Why Does Kim Jong Un Hate America? After World War II, U.S. Used a Magazine to Create Border Between North and South Korea

North Korea and its leadership's enmity for the U.S. dates back decades to decisions made in the aftermath of the world's deadliest conflict and controversial, conflicting narratives over a war fueled by outside forces occupying the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong Un, the most recent and youngest member of his family to inherit absolute power in North Korea, has overseen a historic year for his reclusive, communist state. Despite facing increased pressure from President Donald Trump and international sanctions, Kim has significantly enhanced the country's nuclear stockpile and placed the entire U.S. within range of his intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). As Pyongyang's foreign ministry condemned Trump's debut "America First" national security policy on Friday, North Korea's statement singed with hatred for the country it accused of trying "to achieve hegemony over the world" and especially the Korean Peninsula, which the U.S. helped divide along the now-infamous 38th parallel in 1945.

Related: What war with North Korea looked in the 1950s and why it matters now

"The U.S. wanted to keep Seoul, and so they picked the 38th parallel rather arbitrarily. This was really just a line on a map. Korea had never been divided in this way—in fact, regional divisions tend to run east-west, not north-south," journalist Barbara Demick, author of 2009's Nothing to Envy: The Ordinary Lives of North Koreans, told Vox in a recent interview.

"It was infuriating to the Koreans. They had been occupied, and they thought they were going to have their independence. And unlike the Germans, who were divided because of their guilt, because they had been aggressors in World War II, the Koreans had been victims. They were divided because of their innocence," she added.

GettyImages-879967464 North Korean soldiers look at South Korean forces next to a spot where a North Korean defected crossing the border as South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo visited November 27, 2017 in Panmunjom, South Korea. The heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established after the Korean War and runs roughly along the 38th parallel that formed the original border between both Koreas. Korea Pool/Getty Images

Like Germany, the Korean Peninsula became an early venue for the burgeoning Cold War between former World War II allies the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Both superpowers stormed an embattled Nazi Germany in the final phase of the European theater of the conflict and quickly sought to stake a claim in the future of Adolf Hitler's devastated country. The outcome was a complex division of U.S.-backed West Germany and Soviet-backed East Germany, with the capital of Berlin being further divided into four zones of influence held by France, the Soviet Union, the U.K. and the U.S. The three Western powers later consolidated their zones in the face of tensions with the communist side, but conflict was avoided.

At the Pacific end of the war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union again found themselves in parallel advances, this time against the Japanese Empire, which occupied the Korean Peninsula since the early 20th century. One month after a Soviet invasion and two U.S. atomic bombs forced Japan into surrender in August 1945, the two future Cold War adversaries split up the Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel, establishing two countries supportive of their sponsor's respective ideology.

As Demick recounted in her talk with Vox, the U.S. effort to determine South Korea's border, a move that would change the face of the peninsula for decades to come, was made in haste. The State Department's Charles Bonesteel and future Secretary of State Dean Rusk were tasked with figuring out how to divide the zones of occupation and chose the 38th parallel based on a map featured in an issue of National Geographic. It was chosen because it gave the U.S. control of Seoul, but did not take into account any local concerns.

Rusk later said that, had he known that Russia and Japan had discussed splitting the Korean Peninsula down that very same parallel decades earlier, he and his partner "almost surely would have chosen another line of demarcation," as cited by RTHK Radio. The result was the displacement of millions of Koreans on both sides and spiraling tensions that would soon erupt into the first major armed confrontation of the Cold War.

International talks commenced in support of a permanent solution to the divided region, but the Soviet Union found itself increasingly at odds with the U.N., which had grown closer to the U.S. In 1948, nationalist Syngman Rhee was elected president of South Korea, while communist guerrilla commander Kim Il Sung took the helm of North Korea. Both leaders have been accused of crushing dissent by use of force as a border war escalated. In 1950, North Korea stormed the South in an attempt to unify the peninsula.

GettyImages-160757944 A jeep of the United Nations forces withdrawing from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, recrosses the 38th parallel in December 1950. The controversial division displaced millions of Koreans and served as the launching point for the major armed confrontation of the Cold War. AFP/Getty Images

The initial offensive overwhelmed South Korea. Within months, North Korea controlled about 90 percent of the peninsula. These gains were reversed by a direct intervention by U.S. and U.N. troops who then pushed North Korea back across the border, only to be again beaten back by an October 1950 Chinese intervention, which left both forces roughly along the 38th parallel once again. The war dragged on for nearly two more years, amassing more casualties, but few advances for either side. In July 1953, the two parties signed an armistice ending hostilities. Like the initial 1945 division of the peninsula, the agreement was intended to be a temporary measure but did little to defuse animosity, especially for North Koreans.

The war was vicious, and both sides have been accused of committing atrocities. Throughout the course of the fighting, the U.S. bombarded land controlled by North Korea with 635,000 tons of explosives, a figure that exceeds the number of bombs the U.S. dropped during the entirety of the war against Japan and includes 32,557 tons of napalm, a burning liquid intended to clear trees and extremely harmful to humans. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command throughout the conflict, even claimed the U.S. air campaign "killed off 20 percent of the population" in a 1984 interview later cited by The Washington Post.

After a war that killed tens of thousands of U.S. troops, hundreds of thousands of Chinese forces and millions of Koreans, allegations of U.S. war crimes, including the oft-repeated communist claim that the U.S. used biological weapons, have served as the basis for decades of North Korean propaganda stretching three generations of the Kim dynasty. Having achieved a credible deterrent against U.S. invasion more than half of a century after the last confrontation, Kim Jong Un boasted Thursday that North Korea has "rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the U.S."

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