The Korean WarA cry rang out, June 24, 1950, from a small country half way around the world and America listened.Korea was engaged in a civil war as an attempt to keep North Korea from thrusting its influence on South Korea.Communist Russia and China were strong supporters of the North, and to keep Communism contained the United States sent troops to the South.Our troops spent years fighting and dying for a country some had never heard of.The irony of this war is that no one really paid attention and its memory withered as well as the memory of the men who fought there.You may ask how this could’ve happened or how it all came about, and ,yes, there is an answer it just may be a little difficult to explain.
Korea’s geographical realties affected the conduct of war at the strategic, the operational, and the tactical level.It’s strategic location made it a collision point for competing interests of major power throughout the world.As far as the actual land mass, Korea is a country no larger than the state of Kansas.All together, North and South Korea covers an area of 85,246 square miles, and only fifteen percent of that can be considered plains – these are mostly in the southern coastal regions.The United States could not allow its interests in East Asia, particularly Japan, to be placed in jeopardy.It was not the nation of Korea per se but its geographical location that prompted America to intervene in the war.(Sommers, 3-10)
The United Nations was greatly concerned with the war in Korea, but it did not have a army to send.Thus, the United States Army made up four fifths of the actual forces sent to Korea.The bulk of the forces sent were placed under the command of General MacArthur.
One of the first attempts to drive the North Koreans back was a wise plan divised by MacArthur.He landed his forces from the sea at Inchon and worked his way up the coast.His gamble paid off when his army retook the South Korean capital of Seoul.After this victory the United States questioned whether they should stop at the 38th parallel or go beyond it and try to recapture North Korea.They decided to go on.After the 38th was crossed putting the US and South Korean forces in the North , China threatened to send troops in to defend North Korea.After many deliberations the United States decided to continue on.As they said they would, China stepped into the war and drove the Southerners back sixty miles below the 38th parallel, recapturing Seoul. (Boorstin and kelley, 723-726)
The war was a stalemate.No one side could get the upper hand.Some people questioned whether this would evolve into World War III.Peace negotiations seemed hopeless because the North refused to compromise and so they closed the negotiations.The United States had no choice but to use their last alternative.They threatened to bomb China and to use atomic bombs on Korea.These threats reopened the peace negotiations.
Three years, one month, and two days later the war ended.Cease-fire came at 10:00 P.M., and an armistice was signed by North Korea and the United Nations on July 27, 1953.(Boorstin and Kelley, 723-726)The Korean War was the first American war ever waged that was not fought for national survival, for territory, for Manifest Destiny, or for hegemony.This was also an ideological war.For the first time in the nations history Americans were asked to fight and die to contain an idea.
The Korea War ended in an ambiguous victory, that was purchased dearly.The United States spent sixty-seven billion dollars on this one war.With that amount of money we could have traveled to the moon and back two and a half times.(At the cost of our first excursion to the moon.)They war was also purchased with the blood of millions.Soldiers and civilians alike on both sides of the battle gave their lives for what they believed in and some had no idea what was going on until it was too late.China lost 967,000, and North Korea lost 624,000.(Knox, 6-8)The United States lost 54,000 soldiers and 8,000 were missing in action.Because we gained no territory in this fight we could not search for our men that had not made it home.In 1950, 3,200 United States soldiers were released from POW camps.The price was so high for this cause that all together 2 million men died, and 2.5 men were wounded.Not only this, but North and South Korea were left in ruins.(Deming, 68)
America was supported in its gallant effort, not only by its people but by the United Nations.Every member supported American arms for the first time, and possibly only time in its short history.The United Nations fulfilled the role envisioned for it by its founders: to stop aggression, by force if need be.(Knox, 10)
“Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”These are the words engraved on a marker at the Korean War Memorial.In 1995, sixty-thousand Korean War veterans gathered in Washington D.C. to watch President Clinton dedicate this memorial that honors – pride, valor, heroic sacrifice on behalf of freedom and democracy – are ideals largely unfamiliar to our generation.(Walsh, 5)It was placed in the grove beneath the Lincoln Memorial, across the reflecting pool from the Vietnam Wall.Nineteen large, steel statues of infantry men have been erected to give us a glimpse of what they endured.They look weary, as though they’ve been on too many patrols and climbed too many hills.Off to the side there is a wall of granite with hundreds of faces etched on it, faces taken form actual photographs of men and women who served in Korea.Their ghostly faces seem to say, “don’t forget us.” (Deming, 68)
To most Americans, Korea is a forgotten war.To many, it was unreal.If a friend or family member was not directly envolved the was might as well have been fought on the deserts of mars.Others felt that World War II was the last “good war” , and all other wars should be a source of shame.The only shame is the shame of those of us who were not involved should feel for having understood so poorly the sacrifices of the men who fought there.They were the men of many nations dragged into defending an idea of freedom, while other men went on with their daily lives.There is no such thing as a “good war”, but there are some wars that have to be fought. (Knox, 9)
In any case of war or peace we should never forget the men and women who give up their lives to keep our country or any other country free from oppression.In every branch of every service people have made a choice to defend our great nation and this is something we can take pride in.We are truly a lucky people.
1. Boorstin, Daniel J. and Kelley, Brooks Mather , A History of the UnitedStates, Prentice Hall, c 1992
2. Deming, Angus, “The Remembered War”, Newsweek , August 7, 1995, pg 68
3. Knox, Donald, The Korean War , Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers ,
4. Sommers Jr., Harry G. , Korean War Almanac , Facts on File , New York, NY c 1990
5. Toland, John , In Mortal Combat – Korea 1950-1953 , William Morrow and Company Inc. New York, NY c1991
6. Walsh, Catherine , America, August 26-September2, 1995 , pg 5