*** war and social upheaval: Korean War

The Korean War (1950-53)

Korean War
Figure 1.--This is a Acme Press photograph from the Korean War. The Acme caption was "Witnessed Strafing" and features a Korean boy being questioned by United Stations and Communist officers investigating the strafing of the Panmunjom-Kaesong neutrality zone. At left is Lt. Richard Underwood, UN Interpreter, and second from right is UN Col. Don Darrow. At right is North Korean Col. Chang Chun San. This photo is dated October 17, 1951.

The North Koreans Army crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950 to forcibly unify Korea. The Soviets had provided modern weapons in great quantity to the North Koreans. Embolded by the Communist victory in China during 1948-49, Kim-il-Jong obtained Stalin's approval for the attack. President Truman immediately ordered war material be provided the South Koreans and then air support for the South Korean Army. Seoul fell within days. Truman went to the United Nations which, because the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council, approved a military opperation to repell the North Korean attack. Truman than ordered American military intervention. The Soviets had helped the North Koreans build a powerful military force. The United States after World War II had significantly scled back its conventional military force. As a result, the North Koreans pushed the South Koreans back to a small perimiter around the southern port of Pusan. Generl MacArthir from Japan organized an amphibious invasion at Inchon which caught the North Koreans between two forces. North Korem resistance collapsed and MacArthur rushed north accross th 38th parallel to completely defeat and occupy North Korea. Tuman was skeptical, but MacArthur assured him that Chinese warnings to intervene were bluff. They were not an America norces approaching the Yalu River were mauled by a massive Chinese attack. For a while it looked like the Chiese would tota;lly defeat the U.N. forces, but the front was finally stabilized north of Seoul. What followed was 2 years of stalemate which became a major political issue. Peace talks with the Communists were frustrating. Th major issue became the Communist demand that all POWs be returned, even the ones who did not want to be repatriated. Finally a ceasefire was reached. Stalin died in 1953. Eisenhower became president in 1953 and fulfilling a campaign promise, went to Korea. The armistice went into force (July 27, 1953). More than 3 million Koreans were killed as a result of the War. Millions more were made homeless refugees. About 1 million Chinese soldiers are believe to have been killed. American casualties totaled nearly 55,000.


Japan colonized Korea after the Russ-Japanese War (1909). Jpanese authorities severely repressed any expression of Korean nationalism. Schools were estanlished, but all education was in the Japanese language. Japan also began the industrialization of Korea, primarily in the north where coal and iron resources supported industrialization. Durng World War II, Korean industrial output as well as raw materials and labor supported the Japanese war effort. Korea was for the most part beyond the range of U.S. bombers. At the end of the War, Korea was divided by a two-power occupation. Korea was divided at the 38th parallel by the Soviet Union which invaded Manchuria and the United States which landed in the south. The United States and the Soviet Unioin as the Cold War developed set up rival governments: The Republic of Korea (ROK) was proclaimed in the South and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (PDRK) in the North (1948). Relations between the two Korean hovernents deteriorated.

Soviet Atomic Bomb

The invasion od South Korea was the most aggressive Soviet action taken in the Cold War. It is no accidebt it occurred after the Soviets developed and atomic bomb. The massive effort needed to fight the Germans on te Eastern Front, however, that resources were not available for any substantial effort. Stalin did assign Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to begin a program (1943). Molotov was replaced by NKVD head Lavrentii Beria (1944). The Soviet program did not begin to make majkor progress until well after the War (1947). [Gueron, p. 62.] The scientific head of the project was the nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov. Other researchers Yuli Khariton, Yakov Zeldovich and Andrei Sakharov who would later become the lead theoretical designer of the hydrogen bomb ans subsequently a major disident. While resources were at first limited, the NKVD was able to provide a great deal of information about the Manhattan Project from its spy network in America. American planners assumed that their nuclear monoply would last some time. The Soviets had, however, their own nuclear experts and had begun their atomic project during the War as soon as theu learned of the Manhattan Project. The Soviet research was directed by nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov. The Soviet effort was aided by their spy operations, most famously but not exclusively the Rosenbergs, as well as captured German scientists. They , exploded their first atomic bomb (August 1949). It was no accident that within a year, the North Korans heavily armed with Soviet weapons launched the Korean War. The Soviets tested a primitive fusion weapon (1953). The Soviets followed with their own true H-bomb (1955). Andrei Sakharov played a major role. The Soviets set out to build a super bomb. The heavy nuclear fallout from some of the mega-bombs they exploded, however, caused the Soviet leadership to respond to American overtures for limits on nuclear testing.

Korean Armies

The Soviets provided large quantities of modern weapons to the North Koreans, helping the North Koreans build a powerful military force. The States after World War II had provided only limited military aid to build the South Korean (ROK) Army. And the United States had withdrawn its occupation force. The United States significantly scaled back its conventional military force. There were four divisions on occupation duty in Japan, but there were in no conditioin for active combat.

North Korean Invasion (June 1950)

The North Koreans Army crossed the 38th parallel to forcibly unify Korea (June 25, 1950). Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin is believed to have incouraged Kim Il Sung to attack the South. Kim Il Sung did not need a great deal of encouragement. The precise exchanges between the two are unknown. Both leaders must have been embolded by the Communist victory in China (1948-49). The North Koreans seized Seoul, the South Korean capital 3 days later (June 28). They then pressed rapidly south.

