Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Picture that Tells a Thousand Words: the Plight of North Korea

In 1392 A.D., a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Joseans established a Confucian dynasty that ruled over the Korean peninsula for 500 years.

This ended at the end of the 19th century when the French, the British, the Japanese, and even the Americans were exerting colonial pressures on the peninsula. Japan fought two successful wars with China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905) which resulted in  Japan effectively annexing Korea in 1910. Japan ruled the peninsula with a harsh colonial hand for the next 35 years.

Roosevelt and Stalin agreed not to advance
beyond the 38th parallell.
At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 (eight weeks before Roosevelt's death) Stalin and Roosevelt agreed to maintain the integrity of Korea; they also agreed that neither side would venture beyond the 38th parallel. Stalin honored this agreement as Soviet troops entered the Korean peninsula from Manchuria a few days prior to Japan's surrender in August 1945.

"The Crimean Conference ought to spell the end of a system of unilateral action," said Roosevelt upon his return from Yalta. "We propose to substitute ... a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join." The United Nations was formed on October 24, 1945, but it failed to do away with unilateral action. 

United Nations efforts to form a unified government in Korea foundered on the rocks of a budding cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Between June 1950 and July 1953 there followed a bloody civil war that killed ten percent of the population, with direct involvement by U.S., British, Chinese, and Russian troops. The United States bombed  every substantial building in North Korea to rubble. At the end the parties were left where they started, separated by the 38th parallel. 

Since then, of course, North and South Korea have taken dramatically different paths. 

Here's a picture that tells a thousand words. 

NASA photo 2014
Electricity consumption in the two parts of the peninsula were substantially similar as recently as1980: 32 billion kWh for South Korea versus 20 billion kWh for North Korea. Thirty-five years later North Korea's electricity consumption has declined in absolute terms (15.2 billion kWh/2012), while South Korea's electricity consumption has increased more than tenfold (32 billion kWh/2012).

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