At dawn on this day in 1950, an enormous wave of Communist North Korea’s massively equipped 200,000-soldier army comes pouring over the 38th Parallel, headed straight for the South Korean capital of Seoul. Pitted against a puny South Korean army of some 65,000 combat troops, 12 combat aircraft and zero tanks, the Communist aggressors made fast work, and Seoul fell two days later; the Korean war was on.
All of Korea, a former Japanese possession which suffered under horrible repression, had been divided into zones of occupation following WW2. U.S. forces accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in southern Korea, while Soviet forces did the same in Northern Korea, containing an organic, active and angry Communist presence. As in Germany, however, the “temporary” division soon became permanent.
The Soviets assisted in the establishment of a communist regime in North Korea, while the United States became the main source of financial and military support for South Korea. When Mao Zedong’s revolution finally won all of mainland China, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin made the calculation, based in part on code breaking, that the U.S. would not offer a robust or atomic response to a North Korean invasion. His math was off.
The U.S. riposted by pushing a resolution through the U.N.’s Security Council calling for international military assistance to South Korea; Russia was not present to veto the action due to its boycotting the Security Council in support of Mao at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry S. Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.”
After the first two months of war, South Korean, U.S. and UN forces rapidly dispatched to Korea were on the brink of defeat, pushed back to a cramped area in the south known as the Pusan Perimeter. However, as one of his last useful acts on behalf of his country, in September 1950 Gen. Douglas MacArthur led a brilliant amphibious counter-offensive at Incheon, and cut off thousands of North Korean troops.
Predictably, Mac pursued the retreating North Korean army all the way to the Yalu River, China’s border, and was itching to go further. Falling for the Chinese feint, 230,000 pair of People’s Volunteer Army boots came chasing after his ill-prepared 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; the Home-By-Christmas Offensive became a monster miscalculation, which only served to make a turkey out of Mac.
After these reversals of fortune, which saw Seoul change hands four times, the last two years of fighting became a war of attrition, with the front line oscillating over the 38th parallel. The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed by, among others, Kim Jong-un’s grandpa, Kim Il. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea, and allowed the return of prisoners, yet no peace treaty has been signed, rendering two Koreas technically still at war.
Meanwhile, a total of approximately 130,000 Americans, including over 23,000 military personnel, act as parts of a human trip wire in a peninsula that saw nearly five million souls perish in three short years, whilst photo-ops with the unwitting and witless go on.
And here, our lesson of mayhem, miscalculation and monster egos endeth.