Koreans, who had suffered 35 years of of brutal Japanese colonial occupation prior to Tokyo’s defeat in World War II, celebrated what they believed was their liberation by victorious US and Soviet forces. Full of hope for a future free of foreign rule, they proudly declared their independence.
That hope was soon dashed. It was announced that the victorious allied powers, the US and the USSR, would be occupying the entire Korean Peninsula. The USSR would take the north, the US the south.
Like so many other imperial endeavors, the division of Korea along the 38th Parallel was an exercise in arbitrariness and utter disregard for the wishes of the people it affected. The people of Korea very quickly realized that they were merely trading one occupying empire for another.
A survey of Koreans in the summer of 1946 found that 77% preferred socialism or communism while only 14% favored capitalism. However, in the South, the US backed the right-wing dictatorship of Syngman Rhee, a conservative Christian and staunch anti-communist who ruled with an iron fist. In the North, the USSR installed former anti-Japanese guerrilla leader and Red Army officer Kim Il Sung.