The Korean War ended when an armistice was signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, ending the hostilities after three years, one month and two days of fighting and two years and 17 days of truce negotiations. The agreement was not a peace treaty, it was a cessation of fighting. A two-mile-wide de-militarized zone (DMZ) was placed between the two armies. South Korea and North Korea are still technically at war to this day.

The armistice was signed at 10:00am. Although firing and fighting began to die the night before, United Nations and Communist Party military commanders gave themselves until 10:00pm to inform every unit the fighting was over and a cease-fire was to go into effect. The U.S. nearly settled for unfavorable terms but luckily they were turned by the North Koreans.

The ending of the Korean War in this way was viewed as anti-climactical. There was no sense of jubilation at the signing ceremony. James Reston of the New York Times wrote: “The atmosphere was one of duty being performed by veteran officers as if they had grave misgivings about the truce terms, but do not think this was the time or place to express them.”

The fighting continued right up the end of the war. Some 2,000 Marine casualties were reported in the last two months of the war and two Chinese battalion attacked remote U.S. Marine outpost only two days before an armistice was signed. A committee from neutral nations screened the POWs, and found 23 Americans and 14,704 Chinese choose not to go home.

The July 1953 armistice remained the only agreement preventing the renewal of hostilities on the peninsula until 1990 when North and South Korea signed a non-aggression pact. The armistice fixed the boundaries of the 241- kilometer Demilitarized Zone as the border between North Korea and South Korea. It also established a Military Armistice Commission, comprising China, North Korea, the United States, and South Korea, to resolve armistice violations and prevent the resumption of hostilities. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990*]

Conditions at the End of the Korean War

By the time the cease-fire agreement was signed at Panmunjom in June 1953, the war had involved China and the Soviet Union, which had dispatched air force divisions to Manchuria in support of North Korea and had furnished the Chinese and North Koreans with arms, tanks, military supplies, fuel, foodstuffs, and medicine. Fifteen member-nations of the United Nations had contributed armed forces and medical units to South Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

The Korean War brought incalculable destruction and human suffering to all of Korea (some 1,300,000 military casualties, including 415,000 combat deaths, for the ROK alone), and it left the peninsula still more implacably divided. A military demarcation line, which neither side regarded as a permanent border, was established, surrounded by the DMZ. The international conference envisioned in the armistice agreement was not held until mid-1954. This conference and subsequent efforts failed to reach an agreement on unification of the North and South, and the armistice agreement, supervised by a token U.N. Command in Seoul and by the Military Armistice Commission and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, both in Panmunjom, remains in effect.

In 1954, the United States and ROK (South Korea) signed a mutual defense treaty, under which US troops remained in the country. Financial assistance throughout the 1950s was provided by the United States, averaging US$270 million annually between 1953 and 1958, and by other nations under U.N. auspices. A state of tension remains between the North and South Koreas, with large military forces and heavy weapons position on either side of the four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone. The United States maintains a force of some 28,000, including soldiers and marines, in South Korea. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007; [Source: David Halberstam, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2007]

Eisenhower and the End of Korean War

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953 after talks for a cease-fire had dragged on for two years and the war had settled into a standoff, with casualties being incurred but with no change in the front line, which today still separates North and South Korea.

Eisenhower promised during the 1952 presidential elections to “go to Korea” and stop the war. Failure to end the war had a lot to do with the Democrats losing the election. Americans were anxious for the war ro end so they could enjoy the prosperity of the 1950s. Eisenhower visited Korea before his inauguration. He talked to military personnel there, ate with GIs and observed an artillery battle with his binoculars. He concluded the war was unwinnable and the goal must to end the fighting swiftly and honorably.

In 1953, Eisenhower hinted that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary to end the Korea War. A few months later the armistice was signed. The Korean War came to an end mainly because Eisenhower decided there had been enough war. The primary obstacle for final settlement, whether prisoners of war could repatriated or not, was removed after Stalin died in March 1953.