Truman's Decession

President Truman immediately ordered war material be provided the South Koreans and then air support for the South Korean Army (June 27). Truman appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was overseeing the occupsation in Japan, supreme commander. Truman than ordered full American military intervention. Very few assetts, however, were available in theater. The lightly armed South Korean Army (ROK) was in no condition to stop the North Korean Army. The North Korean forces thus met little effective resistance in their drive south.

United Nations

The new United Nations Organization become involved in Korean affairs from a early point. The intention after World War II was that Korea would become an independent united country. The separate American and Soviet occupation as in Germany complicted this process. The United Nations beforepartitio declared that elections should be held for a government for the whole country and that the United Nations as a neutral body would oversee the elections to ensure that they were fair. After elections were held in South Korea, the United Nations declared that the elections had been fair (1947). The Soviets rfused, however, to permit United Nations observers to assess the elections in the north. As a result, the United Nations refused to declared that the elections were fair as there was no independentl observers. After the elections, South Korea (Epublic of Korea--ROK) and North Korea (Dempcratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) formed separate states (1948). The industrialized north was supported and heavily armed by the Soviet Union. The largely agricultural south received American assistance, but obnly limited military aid and few heavy weapons. Both Korean governments claimed to be the ligitimae government of Korea. The Communist victory in hina and the Soviet test of an atomic decice chnges the strategic balance in East Asia. Stalin gave the go ahead for a North Korean invasuion of the South. The havily armed DPRK Army struck (June 25, 1950). President Truman ordered U.S. support for South Korea and asked for United Nations action. U.N. Secretary General Trygve Halvdan Lie convened the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its 473rd meeting only hours after the North Korean invasion (June 25). He began the meeting with a detailed report from the U.N. Commission on Korea, explained the situation on the ground. Lie insisted that the United Nations take action to restore peace in Korea. The U.N. Commission on Korea reported that the invasion was in fact the outbreak of full-scale warfare. Then the U.S. delegate Ernest A. Gross presented arport from U.S. Ambassador Muccio. Next the United States introduced a resolution stating that North Korea's invasion was a clear breach of peace in violation of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Gross requested that South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Chang Myon, be allowed to partcipate in the proceedings. The Yugoslavian delegate, the only Communist represettive oresent, requested that a North Korean diplomat be present as well, but the Security Council rejected the request. North Korea was not a member of the United Nation as the 1947 elections were not seen as legitimte. And Notyh Korea had no representation present in New York that could participate. Ambassador Myon read a prepared statement calling the invasion of his country a crime against humanity, using the language of the Niremberg Trials. He pointed out that the United Nations had played a major role in the founding of South Korea and it was now their responsibility to help defend it from North Korean aggression. The UNSC debated the U.S. resolution and made amendments and revisions before passing it (June 25). The U.N. was able to act because the viet Union at the time was bycotting the Securty Council. The Soviets found this an effective way of preventing action in occupied Germany. They soon learned that different tactics would be needed in the United Nations. It was a huge mistake which they did not repeat again. Boycotting the Security Council simply meant that the Sviets were unable to exercize their veto perogative. The Security Council resolution condemned the invasion as an act of aggression, demanded the withdrawal of DPRK forces from the South, and called upon its members to aid South Korea. The United Nations placed the forces of member nations under U.S. command. The United States would provide the bulk of the forces resisting Communist aggression in Korea. There would, however, be 15 U.N. member countries who would join the United States in defending South Korea.

Pusan Perimeter (July-August 1950)

Genral MacArthur did not have the resources to stop the North Korean drive south. His strategy was to secure Pusan at the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula. Here the South Korsans and a small American force that had been rushed to Korean from Japan made their stand. Pusan was a major port which was needed to ship supplies into Korea. The first Americans to arrive in Korea was Task Force Charlie followed by a marine regiment. The commander was ordered to stop the North Koreans as far north of Pusan as possible. The Army at first hoped to hold Taijon, an important rail center. Task Force Smith deployed, but such a small force was incapable of doing so and had to fall back toward Pusan. Taijon fell (July 27). The North Koreans pushed the South Koreans and Americans back to a small perimiter around the southern port of Pusan. It look for a while like Pusan might fall, but the U.S. units managed to hold the permiter. Slowly the U.S. forces built up in the perimter. Armour and artillery arrived in quantities and air forces were deployed and power began to have an affect. A bnew bazooka proved effective against the Soviet T-34 tanks. The small U.N. permiter meant that the U.S. forces could easily move to the front and were close to supply dumps. The North Koreans on the other hand began to have supply problems. Air strikes began to interdict supply lines which were vulnerable because of the distance from North Korea.

Policies Toward Civilians

One topic we have not yet found information on is the occupation or civilian administration policies of the North Korean and South Korean Governments. We know a great deal about POWs, but very little about civilians. Here a factor is time. North Korea occupied South Korea for a realively berief period. And U.N. forces also occupied North Korea for aelatively brief period. How did the North Koreans treat busninessmen, property owners, lad lords, merchants, government officials teachers, policemen, ect as they moved outh after invading South Korea. The Communist Chinese as they moved south after defeating Nationlist armies in the north, executed large numbers of people classified as class enemies, including Nationlistofficials, landlords, businessmen, and others. We do not yet know if this also occurred in Korea. There is a good bit of information about POWs, but much less about civilians. Communist abuse of American and other U.N. POWs is well documnted, but have found very little as to how the North Koreans and Chinese treated civilians in areas that they occupoied. We do note reports of North Korean attrocities against South Kirean civilians as they retreated. Some of this involved civilian hostages in towns and village thought to be sympathetic to South Korea. Considerable information exists on North Korea's barbaric treatment of its people today, but we have been able to find very little about North Korean and Chinese treatment of civilians during the War. Nor do we know how South Korean officials treated North Korean officials, police, teachers, ect as the U.N. forces moved north after the Inchon landings. There were incidents in which Korean civilans were killed by U.N. forces. These as far as we can tell were friendly fire incidents. Presumably this topic has been addressed by historians, but we have not yet found much verifiable information. Hopefully readers will be able to find some useful information.

