The Korean War

The Path to War

At the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman and Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin began talks about the future of Korea. Talk of forming a trustee, in which multiple countries would govern the whole of Korea, arose at meetings in 1946 and 1947. The idea was that over time Korea would recover from the war and be allowed to govern itself once it was politically and economically stable. Stalin and other Soviet Union members however rejected the idea of reunification and a trustee. The issue was deferred to the United Nations, an organization that had been established immediately after World War II. The Soviet Union felt the United Nations was not qualified to to of Korea and its government. Soviet Union members of the U.N. protested elections and declared North Koreans, those north of the 28th parallel, would not vote in the elections held by the United Nations Commission of Korea.
In the month of May 1949, the Commission of Korea ahead with elections despite the refusal to participate from North Korea. This action further eliminated any possibility of the reunification of North and South Korea. On May 10, 1948, Syngman Rhee was elected as president of South Korea. South Korea adopted a constitution establishing a government with a strong executive branch and a president that serves a 4-year term. South Korea became known as the Republic of Korea.
In direct response to the forma
tion of the Republic of Korea, the Soviet Union promoted elections in North Korea. Guerilla leader Kim Il Sung was elected as premier leader of North Korea. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was formed on September 8th, 1949. During the months following his election, Kim Il Sung reached out to both Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin with requests for support and approval for invading South Korea. Stalin authorized the shipping of military personnel, supplies, arms, and vehicles to North Korea in preparation for the invasion. Stalin made it known to Kim Il Sung that in the event that Sung faces strong resistance during the war, Sung would need to rely on Mao, not Stalin, for reinforcements.
President Rhee of South Korea also had plans for reunifying Korea by force. The problem though was that President Rhee did not have the support and consent of U.S. and U.N. leaders. Although Rhee was elected to be president of South Korea, he was not well-liked by leaders of Western Nations. The United States at the time was not willing to offer any form of aid because of a hesitancy to start a war in Asia. Before the Korean War broke out in June of 1950, South Korea was vastly unprepared for war compared to North Korea. This was due largely to the fact that Kim Il Sung had the support of his allies in China and the Soviet Union, while President Syngman Rhee did not.
Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin

The Invasion and United Nations’ Response

On June 25th 1950, DPRK forces swiftly crossed the
DPRK Invasion Routes June 25,1950
parallel leaving a trail of destruction and death in its wake. Very similar to the German invasion of Poland during World War II, U.N. and ROK forces were largely caught off-guard when North Korea invaded. South Korea’s army was ill-equipped, untrained, and futile compared to the DPRK invasion forced fueled by Soviet weapons and Chinese training. The major advantage that North Korea had over South Korea was its abundance of military vehicles. The Soviet Union funded the North Korean army with Soviet T-34 tanks. Though it was previously believed that Korea’s landscape was too mountainous for tanks and heavy land vehicles, DPRK tank battalions proved the belief wrong and devastated many U.N. and ROK forces in the opening days of the war. In only three days, North Korea took the capital of Seoul on June 28th, 1950. Many ROK, US, and UN leaders were forced to retreat south. In the next two months, North Korean forces continued to conquer South Korea until the majority of UN forces were forced into the southeastern coastline. The quickness and efficiency of North Korea’s invasion prompted the United States and the U.N. Security Council to take action.

The U.N. Security Council demanded that North Korea repeal forces and fall back beyond the 38th parallel. When DPRK leader Kim Il Sung did not reply, the United States drafted UN resolutions to create. The resolution would move to commit U.N. forces to repel the North Korean invaders from Korea. The U.N. task force would mostly of United States military forces. Because the Soviet Union members were on strike, the resolution was swiftly passed with help of increased pressure from President Truman. Once passed, President Truman promoted General Douglas MacArthur to Supreme Commander in charge of the U.N. Task Force in Korea. By the time the U.N. was ready to aid South Korea and the sparse U.N. forces already there, they had been pushed into the port of Pusan in the southeastern corner of the peninsula. The area was dubbed the Pusan Perimeter because the remaining army of South Korea had devoted all its resources and men to fortifying and holding off the DPRK army.