Cameron Forbes wrote in The Australian: “On December 2, 1952, president-elect Eisenhower, winner in a landslide, flew into Korea's bitter early winter...He took to the air in a small artillery observation plane to look at the reality of the Korean War along the line of conflict: the mountains and valleys, the opposing fortified hills from which one million soldiers faced one another. It brought back bad memories of Tunisia in World War II and the disastrous start for the U.S. soldiers to that campaign. His assessment of the Korean battlefield was that any frontal attack would present great difficulties, small attacks on small hills would not win the war, and America and its allies could not stand forever on a static front and continue to accept casualties without any visible result. [Source: Cameron Forbes, The Australian, December 24, 2010]

“At this time, South Korean president Syngman Rhee was advocating another drive to the Yalu River, outlining to Australia's visiting navy and air minister, William McMahon, his plan for amphibious landings on the east and west coasts of North Korea as a prelude. US general Mark Clark, who succeeded Ridgway as U.N. commander in May 1952 and was to sign the 1953 ceasefire with the communist North, was himself waiting for the opportunity to present to Eisenhower his strategy, known as Oplan 8-52. It was ambitious. It was frightening. The U.S. 8th Army would advance 90 or so kilometres to the narrow waist of Korea. There would be amphibious landings, air and sea attacks on China, a blockade and the attacks would include the use of nuclear bombs.

“Clark did not get his chance. According to one source, Eisenhower told his inner circle on the way home: "We cannot tolerate the continuation of the Korean conflict. The United States will have to break this deadlock." In a prepared public statement, he said at La Guardia Airport: "We face an enemy who we cannot hope to impress by words, however eloquent, but only by deeds, executed under circumstances of our own choosing." In his memoirs, Eisenhower recorded that on his return from Korea he felt that "clearly a course of action other than a conventional ground attack in Korea was necessary".

“As it happened, the path to the armistice was cleared by the death of one man, the ugly, lonely, lingering death of Joseph Stalin on March 5, four days after his stroke. Stalin's state funeral on March 10 was mass theatre and a good opportunity for Chinese premier Zhou Enlai "to urgently propose that the Soviet side assist the speeding up of negotiations and the conclusion of the armistice".

“There was another obstacle: Syngman Rhee, who clung still to the dream of a Korea united under his rule. On June 10, the Chinese launched a big offensive against South Korean defenders, pushing them back 5km over a 12km front. It was a compelling demonstration to Rhee that he would not be able to fight on alone. Rhee, however, still tried to block the armistice. Rather than turn over 25,000 anti-communist North Korean prisoners to the Repatriation Commission, the South Koreans allowed them to escape. They "broke out" of prison camps; guards had cut the wire and turned out the lights. The communists swallowed this.”

Response to the End of Korean War

The North Koreans claimed victory and boasted of “inflicting an ignominious defeat of the U.S. imperialism and its running dogs.” They claimed they killed 397,000 Americans (the true figure was 36,000) and they did it without outside help

Many South Koreans were shocked when the armistice was announced. They hoped that war would continue so that Korea could be reunified. President Syngman Rhee of South Korea opposed a truce. He so antagonized American leaders that a plan called ''Ever Ready'' was drawn up to arrest him if he started trouble. But the problems were ironed out.

According to the New York Times: After the armistice went into effect, in July, American planners began to study a response to a possible resumption of hostilities. There was concern, extending into the 1960's, that if a war was going to break out, it was likely to occur in the Far East involving China. The United States was drawn into Vietnam in part to contain China.” No one believed that the stalemate would endure for a half century more.

Expressing how he felt 40 years after the war, Korean War veteran Angus Deming wrote in Newsweek, "We had helped South Korea become a free and prosperous nation. Mostly we fought for each other, or to uphold the honor of the corps — that was what mattered. Most of us escaped the kind of trauma suffered by so many Vietnam vets. It was a different war at a different time to be sure. But our mind-set was also different: we were closer to the World War II generation, and we answered the call simply because our country needed us."