Inchon Landings: Operation Chromite (September 1950)

General MacArthur from Japan conceived of an amphibious invasion at Inchon to cut off the North Korean Army largely committed in the south arond the Pusan Peninsula. The Petagon and Presidenbt Truman were very skeptical about MacArthur's plan. MacArthur insisted and his prestige the carried the day. The North Koreans did not think there was any danger of a U.S. invasion. The American invading force faced a seawall and a huge tidal problem. A force of 70,000 Marines and U.S. Army Soldiers landed at Inchon (September 15). It is difficult to understand how such a substantial force could hvevben surepticiously assembled. It caught the North Koreans between two strong forces. The Inchon landings also caught the Soviets by surprise. Stalin ordered General H.M. Zakharov to Korea (September 18). He advised Kim Il-sung to immediately halt the Pusan offensive and to redeploy his forces north to defend Seoul. Stalin did not have the Chinese briefed on North Korean troop numbers or their operational plans. We are unsure about the contacts between North Korea and China at this time. His assessment was that th North Koreans should only attempt to reduce the Inchon Briidgehead if they had reserves of 100,000 men. Otherwise they should withdraw to the north, Tough fighting around Seoul followed, but South Korean troops reached Seoul (September 25). the capital was retaken (September 27). North Koren resistance collapsed and what was left of the Noth Korean Army retreated north. American aircraft hammered the North Koreans as they retreated north. In addition to the men lost, the North Koreans lost most of heavy equipment including their Soiviet-supplied tanks and artillery. The North Korean units around Pusan which were unable to move north began to disintegrate. Only about 25,000-30,000 North Korean soldiers suceeding in reaching the north. [Schnabel] Stalin was furious. He had thought that his North Korean allies had won the campaign. Stalin convened an emergency session of the Politburo (September 27). He blamed the reverses on the incompetence of the North Korean commanders. He also criticized the Soviet military advisers. [Barnouin and Yu, p. 143.] We are unsure just what happened when they retuned to the Soviet Union. Mikita Khruschev who by this time had been elevated to the Politburo. He could not understand why Stalin did not intervene. [Khrushchev]

Liberating Seoul: Second Battle of Seoul (September 1950)

Operation Chromite (the Inchon landings) commenced (september 15, 1950). A major objective was the the South Korean capital Seoul located east of the port. This would require some hard fighting as North Korean units in the area were not the disorganized units retreating from the south around Pusan. The well-armed NKPA 78th Independent Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Brigade, numbering some 7,000 men, stood and fought it out. [Hoyt, p. 98.] The NKPA launched a T-34 tank attack, which the Americans trapped and destroyed, and an ineffective Yak bombing run on the Incheon harbor. The primary NKPA effort was to contain the Incheon beachead so that forces in the south could withdraw to the north. General MacArthur placed a priority on retaking Seoul, but this was not the best move if the NKPA was to be cut off in the south. For whatever reason, Seol became a priority. Some historians report that MacArthur felt that he was honor bound by promises made to South Korean officials to retake the capital as quickly as possible. The first units of U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division landed at Incheon (September 16). Major General Edward Almond, the X Corps ommander, wanted to organize the division as quickly as possible to pcut off as much as the NKPA in the south as possible. The 32nd Infantry Regiment landed at Incheon (September 18). The 2nd Battalion of the 32nd Regiment relieve a U.S. Marine battalion occupying positions on the right flank of beachhead south of Seoul. The 31st Infantry Regiment also landed at Incheon. With his Division ashore, responsibility for the zone south of Seoul highway passed passed to Gen. Almond (September 19). Heavy fighting with NKPA units occured on the southern outskirts of Seoul. At the time the Incheon landings began, the NKPA had only one understrength division in the city itself. The bulk of the NKPA forces in the area were south of Seoul, reflecting the fact that until the landings, the U.N. forces were in the south arond Pusan. General MacArthur personally conducted the assualt in Seoul, carried out by the 1st Marine Regiment. Gen. Almond was given control of Operation Chromite. The Marines entered Seoul (September 17). The NKPA had rushed reinforcenents into the city and had begun to fortify it. The result was desperate house-to-house fighting. Gen. Almond declared the city liberated (September 25). The Marines were still engaged house-to-house combat and taking casualties. The city was left a file of rubble. The War had become a brutal one. Communist forces as they moved south had executed those thoughtto be connected with the South Korean Government. After the battle, South Korean Police executed civilians, including whole families, who were believed to be Communist sympathizers--the Goyang Geumjeong Cave Massacre and Namyangju Massacre. [Hanley and Chang]

Drive North (September-November 1950)

