In 1950, when the international community was coping with the consequences of the Second World War, another conflict erupted on the edge of the Asian continent. The Korean War was a conflict between North Korea and South Korea, which started on 25 June 1950. There was no announced official end of the war, but it is considered that the war was ended on 27 July 1953. Very often this conflict is seen as a proxy war between the United States of America and its allies with forces of China and the Soviet Union. The Northern part of the coalition included North Korea and its armed forces and the Chinese army. It also included the Soviet Union, which was not officially involved in the war, but largely took over the financing as well as posted on the Korean peninsula the part of the Air Force and numerous military advisors and specialists (Stueck). From the South in the war there were involved the South Korea, the U.S., the UK, and several other countries in the United Nations peacekeeping force. During the conflict, one or the other party prevailed. During military conflicts, there were killed hundreds of thousands of people. After three years of bloody battles, the peace treaty between the North and South Koreans was not signed.
Prehistory of Korean War
In order to understand the reasons of the Korean War, it is necessary to discuss the prehistory of this military conflict. For many years, China, Japan, and the Soviet Union had a direct impact on the situation on the Korean peninsula. From the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was a colony of Japan. On August 6, 1945, the Soviet Union, in accordance with the agreement signed with the United States, denounced the non-aggression pact of 1941 and declared war on the Empire of Japan (Wainstock). Soviet troops entered Korea from the North. In contrast to it, American troops landed on the Korean peninsula to the south. On August 10, 1945, due to the imminent surrender of Japan, the Soviet Union and the U.S. agreed to divide Korea across the 38th parallel. Both sides suggested that Japanese troops from the north part would surrender to the Soviet Union forces and from the south part would surrender to the U. S. forces. Thus, the peninsula was divided into two parts. It was assumed that such separation would be temporary. In December 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement on the temporary administration of the country (Stueck). In both parts, north and south ones, a new government was formed. In the south of the peninsula, the U.S. with the support of the UN held elections in order to replace the old government. In the north, power was transferred to the Soviet communist government led by Kim II Sung. It was considered that after a while Korea must be reunited. However, under conditions of incipient Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were unable to agree on the details of the reunion.
The government of both sides did not hide their intentions and sought to unify the peninsula under their leadership. Adopted in 1948, the Constitution of the two Korean states unequivocally declared that the purpose of each of the two governments was extending its authority throughout the North and South parts. The Soviet Union was instrumental in establishing the North Korean regime of communist dictatorship. It left behind a well-trained and equipped army of North Korea where 135,000 people served. There were also tanks and artillery. For comparison, the armed forces of South Korea totaled only 98,000 people (Edwards). It was more likely the police than a real army. This was partly because the U.S. wanted to deprive the South of funds for invasion into the North Korea. Both countries were in favor of the reunification of the peninsula, but the North dreamed of creating a communist state throughout Korea while the South wanted to establish a single democratic country. The military superiority was on the side of the North Korea. In January 1950, the U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson actually led South Korea from the sphere of defense plans of the United States by his ill-considered statement. Early in the morning of June 25, 1950, when half of the members of the armed forces of South Korea were to receive severance for the weekend, North Korea launched a sudden, well-planned attack on the entire length of the 38th parallel.
The Beginning of the War
The outbreak of war in Korea was a surprise to the United States and other Western countries. “President Truman was at his ‘Summer White house’ in Independence, Missouri, when he received the news of the invasion” (Edwards). A week before, Dean Acheson in his report to Congress stated that the war was unlikely to happen. Despite the post-war demobilization of the U.S. Army, which significantly weakened their power in the region, the U.S. still had a large military contingent under the command of General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. There were no other countries in the region, except Britain, which had such military power. The number of soldiers on both sides was approximately equal, but South Korean army had almost no armored vehicles and only had a dozen light trainer aircrafts. The movement of the North Korean army in the early days of the war was very successful. On June 28, it captured the capital of South Korea – Seoul. The Seoul Airport was completely destroyed. The North Korea forces also made severe attacks on the main cities of the south part (Edwards). However, the main goal that the North authority had set was not achieved. The North part of the country intended to get an instant victory. The mass uprising, which the North Korean leadership counted on, did not happen. However, by mid-August 90% of South Korea was occupied by its army.
On June 25, in New York there was called the UN Security Council. The main question on the agenda was the Korean conflict. The American representatives proposed their plans of actions. Some countries of the socialist community made a strong protest against the proposed actions of the United States. Other Western countries sided with the United States and provided military assistance to American troops, which were sent to the aid of South Korea. However, by August the Allied forces were pushed far to the south in the area of Busan. Despite the assistance from the UN, the U.S. and South Korean forces could not get out of the military encirclement. It seemed that with time it would not be difficult for the North Korean troops to take the entire Korean peninsula. However, Allied forces succeeded in the autumn offensive.
