On June 25, 1950, the Communist forces of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched a surprise assault on the forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK), setting off a war that would be resolved only militarily by an armistice signed on July 27, 1953. However, since no official peace treaty was concluded, the two countries are now officially at war and are fighting a diplomatic struggle that continues to this day. Contrary to common opinion and several volumes of written literature, the war that began on June 25, 1950, began immediately after World War II and did not include the Korean people at all. The real instigators of the Korean War were the United States and the Soviet Union.
In the waning days of World War II, just before the Japanese surrender, Joseph Stalin, who had had no prior interest in helping the United States fight the Japanese in the Pacific, declared war on Japan and immediately moved Soviet troops into the northern half of Korea. Stalin’s goal in doing this was clear. He wanted to wrest the Korean territory from Japanese control which Russia had twice in the past had tried to do but failed (Gay 6). For its part, after the surrender of Japan, the United States occupied the area south of the 38th parallel and set about assisting the Koreans in the southern part of the peninsula.
The Koreans of the southern peninsula held free and fair elections under the watchful eye of the United Nations and the U.S. and established the ROK on August 15, 1948. The new government of the northern Korean peninsula (the DPRK) was establish shortly thereafter on September 9, 1948 under the control of Soviet-appointed strongman Kim Il-Sung. Unlike the Americans who left the ROK on its own with only a few hundred U.S. military advisors and few, if any, military supplies, the Soviets had undertaken to train and equip the DPRK with the latest in weapons and technologies (Gay 7).
Although the Soviet Union was never an active participant, the Korean War became the first battlefield of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S. realized early on that to allow the Soviets to conquer the Korean peninsula via their puppet government in the DPRK then it would embolden the Soviets to continue their conquest in other parts of Asia. As President Harry Truman put it “If we let Korea down, the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another” (A&E Networks). Therefore, the U.S. as well as 21 other countries under the United Nations Command would go to war to liberate the Korean peninsula.
The war see-sawed up and down the southern half of the peninsula for months until the Inchon landing in September 1951 would break the lines of the Communist North and begin their retreat across the 38th parallel. By November 1951, UN forces had pushed the DPRK northward as far as the Yalu River, the border with China, and it appeared as if General MacArthur’s promise to the troops to end the conflict by Christmas was within reach. However, after several warnings from the Chinese not to threaten their territory and the U.S. and UN forces seeming to ignore them, the Chinese joined the conflict on the side of the DPRK (Hickey). The Chinese overwhelmed the UN forces with sheer numbers and drove them back across the 38th parallel but the UN lines would eventually strengthen around the 38th parallel and for the next two years a bloody battle for feet and inches ensued. When the armistice was signed in July 1953, the two forces had stalemated near the original line of demarcation between the ROK and the DPRK.
A&E Networks. “The Korean War.” History.com website. http://www.history.com/topics/korean-war. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Gay, Kathlyn and Martin Gay. Korean War. vol. 1st ed, Lerner Publishing Group, 1996. Voices from the Past. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=49775&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Hickey, Michael. “The Korean War: An Overview.” British Broadcasting Company (BBC) website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/korea_hickey_01.shtml. Accessed March 16, 2017.