The Republic of Korea, commonly known as South Korea, 대한민국 occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. To the north is North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 조선민주주의인민공화국) with which it was united as a Japanese colony until 1945.
After World War II, the Allies took possession of the Korean Penninsula which had been under Japanese colonial rule since 1910. Japan had ruled the Korean peninsula under the Treaty of Portsmouth, which former Republican U.S. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt helped to negotiate with the best of intentions.
Presbyterian missionaries and the YMCA were instrumental in the Korean nationalist resistance to the Japanese occupation, which helps to explain why Korea has a larger Christian population on a percentage basis than any other country in East Asia. The other reason for this is that populations internally displaced by war are highly vulnerable to conversion to new religious ideas and new political ideologies.
In a pattern similar to that of post-war Germany, the Soviet Red Army took control of the northern half of the peninsula, where a Communist regime was organized, while the United States Army took control of the southern half of peninsula, and nominated Syngman Rhee as a head pro-temto. The Republic of Korea with Seoul as its capital was formed in 1948.
After three years of war from 1950-1953, after the North attempted to take control of all of Korea by force, an armistice formally divided the country at the 38th parallel of latitude.
South Korea was a civilian or miltiary dictatorship for nearly all of the period until democratization with the election of 1992. Dr. Syngman Rhee, the first President, organized the South Korean regime as police state. He was forced to step down by a student revolt in 1960 but that was followed by a military coup in 1961 that put General Park Chung Hee in charge. At 1963 "election" and subsequent less the democratically ideal plebesites confirmed that role and he remained in power as a quasi-civilian until 1979 when his own intelligence service assassinating him. General Chun Doo Hwan took charge in 1980, imposing martial law. After a wide swath of the middle class joined students in protests in 1987 elctions were called resulting in the election of Roh Tae Woo, himself a figure active in military coups, in direct elections. In 1993, Kim Yong Sam, a civilian, was elected President. During his administration Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo were convicted of high crimes as a result of their involvement in coups an abuses of power. In 1997, Kim Dae Jung, a long time dissident, released the two men after they had spent about a year in prison and pardoned them. Kim Dae Jung won the Nobel Peace Price in 2000.
Tensions in the political process remain high in South Korea which has now had continuous elected democratic governments since 1987. In 2004, the Parliament attempted to impeach the opposition President, sending the political system into turmoil in a process that lead to brawls on the floor of Parliament, but the Constitutional Court in Korea refused to convict on the impeachment charges. The party that had pushed the impeachment was severely punished in the legislative elections held shortly afte the vote.
U.S. Military Involvement
The United States has maintained a substantial military force, mostly drawn from the Army, since the Korean War in an effort to deteur a North Korean invasion. Currently this force stands at about 37,000 troops. Despite the fact that North Korean tensions remain, with North Korea's nuclear program the subject to international negotations and North Korea identified as an Axis of Evil nation by George W. Bush, the Bush Administration is strongly considering downsizing the South Korean troop commitment by 10,000-12,000 troops, in part because of demands for troops elsewhere in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in part because U.S. troops are resented by many South Koreans who feel that U.S. troops sometimes abuse the local population.