“A divided Korea was something unprecedented,” he said.
But the divide lasted in part because of competing visions among Koreans for the country’s future. “Fundamentally it was a civil war, fought over issues going back into Korea’s colonial experience,” said Bruce Cumings, a professor of history at the University of Chicago.
In 1948, the American-backed, anti-communist southern administration, based in Seoul, declared itself the Republic of Korea. It was led by Syngman Rhee, who lived in exile in the United States for many years and was installed as the South Korean leader by the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, Professor Cumings said.