MacArthur rushed the United Nations forces north accross th 38th parallel to completely defeat and occupy North Korea. Truman was skeptical, but MacArthur assured him that Chinese warnings to intervene were bluff. U.N. forces began crossing the 38th Parallel (October 1). ROK forces crossed first. MacArthur demanded the North Lorean Army's unconditional surrender. When no reply was received. the American and other U.N. forces plunged into the North (October 7). The cmet only disorganized North Korean resistance. The North Korean capital of Pyongyang fell (October 19). The 8th Army, under Gen. Walton Walker, and the X Corp, under Gen. Edward Almond, drove the North Koreans north. The Inchon landings had proven so sucessful that General MacArthur decided on another landing, this time along the eastern coast. He chosen Wonson above the 38th parallel in southeastern North Korea. The plan was for X Corp to land there and link up with the Eighth Army moving north from Seoul. MacArthur hoped to cath what remained up the North Korean Army and destroy it. Wonsan would also provide a useful sea pott and logistical base for the push north to the Yalu. Wonson was one of the best ports in Korea, It had a substantil handling capacity and none of the tidal complivations that limited the use of Inchon. The North Korean Arny collapsed faster than anticipted by the U.N. Command. And by the anticipated landing date (October 20), the 8th Army has already arrived. X Corp landed anyway and supported the push north. And the U.S. Navy began landing needed supplies. North Korean mines caused some problems and caused the Navy to reassess its minesweepers and anti-mine capability. There were also landings at Riwon further north which ROK forces had already taken. The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team ("Rakkasans") executed the first of the only two combat jumps during the War at Sunchon and Sukchon (October 20). The objective was cut the road north to China and prevent North Korean leaders from escaping Pyongyang. They also wanted to rescue American POWs. The United Natiin by the end of October had taken 135,000 KPA North Koreans as POWs. The 8th Army pushed north, almost to the Yalu River (November 24). The Yalu was the border between China and Korea. The new Chinese Communist Government had made it clear that they would not tolerate the United States on their border. General MacArthur dismissed the warnings as a bluff. This was MacArthur's second huge miscalculation, underestimatiang asian armies. The first was in the Philippines at the onset of the Pacific War.

Chinese Intervention (November 1950)

Gen. MacArthur just before Thankgiving announced an 'end-of-the-war-by-christmas offensive as the mostly American forces were moving north after taking Pyongyang. It is clear that Stalin, now in possession of an atomic bomb set the war in motion. He refused, however, to directly involve the Red Army to save the North Koreans. Here he was making personal decisions which confused Khrushchev who for the first time was getting involved in foreign policy issues. [Khrushchev, p. 370.] It was the Chinese who intervened to save the North Koreans. New Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) having emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War secretly sent troops into North Korea and warned the United States not to approach the on the Yalu boundary unless it wanted a full-scale war. This was just what President Truman did not want. The Chinese troops moved mostly at night and were not picked up by American reconnisance flights in a huge intelligence failure. As MacArthur was preparing the final United Nations offensive, the Chinese Communists with what remained of the North Korean Army struck first (November 26). The Chinese were not bluffing. An America force approaching the Yalu River were mauled by a massive Chinese attack. One historian describes the experiences of the U.D. soldiers, "Private Hector Cafferata sensed the aroma og garlic beforevhe and Private Ken Benson, who had been dozing, saw white -clad Chinese flash past their foxhole. Benson ws still struggling awake when a satchel charge was thrown at them. He picked it upand heaved it back before it exploded, shaking them both. 'Home for Christmas, Hec?' Benson shouted, reaching for his BAR and emptying a clip of his Browning at the fleeing figures in white. Still the Chinese returned in force, with unspoken commands in buggle blasts and shrill histles. Sergeant Meredith Keirn, crew leader of a machine gun platoon opened up, as did Corporal Hobert Ladner, with the dead piling up so close to Ladner as to impede his field of fire." [Weintraub, A Christmas] The Chinese surrounded the X Corps at the Chosin Reservoir. Tens of thousands of men were trapped in a frozen fastness and swirling snow facing a swarming enemy. The overwealmed Americans led by Marines had to conduct a fighting retreat from the Chosen Reservoir in the middle of winter under horrendous conditions. The only way out was to reach the coast. It was one of the finest actions ever fought by the U.S. Marine Corps. They made it and the last troopships evacuating the Americans weughed ancor on Christmas Eve. The main body of UN troops were forced back by huge Chinese armies advancing in human wave attacks. Chinese losses were huge, but they had the manpower reserves to sustain them The Chinese have never admitted the extent of their losses. The Communists again crossed the 38th parallel and advanced into the South

American Forces Stabilize the Front (February-March 1951)

Throughout December and January of 1951, US/UN/ROK forces continued retreating (December 1950-January 1951). The Chinese were taking enormous casualties, but for a while it looked like the Chinese would totally defeat the U.N. forces. Months of heavy fighting followed. President Truman announced in a press conference that the United States was contemplating using atomic bombs. America was now throwing massive resources into the struggle. Military expenitures for the Fiscal Year 1952 reached $55 billion, compared to the mere $13 billion spent annually before the Korean War. (These numbers may sound small tday, but were massive amounts in the early-1950s.) American commander General Walton H. Walker was killed in a car accident (December 23, 1950). Lt. General Matthew Ridgway assumed command of US/UN/ROK ground forces in Korea. Ridgway was hughly regarded by both MacArthur and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The JCS began dealing primarily with Ridgway in Jorea than MacArthur in Japan. Ridgway evacuated Seoul and Inchon as the Chinese steadily moved south (January 4, 1951). The United Nations forces with massive air support managed to sabilize the front Ridgway in addition to militarry operations placed considerable emphasis on morale and care for the men fighting the War, something MacArthur as in World wat Ii was prone to neglect. Ridgeway worked to get better food to the front for the men and warmer clothing. Ridgway also strov to improve the effectiveness of Mobil Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH). As the Chinese advance slowed, the confidence and morale of U.N. forces bnegan to recover. The Chinese were finally stopped with Operation Thunderbolt, the first important US/UN/ROK offensive since the Chinese intervention. Then Operation Ripper succeeded in taking back Seoul which as now in ruins from the Chinese and pusjhiong back to the 38th parallel (March 1951). From this point, the 38th parallel became the center of the conflict.