The Korean War ended up being like a first chapter of the Cold War. There were huge military build ups after the war and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union got worse. Among many — or at least some — Communists were regarded as the devil incarnate

Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War

General Curtis LeMay, the man who masterminded the firebomb raid s of Tokyo in World War II, raised the idea of nuking China and the Soviet Union and firebombing villages in North Korea. These and other suggestions earned him the title Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Fortunately his ideas were turned down. U.S. President Harry S. Truman ruled out the use of the nuclear weapons when the subject came up at two news conferences during his administration.

Carl A. Posey wrote in Air & Space Magazine: “By 1949, the Mark 4 plutonium bomb had replaced the demanding Mark 3. About the same size as its predecessor, the new bomb was manufactured, not handmade, and easier to handle. By the time of the North Korean aggression, nearly 300 Mark 4 bombs were in the U.S. stockpile. And America’s nuclear monopoly was largely intact. The first Soviet bomb test had been conducted in August 1949; the first Soviet air drop would not be made until 1951. China was years away from its first test. Intercontinental ballistic missiles were still a gleam in the military eye. For the moment, the United States remained the only nation capable of delivering an atomic bomb to a distant target. [Source: Carl A. Posey, Air & Space Magazine, July 2015]

“Given that advantage, and with defeat thick in the air as the difficult summer ended, people wondered why the United States would not take advantage of its nuclear singularity. But others questioned the specialness of the weapons. What was the difference between being blown up by conventional explosives and being vaporized by a radioactive fireball? The Atomic Energy Commission, which developed and built the bombs, certainly believed there was a difference and retained tight custody of nuclear weapons. Since the end of the world war, no atomic bombs had been placed in U.S. military custody, and none had left the United States.

“And there was the underlying fear that an atomic bombardment might not produce a decisive victory after all — that the nuclear deterrent would not deter. Because no one had much experience with this new class of weapon or warfare, strategic planning for the war in Korea was more than a heated battleground — it was nuclear kindergarten.

“According to Roger Dingman, a history professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, the nuclear Korean war quietly led to a clever bit of statecraft that would, at best, encourage the cessation of conventional hostilities or, at worst, drag the United States and its allies into real nuclear war. The ploy was a modern equivalent of gunboat diplomacy, using B-29s instead of men-of-war.

According to the New York Times in 1984: Although planning has changed through the years, the United States still maintains 40,000 troops in South Korea, and they have nuclear arms. American officials have said that in case of an all-out attack from North Korea, the United States retains the right to use nuclear weapons in defense.

Truman, Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War

Carl A. Posey wrote in Air & Space Magazine: “In July 1950, President Truman ordered Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command, to send B-29s to Great Britain, putting the bombers within easy striking distance of the western Soviet Union. “The order grew out of General [Hoyt] Vandenberg’s desire to do something to counter the impression of ineffectiveness conveyed by the meager results of American bombing in Korea,” writes Dingman in a 1988 issue of International Security. He points out that this was not the first occasion of Superfortress statesmanship. In 1948, after the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, two squadrons of B-29s were deployed to Western Europe. During the Berlin crisis, it was a bluff. The B-29s were not configured to handle nuclear weapons. In the reprise of the Berlin bluff, the bombers were nuclear-capable, and each carried a fully assembled Mark 4 bomb. The fissile cores, however, remained in the United States. [Source: Carl A. Posey, Air & Space Magazine, July 2015]

“Three weeks later, again on the president’s orders, the Strategic Air Command sent 10 atomic-capable B-29s, also carrying assembled bombs without their plutonium cores, to Guam. They were soon augmented by 10 more bombers. For the first time since 1945, atomic bombs, complete but for the nuclear cores, were transferred to military custody. All that was needed was someone to light a match.

