Korea-A Cold War Lesson

June 24, 1950, marked the beginning of the Korean Conflict, the Korean War. It was the

A special thanks to all the Korean War Veterans on this the 67th anniversary of the start of that war. The Korean War Memorial

first conflict fought under the auspices of the fledgling United Nations with General MacArthur in charge.  Over 36,000 American died in Korea including 33,652 battle deaths and 3,262 “other deaths” in the war zone from illness, accidents and other non-battle causes according to the 1994 edition of Service and Casualties in Major Wars and Conflicts. Well over 7,000 Americans remain missing. More than 400,000 South Koreans also perished during this ‘conflict.’

June 1950. As World War II fades into memory, knitting the world back together is a priority for leaders of the Western World.  Reconstruction in Japan under General Douglas MacArthur is going well, and Europe is rebounding.  A nagging question for Western world leaders is what to do about the Soviet Union and those pesky Communists sprouting a big, scary empire.  Scant attention is paid to China other than backing the ‘not-a-communist,’ Chiang Kai-shek. In Korea, the U.S. declared Syngman Rhee, the last Head of State of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, and President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960, to be ‘friendly’ and moved smartly forward.  Post-WWII, the Soviets occupied the northern half of Korea via an ill-advised and hurriedly completed agreement with the Allies.  Bad move. Stalin chose Kim Il-Sung, a former anti-Japanese resistance leader with a communist bent. Another bad move. Kim Il-Sung had eyes on the entire Korean peninsula and by 1949 ‘Kim Il Sung Thought’ became the state religion of North Korea.  None of the men mentioned in this paragraph is worthy of honor.

As 1950 showed up on Western calendars, Stalin was tiring of Kim Il-Sung, and Kim was making well-received overtures to the Chinese Communist government. The Chinese communists were consolidating power and added North Korea to their basket of allies. Kim never lost sight of his goal to rule a united Korea and was itching to use the equipment left by the Soviets to consolidate that power. Many in the U.S. political arena failed to grasp that Stalin was no longer ‘really’ calling the shots in North Korea. Kim, on the other hand, needed Stalin only to sanction a war because of the allied agreement with the Soviets. Kim did not need or want the Soviets in the fray. He had partnered with the Mao’s Chinese Communist government as his true benefactor and supporter. Mao believed “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  Kim agreed. The subtlety was lost on Washington, D.C.

However, obtaining clearance from Stalin required a lie. In a telegram from Pyongyang to Cde. A. A. Gromyko, Kim claimed the South attacked North.  “I am sending a report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs transmitted by radio on 25 June 1950″ Report of the DPRK Ministry of Internal Affairs. Early on the morning of 25 June 1950, troops of the so-called ‘army of national defense’ of the puppet government of South Korea began a surprise attack on the territory of North Korea along the entire 38th parallel. Having begun a surprise attack, the enemy invaded the territory of North Korea to a depth of one or two kilometers north of the 38th parallel in the area west of [Haeju] and in the areas of [Geumcheon] and [Cheolwon]….” The Korean War was, on June 25th, well underway.

MacArthur was determined to stuff the Korean Conflict into a bottle, claiming early, often and loudly that the North Koreans were on the run and the incursion was almost over.  The General decreed a reality and, it seems, those that surrounded him fed the delusion. Excerpted from The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam, published this month by Hyperion; © 2007 by the Amateurs, Ltd.  “…In October 20, 1950, the word was out: there was going to be a victory parade in Tokyo, and the U.S. First Cavalry Division (or Cav, as it was nicknamed)—because it had fought so well for so long, becoming the first to enter the North Korean capital of

Wounded Chaplain Reads Memorial Service

Pyongyang, and also because it was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur’s—was going to lead it….” But in the first days, the men on the front lines knew differently. From the prisoners, U.S. Intelligence learned of the depth of the Chinese involvement and sent that information to MacArthur’s HQ in Japan. “…Milburn immediately reported the new intelligence to Eighth Army headquarters. From there, it was sent on to Major General Charles A. Willoughby, Douglas MacArthur’s key intelligence chief, a man dedicated to the proposition that there were no Chinese in Korea, and that they were not going to come in, at least not in numbers large enough to matter. That was what his commander believed, and MacArthur’s was the kind of headquarters where the G-2’s job was first and foremost to prove that the commander was always right…”  MacArthur never spent a night in Korea during the conflict. His interests and legacy were in Japan. Truman finally canned MacArthur in 1951.  Unfortunately, the rest of the bad actors of the Korean War stayed on stage.

The horrors of the Korean War persisted until July 27, 1953, when a negotiated settlement between the United Nations with the U.S. as its lead, the Soviet Union, North and South Korea and China drew the line between the two Koreas at the 38th parallel. Mao, who had no desire to end the war, seized an opportunity to sit at the United Nations table as an equal to the U.S. and the Soviet Union. A new era had begun.  The U.S. continues to pay the price for MacArthur’s hubris and miscalculation as we endure yet another mad Kim at the helm of North Korea.  This one has nuclear weapons and millions of innocents in South Korea. As they would say in Ghana, that is bad juju.

2 thoughts on “Korea-A Cold War Lesson

  1. What goes around comes around.

    In 1950, Harry Truman had to decide whether to use B-29s to drop atomic bombs on North Korea. One my say that is was he who miscalculated the future consequences in not doing so.

    Also, Ike had his finger on the nuke trigger well into the mid-1950s. After the 1953 Korean armistice the United States had plans to use nuclear weapons if the Communists renewed aggression against South Korea.

    Today the tables are turned and little mini-monarch Kim Jong-un has the itchy trigger finger on the nuke button.

    • You make an excellent point. MacArthur’s plan to cut off the resistance at the Yalu using a Nuke would have changed the outcome dramatically and we would not be dealing with another brutal, crazy Kim. Unfortunately, MacArthur was a loose cannon; prone to unpredictable actions. His strategy to drive to a date with fame in Korea cost thousands of lives and it wasn’t the first time. I’ve struggled with the MacArthur character for years and read most everything I could. My Dad, who fought in New Guinea for years during WWII loved the guy. His behavior during WWII and after are mixed. His choice to lie to the CIC was dangerous and wrong. Let us not forget the consistently failed approach to partitioning countries to appease allies or enemies. It leads to decades, sometimes centuries, of anger, hatred and more than one crazy dictator who promises to fix it.

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