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American History of the Korean War

As history has shown the effects of war are both devastating and long-lasting. In the case of the Korean War, these effects are still seen today as hostilities continue even after 50 years. The Korean War was a war that had developed from an interesting situation after World War II. Towards the end of World War II, the Soviet Union had entered the war to seize control over Japanese territories which included Korea. The strategic position of Korea led the United States to step in to stop communism from spreading. A truce was agreed upon in which the Soviet Union would occupy all of Korea north of the 38 parallel and the United States would occupy all of Korea south of the 38 parallel. From this event began the separation of Korea into a democratic and communist party which would later erupt into a war.

Strangely enough, the initial objective of the Soviet Union and the United States was to establish a unified Korea and then evacuate all military forces, but ironically, their actions led to a greater division of Korea and increased tensions between the communist ideologies of the north and the democratic ideologies of the south. As time progress and tensions mounted, different factions began to struggle for power until Kim Il Sung seized power and became a political figure in the north. At the same time in the southern part of Korea, Syngman Rhee took political power and advocated anticommunism.

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Now that there were two provisional governments in place in Korea, it was decided in 1948 by the United Nations that a general election decide who would be the political figurehead of Korea. After the votes were tallied, it was declared that Kim Il Sung was the president of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea although the communist party and communist countries supported him. The election of Sung led to the permanent division of Korea at the 38 parallel. The election of 1948 and the official division of Korea were the two main events that set the stage for a civil war along with the fact that both North and South Korea were preparing their armies. On June 25, 1950, the first shot was fired, by which side is still unknown today, and the Korean War had begun.

In the early stages of the war, both the United States and the Soviet Union were not in support of the war but their views changed quickly. The leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, declined to support North Korea’s plans for war until the early 1950s in which he then appeared to endorse the war and even suggested that Kim Il Sung, the president of North Korea to seek support from Mao Zedong, the leader of China who was also a communist. The United States views were based primarily on the Truman Doctrine which focused on the containment of communism throughout the world. The fact that the USSR was encouraging Sung to seek support from the communist country of China.

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Although military forces of both the Russians and the Americans were not present in any part of Korea, there still remained a United States military advisor group to oversee operations in South Korea. The unprovoked aggression of the North Koreans in the form of crossing the 39th parallel occurred, President Harry S. Truman pulled the United States into the Korean War, despite objections by military leaders that Korea was the wrong place to take a stand against communism.

As tensions mounted with the North and South Korean forces cumulating on the 38th parallel, both sides were quite evenly matched in both numbers and weaponry some of which was provided by either the United States or the Soviet Union. It seemed as though the odds were balanced, but the North had their military experience as an advantage in the war as more and more soldiers returned to North Korea from their stations in China. On June 25, 1950, a battle had erupted and no proof could be made to which side had started it. The North Korean army with their military experience pushed the South Korean forces back quite easily as they plowed their way through to the capital of Seoul. The Southern forces began to panic as they waited for reinforcements to aid in pushing the North Korean army back. When reinforcements did arrive on June 26th, many Southern troops mutinied and fled due to several factors. These factors included lack of firepower, poor training and mainly the unpopularity of the Rhee government that was in charge in South Korea and not surprisingly was voted out of office during free elections a month prior. With a major gap in the South Korean forces defence, the North Korean army came closer to the capital forcing the Southern Korean government officials to flee Seoul. Finally, on June 28, 1950, the Northern forces numbering 37,000 troops captured Seoul.

With the complete collapse of the South Korean defences, the United States was compelled to enter the war and turn the tides in a major way. The Secretary of State, Dean Acheson had devised a plan of attack in dealing with aid to the South Korean forces. Acheson argued that US military forces must be used to help in the defence of South Korea and to help in the evacuation of Americans from Korea. He had also convinced President Truman that a US naval presence is in Taiwan straight to prevent the Communist Chinese government from invading the island of Taiwan where the Nationalist Chinese had escaped after the takeover of Communist forces in mainland China.

Acheson’s strategic plan to aid South Korea was approved by Truman but not yet by the United Nations, Department of Defense, or Congress. United Nations’ support for the defence of South Korea allowed Truman and Acheson to gain public support to intervene in the matter of Korea. On June 27th, the United Nations was coaxed into agreeing with the plan to defend South Korea. Although the USSR could have vetoed the vote but instead opted to boycott the decision at the command of Stalin whose motives for that decision are not completely known. Speculations as to Stalin’s reasons for not vetoing the vote are that it was Stalin’s intention to draw the US into the war and drain it of military and monetary resources or he wanted to expose the United Nations as a tool of the United States.

