The Korean War

Map of KoreaKorea had been occupied by Japan for 35 years prior to the end of WWII. After the war, the Koreans hoped for independence. But instead, the Allies divided Korea at the 38th parallel. This was intended to be a temporary division while Soviet forced enforced the Japanese surrender in the north and pending establishment of an independent government.

The Korean War marks a series of "firsts:"

Truman, policymakers, and most Americans did not perceive the Korean War as a civil war, but rather, as an operation mastermind by the Soviets in their next step toward globalism and in their effort to challenge the U.S. containment policy.

Korean War began as a "limited war" - a police action designed to force the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel and liberate Seoul. As this map indicates, by early September, the North Koreans had been wildly successful. But the new American-sponsored action changed the tide of the war by September 27, 1950.

Truce talks began in July 1951 and dragged on for two years - during which time 125,000 casualties were incurred. A cease-fire was declared on July 26, 1953. Cease fire line was almost exactly where the war had begun three years earlier. Containment had been achieved. But at what cost?

Consequences of the Korean War

  1. The war lasted just over three years, involved 22 nations, and claimed 5 million lives.  Costs were over $54 billion.  About 6 million Americans served in Korea in some capacity; 54,000 died and more than 100,000 were wounded or reported missing.  MASH units, which were located close to the fighting fronts, reduced deaths due to battle wounds by 50% of the World War II figures.
  2. The Korean War marked a series of "firsts:" the first shooting war of the Cold War; the first united Nations war; the first war fought with an integrated army; the first war to use helicopters; the first war to use MASH units; the first war that when it ended, the U.S. did not disarm.
  3. The war dramatically divided Americans into two camps: those supporting the success of the "limited war" goal - to keep South Korea from falling to the Communists; and those supporting total victory - defeating North Korean Communists and moving into China, thereby ending Communist rule in both nations. From this division arose a greater division among the American people that lasted throughout the Cold War - Americans who did not want to get involved in other nation's political battles, even if they were communists  - and between Americans who were willing to support any effort to contain communism.
  4. Containment policies changed after the Korean War.
  5. The powers of presidency increased when Truman sent troops to Korea without asking Congress to declare war.
  6. The War solidified the role of the US as the world's police power.
  7. The War marked an important transition to the Cold War national security state.  During the war, the army expanded to 3.5 million troops, the defense budget incrased to $50 billion a year, and the US acquired distant military bases from Saudi Arabia to Morocco.  After the war, the defense budget had quadrupled and the US emerged as the most powerful military in the world.
  8. The Korean peninsula remains one of the world's most dangerous flash points.  To maintain the uneasy armistice, some 37,000 American troops remain stationed in South Korea. See Breaking news for North Korea, April 4, 2013 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0vy6mwX860