous authoritarian measures under his 1972 constitution. This tension led to an accelerated effort by the Park government to gain support in the United States Congress. The methods used by Seoul's lobbyists ultimately resulted in the embarrassing "Koreagate" affair of 1977, involving former Ambassador Kim Dong-jo and rice dealer Park Tong Sun. Park Tong Sun, a popular social host in Washington, was accused of giving campaign contributions and other favors to 115 Congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans. Investigations by the Ethics Committee and by the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives received much press coverage and weakened United States support for South Korea.

During his presidential election campaign in 1976, Jimmy Carter pledged, if elected, to withdraw all combat troops from South Korea. His victory aggravated United States-South Korean relations considerably. In March 1977, the United States decided to withdraw its ground combat forces over a four-to-five year period. Some 3,600 troops subsequently were withdrawn, but further reductions were suspended in 1979. In the meantime, President Carter and the Congress continued to press for the improvement of the human rights climate in South Korea. Relations between the two countries were at a low point in 1979, just before Park's assassination. In early 1981, President Ronald Reagan's administration announced that further withdrawals were not being considered.

Relations Between North and South Korea and the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s

Cold Wars tensions existed between North Korea and the United States through the 1950s and 1960s. North Korea has objected to the U.S. military presence in Korea and its economic assistance to South Korea. It views the United States as the strongest imperialist force in the world and as the successor to Japanese imperialism. The Korean War only intensified this perception. The United States views North Korea as an international outlaw. The uneasy armistice that halted the intense fighting of the Korean War has occasionally been broken. Economic sanctions have been in place on North Korea since it invaded South Korea in the early 1950s. These sanctions prevent trade, investment, air travel and shipping between the United States and North Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Since 1945 North Korea's relationship with the United States has been marked by almost continuous confrontation and mistrust. The uneasy armistice that halted the intense fighting of the Korean War has occasionally been broken. In 1968, more than 100 soldiers died along the DMZ and the United States spy ship Pueblo was seized (See Below). In April 1969, a North Korean plane shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 spy plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. In In 1976 of two American soldiers were killed at the P'anmunjm "Peace Village" in the middle of the DMZ. North Korea's assassination of several United States-educated South Korean cabinet officials in 1983 and the terrorist bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987 likewise has reinforced United States perceptions of North Korea as unworthy of having diplomatic or economic ties with the United States.

The increased friction between China and the Soviet Union and warming of relations between North and South Korea in the 1970s initially had an immediate and beneficial impact on Korea. The Nixon administration withdrew a division of United States soldiers from South Korea. North Korea responded by virtually halting attempts at infiltration. and by significantly reducing the defense budget in 1971. Within a year, however, this initiative had effectively failed.

United States policy again shifted, if less dramatically, when the administration of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) announced plans for a gradual but complete withdrawal of United States ground forces from South Korea (air and naval units would remain deployed in or near Korea). At that time, a prolonged period of North Korean courting of the United States began. In 1978, however, the first of the large-scale military exercises called Team Spirit, involving more than 200,000 United States and South Korean troops, was held. And, in 1979, the Carter administration dropped its program of troop withdrawal in reaction to North Korea's rapid and extensive upgrading of its army and the discovery of North Korean-built tunnels under the DMZ; the administration committed itself to a modest but significant build-up of force and equipment levels in South Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Tensions Between North and South Korea and the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s

The Korea historian Bruce Cumings wrote: “The Cold War was more frigid here than anywhere else in the world” on the Korean peninsula. During the 1960s, when the attention of most Americans was focused on Vietnam, the North Koreans regularly infiltrated the South. Journalist Howard Sochurek interviewed one infiltrator who was captured by the South Korean army after throwing grenades at a bus. The infiltrator said his instructions were to assassinate the Korean president. After he was captured he believed his mother, father, two sisters and brother were executed. [Source: Howard Sochurek, National Geographic, March 1969 |||]

A total of 21 Americans were killed in 1968, three of them within a mile of Pannumjom. Sochurek talked with one American soldier whose truck was brought to a halt by a North Korean grenade while on patrol. "I saw muzzle flashes from both sides of the road — maybe 10 to 20 feet ahead of us," the soldier said. "I was hit in the leg and got down and doubled up on the floor of the truck...I felt somebody jerk the .45 pistol from my holster. I was trying to freeze, but I was so scared my left leg kept fluttering." Four of the six soldiers on the truck were killed and the attackers escaped. |||

Between October and December 1968, 100 North Korean commandos infiltrated the South Korean eatst coast and tried to incite a guerilla war. In August, 1976, thirty North Korean guards bludgeoned to death two U.S. servicemen with ax handles and injured eight others while they were trimming some trees near the truce village along the DMZ. The North Koreans were apparently upset that trees were being trimmed so close to their guard towers.