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The United States Army numbered 593,000 soldiers and also over 75,000 marines totalled up the US military force while as the North Korean army could mobilize over 200,000 soldiers and also the large reserve of the People’s Liberation Army of China. World War II General Douglas Macarthur was placed in command of troops in Korea which totalled to 93,000 (47,000 of which were American soldiers). During the summer of 1950, the Northern army continued to push the US and Southern Korean forces farther and farther back until the North had occupied over 90 percent of South Korea. In the first week of August, the United States Marine forces had arrived in South Korea and stabilized their defences. By this time the Southern forces only guarded a small area on the southernmost tip of the peninsula known as the Pusan Perimeter. A key city for the Southern forces in the next several battles was the city of Taegu which was the location in which they held the Northern forces back repeatedly.

The Northern forces launched their last major offensive attack on the Pusan Perimeter and succeed in breaking past the Southern defence lines pushing down the coasts. The Northern forces had been successful enough to force US commanders to evacuate their headquarters from Taegu to Pusan which was on the southernmost tip. Also, prominent South Koreans began to flee to the Japanese islands of Tsushima. The outcome began to look grim for South Korea and the United States forces until General Macarthur decided to commit almost all the armed forces of the United States to the fighting in Korea. Now the Southern forces consisted of some 83,000 American soldiers and 57,000 Southern Korean and British forces against the 98,000 North Korean forces which consisted of a great number of guerrillas and female soldiers. At this point, it seemed as if the Americans had the advantage with more numbers, superior artillery, five times as many tanks as the North and complete control of the air since the beginning of the war. As American forces pushed on, the North Korean and Chinese forces had joined together in an attempt to hold their ground. With the two forces working together, they were able to force out all enemy forces in North Korea and again take back Seoul.

As early as 1951, the United States military had considered using nuclear weapons to defend against the air force of the USSR which consisted of 13 air divisions in east Asia including 200 bombers that could strike both Korean bases and American bases located in Japan. Controversially, Truman agreed to the request of “D-Day capability” and the atomic bomb loading pits in Okinawa, Japan was in use again assembling the bombs. The atomic cores had been delivered to the base and had been installed along with orders outlining the use. At this time, Truman had asked for Macarthur’s resignation because he had acted against restrictions set upon him by the president. It was also feared that if Macarthur was not removed he might not use the nuclear weapons specifically as ordered. The warning of the use of an atomic bomb greatly worried Stalin because he thought the global war would result from an American defeat in North Korea. These events set the stage for what could and very well may have been the beginning of the third World War.

After endless months of fighting, a cease-fire discussion was called for by the USSR representative of the United Nations on June 23, 1851. This meeting was held in the old Korean capital of Kaesong. The peace talks officially began on July 10 with the United States Vice Admiral C turner Joy (United Nations) and Lieutenant General Nam Il (North Korea). Both sides debated over how to fairly and properly mark each side’s military lines, but the main issue that prolonged the talks were concerns on how to deal with POW (prisoner of war) camps. In the North, POWs were being maltreated and political views were subjected to them to force them to reform. About one-third of North Koreans in POW camps and an even larger number of Chinese in POW camps did not want to return to communist control creating more conflicts between communists and anticommunists. At the same time, the South refused to sign an armistice because they thought it would keep Korea divided. On June 8, 1953, the POW issue was finally settled resulting in the placement of POWs who refused repatriation under the control of a neutral commission of nations for three months.

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At the end of this three month period, those who still refused would be set free. Finally, on July 27, 1953, the United Nations, North Korea and China signed an armistice ending the fighting. South Korea had refused to sign this armistice agreement that called for a buffer zone in the middle of Korea where troops and weapons were supposed to be withdrawn. This area became known as the “demilitarized” zone, which contrary to its name was heavily fortified and contained over 1 million soldiers. Although a cease-fire had resulted, no peace treaty was signed and technically North and South Korea were both still at war.

Today Korea is still an area of great political and economic conflict that is the result of the Korean War. The death tolls were tremendous for this war and the damage done after 3 years of bombing in North Korea was immeasurable. The Korean War although having negative effects on Korea had rather positive effects on other nations of the world such as Japan and the United States. Both the United States and Japan received economic boosts as the result of the production and sale of military equipment. Also, the chain of military posts established around the world is also in part to the Korean War.

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American History of the Korean War. (2021, Feb 14). Retrieved January 29, 2023, from