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The Korean War
The tension between communist and capitalist states was not limited to Europe and
in 1950 it led to war in Korea.
The Korean War began when two `Superpowers', the US and the USSR took control
of Korea, in an attempt to flush out the remaining Japanese immigrants solely for
military purposes. Korea was divided into two states: North Korea was communist
and supported by Russia; South Korea had an anti-communist dictatorship and was
supported the US. The two Koreas were divided by the 38th Parallel. In 1948 before
they left, the two superpowers tried to set up separate governments. The South
held democratic elections and elected Syngman Rhee. The American-trained South
Korean army was limited to a lightly armed gendarmerie, lacking tanks, combat
aircraft and all but a small amount of field artillery. While the North appointed their
own leader Kim II Sung who created the North Korean Peoples' Army, equipped with
Russian tanks and artillery. .
They also had different capital cities; Seoul in the South which was fairly close to the
38th Parallel and Pyongyang in the North. After the `Superpowers' left, the two halves
wished to expand into each others regions as both presidents claimed to be the ruler
of the whole of Korea.
The North acted first and in June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. As the
North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the United Nations asked
its members to help stop the war. The USA immediately sent troops. They were
followed by troops from 16 other countries. However, the American army, led by
General MacArthur, played the most important role and made the decisions.
MacArthur took orders from Truman, not from the UN. A total of 50 per cent of the
army and 86 per cent of the navy were provided by America. McArthur and the US
troops landed in the city of Inchon in September 1950. This was a vital point in the
Korean War because it cut off the communist troops in the South. America saw the
invasion by North Korea as another example of the spread of communism which had
to be stopped. America was worried about the `domino effect': if one country fell to
communism, this would trigger other countries to fall.
The South then pushed up past Pyongyang and by October 1950, they got as far as
the River Yalu. The communist Chinese now feared for their security and warned the
UN troops not to approach the Yalu River. MacArthur disobeyed Truman and did so
anyway. In November 1950, China sent 200,000 volunteers to help push back the UN
forces. With extra help from the Chinese army the North pushed back the UN troops
to the 38th Parallel. MacArthur wanted to take more action and asked Truman to use
the atomic bomb and to invade China. In April 1951 MacArthur was sacked by Truman.
In mid-1951, with the land battle in stalemate, both sides agreed to go to the
conference table and armistice talks began.
They dragged on for two years. The main haggling point was the future of the tens of
thousands of communist prisoners held in camps on Koje Island off the coast of
South Korea. While the communist negotiators were adamant that all were to be
returned to their country of origin, thousands of prisoners were unwilling to be
There were several great mutinies in the Koje camps before a satisfactory formula
enabled those who wished to be repatriated to go home and for asylum to be
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In July 1953, a great calm descended over
the battlefields and in Operation Big Switch, thousands of former prisoners on each
side were returned. A Demilitarised Zone or DMZ was established on the border.
Both sides withdrew from their fighting positions, and a UN commission was set up
to supervise the armistice.
The Impact of the Korean War
During the Korean War, the Cold war had developed to other places around the
world. The relationship between the US and the USSR was still hostile.…read more