North Korean Commandos Try to Kill Park Chung Hee in 1968

On January 21, 1968, a unit of 31 North Korean commandos attempted to infiltrate the presidential palace and assassinate President Park Chung-hee. They were caught just 500 meters away from the palace. A fierce street battle erupted near the presidential palace. All but two of the North Koreans were killed. Three-one South Koreans were also killed. Two days later the USS Pueblo was seized.

Sebastien Roblin wrote in the National Interest: “At midnight on January 17, 1968, thirty-one men in dark overalls quietly slip across the demilitarized zone separating North from South Korea. This sector, located thirty miles directly north of Seoul, is lined with barbed wire and dense minefields, and overlooked by the sentries and machine-gun nests of the U.S. Second Infantry Division.But the infiltrators clip through the barbed-wire fence, bypass or disarm the mines, and creep past the enemy guard posts, which are helpfully illuminated by the fires the sentries use to combat the winter chill. They camp out just a few miles away from the American division’s headquarters. The following evening, they penetrate deeper into South Korea. Confronted by the frozen Imjin River, they don white sheets for camouflage and skid over to the other side. [Source: Sebastien Roblin, National Interest, April 17, 2019]

“These men belong to Special Forces Unit 124, and have been training for this moment for two years. Selected for physical strength and political loyalty, they have been instructed in marksmanship and jiujitsu, taught to speak with southern accents and made to undergo gruesome tests of endurance, including going for days without food and sleeping with dead bodies in a grave. Each man is loaded down with over sixty pounds of gear, including a submachine gun, a pistol and eight hand grenades.

“Their mission: to assassinate South Korean president Park Chung-hee at his residence in Seoul. As one commando states, “We thought the president there was a stooge, an American collaborator. I hated him.” The assassins trek cross-country through forests and mountains by night and sleep by day. But the elite commandos have a blind spot: they are so indoctrinated in North Korea’s self-evident superiority that they naively assume the South is ready for revolution—and that killing President Park, who had come to power in a military coup, will serve as the catalyst. This is unlikely. Though Park is a dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protesters and political opponents, he has also initiated a program of state-led, export-oriented industrialization that is already transforming a formerly poverty-stricken South Korea.


Propaganda, Spies and Meetings After the Korean War

After the Korean War (1950-53), North Korea set up three-story-high loudspeakers along the DMZ. American soldiers there were often woken up in the middle of the night by "Pyongyang Polly," promising any one who came to north "too good job, too much pay" and "get nice girls" too. "Bring machine gun and you get paid 1,000 won, North Korean money [US$400]. Bring radio get 500 won, helicopter 10,000 won." [Source: Howard Sochurek, National Geographic, March 1969 |||]

North Korean agents infiltrated South Korea. They were given information by radio broadcasts from Pyongyang that first told the agents what page to turn in their code books and then read off series of numbers interspersed with military marching music. |||

Meetings, which usually consisted of one side accusing the other of something, continued at Panmunjon. Between 1953 and 1969, the United Nations Command (UNC) accused the North Koreans of 6,100 treaty violations of which they admitted to two. They in turned charged the UNC with 54,399 violations of which 92 were admitted. During standoffs, representatives of the two sides would stare at each cross the negotiating table without saying anything for ten minutes. In the 1960s, the chief North Korean negotiator often said to his U.S. counterpart, "You all will be dead in the streets like the Kennedy's." |||

Pueblo Incident

On January 23, 1968, the U.S. Navy electronic surveillance ship, “USS Pueblo”, was seized by four North Korean patrol boats and two MiG fighters in the Sea of Japan off North Korea’s east coast. Bullets were shot through the hull before the ship was pulled to a North Korean port. One American soldier was killed in the attack and 10 others were wounded. North Korea claimed the ship was inside its coastal zone while the U.S. Navy contended it was in international waters. The 83-member crew was held hostage in a prison for 335 days and released in December 1968. One sailor died in captivity.