“According to cold war historian John Lewis Gaddis, who was interviewed about the Korean War for a 1999 PBS documentary “American Experience: Race for the Superbomb,” the role of the atomic bomb was undefined. “It’s one of the biggest dogs that did not bark in the entire cold war,” says Gaddis. “There was no clear strategy worked out ahead of time for what the role of nuclear weapons in the limited war would be. You’re talking about a war, particularly after the Chinese intervene, with peasants coming down mountain trails carrying everything on their backs. And this was simply not what the atomic bomb had been built for. The only way that you can make the atomic bomb credible is precisely by not using — by keeping it out there as a kind of mysterious, awesome force. That to use it would actually cheapen it somehow.”

Nuclear Weapons Discussions After the Chinese Invasion and the Korean War

Carl A. Posey wrote in Air & Space Magazine: “With the Chinese intervention, the United States confronted a hard truth: Threatening a nuclear attack would not be enough to win the war. It was as if the Chinese hadn’t noticed — or, worse, weren’t impressed by — the atomic-capable B-29s waiting at Guam. President Truman raised the ante. At a November press conference, he told reporters he would take whatever steps were necessary to win in Korea, including the use of nuclear weapons. Those weapons, he added, would be controlled by military commanders in the field. [Source: Carl A. Posey, Air & Space Magazine, July 2015]

“In April of the next year, Truman put the finishing touches on Korea’s nuclear war. He allowed nine nuclear bombs with fissile cores to be transferred into Air Force custody and transported to Okinawa. Truman also authorized another deployment of atomic-capable B-29s to Okinawa. Strategic Air Command set up a command-and-control team in Tokyo.

“This spate of atomic diplomacy coincided with the end of the role played by Douglas MacArthur. After MacArthur had publicly and repeatedly differed with the president over military strategy in Korea, Truman replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway, who was given “qualified authority” to use the bombs if he felt he had to.

“In October, there would be an epilogue of sorts to the Korean nuclear war. Operation Hudson Harbor would conduct several mock atomic bombing runs with dummy or conventional bombs across the war zone. Called “terrifying” by some historians, Hudson Harbor merely tested the complex nuclear-strike machinery, as the Strategic Air Command had been doing for years over American cities. But the nuclear Korean war had already ended. In June 1951, the atomic-capable B-29s flew home, carrying their special weapons with them. They had never entered the battle zone proper, and they had not been part of FEAF Bomber Command’s strategic bombing campaign.

Eisenhower, Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War

“The Eisenhower administration discussed the use atomic bombs in North Korea and Communist China, if necessary, to end the Korean War and kept open the possibility of using such bombs if the war flared up again. In his memoirs, Eisenhower said he when came into office he was prepared to use them, if necessary, to break the deadlock. Documents originally classified as top secret released in 1984 — including in the State Department's two-book volume ''Foreign Relations of the United States'' The volume, in two books, covers Korea from 1952 to 1954. The series is a source of primary material on American foreign policy. Differences Between Aides Shown provide details on the decision.

“Bernard Gwertzman wrote in the New York Times: “The 2,000 pages of documents” show “the high level of planning and the detail of discussion on possible use of these weapons, and Mr. Eisenhower's interest in overcoming reluctance to use them,” indicating “readiness to use the weapons rather than face another debilitating war in Korea, according to a report of a National Security Council meeting on Dec. 3, 1953. ''The President expressed with great emphasis the opinion that if the Chinese Communists attacked us again, we should certainly respond by hitting them hard and wherever it would hurt most, including Peiping itself,'' the record of the meeting says, using the former name of Peking. ''This, said the President, would mean all-out war against Communist China,'' the document continues. [Source: Bernard Gwertzman, New York Times, June 8, 1984]

“The latest volume, in addition to discussing readiness to use nuclear weapons, discloses differences in approach between officials. The discussion about the possible use of nuclear weapons in Korea was followed by a policy of threatening to use such weapons in case of a large-scale attack by the Soviet Union. There was also discussion in 1954 of possible American nuclear support to aid French forces besieged at Dienbienphu in the war that ended French rule in North Vietnam.

