Many of us Westerners here in Korea have no idea of the events or timescale of the Korean war prior to our arrival, myself very much included. As such I’ve decided to bring together some of the main points of the war into a series of posts, largely by condensing Wikipedia articles.
When I last left off, we had seen US and Soviet troops pull out of the newly established republics of North and South Korea, leaving behind them an uneasy division along the 38th parallel, as well as unrest among communist parties in South Korea.
As the withdrawal of troops occurred in the Summer of 1949, I must backtrack slightly to the Spring, specifically March, when Kim Il-sung approached Stalin for support in order to reclaim the southern part of the peninsula. However, due to the presence of US troops and instability in China’s communist rule, Stalin declined to support the war.
Following the withdrawal of forces, the detonation of the first Soviet nuclear bomb and the lack of intervention by the US when communism won out in China, Stalin decided the time was ripe for the North to invade. With one proviso, that Mao, the then leader in China, should send reinforcements to the North’s aid should they be required. China, being in quite a fix while trying to find its feet, needed the Soviet support and had little choice but to back Kim Il-sung’s military campaign.
Whenceforth came the army of North Korea though? Well throughout the earlier events, Stalin had been supplying his fledgling with weapons to nurture military solidarity and Korean units in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were released to North Korea after communist victory in China.
So then, with superior arms, numbers and training the North Koreans out ranked their southern counterparts rather substantially. Added to this rather potent mixture were Soviet advisers who had much experience of war, having served during WWII.
Thus a plan emerged to initiate skirmishes on the Ongjin peninsula, which is located on the western coast of the 38th parallel, and then launch a “counterstrike” with the goal of capturing Seoul and crushing resistance in a rapid succession of military campaigns.This plan was not as utterly far-fetched as it may seems as skirmishes were rather frequent along the parallel as neither side had accepted the border as permanent.
Where are the South in all of this, is all I’ve been thinking while researching this, or rather frantically reading and re-reading Wikipedia articles in order to work them into this brief discourse.
The South were not standing idly by, of course, their army the Republic of Korea Army (ROK Army) were being trained under the Americans (through the Korean Military Advisory Group, KMAG) and were utterly confident they could handle an invasion with ease.
However, we know that when the troops from North Korea crossed the border on the 25th June 1950, things did not go well for the South. This is due, mostly, to the fact that intelligence agencies had cried wolf numerous times in the year since division and thus the troops of the South were not mobilized for a full-scale invasion.
Due to their lack of arms and mobilized units the capital fell just three days later, in spite of desperate measures taken by the South Korean government. The GIF below shows the progress of the North’s invasion which, in just three months, had claimed the South right down to what was known as the Pusan perimeter.
It seems positively remarkable that any form of recovery was possible at this point, but as we can see above, once the US and the UN intervened the tide rapidly turned for South Korea and the armies of the North were pushed right back to the Chinese border. Obviously I’ve condensed thousands of potential words about the Battle of Pusan Perimeter and the Battle of Incheon into one long sentence in the hope of preventing overloading this post.
So, this brings us to events North of the Border which were authorized only if neither Soviet nor Chinese troops were involved in conflict. However, as they had already agreed to military action, China did lend their support to the North, which is why we can see the massive jump between December 1950 and January 1951.
The rest of the war was mostly a war of attrition (which before and of you racing pundits comment, has nothing to do with a racehorse) between North and South. This war ended on June 27th 1953 with an armistice agreement signed by The United Nations Command, with heavy support from the United States, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteers.
This armistice also mandated that peace talks continue between the involved parties and that POWs be repatriated. However, due to many soldiers who fought for the North refusing to be repatriated, this remains a bone of contention between the two states.
There, we have it, in an ill-fitting nutshell, the Korean War of 1950-1953 which many of us had dismissed from memory until the festering wound burst open again just last year and North Korea declared the armistice null-and-void and the media went wild with coverage of the Supreme Leader and his troops.
However, Korea has not forgotten the war nor the events leading up to it, nor those who fought to win freedom for the South. There are artifacts of the war all around, most notably the UN war memorial here in Busan which commemorates all those who laid down their lives for the Republic of Korea.
It makes me wonder if Owen wrote true “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” then what is it to die for the land of others to whom you owe no debt?