The Pueblo seizure was personally ordered by Kim Il Sung and regarded as a great victory against the American devils by the North Koreans and a great humiliation for the United States and the captain of the Pueblo, Commander Lloyd Bucher. The Pueblo was the first Navy vessel to surrender in peacetime since 1807 and become a propaganda trophy for North Korea. Even today ordinary Koreans can visit it as part of tours organized in part to stir up nationalism.

Initially, many Americans favored a hard line. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on a North Korean city. In 1968, South Korean leader Park Chung Hee urged the United States to attack North Korea in retaliation for the seizure of the Pueblo. In a letter to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, he wrote: “We should show our resolute stand and determination that they cannot commit an aggressive act free of punishment.” Historians have argued that the United States failed to retaliate because it was bogged down in Vietnam. Kristof wrote: “ President Lyndon Johnson resisted, noting that bombing North Korea would not bring our hostages home. So the U.S. tried full-bore diplomacy. It was frustrating, slow and not wholly successful, but in the end was the best of a bunch of bad alternatives.”

The crew was freed after a strange ceremony in which a “confession” was signed and a U.S. general signed a written apology while verbally repudiating it at the same time.. The Pueblo was kept by the North Koreans and is now on display in the Taedong River in Pyongyang as “a symbol of North Korean ability to deal with the greatest power in the world.” The Pueblo is the only active-duty U.S. warship in foreign hands

Crew of the Pueblo

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times: The crew were “tortured into writing confessions. To signal that the confessions were forced, the sailors listed accomplices like the television character Maxwell Smart. When forced to pose for a photo, some crew members extended their middle fingers to the camera, explaining to the North Korean photographer that this was a Hawaiian good luck sign. After the photo was published and the North Korean guards realized they'd been had, the sailors suffered a week of particularly brutal torture.”[Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, July 19, 2005]

In 2008, a federal judge awarded more than US$65 million to several men who were captured and tortured by North Korea during the seizure of the Pueblo. The lawsuit was filed by William Thomas Massie, Donald Raymond McClarren, Dunnie Richard Tuck and the estate of Lloyd Bucher. U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. entered the judgment against the country. North Korea never responded to the lawsuit and can be assumed will not pay unless they are politically and diplomatically pressured to do so. [Source: Jesse J. Holland Associated Press, December 31. 2008]

Jesse J. Holland of Associated Press wrote: “The crew kept the military chain of command alive and resisted their captors. Some of the torture described to Kennedy included “severe physical beatings with karate blows, broom handles, belt buckles, boards and chairs, along with punches with rifle butts and whatever else that was handy.” “Massie, Tuck, McClarren, suffered physical and mental harm that has endured for the past 39 years and likely will continue to endure throughout the rest of their lives. Cmdr. Bucher suffered such effects until he died” in 2004, Kennedy said.

South Korea in the Vietnam War

As a sign of support for United States policies in Southeast Asia and in exchange for the substantial financial and material contributions for modernizing the army, Park Chung Hee deployed units of the South Korean army and marine corps to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Some 300,000 South Koreans fought in Vietnam, with 50,000 stationed there at one time. South Korean journalist Ku Su-Jeong told Reuters that during the Vietnam War, Seoul wholeheartedly supported U.S.-backed South Vietnam, afraid that Washington might withdraw American troops stationed in South Korea. The Korean troops who fought in the Vietnam War, had a fearsome reputation among ordinary Vietnamese. [Source: Reuters, January 10, 2000]

Demonstrations erupted in 1966, when the ROK's decision to send 45,000 combat troops to Vietnam became known. The South Koreans were accused of committing atrocities in Vietnam. They reportedly rounded up villagers and placed them in barbed-wire-enclosed enclaves called New Life Villages and gunned them down and killed them with grenades. By some accounts South Korea soldiers killed 8,000 civilians in this way in Vietnam. One South Korean soldier told Newsweek, "Searching a village we found a young guy—with his daughter. My company commander ordered me to kill him right there next to his girl, who looked 7 or 8. My heart was broken. I couldn’t do it. So my commander killed them both."

