The Korean War
, from June 25, 1950
to July 27, 1953, was a conflict between communist North and anti-communist
South Korea. This was also a proxy war of a kind between the United States
and the Soviet Union. Principal combatants were North and South Korea,
the United States and China although many nations sent troops under the
aegis of the United Nations.
The invasion of South Korea came as a complete surprise to the US, Dean
Rusk of the State Department had told Congress on June 20 that no war was
likely . Interestingly a CIA report of early March had predicted an invasion
in June. US officials had previously publicly stated that America would
not fight over Korea, and that the country was outside of American concern
in the Pacific. This attitude may have encouraged the North or given Syngman
Rhee in the South a motive to gain US support.
On hearing of the invasion Truman agreed with his advisors, unilaterally,
to use US airstrikes against the North Korean forces and also ordered the
Seventh Fleet to protect Formosa. The US gained a United Nations mandate
for action because the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council while
Chiang Kai-shek's representative held the Chinese seat. Without the Soviet
veto and with only Yugoslavia opposed the UN voted to aid South Korea.
The US would have fought whatever the outcome, and MacArthur later told
Congress "I had no connection with the UN whatsoever".
The US forces were suffering from demobilization which had continued
since 1945. Excluding the Marines, the infantry divisions sent to Korea
were at 40% of paper strength and the majority of their equipment was found
to be useless.
In initial stages of the war, North Korea troops overwhelmed South Korean
and American forces and drove them to a small area in the far South around
the city of Pusan. This became a desperate holding action called the Pusan
Perimeter. American general Douglas MacArthur, as UN commander in chief
for Korea, ordered a invasion far behind the North Korean troops at Inchon.
United Nations troops drove the North Koreans back past the 38th parallel
and continued on toward the Yalu River border of North Korea and China.
This brought the Chinese into the war.
The Chinese had issued warnings that they would react if the UN forces
encroached on the frontier at the Yalu River. Mao sought Soviet aid and
saw intervention as essentially defensive - "if we allow the US to occupy
all of Korea... we must be prepared for the US to declare... war with China"
he told Stalin, Zhou Enlai was sent to Moscow to add force to Mao's cabled
arguments. Mao delayed his forces while waiting for Russian help, the planned
attack was postponed from the 13th to the 19th of October. Soviet assistance
was limited to providing air support no nearer than sixty miles to the
battlefront - the MiG-15s in Chinese colours were an unpleasant surprise
to the UN pilots, they held local air superiority against the P-80 Shooting
Stars until the newer F-86 Sabres were deployed. The Soviet role was known
to the US but they kept quiet as "the last thing we [the US] wanted was...
a more serious confrontation with the Soviets".
The Chinese assault repelled the United Nations troops back to the 38th
parallel, the pre-conflict border. On January 4, 1951 Chinese and North
Korean forces captured Seoul. The battle of Chosin Reservoir in winter
was a terrible defeat for the United Nation troops, mainly American Marines.
The situation was such that Truman mentioned that atomic weapons may be
used, much to the alarm of his allies. MacArthur was removed from command
by President Harry S Truman in 1951. The rest of the war involved little
territory changes and lengthy peace negotiations. A cease fire established
a demilitarized zone (DMZ) around the 38th parallel which is still today
defended by North Korean on one side and South Korean and American troops
on the other. No peace treaty has yet been signed 50 years later.
Korea was officially a police action not a war in US parlance. 600,000
Koreans had died and perhaps a million Chinese. US troops suffered about
50,000 fatalities, roughly equal to the Vietnam conflict but in a much
shorter time. However later neglect of remembrance of this war in favor
of the Vietnam War and World War II has caused the Korean War to be called
the Forgotten War.
However the war was instrumental in re-energising the US military-industrial
complex from their post-war slump. The defense budget was boosted to $50
billion, the Army was doubled in size as was the number of Air Groups and
they were deployed beyond American soil in Europe, the Middle East and
elsewhere in Asia, including Vietnam where covert aid to the French was
made overt. The Cold War became a much stronger state of mind for American
Japan was a key beneficiary of the war. The US material requirements
were organised through a Special Procurements system, which allowed for
local purchasing without the complex Pentagon procurement system. Over
$3.5 billion was spent with Japanese companies, peaking at $809 million
in 1953 and still significant in 1955, other foreign non-military investment
was less than 5% of this. US Aid Counterpart Funds gave Japan, by 1956,
the most modern shipyards in the world and a 26% share in lauched tonnage.
Left-wing organisations were closed down and the zaibatsu went from being
distrusted to being encouraged - Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Sumitomo were amongst
the zaibatsu that thrived, not only on orders from the military but through
American industrial experts, including W. Edwards Deming. Japanese manufacturing
grew by 50% between March 1950 and 1951. By 1952 pre-war standards of living
were regained and output was twice the level of 1949. The 1951 peace treaty
returned Japanese sovereignty (excluding Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands)
and the non-belligerency clause in the constitution was being considered
a "mistake" by 1953.
The movie and television series M A S H
were set in Korea during
the Korean War.