- In 1945, Korea was liberated from Japanese control by Russian soldiers who moved into the north of the country, and by American troops who landed in the south. The country was partitioned along the 38th parallel until elections could be held and the country reunited. The elections were never held, and by the time the Russian and American forces had left Korea in 1949, two separate governments had been established to run the country:
- in North Korea, a communist regime was set up under Kim Il Sung.
- in South Korea, a capitalist dictatorship was established under Syngman Rhee.
- Both states sought the reunification of the country, and on 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded the south. Within days, the capital, Seoul, had been captured. The USA asked the UN to intervene to stop the attack. First it condemned the attack; then it began to put together a military force to stop the invasion. Russia was unable to use its veto to object to the UN’s actions as it was then boycotting the UN. This was in protest at America’s refusal to allow communist China to sit on the UN Security Council. The UN force – which was mainly American and led by an American general, Douglas MacArthur – landed at Inchon in September 1950. Before long, it had reached the 38th parallel.
MacArthur did not stop at the 38th parallel. Crossing the 38th parallel meant that the UN force was now exceeding its UN orders. MacArthur’s intention (with Truman’s agreement) was to reunite Korea and ‘roll back’ communism. This worried North Korea’s neighbour China, which feared that America would take the opportunity to invade China and restore Chiang Kai-shek. MacArthur pushed on as far as the Yalu River, North Korea’s border with China. Fearing the worst, over 250,000 Chinese troops invaded North Korea in November 1950 and pushed the UN forces back over the 38th parallel.
MacArthur now pleaded with Truman to allow a nuclear attack and an invasion that would lead to the destruction of communism in China. Truman however had decided on containment rather than confrontation, and refused to consent to an escalation of the conflict, fearing direct Russian intervention. In April 1951 MacArthur was sacked.
The war dragged on back and forth across the 38th parallel until the middle of 1951 when both sides dug in. The war then took to the skies, where US and USSR pilots fought for a further two years. The aerial battles were kept secret from the US population in case they demanded all-out war with Russia.
Peace talks started in June 1951, but were unable to find a solution acceptable to all sides. In 1953, Eisenhower succeeded Truman, and Stalin died, eventually leaving Nikita Khrushchev in control. The new leaders sought peace, and a ceasefire was agreed in July 1953. Although a peace treaty was never signed, the agreement saw the creation of a permanent border – slightly north of the 38th parallel – and a demilitarised zone (DMZ) between the two states.
Results of the Korean War
- Over two million died.
- Containment worked: communism did not spread into South Korea.
- The relationship between North and South Korea remained tense and bitter.
- US–Chinese relations deteriorated further.
- Realising the importance of preventing Japan falling to communism, America signed a peace treaty, ended military occupation and invested heavily in the Japanese economy.
- The USA signed agreements with the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, which confirmed its position as the protector of the region.
- NATO was turned into a full-blown military alliance.