While the Army of the North was trying to break the resistance in Busan, the commander of the UN General Douglas MacArthur was preparing to turn the tide of the war. On September 15, 1950, he gave the order to begin a courageous attack from the sea to the western port of Inchon (Wainstock). The city was located deeply in the rear of the North. The purpose of American troops to land at Inchon was simple. The Americans and their allies wanted to interrupt supply lines and communications of the North. They also wanted to clamp the occupation forces between the parts that have landed at Inchon and that defended Busan. General MacArthur's plan was risky since the units needed to fight with huge waves, and the city was occupied by the troops of North Korea. The next day, Inchon was captured and landed troops broke through the defense of the North Korean army and launched an offensive in the direction of Seoul. After the liberation of Seoul, the Allies could stay at 38-1 parallel since the whole area of the South had already been freed. However, President Truman wanted there remained was only one the pro-Western and democratic order on the Korean peninsula after the war. Therefore, General MacArthur ordered to go on the offensive across the border. However, Truman, fearing a wider war, insisted that MacArthur left China alone (Wainstock). China saw the North Korea as a buffer state. Beijing warned that it would have gone to war if the allied troops had crossed the border of the North. However, these warnings were ignored.
China Enters the War
By the end of September, it became clear that the North Korean armed forces were routed and that the occupation of the Korean peninsula by the US-South Korean forces was only a matter of time. Eventually, there was made the decision for China to enter the War. It was an unexpected decision for the American government as it did not believe that China could enter the War. “The large-scale Chinese attacks came as a shock to the allied forces” (Stewart). Several times, Chinese forces made attempts to attack the South Korean army. The war turned into a new phase. By the end of December, the Allied forces retreated back to the 38th parallel. As Chinese troops launched a new offensive, the Allies were forced to retreat to Seoul by January 1951. Here, on the plains of South Korea, the UN troops were better prepared for defense (Stewart). After several months of fighting, the front line stretched around the 38th parallel.
By June 1951, the war reached a critical point. Despite heavy losses, each side had an army in a number of million people. Despite the preponderance of technical means, the United States and its allies were not able to achieve a decisive advantage. It became clear to both sides of the conflict that to achieve a military victory was impossible. It was necessary to begin negotiations in order to make peace on equal terms. On July 8, 1951, in Kaesong, there were started negotiations (Edwards). The aim of the UN forces was to restore the South Korea as it was before the war. Chinese command would like to implement a similar condition. Both sides reinforced their demands by bloody battles. Despite the bloody war, the final period of the war was characterized by a relatively small change in frontline and long periods of discussions about a possible end of the conflict. The negotiations were constantly frustrated due to different reasons. In January 1953, Dwight Eisenhower who openly opposed the war became a new president of the United States of America. Eisenhower told the communist forces that he was ready to use nuclear weapons as a last measure to stop the war. On July 27, 1953, there was signed a peaceful treaty. As a new border between two states, there was decided to use the front line. This area is still guarded by North Korea and the US-South Korean troops. This was followed by an operation of exchanging thousands of prisoners of war. The representatives of South Korea refused to sign the document. To this day, the peace treaty that formally completed a war has not been signed. On March 8, 2013, the North Korean government annulled the peace treaty with South Korea about nonaggression. As a result, the border between the two states is still in full combat readiness. “North Korea today said it had put its armed forces on full combat readiness in response to the start of annual military exercises by US and South Korean troops, raising tension on the divided peninsula” (The Independent).
Violence in the War
The Korean War was marked by serious human rights violations on both sides. Numerous witnesses confirm that the North Korean and South Korean troops often resorted to torture and executions of prisoners of war and killed wounded enemy soldiers. U.S. troops were ordered to kill all the people approaching their positions on the front line, even if they looked like civilians. The reason was that the North Korean soldiers often disguised as refugees and thus had the opportunity to launch unexpected attacks. However, in many cases there were killed many civilians. Sometimes, the number of victims reached several hundred. Northern troops carried out mass executions of civilians in captured villages. According to South Korean researchers, only during the capture of Seoul in 1950, there were killed tens of thousands of people (Goldstein). During the retreat, the northern and southern coalition carried out mass executions of prisoners who could not be evacuated. The murder of prisoners of war and wounded soldiers is contrary to the Geneva Convention and is a war crime. However, at that time, there were no agreements prohibiting murder among the civilian population of the enemy. There are many other cases of war crimes that occurred during the Korean conflict. However, now it is difficult to say something for sure.
Results of the War for Different Countries
The Korean War brought different results for countries, which were involved in it. The Korean War brought many damages to North and South Korea. It destroyed more than 80% of the industrial and transport infrastructure of both states, three-quarters of government agencies, about half of the total housing stock. After the war, the peninsula was divided into zones of the Soviet Union and the United States. The U.S. troops remained in South Korea as a peacekeeping force. During this war, there were killed many American soldiers. U.S. losses were lower than during the Vietnam campaign. However, one should keep in mind that the Korean War lasted for three years less than Vietnam War (Goldstein). After the end of the Korean War, it became obvious that American troops were not trained enough for battles. As a result, the U.S. increased its military budget. From the political point of view, the result of the Korean War was not very successful for the Soviet Union. There was not achieved the unification of the Korean peninsula under the socialist regime. Additionally, the Korean War accelerated the conclusion of a peace treaty between Japan and the U.S. It also accelerated the warming of relations between Germany and other Western countries.
The Korean War was the first armed conflict of the Cold War and was the prototype of many subsequent conflicts. It created a model of a local war when the two superpowers were fighting in a restricted area without the use of nuclear weapons. The Korean War brought the Cold War in a new, more acute phase of confrontation. In some way, it helped to escape the direct clash between superpowers such as the Soviet Union and the United States of America (Stueck). On the other hand, it again convinced the Western leaders that the communist regimes posed a serious threat to them. In general, this war completely divided the Korea into two parts and caused many deaths among the Korean population and soldiers.