“On Korea, President Eisenhower asked Adm. Arthur W. Radford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the December 1953 meeting whether he agreed that there would be a war with China if South Korea were attacked anew. Admiral Radford said he did and added, ''We would have to strike against the Communist Chinese in the air, from Shanghai all the way north.'' Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who agreed that the United States should not shrink from using atomic weapons, nevertheless was alarmed at the recommendation.

“According to the record of the meeting, Mr. Dulles felt that ''Admiral Radford's course of action contemplated general war with China and probably also with the Soviet Union because of the Sino-Soviet alliance.'' Mr. Dulles said the State Department preferred to limit a nuclear attack to North Korea and to nearby troop concentrations. He also said he could accept a naval blockade of China and seizure of offshore islands. His concern, he said, was not just that the Russians might enter the war, but that American allies would not support the United States.

Eisenhower Discussions on Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War

“Bernard Gwertzman wrote in the New York Times: “The nuclear issue arose twice in the Eisenhower Administration, the documents show. The first time was when Mr. Eisenhower, elected in 1952 on a pledge of ending the Korean War, expressed frustration at the drawn-out negotiations over a prisoner exchange, which, in turn, had delayed agreement on an armistice. At a National Security Council meeting on Feb. 11, 1953, the record shows, Mr. Eisenhower, then in office less than a month, agreed with Mr. Dulles that ''we could not go on the way we were indefinitely.'' On March 27, 1953, at a subsquent meeting, they agreed ''that somehow or other the taboo which surrounds the use of atomic weapons would have to be destroyed,'' the record says. ''While Secretary Dulles admitted that in the present state of world opinion, we could not use an A-bomb, we should make every effort now to dissipate this feeling,'' it says. [Source: Bernard Gwertzman, New York Times, June 8, 1984]

“Several military men said they saw no particular tactical value in using atomic weapons in North Korea. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, the Army Chief of Staff, said: ''Personally, I am very skeptical about the value of using atomic weapons tactically in Korea. The Communists are dug into positions in depth over a front of 150 miles.'' He added that nuclear tests ''proved that men can be very close to the explosion and not be hurt if they are well dug in.'' President Eisenhower said he ''thought it might be cheaper, dollarwise, to use atomic weapons in Korea than to continue to use conventional weapons against the dugouts which honeycombed the hills along which the enemy forces were presently deployed.''

Cameron Forbes wrote in The Australian: “Eisenhower brought up the use of nuclear weapons at his first National Security Council meeting on February 11, 1953. General Omar Bradley was briefing the president on the problems of communist infiltration into the Kaesong area, which, as first site of the armistice talks, had been declared a sanctuary. Eisenhower suggested that Kaesong offered a good target for the tactical use of atomic weapons. US secretary of state John Foster Dulles was all for breaking down the "false distinction" between atomic and conventional weapons. [Source: Cameron Forbes, The Australian, December 24, 2010]

When Bradley said he thought it premature to talk to the Allies about the use of atomic weapons, Eisenhower responded: "If they objected to the use of atomic weapons we might ask them to supply three or more divisions, in lieu of the use of atomic weapons." He decided, however, not to raise the issue with them.

On March 21, 1953, Eisenhower ordered the Pentagon to study what it would cost to launch an offensive to get the line of conflict to the waistline of Korea. If the plan required atomic strikes against military targets, he had no objections. Like Dulles, Eisenhower "wished to consider the atomic bomb as simply another weapon in our arsenal".

Assertions That the U.S. Used Biological Warfare in Korean War Unfounded

Ralph Begleiter of CNN reported: Newly released documents from the Soviet Union's secret archives reveal that North Korea repeated charges it knew to be false — alleging U.S. use of biological warfare during the Korean War” North Korea had “charged in a letter to the United Nations Security Council that the United States used "chemical and biological weapons" and conducted "massacres of innocent populations" during the Korean War. The North Korean government gave CNN a copy of the letter. [Source: Ralph Begleiter, CNN, March 11, 1999]

“The documents show Soviet, Chinese and North Korean officials knew the Korean War germ warfare charges against the United States were false, almost immediately after the communist nations issued them during the war in 1952. The documents include memos in which Soviet leaders promptly informed Chinese leaders of the falsity of the accusations and even tried to shut down a propaganda campaign based on the charges, which had begun during the last year of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's life.

