The Korean War (1950-53) was the first major war of the Cold War era with as many as three million people dying in one way or another. Sixteen nations fought with South Korea and the United States under the United Nations flag, and Russian and Chinese soldiers died fighting for North Korea. The U.S. spent US$80 billion in the Korean War, more money than was spent on the entire U.S. space program and the Marshall plan combined.

North Korean leader Kim Il Sung had prepared for war with the South while South Korea, with U.S. help, had suppressed the guerrilla threat in the South. Kim ordered his troops across the thirty-eighth parallel, and the Korean War, or, as the North Koreans call it, the Fatherland Liberation War (1950–53) broke out on June 25, 1950. North Korea’s successful drive deep into the South was countered by the combined U.S. and South Korean attack all the way to the Amnok (Yalu) River in the fall of 1950. At that point, China sent its own troops to fight with the Korean People’s Army, and the U.S.–South Korea forces were driven out of the North. After a two-year stalemate, an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, and a demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established at the thirty-eighth parallel. The armistice and the heavily guarded DMZ are still in effect and are symbolic of both the division of the Korean Peninsula and the commitment of the United States to contain the North. [Source: Library of Congress]

Dominic Sandbrook wrote in The Telegraph: “In the early hours of June 25 1950, half a million North Korean Communist troops poured across the 38th parallel into South Korea, launching one of the most savage conflicts of the 20th century. It was fought in brutal terrain and horrendous extremes of weather.”. [Source: Dominic Sandbrook, The Telegraph, August 16, 2008]

Much of North Korea and South Korea was ravaged by fighting; United States bombers destroyed nearly every city in North Korea; and many survivors recall eating grass and bark to stay alive. The North Korean capital of Pyongyang changed hands twice and Seoul changed hands four times. The Korean War is sometimes referred to as the "forgotten war" because it receives much less attention in the media and school textbooks than World War II and the Vietnam War.

On a military and geo-political level, the Korean War was significant because it was the first time jet fighters and helicopters were used in combat; it was the first time the United States was dealt serious defeats; it was the first “limited war”with an outright victory being judged too costly to obtain; and it was the first time a multinational force fought as cohesive whole under the U.N. flag.

Books, Web Sites and Films About the Korean War

Books: “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War”, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007); “Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea” By Sheila Miyoshi Jager (W. W. Norton, 2013) “The Korean War” by Max Hastings; “MacArthur’s War, Korea and the History of an American Hero” by Stanley Weintraub (Free Press, 2000); “The Korean War; The West Confronts Communism” by Michael Hickey (Overlook, 2000); “The Origins of the Korean War” by Peter Lowe (first edition 1981, second edition, 2014); “The Korean War: A History” by Bruce Cumings; “The War for Korea” by Allan R. Millett is a three-volume tome including “The War for Korea, 1950-1951: They Came from the North” (2010) and The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning (2005) (University of Kansas Press); “In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953" by John Toland; “Captive in Korea” by Philip Deane; “Embassy at War” by Harold J. Noble; and “The Korean War” by Michael Hickey.

Hastings gives a detailed military history of the conflict, which includes interviews with a number of North Korean and Chinese war veterans. Lowe’s book examines the political climate in Asia and the world after the Second World War that created the Korean War. Both books are well-researched and address Korea’s role in Cold War history. conflict.

Films: “MAS*H”“, which stands for “Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals” defined the Korean War for many people. Originally a novel by Richard Hooker (the pen name for former military surgeon Dr. H. Richard Hornberger and writer W. C. Heinz), it was based on real people but was fictional and published around the time of the Vietnam War. It was an inspiration for the popular Robert-Altman directed in 1970 and the TV series that ran from 1972 to 1983. “Men at War” (1957), an excellent but largely forgotten film about the Korea War with Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray, was about a lost patrol and the conflict between a humane commander and a brutal sergeant under his command.