Truman Fires Gen. MacArthur (April 1951)

General MacArthur was determined to mount another invasion of the North and achieve total vuictory. General Ridgway's notable success in stabilizing the front Korea thus disturbed MacArthur because it was undermining his justifications for attacking the Chinese and driving north. MacArthur dismissed Ridgway's conservative strategy as one of stalemate. Some American troops began calling Ridgway's strategy as 'Die for Tie'. A wider war with China was just what President Truman and his advisers did not want. They feared that with america tied down in Asia, the Soviets would launch an aggressive attack n in Europe. There were also the fear of atomic weapons and the spectre of millions of tragic deaths. General MacArthur insisted that anything short of victiory in a wider war as World WarII-like 'appeasement� of the Communists. Like President Roosevelt, Truman who was becoming increasingly unpopular, was stick with the popular general. Thus while President Truman attempted to prevent a wider war with the China, General MacArthur actively tried to oprovoke one. Stimied by the President, MacArthur decided to go over the Commander-in-Chief's head and entered the political arena to get permission for his invasion. He wrote to House Republican leader Joseph Martin (March 1051). Martin was a fierce critic of president Truman and a sronger backer for declaring a full scale war with China. He also knew that Martin would leak the letter to the press. �There is,� MacArthur wrote to Martin, �no substitute for victory� in the fight against international communism. This for Truman was the last straw. He decided to dismiss MacArthur regardless of the politicalm consequences. President Truman on the advise of the Joint Chiefs of Stafffired the general for insubordination (April 11). The Republicans in Congress were outraged. There was also a firestorm in the press. The President appointed Gen. Ridgway as commander in chief. Gen. James Van Fleet was given command of the 8th Army.


The Korean War refugees for some reason are some of the least covered refugees of the 20th century and one of the most tragic refugee groups. The impact of the Korean conflict on the Korean civilian population was particulrly traumatic. Precise date is unknowable, but the tool on the civilian poplation was enormous. There are believed to have been some 3-4 million casualties (dead, injured, and missing). There are eimates that some 1 millio people in the north fled south to escape from the advancing Chinese Army (December 1950-April 1951). The refugee flow was vitually all one way, civilians moving south, fleeing the Communists. Very few Koreans fled north as the U.N. armies broke out of the Pusan Perimiter (September 1950). Many thought thattheir flight south would be temporary. They left land, property, heirloom, and family members behind that they would be reunited after only a brief period of separation. Family members found themselves permanetly separatd. A few wer briefly reunited when th two Koreas agred to unification visit (2002). [Haan] Others managed to flee as a family group, but failed to kep together as hry treekd south. Parents were killed or captured. Childrn becme lost or died of exposure and malnitrition. There wer incidents of soldies firing on refuges, but the greater problem was exposure in cold wether and the lack of food and water. There was no provision for refugees, especilly during the fisrt yer of the war when the battle lines swung widely north andouth over virtully the entire length of the peninsula. During this period it was only Americ GIs sharing their provisions that saved many from starvation, especilly the children.

Military Stalemate (1951-53)

The first year of the Koran War (June 1950-June 1951) was one of major offensives of movememnt. The War began with the North Krean invasion at the 38th parllel and then ranged from the tip of the peninsula (Pusan Perimiter north to the Yalu River. This changed as the United Nations front managed to stabilize the front north of Seoul. The Communists launched an important offensive with some 0.4 million troops (April 22, 1951). They drove the U.N forces below the 38th parallel again. The United Nations conducted a successful, but limited offensive that drove north to the 38th parallel, clearing most of South Korea from Communist forces as well as taking limited areas of North Korea (June). As peace talks convened, the front ran diagonally across the Korean peninsula from the northeast to the southwest (July). The U.N. forcees anchored their line on the Sea of Japan about midway between the North Korean towns of Kosong and Kansong. The front than ran south to the 'Punchbowl'. This was a substantial circular valley surroinded by jagged mountains, Small unit actions continued. The fighting was bitter but indecisive. President Truman refused to give Gen. Van Fleet permission to mount a major offensive north. The United States deployed tremnendous fire power (artillery and air power) to stop the much larger Chinese armies which often large human-wave attacks. Chinese losses were massive and never accuarely reorted by the Chinese. American losses were a fraction of the Chinese losses, but the continuing war and continued losses became very unpopular. Korea became known as the 'meat grinder' war. What followed was 2 years of stalemate which was becoming a major political as the 1952 American presidential election loomed.

