|Luke Johnson and Alex Michael
War History Project
October 1, 2009
The Korean War was a war fought between North and South Korea, while each country was aided by a more powerful country. Even though the Korean war is known as ‘the forgotten war’, it played a major part in how the world is today, by making the Cold War ‘hot’ and furthering the tension between democratic nations and anti-democratic nations.
Origins and Causes of Wars
The Koreans have a long history of being “a shrimp between two whales”. This expression means that many developed and powerful countries have tried to force their will on Korea. Korea has always been battled over by larger countries. Korea had at first been a colony of China for four hundred years, and later became a colony of Japan in 1910. Yet, with all of the surrounding countries vying to impose their beliefs and customs on the Koreans, they kept a strong sense of nationalism.
There were many short-term causes of the Korean War, but they all started with World War II. The Japanese lost Korea as a colony after the war, and, split by the 38th parallel, control of North Korea passed to the Soviet Union and of South Korea to the United States. To allow self-determination by all Koreans, the United Nations created a free election to unify Korea under one government. The Soviets established a communist regime in North Korea in response to UN demand. The North Koreans then crossed the 38th parallel in force to unify Korea under a Communist government. Shortly after the North Koreans invaded, the UN and the United States intervened to stop them.
The main focus of the war was the clash of Western ideals with the ideology of the communist regimes. The only economic cause for the war is that North Korea had most of the industry, while the South Koreans had most of the agricultural production. The United States and the Soviet Union came from opposite spectrums of political ideology. The political thinking of the United States revolved around the belief in self-determination, which is the right of people to determine their country and political ideals. The United States also supported democracy and worked to prevent the spread of communism. The Soviet Union was primarily focused on the goal to spread communism around the world no matter what. Cold war tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets escalated fast after World War II. The newly issued Truman Doctrine largely directed U.S. foreign policy after its creation in 1947, which was to prevent communism wherever it arose and in whatever form. The red scare, whether or not, caused Americans to be suspicious of Soviet interventions.
Nature of 20th Century Wars
The Korean War consisted of bombings by the United States and mercurial troop movements back and forth between the North Koreans and the UN forces. Each side focused on taking the other’s capital, gaining territory, and killing each other. North Korea began with a much larger army, about 135,000 troops, supported by the Soviets. They were also supplied with airplanes, artillery, and tanks. The South Korean army was not very well trained, only had 95,000 soldiers, few planes or firepower, and no tanks. The United States would continuously bomb the North Koreans, mostly from the sea via battleships, and then charge their lines, while the North Koreans mainly stuck to guerilla warfare and did not attack head on. Most of the fighting took place on land and some in the air, except for one attack that took the North Koreans by surprise. General MacArthur, commander of UN troops, planned an amphibious attack called the Inchon Landing. This attack turned the tide of the war and put UN forces on the offensive.
The United States used many new technological developments against the Soviet technology supplied to the North Koreans. The UN, instead of transporting troops by ship, used helicopters to fly in troops and evacuate the wounded. Jet planes were also used after the Soviet Union gave the North Koreans their new MiG-15 jet. The U.S. jets, the F-86 Sabre, and Soviet jets engaged in dogfights that took place between the Yalu River to the north and the 38th parallel to the south. The U.S. also introduced the shoran, short-range navigation, which was placed on bombers to improve navigation, especially at night. The Korean War was a way for the United States and the Soviet Union to test their new technological developments without directly fighting one another.
The Korean War is most commonly known as ‘the forgotten war’. The North Koreans were not our natural enemy, but the Soviets and Chinese were. During President Truman’s radio report to the American people on Korea and the Far East he takes a stand on U.S. policy, much like the Truman Doctrine, to stop communism. This war marked the start of the Cold War turning hot, reflecting the rivalry and tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the resistance against the spread of communism. Korea was left destroyed and civilian casualties numbered between three and four million killed by communists and UN forces alike. The war cost the U.S. $67 million, many lives, and created many POWs.1
Different Types and nature of 20 century warfare
The war between the North Koreans and South Koreans was a total civil war. The majority of citizens living in North Korea were Communist, and the majority of people living in South Korea were Democratic, so “the creation of an independent South Korea became U.N. policy in 1948”th. North Korea opposed the creation of an independent South Korea so in 1950, they invaded South Korea. The two countries were artificially divided by the U.N., which meant that the Korean War was still a civil war. Neither country had any military limitations about the war, which made it a total war for North and South Korea.
While the war remained a total civil war between North and South Korea, the Korean War was a limited proxy war between the United States and China/Russia. A proxy war is “a war instigated by a major power that does not itself participate”2. The United States instigated South Korea and China/Russia instigated North Korea to wage war against each other, while the U.S., Russia, and China did not directly participate in the war. While the United States and Russia/China were both aiding the country that they were encouraging, none of these countries were actually fully fighting in the war, making it a limited war for these countries.
Effects and results of wars
By 1953, the war was very near to being over. On July 9, 1953, the South Koreans agreed to an armistice, and on July 27thth the Chinese and the North Koreans also agreed to this armistice3. After the armistice was signed, both armies disengaged each and returned to their country. The country remained divided at the 38 parallel and the border “became a 4-km- (2.5-mile-) wide DMZth”. DMZ stands for Demilitarized zone, or an area where no military equipment or personnel can be. Everything remained basically the same as the U.N. divided it at the beginning, with a democratic south and a communist north.
When the armistice that ended the Korean War was signed in 1953, all of the fighting stopped, but North and South Korea would never be the same. The war had very severe effects on the Korean civilians, as “Korean civilian casualties…totaled between three and four million during the three years of the war4”. The Korean Peninsula may be at peace now, but it remains an uneasy peace. The treaty created an artificially divided country, with people of the same race living in both countries. This attempt at collective security created uneasy feelings between the two countries, but it very well may have been necessary considering the two major conflicting political ideologies.
The Korean War may have been the forgotten war in the eyes of the American people, but it played a major role in the bigger picture of the Cold War and it also resulted in massive changes for the people of the Korean Peninsula.
Gruenberg, Leif A. Defining Moments: The Korean War. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004.
Armstrong, Charles K. “Korean War.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2009. Web. September 30, 2009.
“Korean War.” World History: Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2009. Web. September 30, 2009. .
De Haan, Phil. "50 Years And Counting The Impact of the Korean War on the
People of the Peninsula." Calvin College. N.p., May 2002. Web. 24 Sept. 2009. .
Millet, Allan R. "Korean War." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online School Edition.
N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2009.