Websites: Korean War Project: koreanwar.org; United States Army Center of Military History history.army.mil ;

On “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War”, by David Halberstam,Dominic Sandbrook wrote in The Telegraph: “Its extraordinary narrative twists are a gift to the historian, as David Halberstam splendidly proves. One of the greatest American reporters of his generation, Halberstam was killed in a car crash only a few days after finishing the text. This masterfully constructed and grippingly written book is a fitting tribute to his memory - and to the sacrifice of the men who fought and died to save South Korea...Halberstam's narrative is steeped in the terror and tragedy of warfare, as well as the courage of men who never knew whether they were heroes or cowards until the moment of crisis. He has a superb grasp of the politics and personalities behind the war, above all the bombastic, preening presence of MacArthur, the man responsible for the triumph of Inchon and the disaster of the Yalu. Halberstam is too careful a historian to point out the parallels with the ignorance and over-confidence that led to disaster in Iraq; even so, they are hard to miss. [Source: Dominic Sandbrook, The Telegraph, August 16, 2008]

On “Brothers at War” by Sheila Miyoshi Jager, J.P. O’Malley wrote in the Toronto Star: The narrative is divided into four main sections. Each of these documents key historical moments, with some overlap: the Korean War itself, which began as a civil war, covering 1945-1953; the Cold War phase, which lasted from 1953 until 1973 when US troops finally pulled out of Vietnam; the local struggle, from the end of the1960s to the 1990s, which saw an intensification of competition between North and South Korea, and lastly, the post Cold War period, from the early 1990s to the present day, as relations between North Korea and the West gradually deteriorated. [Source: J.P. O’Malley, Toronto Star, August 28, 2013]

Jager is Director of East Asian Studies at Oberlin College, Ohio, in the United States. Her previous two books have focused on Korean nationalism, and Asia during the post Cold War period. One of the challenges Jager faces with this book is that a large body of literature already exists on the topic. She spends the majority of the book dissecting the first two phases of the war. Primarily because this period marked two major turning points in twentieth century history: the dominant role China began to play in global military affairs, and the complete militarization of American society that accompanied the staunchly anti-communist rhetoric of U.S. politics in this era.

William Donnelly wrote in MHQ Reviews: “The book is a work of synthesis, with Jager drawing on a wide variety of published and unpublished sources, including much recent scholarship from China, South Korea, and the United States. The depth and breadth of her research provide a solid foundation for her measured judgments. The prose is clear and free of scholarly jargon. She ably discusses matters of politics and strategy while tapping memoirs and oral histories to illustrate how the conflict affected individuals. Readers should attend to the endnotes, where Jager often offers interesting details and sometimes engages with conclusions differing from hers. [Source: William Donnelly, MHQ Reviews, August 20, 2013]

The first 12 chapters cover the years from the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945 to the armistice in 1953. These chapters cannot yield an examination as detailed as Allan R. Millett’s three-volume The War for Korea, but they are a good overview that pays sufficient attention to all the major combatants and reserves a chapter for the “uncommon coalition” that was the United Nations force. Jager rightfully stresses that, despite the involvement of outsiders, this was a war for survival between the competing Korean regimes, which meant barbarism was legitimized for both.

Death and Upheaval During the Korean War

Perhaps as many as three million died as a result of the Korean War. This includes around 900,000 soldiers and over two million North and South Korean civilians. An additional 2.25 million people were wounded and 10 million families were broken up. The number of American wounded that died in the Korean War was 1 in 4, compared to 1 in 8 in the second Persian Gulf War.

“The number of Korean dead, injured or missing by war’s end approached three million, 10 percent of the overall population,” Charles K. Armstrong, a professor of Korean history at Columbia University, wrote in an essay. “The majority of those killed were in the North, which had half of the population of the South.”[Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, May 17, 2017 /]

Historian David Halberstam wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “U.S. casualties numbered 33,000 dead and 105,000 wounded. The South Koreans suffered 415,000 killed and 429,000 wounded. The Chinese and North Koreans maintained secrecy about their casualties: estimates are 1.5 million dead. [Source: David Halberstam, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2007]
David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: According to official South Korean statistics, roughly 225,800 South Korean troops were killed in the war, along with 294,150 North Koreans, 184,000 Chinese and 57,440 United Nations troops, of whom more than 54,000 were Americans. In addition, 250,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in combat, and millions were left homeless on both sides of the border.” [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker: “Since North Korea is such an isolated and secretive place — the Bhutan of Stalinism — hard facts are not easy to come by. But we know a few things. To begin with, Kim Il Sung, whom the Soviets installed as head of state in 1945, was responsible for starting the Korean War, which may have caused as many as a million civilian deaths. In addition to the toll exacted in the North by American bombing raids, many civilians were massacred by the Communists for ideological reasons. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, August 22, 2005]