Air Power

Air Power played a critical war in the Korean War. Korea is a peminsula and thus suspectable to th application of both air and naval power. American ground forces in Korea were very limited hen the North Koreans attacked. It was only air strikes from Japan and then carriers that slowed the North Korean advance, enabling the Americans and ROK forces to form and hold the Punsaan Peninsula. Korea was the first war in which jet aircraft played an important role. The Soviets supplied their new MIG-15 to the North Koreans. Many were flow by Soviet pilots. The United States rushed their F-86 Sabres to counter it. The clashes between the two were notable for the similarity of thge planes--reflecting the influence of German World war II technology. Despite the fact that the two fighters were relatively evenly matched, the better trained American pilots achieved a high kill ratio and air superority over Korea. Soviet air frames during the Cold War commonly matched American air frames. It was the electronics that made a difference. The Korean War, however, was fought before the American technological edge emrged. In Korea the American edge was achieved through tactics and training. Close ground support and interduction raids enabled the heavily outnumbered U.N. forces to stabalize a front north of Souel and inflict heavy losses on the North Koreans and Chinese. The 21 Troop Carrier Squadron (Kyushu Gypsies) did an incredible job of retrieving downned pilots and rescuing wounded soldiers on imposibly short airstrips. Communist treatment of downed pilots was brutal. First Lieutenant Melvin Shadduck was one of the first who did. [Chinnery] The threat of B-29 strikes on China finally ended the war.

Naval Power

Korea is a peninsula and thus vulnerable to enemy naval power and ideal for friendly naval support. The U.S. Navy thus played an important role in the conflict. There was little in the way of naval engagements because neither North Korea or Communist China had a navy of any consequence. The Navy's primary role at the onset of the Korean War following the North Korean invasion was to support the belagered South Korean Army and U.S. forces rushed to the peninsula. Naval forces are more mkbil than land forces and thus the U.S. Navy was an important asset immediately at the disposition of the United Nations Command (UNC). The mobility of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the forward basing of its major combat element, the Seventh Fleet, in the Far East gave President Truman an important asset to immediatey oppose the North Korean invasion with real force. The Seventh Fleet first units to reach the Korean theater were the carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), the heavy cruiser USS Rochester (CA-124), eight destroyers and three submarines. The Seventh Fleet deployed off the Chinese coast. Valley Forge air squadrons began bombing airfields and rail yards in Pyongyang. This reduced North Korean air support for their drive south and interdicted supplies for their invasion forces. At the time the North Korean capital was an important transport nd communications center, but beyond the range of the U.S. Air Force units based in Japan. The Navy's most important role was in supporting and bringing in supplies to the men holding the POusan Perimiter and than supporting the citical Invchon landings. The U.S. Navy's display of force along the Chinese coast appears to have disuaded the Communist Chinese from an amphibious assault on Taiwan which they were preparing. [U.S. Naval Historical Center] It may also have discouraged Soviet Premier Josef Stalin from providing Soviet air support for the North Korean invasion. Future Soviet Primier Nikita Khrushchev complains bitterly about Stalin's decesion in his memoirs. [Khrushchev] The U.S. Navy for 3 years used its submarines and aircraft to patrol the waters between the Soviet Union and the Korean combat zone. Other submarines and patrol aiurcraft operated along the Chinese coast.

Propagada and the Press

Communist propagada depicted the United States as an agressor country. The Chinese charged that te United States was using germ warfare. The Japanese had used both germ and chemical weapons against the Chinese in World War II. The charges against America were false, but picked by the leftist press in Europe. The American press gave great support to General MacArthur. After the statemate developed, the mounting casualties became a major issue. The Americam use of fre power to stop Chinese superority in numbers resulted in civilan casualties. Poorly reported were civilan casualties resulting from Communistvactions. Civilan casualties, however, did not become a major issue in the U.S. media.

Peace Talks: Panmunjom (1951-53)

The War was essentially stalemated in 1951. President Truman was unwilling to commit the forces for another drive into North Korea. General Ridgway began truce negotiations with the North Koreans and Chinese (July 10, 1951). Peace talks with the Communists, however, were frustrating. The ceasefire line would essentially be the positions the two sides held. There was very little then to be negotited. The major issue became the Communist demand that all Korean and Chinese POWs be returned, even the ones who did not want to be repatriated. The Chinese were convinced that the Americans would eventually tire of the War. The War virtually ended on 10 July 1951, when representatives from the warring parties met in a restaurant in Kaesong to negotiate an end to the war. Although the two principal parties to the conflict-the governments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea)-were more than willing to fight to the death, their chief patrons-the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and the United Nations (UN) on the other-were not. Twelve months of bloody fighting had convinced Mao Tse-tung, Joseph V. Stalin, and Harry S. Truman that it was no longer in their respective national interests to try and win a total victory in Korea. The costs in terms of men and materiel were too great, as were the risks that the conflict might escalate into a wider, global conflagration. Consequently, they compelled their respective Korean allies to accept truce talks as the price for their continued military, economic, and diplomatic support. For the soldiers at the front and the people back home, the commencement of negotiations raised hopes that the war would soon be over, but such was not to be. While desirous of peace, neither side was willing to sacrifice core principles or objectives to obtain it. The task of finding common ground was further complicated by the Communists' philosophy of regarding negotiations as war by other means. This tactic significantly impeded the negotiations. And while the negotiators engaged in verbal combat around the conference table, the soldiers in the field continued to fight and die-for two more long and tortuous years. President Truman and his new military commanders started peace talks at Panmunjom (July 1951) . Still, the fighting continued along the 38th parallel as negotiations stalled. Both sides were willing to accept a ceasefire that maintained the 38th parallel boundary, but they could not agree on whether prisoners of war should be forcibly �repatriated.� (The Chinese and the North Koreans said yes; the United States said no.) Finally, after more than two years of negotiations, the adversaries signed an armistice on July 27, 1953. The agreement allowed the POWs to stay where they liked; drew a new boundary near the 38th parallel that gave South Korea an extra 1,500 square miles of territory; and created a 2-mile-wide �demilitarized zone� that still exists today.


