Today, a division proved to be sustainably uneasy.
The end of WWII didn’t stop the fighting, particularly in Southeast Asia. The French attempted to restore colonial rule in Vietnam, installing the puppet Emperor Bao and immediately finding themselves under attack by the same Viet Minh nationalists and communists who’d resisted the Japanese. Korea was split along the 38th Parallel, dividing a nominally free south from a north in which the Soviets held sway (they didn’t leave any countries they’d “liberated” during the war, lining their new European vassal states with an iron curtain). As circumstances got evermore difficult for the French, a few hundred thousand North Korean soldiers poured into the South in 1950 to “liberate” it, moving the UN to resolve that South Korea must be defended. Hundreds of thousands of people would die in the conflict before its stalemate, three years later, along the very dividing line the North Koreans had hoped to erase.
So, when the Geneva Conference convened on this day in 1954, the hope was that the various adversaries could negotiate an end to the deadly components of their conflicts, both direct and indirect. They agreed in principle that both Koreas should be unified and allowed to choose their own government, but deep suspicion of communist intentions kept the democracies from agreeing to any specific plan or timetable (President Eisenhower had only a few weeks prior made the first mention of the idea that allowing one country to fall to the communists would cause other nations to do so, which would later become known as the Domino Theory). Back in Vietnam, they agreed to divide the country similarly, at least temporarily, with nationalists and communists to the North, and former colonial stooges running the South. This allowed the French to make a not-so graceful exit (they’d refocus on replicating their colonial failures in Algeria later that decade), but South Vietnam, led by a guy named Diem and supported by America, distrusted the communists and, in 1956, refused to hold fair elections. Diem insulting labeled his political opponents Vietcong, which means “Communist Traitor to Vietnam,” and they proceeded to live down to his expectations. North and South Korea are still at war today
Sometimes conversations only magnify divisions.