More than 400,000 Chinese soldiers and 215,000 North Korean soldiers died in the fighting. About 80 percent of all the North Koreans who fought died. The figure for Chinese was about 25 percent. Of the 176,000 U.N. casualties, four fifth of them were South Koreans. About 59,000 South Korean soldiers died. About 36,000 American soldiers were killed in fighting; another 20,000 were killed in on-combat accidents and 8,100 were missing in action, almost as many as in Vietnam 10 years later. A total of 103,284 American soldiers were wounded, 3,597 POWs were returned, and 1042 sets of remains recovered as of 1996. About 4,000 died from the other United Nations countries that participated.

According to Wikipedia: Casualties and losses: 1) Total dead and missing among the United Nations forces: 170,927 dead and 32,585 missing (162,394 South Koreans, 36,574 Americans, 4,544 others); Total wounded: 566,434; 2) Total dead and missing among North Korean and Chinese forces: 398,000–589,000 dead and 145,000+ missing (335,000-526,000 North Koreans, 208,729 Chinese, 299 Soviet). Total wounded: 686,500. 3) Total civilians killed: 2–3 million (est.). 4) South Korean forces: 990,968 killed, wounded or missing: 373,599 killed, 229,625 wounded, 387,744 abducted/missing. 5) North Korean forces: 1,550,000 killed or wounded (estimate).

Destruction During the Korean War

During the Korean War, North Korean planes dropped pamphlets that read "Americans, you will die!" Bodies were heaped on the roads, people were afraid to go out. Americans dropped 425,000 bombs on Pyongyang a city of 400,000 people before the war One of the war’s bloodiest battles took place at Heartbreak Ridge. Another occurred at Pork Chop Hill.

The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs in Korea, not counting the 32,557 tons of napalm, Bruce Cumings, a University of Chicago professor who’s written several books on North Korea, wrote in “The Korean War: A History.” This compared with 503,000 tons in the entire Pacific theater in World War II. “If we keep on tearing the place apart, we can make it a most unpopular affair for the North Koreans,” Defense Secretary Robert Lovett said after the napalm and aerial bombing campaigns of 1950 and 1951, according to Cumings. “We ought to go right ahead,” Lovett said. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, May 17, 2017 /]

Dean Rusk said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops. Air Force commanders complained that they’d run out of targets. “The physical destruction and loss of life on both sides was almost beyond comprehension, but the North suffered the greater damage, due to American saturation bombing and the scorched-earth policy of the retreating U.N. forces,” Armstrong of Columbia wrote. /

A War of Blunders

Dominic Sandbrook wrote in The Telegraph: “Korea was a war of blunders; as Halberstam points out, every major development came from a miscalculation. At first, the Americans were guilty of complacency, putting up such a poor show that the Communists overran almost the entire peninsula, confining them to a small enclave around the southern city of Pusan.” [Source: Dominic Sandbrook, The Telegraph, August 16, 2008]

“But the Communists had stretched themselves too thin, and General Douglas MacArthur was able to pull off one of the great surprise attacks of modern military history, landing thousands of troops behind the enemy lines at Inchon and then rolling up into North Korea. By October 1950, the enemy capital of Pyongyang had fallen and the war seemed as good as over. MacArthur, who was running the war from Tokyo, flew in to congratulate his troops. "Where is Kim Buck Tooth?" he asked of the Communist leader, Kim Il Sung. Then he flew back again, confident that victory was assured.