The Turning Point

Up until the 1st of August, North Korea had dominated on all fronts in the war. The DPRK army was well-armed, highly trained, and superior in terms of number and quality. South Korea had no answer for the wealth of Soviet tanks and aircraft, as well as, the superior Soviet firearms. As a result, the ROK army had to retreat to Pusan, where they created a defensive stronghold against waves of DPRK forces. South Korean forces were able to hold off DPRK infantry because the men were starving and far from home. As DPRK forces pushed further and further into South Korea, food shortages increased and supplies dwindled. Morale decreased among the men, and North Korea failed to push through the Pusan Perimeter. Meanwhile, General Douglas MacArthur planned a amphibious attack that would split North Korea’s armies, cut off supply lines, and allow U.N. and ROK forces to break out of the Pusan Perimeter and take occupied territory.
In three weeks, General MacArthur devised a mission to turn around the war. The plan incorporated land, air, and sea forces and later would be considered by historians as a tactical achievement equal to the D-Day invasion of World War II. Named Operation Chromite, naval vessels, including battleships and landing vessels, would land at the Port of Inchon with the support of the U.S. Air Force. From there, infantry and heavy artillery and vehicles would retake Seoul and surrounding cities. The plan was met with modera
General Douglas MacArthur (wearing the sweet aviators)
te resistance from the Joint Chiefs. The snag on the plan was that the naval conditions of Inchon were extremely challenging. Also, there were a few North Korean-occupied islands that would need to be captured in order for U.S. naval forces to advance on Inchon. However, General MacArthur did meet with the Joint Chiefs in Tokyo and managed to convince them to allow Operation Chromite to proceed.
Operation Chromite, or the landing at Inchon began on September 10, 1950 when the US Air Force dropped approximately 90 tons of napalm on Wolmi Island. Wolmi Island was critical to the success of the operation because it was an island just off the coast of Inchon, and it was used by the North Koreans for the defense of the port through heavy artillery and anti-aircraft. In the followings, US airplanes and battleships bombarded the island unceasingly until it was completely burnt out. Once the island was secure, Marines immediately took designated “Red Beach” and “Blue Beach” on the coast of Inchon and began sealing off the roads going in and out of Inchon. With little to no resistance, Inchon was sealed off and vehicles and men began pouring into Inchon from the coast. Seventeen days later, X Corps, the corps assigned to capturing Inchon, linked up with the Eighth Army, which had been surrounded in the Pusan Perimeter for over two months. On September 18, South Korean and U.S. forces retook the capital city Seoul, and the joined forces began to push the North Koreans back over the 38th parallel.

Chinese Involvement and the “End” of the War

In September and October of 1950, the North Korean forces were shattered and weak. General MacArthur pushed North Korean forces all the way past the Yalu River, near the northern border between China and Korea. Although China believed Korean could be reunited peacefully, the General MacArthur’s aggressiveness and eagerness to invade China did not receive friendly reception from Chinese leaders. Chinese dictator Mao Zedong was already well prepared to support North Korean. In the last week of October and the first week of November, thousand of Chinese soldiers began spilling across the border and south towards the Yalu River. U.S. forces were taken by surprise by the sheer numbers of Chinese infantry and suffered severe losses through the winter. Chinese forces dominated U.S. forces for much of December and with each victory pushed the U.S. further south. Eventually, the frontlines were centered on the 38th parallel where the war had first begun. In March of 19
North and South Korea, November 1951

51, China and the United States agreed to a cease-fire. While many government officials were pleased with the temporary halt in war, General MacArthur was not. General MacArthur had already previously tried convincing President Truman to drop atomic bombs on China for their aid in the war. Now, General MacArthur felt the Chinese should retreat and let the U.N. handle the
situation in China or prepare for all-out war with the U.S. on Chinese soil. President Truman could not handle any more of it. On April 11th, MacArthur was demoted and General Ridgeway took over as the head of U.S. forces in Korea. Although Truman made the rig
ht decision, he faced stern criticism and disapproval for his actions.
For the next two years, fighting came to a relative standstill. Talks began between the Soviet Union, China, and the United States with the help of the United Nations. The Armistice Agreement established a permanent cease-fire between North and South Kroea until agreements could be made concerning the future of Korea as a whole. Forces continued to dig in and defend their holds on both sides of the 38th parallel. POW’s were exchanged from both sides. A four-kilometer demilitarized zone, or DMZ, was established along the 38th parallel. From then on, it was more or less considered that the war was over, but an actual peace treaty was never established.

Significance of the Korean War

DMZ Line

The Korean War is sometimes referred to as the Forgotten War because people do forget it happened during the Cold War. The name also caught on because there was never a true end to the war; a peace treaty was never signed between North Korea and South Korea. The Korean War was the second proxy war in which the United States indirectly fought with the Soviet Union- although mostly China- by funding South Korean forces. Unlike the Chinese Civil War however, the U.S. military comprised the bulk of the U.N. task force during the Korean War. More aid and support was given to the Korean War in an attempt to contain communism. Had North Korea and China successfully claimed the entire peninsula of Korea, there might not be two separate countries today. The importance of the Korean War is that it is the second time the U.S. military stepped in the try to resist the spread of Communism. In a sense, they succeeded because the U.S. military was able to recapture lost territory from North Korea. South Korean adopted a capitalistic economy and is thriving today. If you could ask General MacArthur though, he’d likely say the Korean was a failure because the peninsula was not reunited under a democratic government and because the countries are still at odds today. The DMZ between the two countries today remains the largest guarded border in terms of forces stationed there and the sheer size of the DMZ.

The Impact of the Korean War

The Korean War had both short-term and long-term effects during the Cold War and into today. During that time, the American support for waging wars in other countries severely dropped. The Korean War represented the second time the United States was unable to repel communism. Also, since there was no definite end to the war, Americans felt confused about the outcome. The Korean War opened the gates to more active proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both countries, which had previously only funded other countries through supplies and weaponry, now began actively sending forces to other parts of the world in an attempt to increase their spheres of influence. The Korean War is the first time the idea of using the nuclear bomb again is brought up. Although MacArthur’s ideas for using the A-bomb were adamantly rejected, the Atomic bomb and the fear of its use arises multiple times throughout the rest of the Cold War.

Works Cited Page

Book Sources

"Background to the War: the Japanese Occupation." Korean War Reference Library. Ed. Sonia G. Benson and Gerda-Ann Raffaelle. Vol. 1: Almanac and Primary Sources. Detroit: UXL, 2002. 3-14. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.

Powaski, Ronald. The Cold War The United States and Teh Soviet Union, 1917-1991. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.