Korean War Term paper

After the end of World War II, the victorious allies were divided into two main blocs, the western democratic bloc led by the US and the communist bloc led by the USSR. The interests of the two major powers, the US and the USSR, had resulted in their alliance during the war, but the differences in their ideologies and interests were so acute that rivalry and enmity between them were inevitable. The territories liberated or occupied during World War II were to be divided as a pro-western regime was declared in West Germany while East Germany was to remain under communist control. Similar divisions took place in other parts of the world, particularly in the Korean peninsula. The US established a puppet regime in South Korea that would preserve its interests in the country and at the same time, accept American military presence, considered vital for the US in the far East. In North Korea, the USSR established a solidly communist regime before eventually withdrawing its troops from the region. Relations between North and South Korea remained uneasy, and tension between the two countries moved up and down on the scale of relations between the US and the USSR. The two countries were divided by what was known as the 38th parallel recognized as the international frontier separating both sides.

Skirmishes on the frontiers and exchange of threatening messages were common events between the two Koreas. Lack of coordination and communication also characterized their relations. In 1950, civil strife south of the 38th parallel and growing opposition to South Korea’s president, Syngman Rhee, provided North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, with a political opportunity to attack South Korea. Popular discontent in the South created an illusion among North Korean leadership that the invasion would enjoy popular support.

At the time of the attack, the US accused both the USSR and China of planning for the attack as part of the Cold War politics. The US was thus stimulated by the need to respond immediately to the embarrassment caused by  Soviet and Chinese support to the North Korean, and by the need to protect its interests in the region. The US did not simply condemn the attack, but rather, made a serious commitment to the preservation of South Korea’s independence and freedom. One major objective of the American intervention was to protect American presence and interests in this country and part of the world. The US also aimed at responding with deterring power to Soviet and Chinese threats.

Today, however, and upon analyzing the developments that took place during the Korean War, it has become evident to American policy makers that neither China nor the USSR were actually involved in encouraging the North Korean forces to attack, at least not at the time the invasion started. At best, the Soviet Union must have favored a war at a later time, since at the time of the invasion, it was boycotting the United Nations. This boycott put the Soviet Union at a disadvantage since it gave the US the ability to mobilize the Security Council and UN forces in order to fight back the North Koreans. Therefore, if the USSR had real intentions in supporting the North Korean invasion at the time it took place, it would not have boycotted the UN thus depriving itself of the right of veto to prevent action against North Korea.

The hasty invasion also had a negative impact on the plans of the Communist government of China which wanted the invasion to take place at a later stage when it was ready to invade the island of Taiwan. The Chinese leaders reckoned that while the world was busy in Korea, no attention would be made to the invasion of Taipei. The early North Korean invasion must have ruined those plans, forcing China to involve in the Korean peninsula where it had few interests instead.

Korean War Beginning: 

The Korean War began on June 25 when the North Korean army, substantially equipped by the Soviet Union, crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. The United States immediately responded by sending supplies to Korea, and it quickly broadened its commitment in the conflict. On June 27 the UN Security Council, with the Soviet Union voluntarily absent, passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution calling for military sanctions against North Korea.

Three days later, U.S. President Harry S. Truman ordered combat forces stationed in Japan deployed to Korea. American forces, those of South Korea, and the combat contingents from Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey, with medical units from Denmark, India, and Sweden, were placed under a unified UN command headed by the U.S. commander in chief in the Far East, General Douglas MacArthur.

The participating ground forces of these nations, the United States, and South Korea were grouped in the U.S. Eighth Army. This was the first time in the history of the UN that a collective force would be created under the UN command to apply military measures to repel an aggressor by one country against another.

By July, the North Korean troops had occupied Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and the UN armies and South Koreans had been pushed back to a small perimeter around the southern port city of Pusan, extending about 129 km from north to south and about 80 km from east to west. By immediately sending reinforcements, the US provided more support to the UN armies which were predominantly American. These forces were able to hold in their small area, and on September 15, 1950, General MacArthur launched an invasion behind enemy lines, striking at the port city of Inchon on South Korea’s west coast, about 40 km west of Seoul. In a coordinated move, UN forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter. Very quickly the North Koreans were routed and forced above the 38th parallel.

At this stage, it seemed that the war had reached its end. However, political considerations were given priority. Thus, sensing an opportunity not only to stop but also to roll back Communist expansion, President Truman approved orders for UN forces to cross the 38th parallel and push the enemy above the Yalu River, which separated North Korea from China. Despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that they would enter the war if UN troops came near the Yalu, UN forces crossed into North Korea on October 7 and later captured Pyongyang, its capital city.

By October 25 some UN units had reached the Yalu. There they came into contact with Chinese “volunteers” who had moved into North Korea. After hard fighting in which MacArthur’s units had to fall back, the Chinese retired and MacArthur continued his offensive. Until this point, the American intervention under UN banners was so far successful and China was still excluded together with the USSR from the war, but not entirely, since both major powers continued to send substantial military and food supplies to the North Koreans.