“After hubris, nemesis. Only a few weeks later, American troops near the Yalu River, on the Korean border with China, noticed that some of their prisoners wore unfamiliar uniforms. They began hearing ghostly music in the mists: strange bugles and flutes, instruments used by Chinese troops to signal to one another, and to strike fear into the enemy. Rumours reached MacArthur's intelligence officers that thousands of Chinese soldiers had secretly slipped across the border. But since the news did not tally with the general's optimistic pronouncements, it was suppressed. And then, in November, the Chinese struck with devastating force, smashing the U.N. forces into fragments and driving them south, back across the border into South Korea.”

Soldiers in the Korean War

The Korean War was first war in which the majority of military units in the American military were integrated, most of the blacks served in integrated units and large numbers of black officers gave orders to white soldiers. Some units started out segregated but by the end of the war 90 percent of all units were integrated and more than 90 percent of blacks served in integrated units. Women soldiers fought beginning in 1950. After World War II the number of Americans in uniform shrunk from 12 million 1.5 million. Most of those who fought in Korea, initially anyway, were young and unprepared. Their training consisted mostly of doing exercises to keep fit. The military was operating under the belief that nuclear weapons had made conventional fighting obsolete.

Half the American soldiers that participated in the Korean War were under 21. Compared to just 40 out of 28.000 in the Spanish-American War in 1898. In the Vietnam War the average age was 19.

The South Koreans did their share of fighting both in their own forces and augmenting American units, which were up to a third South Korean. A total of 260,000 North Koreans and 2,560,000 Chinese took part in the war. The North Koreans used mostly Soviet-made weapons include T-34 tanks.

Weapons and Food in the Korean War

Most of the fighting was done by foot soldiers that carried mostly World War II vintage weaponry: mainly M-2 rifles and bazookas. Mines made of phosphorous grenades attached to 55-gallon drums were used in Korea.

The first Americans to arrive in Korea were not much better equipped than the ill-equipped South Korean forces. They lacked heavy artillery and tanks and their anti-tank weapons — bazookas — were ineffective. The shells they fired couldn’t penetrate the armor of the T-34 tanks and bounced off.

One unit commander told the Washington Post. “I lost a hell of a lot of people who I wouldn’t have had we been better equipped and better prepared. We had machine guns that didn’t work. We had radios that didn’t work...New people coming in would have no infantry training whatsoever, yet they were called on to act as infantrymen in a very brutal war.”

The Korean War was the first time jet fighters and helicopters were used in combat and it was the first time jets were used in bombing raids. Helicopters were widely used to move troops and equipment. They also carried the wounded to MASH units (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals ).

For food American Troops were mostly given leftover C-rations from World War II, supplemented with canned fruit and cakes. .A typical C-ration dinner consisted of spaghetti and meatballs, beef stew or franks and beans with crackers, chocolate or hard candy, cigarettes, chewing gum and coffee.

Fighting in the Korean War

According to the BBC: “At times the war bore all the hallmarks of the Nazi blitzkrieg, with both sides staging massive, fast-moving offensives which swept aside the opposition. At other times, the fighting was reminiscent of the battles of attrition seen in World War I. The losses experienced by Britain (1,078) and the United States (37,000) are dwarfed by China's and North Korea's military fatalities, which number perhaps 1.5 million. Civilian and military losses in South Korea also exceeded one million. [Source: BBC, April 20, 2001]

Describing how kill tanks when your bazooka doesn’t work, Carl Bernard wrote in Newsweek, “ I climbed on the top of the first Soviet-made T-34 tank. The Koreans would open their plug, stick out a burp gun and fire it to clear people off the tank’s back. Being safe on top, I hit the plug with my rifle butt and broke the chain. The sergeant with me...put 15 rounds from his M-2 through the open port when the burp gunner paused to reload. We got the next tank by pouring a five-gallon can of gas on its hot engine compartment. Then we went back and burned the other tank.”

Bernard’s company was slaughtered at Chochiwon on July 11, 1950 after being given a “hold at all costs” order. “I lost nearly 101 men killed or captured out of a rifle company of 130 people. Thirty-three men died in captivity,” he wrote. “We were low on ammunition and couldn’t get resupplied. Unknown to us, Koreans had already flanked our position and had machine guns on the road behind us. My own platoon was destroyed because we stayed too long in a losing fight.”