“While North Korea may have been able to discount denials by the United States, it would be much harder for the Stalinist-style government of North Korea to dismiss Moscow's own admission of the falsity of the charges.

The documents — published by the Cold War International History Project at the Wilson Center in Washington and translated by historian Kathryn Weathersby.— amount to a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a Cold War propaganda campaign, told in the words of the very Soviet leaders who dealt with it at the time. Highlights of the documents include: A February 1952 telegram from Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung to Stalin in which Mao asserts for the first time that the United States "used bacteriological weapons eight times, from planes and through artillery shells."An April 1953 note from a top Soviet counterespionage official to Stalin's replacement (after Stalin's death) for the first time informing the Soviet hierarchy that the accusations were "false." The memo reveals that the North Koreans, with on-the-ground help from Soviet "advisers," had "created false areas of exposure" (areas where biological weapons were alleged to have been used).An April 1953 memo from a Soviet medical agent who had been in North Korea flatly stating that, even before Stalin died, and after the propaganda campaign about germ warfare had begun, the Soviets had concluded "there are no examples of bacteriological weapons" in North Korea.An April 1953 memo from the Soviet ambassador in North Korea reporting to Moscow that China had also alleged American use of chemical weapons ("poison gas") in the Korean War but that the Soviet ambassador had disproved those charges.

CIA Lost Thousands of Korean War Behind-Enemy-Lines Spies

In 2000, Associated Press reported: “The CIA lost so many Korean agents in futile attempts to operate behind enemy lines during the Korean War that the agency later privately judged its use of American-trained loyalists as "morally reprehensible," declassified records show. This frank judgment is significant not only for the internal angst it exposes but also because the Central Intelligence Agency had never before publicly acknowledged the scope or the outcome of its covert operations during the war. [Source: Associated Press, April 3, 2000]

“The records show the CIA sent untold numbers of agents — in the thousands, judging from the censored documents — into North Korea during the 1950-53 war. Their missions ranged from intelligence collection to establishing "escape and evasion," or E&E, networks to rescue downed U.S. pilots. "E&E operations as conducted by CIA in Korea were not only ineffective but probably morally reprehensible in that the number of lives lost and the amount of time and treasure expended was enormously disproportionate to attainments therefrom," a July 1973 CIA historical review said, quoting from a January 1954 report by the Korea Branch chief at CIA headquarters.

“Early in the war, CIA espionage efforts scored some notable successes, but most of its efforts at penetrating North Korea once peace talks began in the summer of 1951 failed, the records show. Some of the CIA's agents were South Koreans allied with U.S. forces. Others were anti-communist North Koreans forced to flee when China entered the war in October 1950 and drove American and allied troops back across the 38th parallel, which was — and remains — a dividing line between the two Koreas.

CIA records were declassified at the request of a private author, Michael E. Haas, a retired Air Force colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran, writing "In the Devil's Shadow". Haas said the CIA refused to release an exact count of agents it infiltrated into North Korea during the war — often aboard Air Force planes. But he cited a partially declassified CIA document, titled "Infiltration and Resupply of Agents in North Korea, 1952-1953," which stated that "thousands of personnel" were airdropped into the communist country from June 25, 1950 until the truce on July 27, 1953. The U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy also sent untold hundreds of Koreans on such missions by land, air and sea.

“Few agents made it back alive, especially in the last two years of the war. Their inherently dangerous missions were made even more hazardous by bureaucratic conflict and confusion that combined to produce what Haas called "behind-the-lines chaos." A senior agency official, whose identity was not disclosed, warned in September 1952 that agents sent north to set up escape and evasion networks "had almost no chance of success." He predicted they would be captured "and that the majority of them would be doubled," to work for the enemy.

