The Korean War

The Korean War was fought from June 25th, 1950 until the peace signing on July 27th, 1953.  The war was, essentially, a conflict between combatants in the war, including The People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Republic of Korea (South Korea), the United States, the United Kingdom, the People's Republic of China, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Japan. The People's Republic of Korea, The Republic of Korea, and The People's Republic of China fought until the United Nations got involved. The war, though armistace was signed in 1953, can still be said to be going on today, since there are still U.S. Soldiers at the 38th parallel.

In 1949, the South Korean army numbered 90,000 troops. In 1950, the NKPA (North Korean People's Army) matched this number, and had 150 T-34 tanks and a small Air Force of about 130 aircraft. The war began when NKPA, under Kim Il Sung, crossed the 38th Parallel, its border with South Korea, and invaded with 90,000 troops supported by a huge artillery barrage. Kim Il Sung's plan is somewhat comparable to the Schlieffen Plan of World War I. The time span in which the Germans had planned to conquer France is comparable to how Kim Il Sung planned to have South Korea conquered, in the time span of a month. North Korea's justification for its invasion was that a South Korean bandit had crossed the 38th Parallel, meaning that the South Koreans had started the war. Within four days, North Korea had taken over the South Korean capital of Seoul. The U.N., seeing a breach in peace, decided to have the representatives from each country vote on the issue. With a majority of votes, the U.N, demanded that the North Koreans pull off the invasion. The Soviets could have easily vetoed the vote, but instead, they boycotted it  in response to the UN not recognizing The People's Republic of China. This argument, however, is vastly unaccepted by historians.

Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur, the famous general of the Pacific Theater of World War II, was soon to take command of the UN forces and recommended that the United States send some troops. On June 30th, President Truman decided to send troops, but considered the conflict a “police action” to downplay the idea of another World War. In July, MacArthur was placed in command of troops in Korea. MacArthur planned to send troops in small quantities to Korea. In essence, he was attacking Korea in echelon. The first U.S. Army to enter Korea was the U.S. Eighth Army, under General Walton Walker's command. Their goal was to buy time for the other U.S. Armies. Sadly, they stood virtually alone against the army of North Korea.  The first battle that the Eighth Army fought was at Taejon, in July. The Eighth Army thought that they were performing a delaying action. Sadly, the North Koreans attacked the town with a full-scale battle. The Koreans created a roadblock, blocking any escape attempts. The Koreans then stormed into the city, forcing the Eighth Army to back off. Surprisingly, the Eighth Army thought that they were facing a weak and poorly trained army of peasants armed with Russian weapons. As the Eighth found out, this was far from the truth. Fortunately, the Eighth Armyy was soon reinforced by other American troops. By August, the Eighth Army had withdrawn to the Naktong River. The People's Republic of Korea now had 90% of South Korea. The river formed part of what was later to be called the “Pusan Perimeter”. The U.S. Army believed strongly that the only way to prevent the entire conquest of South Korea was to defend the perimeter. The army's plan was to build its strength and then counter-attack the NKPA. At the end of July, the U.S. Army numbered 47,000 in Korea with 45,000 troops from the Republic of Korea. The U.S. Eighth Army, with the help of reinforcements from the U.S. First Marines Brigade, repulsed many attacks on the perimeter until September.

In mid-September, General MacArthur saw an opportunity. By this time, the US had 83,000 troops in Korea, not including the UN troops from various countries. MacArthur planned to invade the port of Inchon. MacArthur was able to land a total of 80,000 U.S. Marines on the beach with very little casualties. After the long battle, which lasted for nine days, the UN forces were victorious. MacArthur's daring attack had succeeded. By the end of September, Seoul had been re-taken. By early October, the NKPA had been completely pushed out of South Korea. The war for control of the South left 111,000 South Koreans dead, 106,000 wounded, and 57,000 missing; 314,000 homes had been destroyed, 244,000 damaged. American casualties totaled 6,954 dead, 13,659 wounded, and 3,877 missing in action.

MacArthur now had a choice. The US troops may have been able to re-establish the 38th Parallel as the border between North and South Korea, and ended the war. Instead, the United States Army crossed the border and took the war to the North Koreans. President Truman saw an opportunity to not only contain communism in Korea, but to take it out. The NKPA had been weakened to a small number of only 30,000 troops. Many government officials advised against such an invasion for the sole reason that they thought it could not be carried out without Russian or Chinese intervention. Thus, National Security Council document 81 authorized MacArthur to "roll back" the North Korean regime if there was no threat of intervention by a foreign power. The document also instructed MacArthur to use only Korean troops near the Chinese border so as not to antagonize a Chinese intervention. The CIA assured MacArthur that the Chinese, like the Soviets, would not intervene with force. The CIA said that there would be a small possibility of Chinese volunteers coming to help out the NKPA. The North Korean and Chinese strategy was to drag the UN forces into North Korea, so as to stretch them out far, and then attack them.