North Korean Version of the War

North Korea refers to the Korean War as the "Fatherland Liberation War.” The North Korean people are still told today that the United States and its South Korean puppets were the ones who invaded North Korea not visa versa, the truth. According to North Korean history books “Comrade Kim Il Sung, the ever victorious iron-willed brilliant commander, military strategic genius” called on his people “to rise as one in the sacred struggle for wiping out the U.S. imperialist armed invaders and their stooges.”

According to the propaganda pamphlet “An Earthly Paradise”: "U.S. imperialists, who had boasted of being the strongest in the world, frantically pounced upon the Korean people in league with the south Korean puppet army plus the troops of satellite countries."

"The American imperialists who were assured of a glorious victory in this grim war were covered all over with wounds and surrendered to the heroic Korean people. As a result the Korean people and their young People's Army held a military parade in honor of their victory in the presence of President Kim Il Sung, the ever victorious and iron-willed brilliant commander...This was a great victory and natural outcome attained under the wise leadership of the great President Kim Il Sung."

Events Before the Korean War

The Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), headed by President Syngman Rhee was proclaimed on August 15, 1948 in the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, which had been under US military administration since September 8, 1945. the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) was established in the north on September 9, 1948 with Soviet backing.

The ROK claimed to be the legitimate government of all Korea and was recognized as such by the United Nations (U.N. ) General Assembly. The South Korea government brutally put down a communist rebellion by the Workers Party in Cheju Island and cracked down on other communist groups in the south. Some historians believe this gave North Korea the excuse and incentive to invade.

In early 1949, North Korea seemed to be on a war footing. Kim's New Year's speech was bellicose and excoriated South Korea as a puppet state. The army expanded rapidly, soldiers drilled in war maneuvers, and bond drives began to amass the necessary funds to purchase Soviet weaponry. The thirty-eighth parallel was fortified, and border incidents began breaking out. Neither Seoul nor Pyongyang recognized the parallel as a permanent legitimate boundary. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Although many aspects of the Korean War remained murky, it seemed that the beginning of conventional war in June 1950 was mainly Kim's decision, and that the key enabling factor was the existence of as many as 100,000 troops with battle experience in China. When the Rhee regime, with help from United States military advisers, severely reduced the guerrilla threat in the winter of 1949-50, the civil war moved into a conventional phase. Kim sought Stalin's backing for his assault, but documents from Soviet and Chinese sources suggested that he got more support from China.

United States, the Korean War and Communism

The United States was caught asleep at the wheel by the events in Korea. Truman was preoccupied with threats by the Soviets in Europe and plans by Communist China to launch an invasion of Taiwan.

The Korean War is widely regarded as the first outright conflict of the Cold War. The Americans thought that invasion by North Korea was part of part of an overall plan hatched by the Soviets and Chinese to take over East Asia and bog the United States down there while the Soviets moved into Europe.

The United States entered a “limited war” with specific ends and restricted means as an outright victory being judged too costly. In many ways the war was viewed less as a means of liberating South Korea and more a as precedent that the United States would fight the spread of Communism wherever it appeared.

Cold War and the Setting of the Korean War

According to U.S. News and World Report: Neither U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman in 1945 had plans for what turned out to be the Cold War. Immediately after World War II, the United States was the world's prime military power. Truman followed public opinion swiftly demobilized the U.S. armed forces and discontinued the draft. But by 1949, when the Soviet Union had developed their nuclear bomb and the prospect of mutually assured destruction became a real possibility, military pressure and uncertainty built up and the Cold War took shape. [Source: U.S. News and World Report. January 30, 2006]

As the Soviets moved into eastern Europe and undermined the governments there, replacing them with Communist regimes, Truman in March 1947 urged Congress to aid Greece and Turkey to prevent Communist takeovers, justifying the action with the goal that “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

Under the Truman Doctrine the draft was reinstated and the armed forces were built back up. But this time around there was the constraint of nuclear annihilation, which stopped the two superpowers — the U.S. and the Soviet Union — from going pursuing all out war or steeping across a certain line.

