The United States in the Korean War: What Every American Should Know

The North advanced rapidly to the south, giving them confidence that they might succeed. The war was essentially a hot stretch of the Cold War, the battle for world supremacy between the United States and the Soviet Union. After Germany was defeated in WWII, Stalin ordered some divisions to the east to aid in defeating the Japanese. One of the areas the Soviet troops advanced into was Japanese occupied Korea. After the Japanese were defeated, the superpowers decided to divide the Korean peninsula in two, along the 38th parallel. The south became a developing capitalist nation, while the north became a communist dictatorship.

The countering forces to the invasion were actually an international coalition, under the flag of the United Nations. President Truman designated General Douglas MacArthur of WWII fame to command. MacArthur lead a counter attack that drove the North Korean forces all the way to the Chinese border. MacArthur wanted to pursue them. The ensuing controversy led to Truman firing MacArthur. The Korean War had looked like it might be over soon. Instead, the Chinese became nervous about the American army being so close. In November of 1950, 200,000 Chinese troops streamed across the border. By the end of the year, another 500,000 joined them. The Chinese used so-called “human wave” attacks, in which they would overwhelm a line through sheer numbers. Tactics and weapons be damned. It worked at first, and the U.N. forces were pushed south again. A back and forth tug began, that lasted until the end of the war when a truce was signed, in 1953. The Americans threatened the Chinese with atomic weapons if they didn’t stop fighting, and it seemed to work. After all was said and done, the line was drawn again, and the Korea’s were divided once more. An estimated 10,000,000 total casualties put a death toll close to that for WWI. More than 54,000 American troops were killed.

My father is a veteran of that war, and I am sure it still has a large effect on his life. We have all heard the famous places. Porkchop Hill, Hamburger Hill, Inchon, Pusan…the places ingrained in the mind of any that were there. We as Americans cannot forget the veteran among us that still remembers those names.

Could the Korean War have been avoided? Yes, if the division had not taken place. Once the peninsula was divided, it became almost inevitable. If it didn’t happen it the 50’s, then it would have in the 60’s or 70’s. Did the United States have to become involved? Yes, because of the political and military situation of the time. Perhaps a less aggressive drive to the border would have left the Chinese out of it, but it is impossible to say. And Stalin could not be allowed to get the impression that he could expand his influence anywhere at will.

Is there a chance for another Korean War? Yes, especially if the Bush Administration continues to ratchet up the rhetoric without offering anything else. Korea represents a far greater potential threat than Iraq did. If there were oil wells, our troops might be there now. We need constructive dialog and forward thinking leaders to help diffuse the threat before it explodes.

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