Another example of the results of a natural experiment in history is the comparison of North and South Korea, day and night satellite pictures above. Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II. At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States liberated Korea from imperial Japanese control on 15 August 1945. Korea was then divided at the 38th parallel into two zones of occupation, the Soviets administered the northern half and the Americans administered the southern half. With the border set at the 38th parallel in 1948, two sovereign states were established as a result of geopolitical tensions of the Cold War (between the Soviet Union and the United States). A socialist state was established in the north under the communist leadership of Kim Il-sung and a capitalist state in the south under the anti-communist leadership of Syngman Rhee. Both governments of the two new Korean states claimed to be the sole legitimate government of all of Korea, and neither accepted the border as permanent.
This conflict escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces—supported by the Soviet Union and China—moved into the south on June 25, 1950. On June 27, the United Nations Security Council authorized the formation and dispatch of UN forces to South Korea to repel what was recognized as a North Korean invasion. Twenty-one countries of the United Nations eventually contributed to the UN force, with the United States providing 88% of the UN's military personnel.
After the first two months of war, South Korean and U.S. forces rapidly sent to South Korea were on the point of defeat, forced back to a small area in the south known as the Pusan Perimeter. In September 1950, an amphibious UN counter-offensive was launched at Incheon, and cut off many North Korean troops. Those who escaped envelopment and capture were forced back north. UN forces rapidly moved North and approached the Yalu river - the border with China—but in October 1950, mass Chinese forces crossed the Yalu and entered the war. The surprise Chinese intervention triggered a retreat of UN forces which continued until mid 1951.
After these reversals of fortune, in which saw Soeul change hands four times, the last two years of fighting became a war of attrition, with the front line close to the 38th parallel. The fighting ended on 27 July 1953, when an armstice was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea, and allowed the return of prisoners. However, no peace treaty has been signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war.
Since the formation of North and South Korea, dictatorship and poverty prevail in North Korea and democracy and a vibrant economy prevail in South Korea. As of 2014 the GDP per person in north Korea was $583, in South Korea in 2016 the GDP per person was $27,538. That is a whopping 47 times difference in standard of living! What caused these differences on the Korean peninsula? Difference in the social, economic and political aspects of society were determined by the inhabitants of each area, with the largest influence being that of foreign powers like the USA on South Korea, and China and Russia on North Korea, after the Korean War.
As can be seen in these three examples of natural experiments of history, social, environmental, economic and political aspects of a society can have a tremendous effect on the future of that society. As citizens in a Democratic Republic deciding the future of the USA, we should keep these natural experiments in mind when voting for our representatives in office to make sure they are leading the country in the right direction. If we are not knowledgeable citizens ourselves when exercising our right to vote in our Democratic Republic, we risk losing the role as the most powerful country in the world and, theoretically, in the long term, risk going in the direction of Easter Island, Haiti or North Korea.
Click here to take a walk through the history of science.
The Believing Brain: Michael Shermer, 2011, St. Martin’s Press
Natural Experiments of History: Jarod Diamond and James Robinson, Belknap Press
Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind: Yuval Noah Harari, 2015, HarperCollins Publishers