Far East Conflict - Korea

The Korea War 1950 - 1953

Chinese soldiers under attack from UN forces

Chinese soldiers under attack from UN forces

Korea, since 1910 had been part of the Japanese Empire. When the Japanese occupation collapsed in 1945; the occupying forces of America and Russia simply divided the peninsula,(at Potsdam) in half along the 38th parallel. The Americans supported the democratic republic of Korea, who were led by Syngman Rhee in the south, while the Soviet-supported Republic of Korea was ruled by Kim IL Sung in the north. Each of the administrations claimed to be representative of the whole country. Russian and American forces withdrew from korea in 1949.

By 1949 both countries remained divided, relying on their Superpower for support. At the same time both the North and South Korea were threatening to invade one another.

In June1950, immediately following the dramatic defeat of Russia over the matter of Berlin, a Russian trained and equipped North Korean army, acting under Russian instructions, crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. The Security Council of the United Nations, in which the U.S.S.R, having temporarily withdrawn, was unable to exercise its veto, thereupon authorised armed assistance to the South Koreans. General MacArthur then in Tokyo, was placed in supreme command of the United Nations forces. These were drawn from many nations forces including Britain, New Zealand to Turkey, but far the largest force was the United States.

Later that year the situation became destabilised. Stalin became convinced that a ' Second Front ' was now feasible to spread communism throughout East Asia. Communists had taken power in China and in 1950 Stalin, as part of his larger strategy for seizing power in the region endorsed Kim IL Sung's invasion plans of South Korea in June of that year.

Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee

Kim IL Sung

Kim IL Sung

UN forces at the 38th Parallel

UN forces at the 38th Parallel

One of most shocking things for the Americans was the belief that an undeveloped could become communist - once a country fell others would follow. Eisenhower, later in 1954 remarked 'you have a row of dominos set up, you knock over the first one, and... the last one... Will go over very quickly'.

The solution for the Americans was one of 'Roll Back' in other words endorsing military intervention, rather 'Containing' communism.

The newly established United Nations (UN) whose allies were committed to preventing the spread of communism provided the President Harry. S. Truman in 1949 with a perfect opportunity to stop the spread of communism when the North invaded South Korea. The USA, with backing from NATO sent troops to defend the South. The initial push by the North Koreans (NKPA) took them deep into the South, but the North Koreans suffered severe setbacks, with heavy losses and short of supplies. By the end of September Seoul had been recaptured by the United Nations forces under the command of General MacArthur responded and driven the NKPA back beyond the 38th parallel. By October the UN forces had reached the border with China. The People's Republic of China was understandably afraid of an invasion of Manchuria through Korea. In turn the Chinese entered the war in November 1950,(estimated at 300,000) recaptured North Korea and pushed the Americans back to a point south of the parallel.

To restrain the Chinese, who indeed were never officially at war in Korea, the UN placed an embargo on the export of strategic goods to China. MacArthur wanted more dramatic action-the bombing of Chinese railways and production lines. Rather than risk extending the war ,bringing the Russians in and starting world war three; President Truman dismissed MacArthur in April 1951.Adopting more conventional methods of warfare, General Mark Ridgeway, who succeeded MacArthur, first held and then defeated the Chinese. Russia meanwhile lost interest in the conflict increasingly dominated by the Chinese. In July1951 peace talks began at Panmunjon, but it was not until a year later that an armistice was arrived at.

The armistice merely restored the arbitrary dividing line between North and South Korea. In 1972 the UN units were still supervising the 38th parallel.

After 1952 South Korea slowly recovered from the devastation of war. By 1969 South Korea moved from being an aid-receiving state to be in a position to offer aid to other states. With an army of 600,000 and intensely anti-communist, the Republic of Korea was in a position to send 48,000 troops to assist the Americans in Vietnam.