The 38th parallel in Korea has become almost as famous as another imaginary line, the equator. The political history of the 38th:

Origin. Three days before Japan's surrender, Russian troops entered Korea. A hurried decision by the U.S. War Department set the 38th parallel as a line between Russian and U.S. forces taking over from the Japanese.

Two Regimes. By late 1948 two hostile regimes faced each other across the parallel. The Communist government in the north had barred U.N. officials, refused to take part in a U.N.-sponsored election for an all-Korea government. On Dec. 12, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly approved...

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