Today is the 71st anniversary of the Korean War, which raged for three years, ending in a stalemate when the UN-brokered armistice came into effect on July 27, 1953. Over the last decade, the war has been widely revisited in fiction, television, and film, including ‘The Pacific’, which portrayed the war as the final battle in a fight for survival between two alien species, featuring a Korean-American lead actor. The war is seen by many as a civilising event, as it was a time of great change for Korea as well as the rest of the world, and it was a time when both sides of the conflict learned some harsh lessons in war.
These are the first-person accounts of the Korean War. Some are young men who lived through the war, others are older people who were once of age to fight. One was a young American soldier who was recruited into the 8th Army of the Republic of Korea, and one was a young Korean boy who lived through the war. These stories are a rare glimpse into a conflict that is still a little-known part of our history.
. . . President Eisenhower said in his State of the Union address in January 1959 that if the Korean war was ever to be ended, a peace treaty had to be signed and made a legal basis for future negotiations. He said that a peace treaty would have to be signed, but he did not want to commit US troops to North Korea. . .
On June 25, 1950, when North Korea attempted to reunify with South Korea by force, a small peninsula in East Asia became a worldwide flashpoint in the escalating Cold War. The invasion was roundly denounced by the United Nations Security Council (while the Soviet Union was boycotting the council and thus in no position to veto it). In what President Harry S. Truman referred to as a “police action,” military contingents from the United States and 20 other countries joined forces alongside the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA).
Take a look at some of the striking photographs from the battle in our November 2023 issue:
On Sept. 15, 1950, Marines scale ladders to gain a beachhead in Inchon, South Korea. National Archives and Records Administration
Marines move into North Korea in 1950, backed by an M26 Pershing tank. / David Douglas Duncan Collection, University of Texas at Austin
During a 1951 United Nations mission, American airborne troops and supplies drop to frozen ground. / National Archives
During the United Nations assault in 1950, Australian soldiers ride an M4A3E8 Sherman tank 50 kilometres north of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. | Getty Images/ Hulton Deutsch
When the armistice was signed in July 1953, Chinese and North Korean forces celebrated what they saw as a victory. | Getty Images/ Hulton Deutsch
In June 1951, a South Korean refugee carries her brother past a halted M48 Patton tank. | Hulton Deutsch, Getty Images
On May 5, 1951, a flamethrower team from the 1st Marine Division confronts the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, which has been on the offensive since late November 1950. / History Division of the United States Marine Corps
On Dec. 26, 1950, Marines evacuating from North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir attack a Chinese position that had recently been bombed by a US Navy F4U-5 Corsair fighter-bomber. / History Division of the United States Marine Corps
On North Korea’s Haktang-ni high ground in 1950, a US soldier consoles another whose friend was killed while a physician fills out casualty tags. National Archives and Records Administration
On June 28, the communist Korean People’s Army (KPA) overran Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and by August, the ROKA and the US Eighth Army had taken control of one-tenth of the country, including the city of Pusan. They reclaimed the initiative there, however. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur launched a last-ditch effort to land American and South Korean soldiers at Inchon on September 15. The next day, United Nations forces pushed through the Pusan Perimeter, and the KPA began to fall apart. Within ten days, Seoul had been retaken, and MacArthur had advanced into North Korea.
However, on October 19, the People’s Republic of China, seeing North Korea’s impending collapse as an existential threat, intervened with its 250,000-strong People’s Volunteer Army, which pushed back UN forces by December. Seoul fell again on January 4, 1951, although the Chinese suffered a severe toll as a result of UN weaponry. On May 20, US forces led by Gen. Matthew Ridgway launched a counteroffensive, retaking Seoul by mid-June and driving communist forces north of the 38th parallel. On July 27, 1953, all parties agreed to an armistice and cease-fire, ending the conflict in a bloody stalemate. A treaty ending the Korean War has yet to be signed by the participants.
While some Americans consider Korea to be “the first war we lost,” the Republic of Korea’s continued prosperity implies that the US and the UN met their aims. China also gained what it wanted by keeping North Korea as a buffer zone, leaving the latter as the only outright loser in the battle, having failed to reunite the peninsula. MH
Military History magazine published this piece in their November 2023 issue. Subscribe here for more stories, and follow us on Facebook:
It has been 71 years since the start of the Korean War. The war lasted from June 25, 1950 until the signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953. In this time, the Korean War claimed between 60,000 and 4.5 million lives. So, what do we know about the war and its aftermath? The United Nations Command, the U.S.-led alliance that fought the war, estimates there were about 1.8 million civilian deaths. However, the number of civilian deaths is disputed. In addition to the 1.8 million civilians, between 6.5 million and 4.9 million North Koreans and Chinese died, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Defense.. Read more about korean war casualties and let us know what you think.
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