“He apparently was right. During the latter part of 1952, the CIA's airdropped teams "were annihilated, taking 100 percent losses as many simply disappeared after parachuting into North Korea," Haas wrote, citing other CIA documents. The 1973 CIA historical review said "no airman or POW was known to have been assisted by CIA-sponsored clandestine mechanisms," and it said little was gained from the "numerous Koreans sacrificed in what proved to be a basically futile attempt" to setup resistance cells and pilot rescue networks.

“The report alludes to another aspect of the morality question, beyond the sacrifice of Korean lives. It mentions an individual Korean agent, whose identity is blacked out, who had a hand in the North Korean drug trade. "His trading with the enemy was an immense financial benefit to them since his American intelligence connections served to facilitate widespread traffic in narcotics amounting in value probably to many millions of dollars," it said. There is no elaboration on the narcotics connection, but it suggests at least an indirect CIA link to the drug trade.

Crispell, the agency spokesman, said, "There is no indication that the CIA supported or benefitted from illicit activities involving this individual." An intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity said the Korean agent's relationship with the CIA was ended after his drug trafficking became known.

Kim Soo-im: Korean Mati Hari?

Charles J. Hanley of Associated Press wrote: “Back in the days of "Commies" and "pinkos," of Red scares, black lists, suspicion and smear,Kim Soo-im stood out as a one-woman axis of evil, a villainess without peer. "The Korean Seductress Who Betrayed America," as the U.S. magazine Coronet labeled her, was a Seoul socialite said to have charmed secret information out of one lover, an American colonel, and passed it to another, a top communist in North Korea. [Source: Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press, August 17, 2008]

“In late June 1950, as North Korean invaders closed in on this teeming, panicked city, Kim was hastily executed by the South Korean military, shot as a "very malicious international spy." Her deeds, thereafter, only grew in infamy. In 1950s America, gripped by anticommunist fever, one TV drama told viewers Kim's "womanly wiles" had been the communists' "deadliest weapon." Another teleplay, introduced by host Ronald Reagan, depicted her as Asia's Mata Hari. Reviled as the Oriental queen of a vast Soviet "Operation Sex," she was even blamed by Washington columnist Drew Pearson for igniting the entire Korean War.

“Kim Soo-im and her love triangle are gone, buried in separate corners of a turbulent past. But in yellowing U.S. military files stamped "SECRET," hibernating through a long winter of Cold War, the truth survived. Now it has emerged, a half-century too late to save her. The record of a confidential 1950 U.S. inquiry tell a different Kim Soo-im story: Col. John E. Baird had no access to the supposed sensitive information. Kim had no secrets to pass on. And her Korean lover, Lee Gang-kook, later executed by North Korea, may actually have been an American agent. Baird and fellow Army officers could have defended her, but instead the colonel was rushed out of Korea to "avoid further embarrassment," the record shows. She was left to her fate — almost certainly, the Americans concluded, to be tortured by South Korean police into confessing to things she hadn't done.

“On the key count of espionage, officers up to Gen. Hodge himself testified Baird had no access to the details of classified plans for the troop withdrawal. Besides, the outlines of the withdrawal had been reported in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper available to all. The investigators concluded there was only a "remote possibility" Kim Soo-im used Baird as alleged. Since she was dead, they said, that couldn't be fully disproven.

“Col. William H.S. Wright, head of the Korea advisory group, had testified that her confession was probably forced through "out and out torture," probably near-drowning, or waterboarding, as it's now known. "The water cure is a very common method," Wright said. "Electric shock and the use of pliers is frequent." A Korean source backs this up. In a 2005 Seoul TV report on Kim Soo-im, longtime government propagandist Oh Jae-ho, a staunch anticommunist, said he learned from a police official that the defendant had to be carried into the courtroom to confess on the final day.