Reuters reported: In central Vietnam's Binh Dinh province stands a large gravestone with 1,004 names etched in the granite — victims, local officials say, of a killing spree by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. The locals say 1,000 people, mainly civilians, died in the six-week rampage in early 1966 — including 380 in one day. Ku Su-Jeong, who works part-time for South Korea's Hankyoreh21 magazine and researched the massacre at Binh Dinh, said, "South Koreans must know about these massacres. They cast shame on us and we have a duty to apologise,'' Ku said. [Source: Reuters, January 10, 2000 ^^^]

In January 2006, a South Korean court ordered Dow and Monsanto chemical companies to US$62 million in compensation to about 6,800 people said to have suffered from exposure to the defoliate Agent Orange.

Korean Air 007

On September 1, 1983, 269 people died when a Korean Air 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter near Sakhalin Island. The Boeing 747 had strayed off course into Soviet air space on a flight from Alaska to Seoul. The Soviet pilot fired warning shots and then fired on the airliner with at least one air-to-air missile after receiving orders from General Anatolu Kornukov, who insisted as late as 1996 that the plane was on a spy mission.

The Russian pilot who shot down the plane said later he had no regrets about what he did and said he wished he shot the plane earlier so it could have crashed on Soviet territory to prove it was one a spy mission. "I knew this was a civilian plane. But for me this meant nothing," he told the New York Times. "It is easy to turn a civilian plane into one for military use." No bodies and hardly any debris was recovered from the crash.

Ten worst air accidents (as off 1999): 1) Pan-Am/KLM 747s in the Canary Islands on March 27, 1977 (583 dead). 2) Japan Airlines 747 on Mount Ogura, Japan on August 12, 1985 (520 dead). 3) Saudi 747/Kazahkstan Il-76 at Charkhi Dadri, India on November 12, 1996 (350 dead). 4) THY DC-10 near Paris on March 3, 1974 (346 dead). 5) Air India 747 over the Atlantic on June 23, 1985 (329 dead). 6) Saudi L-1001 at Riyadh airport on August 19, 1980 (301 dead). 7) Iran Air A300 over the Persian Gulf on May, 25, 1988 (290 dead). 8) American Airlines 273 at Chicago on May, 25, 1979 (273 dead). 9) Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21, 1988 (270 dead). 10) Korean Air 747 near Russia on September 1 1983 (269 dead).

Downing of Korean Air 858 and North Korean Terrorist Acts in the 1980s

On October 9, 1983, less than six weeks after the Korean Air tragedy, a bomb planted by North Korean spies exploded during an official visit by South Korean president Chun Doo Hwon to Rangoon, Burma. Chun survived, but 21 other people were killed including four cabinet members, two top Presidential advisors, an ambassador and 10 other top South Korean officials. The Burmese captured two North Korean army agents who were later found guilty of murder. Pyongyang denied involvement, saying the whole thing was staged to discredit the North. Unpersuaded, South Korea broke off diplomatic relations with North Korea.

On November 29, 1987, a South Korean civilian airliner exploded in mid-air due to a bomb planted by North Korean agents posing as Japanese tourists. All 115 people on board were killed. Korean Air flight 858, traveling from Baghdad to Abu Dhabi to Seoul, blew up over the Andaman Sea near Burma. The terrorist act is believed to have been in retaliation for North Korea being barred from the 1988 Olympics.

A female North Korean agent, Kim Hyun Hee, and her male companion slipped a bomb planted in a radio on the plane. The two agents got on the plane in Baghdad and got off in Abu Dhabi. They boarded a another plane for Bahrain, where they caught by security personnel after the bomb exploded.

After being caught the two North Korean tried to commit suicide by taking poison pills (with highly lethal cyanide gas) hidden in a pack of cigarettes. Kim survived but her companion didn’t. Kim later tried to bite off her tongue so she couldn't talk. Later, she said that her handlers told her that the attack was ordered by Kim Jong Il.

Kim was convicted in the bombing of a South Korean airliner and sentenced to death. While in prison she became a born-again Christian and was pardoned after denouncing North Korea and Communism. She was spared because her act was considered political and she had been brainwashed.

Kim became a South Korea citizen. In 1997 she married a KCIA agent and settled in Seoul after briefly running a Japanese restaurant in Gyeongju (Kyong-ju) . She gave birth to a son in 2001. He autobiography “The Tears of My Soul” became a bestseller. She now makes a living lecturing about North Korea.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.