But even under those conditions, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel in June 1950. Truman felt obligated to defend Korea but and the United States and its allies were forced back to a southern perimeter at Pusan. MacArthur responded with the audacious, amphibious land at Inchon, far behind enemy lines. American force proved insufficient after the Chinese unexpectedly entered the conflict in November 1950. MacArthur wanted to go further and bomb and attack the Chinese beyond Korea’s northern border. Truman, fearful of a nuclear confrontation, said no. When MacArthur persisted, Truman fired him in April 1951. MacArthur famously proclaimed, “there is no substitute for victory.” Truman’s approval rating plummeted to a record low.

Only after a new president, Dwight Eisenhower, came to power did the Communist agree to halt the fighting and this only happened, it was revealed later, after Eisenhower threatened nuclear retaliation. Eisenhower sought to discourage further Soviet aggression by maintaining U.S. forces in Europe and Asia and building alliances in the underdeveloped world while threatening massive relationship with nuclear weapons to what Secretary John Foster Dulles called “the brink of war.”

Kim Il Sung and the Start of the Korean War

Kim Il Sung is villainized by many as being the instigator of the Korean War (1950-53). He is said to have believed that war was the only way to unify Korea and this belief was pushed on subordinate rival Korean communists who had other ideas on how to unify the peninsula.

Many historians argue that Kim Il Sung was a puppet of Joseph Stalin. But according to sources in Russia and China quoted in the book “Uncertain partners, Stalin, Mao and the Korean War”, Kim made numerous trips to China and convinced Stalin that the U.S. would not intervene on behalf of the South Koreans and that many South Koreans were ready to join his revolutionary army. He argued that the U.S. would fail to stand up and fight for South Korea the same way it failed to stand up for Chiang Kai Chek and the Chinese Nationalists against Mao Zedong in China.

Kim Il Sung was given massive military assistance from Moscow including nearly all the weapons of the Soviet 25th army. After reports of border clashes between the North and South Stalin reportedly told Kim, "Are you short of arms? We'll give them to you. You must strike the southerners in the teeth. If you should get kicked in the teeth, I will not lift a finger. You will have to ask Mao for help." After telling Mao that Stalin said the war was winnable, the Chinese leader promised to support Kim.

Kim Il Sung and the Korean War

Kim Il Sung was wounded in a battle during the Korean War. David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: When Mr. Kim led an invading army into the South in June 1950 the Truman Administration saw the takeover as the first step in a far broader Communist plot, directed from Moscow and Beijing, to seize much of Asia. But a remarkable study published” in 1994 by Stanford University Press “shows that it was Kim Il Sung who did all the plotting. Documents recently made available in Russia, along with others that have slipped out of China, indicate that Mr. Kim was convinced he could take the South in three days. “His forces met little resistance in the first weeks, and by early September had driven the South Korean Army and its American allies to the Pusan area, at the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

“After a brilliant beginning, Mr. Kim's war plans went astray. He was surprised when, five days after his soldiers began streaming across the 38th parallel, President Harry S. Truman authorized American land, sea and air forces to go to South Korea's aid. Eventually 15 other nations responded to the United Nations call for help.Led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, they reacted with a counteroffensive on Sept. 15, staging a large-scale invasion at Inchon, a conquered South Korean port on the west coast about 20 miles from Seoul. MacArthur's forces pursued them back over the parallel and, on Oct. 19, captured Pyongyang. By late November Mr. Kim and his troops had been driven almost to the Yalu River on the Chinese border.

“But he was a wily strategist, and with "volunteers" from the Chinese Army and Air Force and some from the Soviet Union he recaptured Seoul in January 1951 and held it briefly. For the rest of the war bitter fighting was centered nearby and roughly along the 38th parallel. MacArthur, who wanted to carry out another invasion of North Korea, advance beyond the Yalu into China and mount a full-scale assault on Communism, was relieved of his command by Truman. As talks on a truce dragged on, battles continued. Finally an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, ending the war that Mr. Kim had thought would reunite Korea under his control. It was a dream he never gave up.

Stalin, Mao Zedong Kim Il Sung and the Korean War

It was long though that Stalin pushed Kim Il Sung to start the war but now it seems it was the other way around. Kim Il Sung reportedly sent Stalin 48 telegrams in an effort to win approval for an invasion. Stalin originally told Kim Il Sung to be patient but ultimately gave in and reluctantly approved the invasion in January 1950. Stalin reportedly told Kim Il Sung that Mao Zedong had to give the final okay, knowing that China was too dependent on Soviet aid to refuse.