China Intervention in Korean War:

China then decided to intervene as it had warned earlier. This time, in massive numbers. UN troops, overextended, outnumbered, and ill-equipped to fight a fresh enemy in winter, were soon in general retreat. On November 26 the Communist forces besieged 40,000 U.S. soldiers and marines in northeast Korea, who fought their way out and were later evacuated from the port of Hungnam-ni. The Communists reoccupied Pyongyang on December 5. The Chinese Communist government gave command to its forces to continue advancing southwards. Indeed, sweeping into South Korea, they recaptured Seoul on January 4, 1951. However, having overextended their supply lines and having inferior firepower, they were not able to remain at advantage for long. The Communist offensive was halted by January 15 along a front far south of Seoul.

Even as the Chinese were advancing southward, President Truman again redefined American policy in Korea. Unwilling to engage in an all-out war with China, which could have led to a world war involving the Soviet Union and certainly would have alienated the European allies of the United States, the Truman abandoned the former objective of militarily reunifying Korea. He returned to his original goal of stopping Communist aggression in South Korea.

The U.S. Eighth Army took the offensive on January 25, and the entire United Nations command mounted the powerful attack known as ‘Operation Killer’ on February 21. Under pressure, the Chinese slowly withdrew from South Korea. Seoul fell to the UN again on March 14. By April 22 UN forces had occupied positions slightly north of the 38th parallel.

In early April, General MacArthur announced that he was advocating a very aggressive military strategy, thus committing himself and the troops under his command to the reunification of Korea by force. This differed from the US strategic policies, and as a result, MacArthur was immediately relieved of his command by President Truman and was replaced by Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway. For the next two years the UN forces engaged mainly in a series of probing actions known as the ‘active defense’.

Periods of heavy fighting continued, however, both on the ground and in the air. U.S. troop strength remained at around 260,000. Forces from other UN nations stayed at about 35,000, while Republic of Korea forces grew from 280,000 to about 340,000. The Communist forces increased from approximately 500,000 to 865,000, and their armored strength grew to one North Korean and two Chinese armored divisions and one mechanized division, with an estimated 520 tanks.

Air power played a key role in the war, which proved to be the first battlefield in history for supersonic jet aircraft. The Chinese had developed into a major air power. Half of their 1400 aircraft were Soviet-built Mig-15s, generally regarded by military experts as the finest jet aircraft in the world. The Mig-15s, nevertheless, threatened UN air supremacy. The Chinese remained superior in the air until the United States responded by sending the F-86 Sabres thus providing the UN forces with aircraft capable of challenging the Mig-15s.

In June 1951, as the positional-warfare pattern began to crystallize, the Soviet delegate to the UN formally proposed that the belligerents in Korea open discussions for a cease-fire. On July 10, 1951, following preparatory talks, representatives of the UN and Communist commands began truce negotiations at Kaesong, North Korea. Talks continued intermittently for two years.

Although conducted in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, negotiations finally resulted in settlement of all but one major issue: Communist refusal to accept the principle, adhered to by the UN, that a prisoner of war should not be returned against his will to his respective army. Negotiations broke down in October 1952 and were not resumed until April 1953. In late spring, the two sides agreed that prisoners unwilling to return to their own countries would be placed in the custody of a neutral commission for 90 days following the signing of a truce. During this period, each nation could attempt to persuade its nationals to return home. The two sides agreed to hold a top-level peace conference within three months of the effective date of the armistice, but this was later postponed until April 1954.

In July 1953, the truce agreement was signed at Panmunjom. Thus, the Korean War was terminated after more than three years of conflict. The U.S. suffered 157,530 casualties of which 33,629 were dead. South Korea suffered 1,312,836 military casualties, including 415,004 dead. Casualties among other UN allies totaled 16,532, including 3094 dead. Estimated Communist casualties were 2 million.

The Korean War was characterized by a number of factors. First of all, it was the first war fought on a wide scale during the Cold War between the US and the Eastern Bloc. Both the USSR and China supported North Korea substantially, in a way to prevent the US from achieving a victory at any cost. Most of the casualties were Korean but the United States troops also suffered heavily.

Secondly, although the war was mostly fought under US command and by American troops, this was considered to be the first time in which the UN dispatched armed forces to fight back an invasion of a UN member by another country. It was in the course of the Korean War that the idea of an international armed force to enforce peace and security in hot spots of the world was developed.

While the Korean War explicitly showed the degree of hostility that existed between the US and its former allies, namely China and the USSR, it also warned the major powers that even an indirect confrontation between them could lead to a wide military engagement. The Chinese, for example, had been formally involved in the war, and it was their troops that were actually in combat during most of the war.

Consequences of the Korean War:

The consequences of the Korean War were twofold. On the one hand, it became apparent that the conflict between the Communist bloc and the western word was far deeper than was anticipated earlier. Bitterness, rivalry, enmity and conflict over interests were definitely much more violent than they had appeared to be.

On the other hand, the violence in Korea led the leaders of the USSR and the US to estimate the size of danger that could result once tension went out of control. In the Korean War, major powers were forced to join in military activities, thus dramatically increasing the risks of being involved militarily face to face against each other. For decades, the war in Korea was considered a ghost that haunted the policies of the Cold War, with memories acting as safety valves for those in power in the US and the USSR, reminding them that it did not take more than a minor incident to spark the outbreak of another world war.