Most of the soldiers captured during the Korean War wer South Korean, North Korean and Chinese. We are not sure what the North Korean policy was toward POWs at the onset of the War when they invased South Korrnd swpt south. We know that units simply shot men they captured rather than taking them captive. One such incident occurred furing the battle of Taejon--the Chaplain�Medic massacre (July 16, 1950). North Korean soldiers murdered 30 unarmed, critically wounded United States Army soldiers and an unarmed chaplain. Just how common this was and how captured South Korean soldiers were treated we cannot yet say. There were itger such incidents. The best known is the Hill 303 massacre. Historians today generally agree that these killings were not ordered by the North Korean commanders. The question of course arises as to whu so manu unit commanders has no scruples about killing unarmed captives, even criticlly wounded men. American inteligence intercepts found that North Korean commanders, concerned about how prisoners were being treate, establoished stricter guidelines for handling th men captured. This was difficult to enforce in the chaos of th U.N. offensive followung th Inchon landings. Desperate and retreating men were actually more prone to take recenge on POWs as well as civiliams. [Appleman. p. 350.] We do not know if any North Koreans were ever punished for by their government for war crimes. Not do we know if the Chibese Communist Army after they intervened behaved any differently. Some 5,000 U.N. POWs, mostly Americans, but also British, Turkish, and Australian POWs) were taken by the Comminists, primarily early in the War during the initual Chinese intervention. They were kept by the Chinese Army at Pyoktong POW camps. These camps (five cluster units) were locatead near Pyoktong, North Korea, near the borderline between China and North Korea. The major issue in the peace talks becme the repatriation of the Communist POWs. The Communists demanded that all Korean and Chinese POWs be returned, even the ones who did not want to be repatriated. There was a POW uprisings at Koje-do. The Communists eventually accepted the voluntary repatriation, but only if the majority of the POW's would return to China or North Korea. This did not, however prove to be the case. North Korean and Chinese negotgistors found this embarassing as they claimed tht thy had created worker paradises. Many Coomunist POWS, both North Koreans anbd Chinese, refused to be repatriated. The negotiations and thus the War continued until the Communists eventually agreed to drop the issue. The repatiated U.N. POWs reported mistreatment and abuse including torture.

American Presidential Election (November 1952)

President Truman unexpectedluy won the 1948 election, but in part because of the stalemate in Korea, his popularity had declined sharply. He realized that he could not win another election. He tried to convince war hero General Dwight Eisenhower to run for president as a Democrat. Republican emissaries to his headquarters near Paris persuaded him to run for President as a Republican. World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential victory was in part due to the unpopularity of the War. Eisenhower pledged to go to Korea and end the war. Casualties in the war were heavy. U.S. losses were placed at over 54,000 dead and 103,000 wounded, while Chinese and Korean casualties were each at least 10 times as high, probably much higher. Korean forces on both sides executed many alleged civilian enemy sympathizers, especially in the early months of the war.

Cease Fire (July 1953)

Cease fire negotiations began (July 1951). The agrinonious negotiations completely broke down four different times. It was not that there were major issued to be decided. The new frintier would essentially be the fronjtb line between the two military forces whjich had not changed significantly since 1951. The only issue that remain to be settled was the POWs. A great deal changed in early 1953. Stalin died unexpectedly (March 1953). Gen. Eisenhower became president and fulfilling a campaign promise, went to Korea. The cease fre talks were difficult. The decsion to end the War probably had most to do with Chinese decesion making. The deciding factor almost certainlly was Eisenhower's threat to begin bombing Chinese bases in Manchuria an possibly use the atomic bomb. The armistice agreement was finally signed (July 27, 1953). The resulting DMZ is still the frontier between the two Koreas.


More than 3 million Koreans were killed as a result of the War. Millions more were made homeless refugees. About 1 million Chinese soldiers are believe to have been killed. American casualties totaled nearly 55,000. The press in the United States severly criticized President Truman for the lingering war and mounting casualties. Political critiics charged that the losses were wasted because the border did not change materially. In fact, there were major achievements. South Koreans were saved from totalitariasn Communism. While South Korea had its probllems it has emerged as a strong, sable democracy. And free market capitalism created an economic powerhouse in contrast to the failed Communist economy of North Korea. Nothing could more dramatically demonstrate the difference between Communism and Democracy/Capitalism. The difference is so marked, that the Chinese Communists only two decaded leader would adopt capitalism, although not democracy.

The Forgotton War

In between World War II and the Vietnam War was the Korean War. And it has been largely forgotten. It is difficult to match the drama and breath of World War II. It was the greatest conflict in all of human history. It was fought across the plannet and the very survival of Western Civilization was at stake. Western Civilization was not at stake in Korea. And the War was confined to the narrow cnfines of the Korean Peninsula. The men and women who fought World War II are today called the Greatest Generation. Vietnam occurred two decades later. And unlike World War II vets were very vocal. Today one of the most visited monumet in Washington D.C. is the Vietnam Memorial located next to the Lincoln Memorial. Virtually unknown is the Korean War Meorial, also located in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. Tis is symbolic of how the Korean War has been treated by historians and our popular culture. [Pash] One author writes, "No one ever referred to out Korean War soldiers as part of the Greatest Generation; yet, their war began just five years after V-J Day and more than 36,000 of them died in service to their country." We would take issue wih this. Korean vets did more than doing their duty to Ameica. They also saved the people of South Korea from the nighmare exitence of North Korea.