“But crucial questions remain — about the mysterious Lee Gang-kook, for example. A confidential profile drafted by Army intelligence in 1956 said Lee was reported to have been employed by the CIA's covert "JACK" — Joint Activities Commission, Korea. And, in fact, the North Koreans executed Lee as an "American spy" after the Korean War ended with a 1953 armistice. Historian Jung, who discovered that declassified profile at the National Archives in College Park, Md., still believes with other historians that North Korean leader Kim Il Sung had Lee and other southerners executed to eliminate potential rivals.”

Kim Soo-im’s Story

Charles J. Hanley of Associated Press wrote: “Kim Soo-im, born in 1911, was among the educated elite. An orphan, she was schooled by American missionaries, eventually graduating from Seoul's prestigious Ewha women's college, a U.S. Methodist-founded institution. In 1936, as a female office administrator, something rare in Korea, she was featured in a Seoul magazine article on the new generation of liberated young women. Smart and fashionable — a fox-trot dancer, it was noted — she had a circle of sophisticated, politicized friends, including Moh Yoon-sook, later Korea's best-known poetess. [Source: Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press, August 17, 2008]

“In 1941, Kim met an older married man, Lee Gang-kook, a German-educated intellectual active in Seoul's clandestine leftist movement. She became his lover, and he rose in political prominence, gaining a seat on the Central People's Committee, a broad nationalist coalition that sought to take over Korea from a defeated Japan in September 1945. Hodge's crackdown stifled that effort, and within a year Lee, facing arrest as an alleged security risk, fled to communist-run northern Korea.

Kim Soo-im's fluent English, meanwhile, had made her valuable to the U.S. occupation. She was hired as an assistant by Baird, the Americans' 56-year-old, Irish-born provost marshal, or military police chief, and was soon overseeing his network of Korean informants monitoring the black market, thievery of U.S. materiel and other crimes. Baird secured a house for her and took to spending nights there, or slipping her into his officer's quarters, according to Korean and American witnesses in the declassified record. "She had a baby by Col. Baird," Kim's friend Nancy Kim would later tell U.S. interrogators. "We all knew. He was the only man friend of Kim Soo-im. He slept in the house many times. The baby looks like the father."

“When the U.S. occupation army withdrew in 1949, succeeded by an advisory corps, Baird shifted to assisting the national police, and his American wife came to Korea to join him. In North Korea, meanwhile, Kim's ex-lover Lee, risen to important posts, made broadcasts denouncing the southern regime. Finally, on March 1, 1950, Kim, no longer U.S.-employed, was arrested by South Korean police, joining thousands of others ensnared in President Syngman Rhee's roundups of leftists — workers and writers, teachers, peasants and others with suspect politics. "It was witch-hunting," said historian Jung Byung-joon, who has studied the case. "The South Korean police and prosecutors hated her because she was the lover of Lee Gang-kook, and then of Col. Baird, and nobody could touch her. They waited for their chance."

“On June 14, 1950, nine days after Baird sailed from Korea, Kim Soo-im faced a five-judge South Korean military court and a long list of alleged crimes, including obtaining vehicles from the colonel that she lent or sold to "communist" friends, keeping guns at her house, and transporting Lee Gang-kook to the northern border in 1946 with a U.S. Army jeep. The most serious charge at the trial, a headline event in Seoul newspapers, accused her of eliciting the classified 1949 U.S. withdrawal plans from Baird, and relaying them to the northern communists. As her court-appointed lawyer noted, the government presented neither material evidence nor witnesses to back up the charges. The court even rejected guns the prosecutors offered as exhibits. "The Korean police at the time were notorious for fabricating evidence that didn't exist," said Wonil Kim.

“But on the trial's third day, according to a summary in the declassified U.S. file, Kim Soo-im confessed. She said she had asked Baird about withdrawal plans, and shared the information with friends, only because they were worried about their future U.S. employment. Her friend Moh pleaded for mercy, "moving the audience to tears" with the story of Kim's deprived childhood, the summary says. But the court sentenced her to death. Just weeks after her execution, however, and across the Pacific, U.S. military investigators reviewing Baird's role were hearing confidential testimony from Army officers and enlisted men indicating Kim's conviction was a contrivance of the Seoul authorities.”

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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