Kim Jong-un made history Friday morning local time as the first North Korean leader since 1953 to cross over into South Korea’s side of the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries. And he could make even more history if he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agree to officially end a war that began in 1950 and technically never ended.
The summit between the two leaders will focus on establishing a path to denuclearization, which means finding a way to convince Kim to get rid of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. After decades of war games, missile tests, bombings, assassinations, and threats, it will likely take baby steps to get there. But if Kim agrees to formally end the Korean War, it would be a leap in the right direction.
Much of the Korean Peninsula’s current political predicament can be traced back to how nation split apart. It wasn’t until after World War II, when the United States and Soviet Union split the country along the 38th parallel that one Korea became two.
“The division of Korea was really unprecedented and unexpected,” said Charles King Armstrong, a historian at Columbia University. “Korea had been a unified nation for well over a thousand years before 1945.”
It only took five years for a civil war to erupt and spiral into a proxy conflict over the spread of communism. The bloody fighting devastated both North and South Korea and claimed millions of lives until Kim Jong-un’s grandfather agreed to a truce in 1953, signing the armistice at the same village where Friday’s meeting will be held.
While that agreement halted the fighting, it didn’t officially end the war. VICE News spoke with Armstrong about why the Korean War isn’t actually over and the significance of the meeting between Kim and Moon.
This segment originally aired April 26, 2018, on VICE New Tonight on HBO.