TV Series: MASH

More than 20 years after the Korean War, in the midst of the Vietnam War, 'Mash' appeared on American television, based on the Richard Hooker's 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors which was made into a popular feature film. The series premeried during 1972 and ran through 1983. It was one of the most populr TV series during its long run. Wikipedia tells us, "It took a number of minor creative liberties with the facts of the Korean War." In fact it turned the history of the Korean War on its end. Week after week the series made the point that war was terrible and that the United States was waging an endless, fruitless war. In fact, North Korea at the time was already developing into an economic dynamo as well as a democratic country. And North Korea was in essence a giant prison camp condeming its people to povery and dictatorial rule. There are satellite images that eloquently show the difference with a brightly lit South Korea at night and a blcked out North Korea. Now we have no problkem with pointing out that war was terrible, but not once in the 11-year run of Mash did they mke the point of what had been accomplished by the Americans, South Koreans, and other Unitef Nations soldiers who fought there.


Two of the most important movies about the Korean War are 'Pork Chop Hill' and 'The Bridges at Toko-Ri'. There is one scene with children but that was in Japan not in an action scene. The stars of the movie go to a bath house to find out that in Japan many families bathe together. The najor Korean War film with children is Battle Hymn (1957). Then there is 'Mash' an anti-Vietnam War movie set in Korea. The film and subsequent TV-series are one of the most dishonest films andcTV series Hollywood has ever made. The central thessis is that war is useless amd made by political leaders without any reason. Yet ask any of the people involved in the production if they would like to live in the Hell hole that is North Korea or democratic, vibrant South Korea. The stark difference between the North and South shows up in satellite imagery--the North Korean dictatorship shows us a pitch black next to South Korea aglow with free social and economic activity. Not once in the long history of the Mash series did the producers have the intelectual honesty to address this, but rather the focus was on undermining the sacrifices made by American and oyher U.N. servicemen to defend freedom. We assume that the Koreans have made many films about the war. Unfortunately we know nothing about them. Hopefully our Korean readers will be able to tell us somthing about them.


Korea does not have a tradition of carrying for orphans. Family is very important to Koreans and still is. Orphand who were not taken in by family faced a difficult life and the younger childten a desperate stuhhle for life itself. We know of no orphanages or institutional fscilities crrying for orphabns until the 20th century. The first known orpohanage was Pung Duck Won (1913). Several other orphanages appeared during this period, most of Christian foundation and financed by American or European Christisn charities. Many more were set up after Japan surrendered and the United States and the Soviet Union occupied the country. This was a period of enormous disorder. The Japanese including Japanese civilisans left. Koreans were returning from Japan and other foreign areas where the Jaopanese had taken them. Large numbers of abandoned or orphaned children were wandering about the streets. Many small orphanages were established, again often involving Christian foundation. It was the Korean ar, however, that created an unprecedented refugee and orphan problem. Many civilians were killed in the fighting. The North Koreans executed many South Korans, both people associsted with the Government and social classes like merchants and landowners believed to be hostile to Communism. In the wake of the War, over 100,000 orphaned children wandered the streets. Some 400 orphanages were set up for the children, many supported by American servicemen and overseas Christian charities. Placing the children proved a problem. Few Korean fanilies wanted to taken in orphans, A factor here was economic devestation, but perhaps even more importannt was a cultural predelection against caring for unrelted children. So the orphanages began placing the children abroad. Many of the early adoptions were mixed race children, the children of Anmrican servicemen and Korean women. Korean attitudes toward racial purity led to these children being turned over to orphanages and eventuslly adopted overseas. Koreans had no problem with this as it was seen as a way of getting rid of children that were not fully Korean. Foreign adoptions, however, continued with fully Korean babies. These foreign adoptions eventually became a national embarassment as Korean became one of the Asian Tigers and an increasingly affluent country.


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Barnouin, Barbara and Changgeng Yu. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2006).

Blair, C. The Forgotten War (1989).

Chinnery, Philip. Combat Over Korea (2011), 208p.

Gueron, J. "Atomic Energy in Continental Western Europe," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, VOl. 26, No. 6, June 1970.

Haan, Phil de. "50 Years And Counting: The Impact of the Korean War on the People of the Peninsula" (May 2002).

Halberstam, D. The Coldest Winter (2007).

Hanley, Charles J. and Jae-Soon Chang. "Children 'executed' in 1950 South Korean killings," San Diego Union-Tribune (December 6, 2008).

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Khrushchev, Nikita. Edward Crankshaw, intro, commentary, and notes. Strobe Talbott, trans. and ed. Khrushchev emembers (Little Brown: Boston, 1970), 639p.

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Weintraub, S. A Christmas Far from Home: An Epic Tale of Courage and Survival during the Korean War (2014), 320p.

Weintraub, S. MacArthur's War (2000).


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Created: 4:58 AM 1/27/2005
Last updated: 9:40 PM 2/27/2019