American History
The Korean War

*In 1950, after spending a year building up a massive army, North Korea invaded South Korea.

*Despite their own posturing, the South was caught off guard and pushed back.  Seoul was captured, and by 4 August, the entire South Korean army and the few US soldiers in the country were pushed back to a small area round the southern city of Pusan, where they held out along the Pusan Perimeter awaiting evacuation or re-enforcement.

*Truman sprang into action.  The concept of containment that lay at the base of US foreign policy; this was the notion that if the US relaxed their guard anywhere, the communists would take advantage of it.  However, America was not going to do this alone—they were going to ask the UN.

*Normally, an attempt to get the UN to intervene in Korea would have been stopped by the Soviets, who supported the North Korean cause.  However, when China fell, the UN did not recognise the Communist government, and continued to seat the Nationalist representatives sent by Chiang.  In protest, the Soviets walked out, boycotting the Security Council.  Truman immediately took advantage of this, passing a resolution on a UN police action through the Security Council on the same day the NKPA invaded—no attending country voted against the measure, and only Yugoslavia abstained.  The Soviets never boycotted a meeting again.

*MacArthur chose not to try to fight back from the Pusan Perimeter, but instead chose to flank the enemy with a hazardous amphibious assault at Inchon.  The Inchon landing took place on 15 September 1950 and was a brilliant success, cutting of the NKPA’s lines of supply and completely recapturing Seoul within two weeks and driving the entire NKPA north of the 38th parallel.

*Now the tricky question was what to do.  It seemed foolish to let the DPRK re-group and invade at a more propitious date.  MacArthur, with Truman and the UN’s approval, pursued the NKPA beyond the border.  This operation was so successful that by October, the UN was almost within sight of the Chinese border, and much of the NKPA was hiding beyond it.  China has warned the UN not to come to close to the Yalu River, the border between China and Korea, but MacArthur ignored these warnings.

*On 19 October 1950, 280,000 soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army crossed into North Korea.  For over a month, the PVA and the UN forces contended along the northern frontier of Korea.  Eventually the overwhelming mass of Chinese troops pushed the UN and ROK forces back towards the old demarcation line.  On 4 January 1951, the NKPA captured Seoul.  Seoul was liberated again by 21 April, and the lines would shift some until October, after which they would move little, if at all.

*The war dragged on in 1953, when newly-elected president Eisenhower, fulfilling a campaign promise, went to Korea to try to create peace.  Even he failed.

*After years of negotiation, an armistice was finally signed on 27 July 1953 at the border village of Panmunjon.  The North Korean and American generals signed, but the South Korean general did not.  However, the fighting was officially ended and a 2 ½ mile wide de-militarised zone was drawn along the battle line, not far from the old 38th Parallel demarcation line.  To this day, the Korean War has never officially ended, and the DMZ remains the most heavily fortified border in the world, guarded by North Korean, South Korean, and US troops.

*The Department of Defense reports that 54,246 Americans service men and women lost their lives during the Korean War.

*Since 1953, South Korea has become one of the world’s most important economies, and is a thoroughly modern nation—one the Four Tigers of the 1960s and 1970s.

North Korea is one of the poorest nations in the world, so poor and so often suffering from famine that people flee by the thousands every year to Red China seeking food.  They have one of the worst human rights records in the world.

*North Korea tested a small nuclear weapon on 9 October, 2006.  Currently its missile systems will not carry its weapons to the US or Europe, but they could hit Japan, China, Russia, or, of course, South Korea.  No-one wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, and negotiations to end or contain their nuclear ambitions are a major issue in world politics today.





This page last updated 31 October, 2009.