Historian now are pretty sure that Stalin wanted to avoid a confrontation with the United States at all costs and only decided to go along with the plan because he didn’t think the United States would respond. In April 1950, he cabled Kim: “According to information coming from the United States...the Prevailing mood is not to interfere.

According to Russian documents, Stalin tried to persuade Mao to send troops to Korea, saying that the two major Communist powers — China and the Soviet Union — together could win a war with the West. On October 2, Stalin told Mao, "We will be stronger than the USA and England, while the other European capitalist states (with the exception of Germany which is unable to provide any assistance to the United States now) do not present serious military forces.

On October 5, Stalin cabled Mao, the United States "is not ready for a big war" and if the Chinese sent "at least five or six divisions" to counter U.S.-South Korean forces, Washington "will be compelled to yield in the Korean question to China, behind which stands its ally, the USSR." According to Russian documents, Mao reportedly hesitated at first. Between the time he was contacted by Stalin to enter the war and the time he accepted, he turned down the offer, saying that a defeat in Korea would allow supporters of Kim Il Sung to "change the form of the struggle to partisan war."

On May 13, 1950, Kim Il Sung arrived in Beijing for a secret meeting. Mao told him, "If the Americans participate, China will send armies to support North Korea. If they cross the 38th parallel, we definitely will come in fighting." The invasion began five weeks after Kim Il Sung's visit to Beijing.

In the meantime, the Soviet Union was boycotting the U.N. Security Council as the United Nations was addressing the Korean issue because the Soviet’s were so outraged by the insistence of the United States to give China’s seat on the United Nations Security Council to Taiwan rather than to Beijing. That proved to be advantageous for South Korea. If the Soviet Union had been present they no doubt could have used their veto the resolution. With the Soviets absent the United Nations voted to become involved in the Korean War. Later, Mao reportedly prolonged the Korean War to stymie the United States even though Kim Il Sung begged him to end the fighting.

China and the Korean War

China and the United States faced off against one another in the Korean War (1950-1953).The People's Republic of China was barely established (October 1, 1949) when it perceived a threat from the United States, which was at war in North Korea, and elected to support its neighbor, the new communist state, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Chinese People's Volunteer Army invaded the Korean Peninsula in October 1950 and, along with its North Korean ally, enjoyed initial military success and then a two-year stalemate, which culminated in an armistice signed on July 27, 1953.

To the Chinese the Korean war is The War Against American Aggression and To Defend Korea. Across the border in the North it is the War of Fatherland Liberation, which began with incursions by Southern troops, instigated by American imperialists. "They have structured their huge military and much of the society as a fighting machine determined, someday, to win this war (or at least hold off the South and the Americans)," says Professor Bruce Cumings. "The regime pays a great deal of attention to the topic of the Korean war because it justifies its own legitimacy, helps mobilise the masses around the top leader, and provides the pattern for people's self-sacrificing behavior in economic life," said Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert at the University of Sydney. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian June 25, 2010]

In 1950, not long after the declaration of the People's Republic, China began aiding North Korea. In October 1950, sensing a threat to the industrial heartland in northeast China from the advancing United Nations (UN) forces in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), hundreds of thousands of Chinese PLA troops — -calling themselves the Chinese People's Volunteers — -crossed the Yalu Jiang River into North Korea in response to a North Korean request for aid and fought American soldiers. Almost simultaneously the PLA forces also marched into Tibet to reassert Chinese sovereignty over a region that had been in effect independent of Chinese rule since the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Worried about Chinese expansion, the United States sent the Seventh Fleet into the South China Sea to protect Taiwan.

In the early 1950s “China's large population and the breakout of Korean War caused food shortages. This led to about 100,000 retired service people and hundreds of thousands of young people answering the call by the Chinese government to resettle in the wild lands of northern China in Heilongjiang province, a vast expanse of land, which was sparely inhabited when the Korean War had just begun.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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