Korea, MacArthur and the 38th Parallel

On this day in 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur falls for a Chinese feint in Korea, as 230,000 pair of People’s Volunteer Army boots come chasing after his ill-prepared US and UN forces in the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River. A heady MacArthur had gambled on his belief that Chinese forces had retreated back across the Yalu River, and he launched the Home-By-Christmas Offensive, a monster miscalculation which only served to make a turkey out of Mac.

Bolstered by false confidence from his brilliant Inchon Landing months before, MacArthur bought into his own myth, pushing the invading Korean People’s Army nearly all the way to the Chinese border of North Korea. It was there that Mao Zedong and his own war-planners launched the Chinese First Phase Campaign, pushing the US, ROK and UN forces back south of the Ch’ongch’on River, before mysteriously and abruptly stopping.

Despite the setback, MacArthur still believed that China had not intervened in Korea on a large scale, and the suddenness of the Chinese withdrawal in the face of a victory further reinforced this belief. Working on the assumption that only 30,000 Chinese troops could remain hidden in the hills, he ordered the bombing of the bridges over the Yalu River in an effort to cut off Chinese reinforcements as part and parcel of the Home-by-Christmas Offensive. On November 24 he commenced his move to rout the remaining Chinese and North Korean forces and end the Korean War.

Unknown to UN planners, however, there were already 180,000 Chinese troops stationed in Korea, with more reinforcements infiltrating across the border. As the US Eighth Army stopped its advance on the afternoon of November 25, 1950, the PVA 13th Army commenced the massive Second Phase Campaign. A withering frontal attack was launched against the entire UN line from Yongsan-dong to Yongwon and the Home-by-Christmas Offensive was completely stalled on the morning of November 26.

Despite great valor in multiple actions, US and UN forces began a 120-mile withdrawal to the 38th parallel, often referred to as “the longest retreat in US military history.” The Chinese advanced so far as to re-capture the South Korean capital of Seoul, MacArthur was goaded to over-extend to the point of insubordination and dismissal, and Korea remains divided along nearly identical lines to those that stood before that war ever started.

And here the lesson endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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