President Harry S. Truman
President Harry S. Truman
On November 24th, MacArthur launched a general offensive all along the northern front. On November 27th, Chinese and North Korean troops, numbering 200,000, launched major counter-attacks on the UN and South Korean forces. By December 6th, the UN forces had been pushed back only 20 miles above the 38th parallel. Throughout the war, MacArthur had constantly disobeyed Truman's orders. When MacArthur was ordered not to use UN troops near the Korean-Chinese border, he did. When the Chinese rushed to North Korea's aid, MacArthur had called for an atomic retaliation. MacArthur had basically called for another World War. Truman could not have a commander as disobedient as MacArthur. In 1932, MacArthur said that the head of state alone should determine a war's objectives and the means of accomplishing those objectives. The two main reasons that MacArthur was removed was that he did not act like a subordinate to the commander-in-chief of the military, and that he did not follow orders. In early 1951, the United States was actually considering using atomic weapons in North Korea. But Truman did not trust MacArthur if he ever had to asked him to use nuclear weapons. Thus, MacArthur was fired and replaced with U.S. General Matthew Ridgway.  On New Years Eve, Chinese/North Korean forces launched a major counter-attack, and, in the process, took back Seoul. Under U.S General Matthew Ridgway, UN troops stiffened their defenses south of Seoul in early 1951. With the build-up of Chinese troops and a total of 200 USSR bombers employed in East Asia, MacArthur asked Truman for nuclear weapons. Truman agreed and started re-employing the atomic bomb pits on Okinawa that were used during World War II. On April 5th, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered an immediate retaliation if large masses of Chinese or Russian troops planned to intervene in the war. Unfortunately for MacArthur, Truman used this crisis to remove him from command. On April 11th, 1951, Truman asked for MacArthur's resignation.

Many weeks of hard fighting continued as UN troops advanced northward onto the Han River, opposite Seoul. In three months, Ridgway's forces had not only pushed the NPKA and Chinese out of South Korea, but they crossed the 38th Parallel. Now, there was no real advancing. Though the UN forces had pushed past the 38th Parallel, it was only on the west side. NPKA and Chinese forces had pushed past the 38th Parallel into South Korea on the east side.

During the next two years, the areas controlled by the two sides would remain virtually the same. Trench warfare, reminiscent of World War I, engulfed the border. The Communist forces did not have the manpower to launch another major offensive, but they could defend the trenches. Some battles were fought on hills such as Old Baldy, Capital, Pork Chop, T-Bone, and Heartbreak Ridge. Thus, truce talks began on July 10th, 1951. There were months of argument over where the border should be, but the main issue was POWs. The North Koreans had tortured many of their prisoners. They even tried to brainwash them. The South also had many POWs. About one-third of North Korean POWs and a much larger percentage of Chinese POWs did not want to return to Communist control, making troubles for the pro and anti communists. South Korea also refused to sign any peace that would keep Korea divided. The South’s Syngman Rhee sought to hinder the talks by abruptly releasing thousands of North Korean POWs who did not want to return home. The United States decided Rhee could not be trusted and developed plans to remove him in an assassination. However, the plan was never carried out. The POW issue was finally settled on June 8th, 1953. The Communists agreed to the placement of POWs who refused to return under the control of a neutral commission of nations for three months; at the end of this period those who still refused repatriation would be set free. Two final and costly Communist offensives in June and July 1953 sought to gain more ground but failed miserably, and the U.S. Air Force, for the first time, destroyed huge irrigation dams that had provided water for 75 percent of the North's food production. Although not widely reported, hundreds of square miles of farmland were inundated. On July 27th, 1953, the UN, North Korea, and China signed an armistice agreement (South Korea obviously refused to sign due to the fact that the armistice did not unite Korea) and the fighting ended. Throughout the entire war, 4 million Koreans died throughout the peninsula, two-thirds of them civilians. China lost up to 1 million soldiers, and the United States suffered 36,934 deaths and 103,284 wounded. Other UN nations suffered 3322 deaths and 11,949 wounded. Many farmlands and homes were also destroyed. Many of the materials used in the war were bought from Japan, and this greatly helped their economy. This is sometimes called the “Japan's Marshall Plan”. In short, the results of the Korean War still affect the world today. If the UN had won and united North Korea as a republic, the North Koreans would not be a Communist State ruled by a dictator. North Korea would also not have nuclear weapons.
[1] The Encarta Encyclopedia
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica

[4] Korean War by Max Hastings