As of mid-April 2013, the gravest threat to readers in Japan, Korea, and the United States is Threat B1: War — specifically a second Korean War. This entry explains how the Korean situation began, the Korean War of 1950-53, and the situation today. The current situation on the peninsula is tense, and should this tension continue, the chances of a second Korean War will increase.
They called World War II “The Good War”. It was a war in which the people of the United States were reluctantly involved, but one that the majority of Americans felt was being fought for the right reasons, against the right enemies, and with a real prospect of victory and peace afterward.
The first Korean War, however, was no good war.
It happened this way: When World War II ended, the Japanese-occupied Korean peninsula was divided between two allied forces. (The Koreans were not consulted). United States forces took control of Korea south of latitude 38 °N, with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, aka the Soviet Union) occupying the peninsula north of that line. This is the famous “38th Parallel”.
The Soviets soon established a pet dictator in the North, Kim il Sung, and set up the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, aka North Korea). The US set up its own military government in the South. This puppet state soon became the Republic of Korea (ROK, aka South Korea) under the dictatorship of Syngman Rhee.
On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party drove the Nationalists out of the mainland and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Mao considered the United States to be China’s most dangerous enemy, and soon the Chinese began consulting closely with Kim il Sung about driving the Americans out of Korea. At the same time, Kim was plotting with the Soviets for aid as well.
Down south, Syngman Rhee had his own plans for unifying Korea under a single government.
Soviet troops pulled out of Korea in 1948; the US forces left in 1949. And so the two Koreas faced each other across the 38th Parallel, each hostile towards the other.
The war began on 25 June 1950 with a surprise attack, during which the North Korean forces steamrollered the U.S. and South Korean defenders. At the United Nations, the United States and other countries proposed a Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Korea. The UN met in emergency session, but the Soviet Union boycotted the Security Council vote, allowing the United States and other countries to pass a resolution authorizing UN military intervention in Korea. The US and twenty other countries of the United Nations formed an international force to counter the North Korean attack.
Meanwhile the North Koreans captured Seoul, pushed past it, and drove the allies back to a tiny, desperately-defended area around the port city of Pusan (known today as Busan). Outnumbered and outgunned, the allied forces died by inches on the Pusan Perimeter.
But help came in time. On 15 September 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN forces, made a surprise D-Day type landing at Inchon (now Incheon) behind the North Korean lines. At the same time the Pusan defenders, now greatly strengthened by reinforcements pouring in from Japan, broke out of the perimeter and drove north towards Seoul. Led by MacArthur’s US Army X Corps, UN forces then began a counter-offensive that pushed the North Koreans past the 38th Parallel almost to the Yalu River, Korea’s border with People’s Republic of China.
At this point politics intervened. MacArthur knew that the Chinese were supplying the North Koreans with food, ammunition, weapons and supplies, and strongly advised US president Harry Truman to attack the Chinese supply sources using nuclear weapons. Not wishing to expand the war to include China, Truman refused. A battle of words and wills ensued, ending when Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination.
But the Chinese were coming no matter what Truman did. Beginning on 1 November 1950 Chinese infantry and other forces emerged from the hills and entered the war on the side of North Korea. Chinese forces broke the UN line with mass “human wave” attacks, the pushed the allied forces back across the 38th Parallel.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was passing supplies to both the North Korean and Chinese armies.
The war ground to a stalemate in 1951. Two years of extremely bloody fighting followed resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths on all sides.
Then, at last, on 27 July 1953, an armistice agreement was signed restoring the border between the Koreas near the 38th Parallel. The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile-wide fortified buffer zone between the two, was established. The Chinese army and Russian “advisors” left North Korea. The UN forces departed from South Korea. The US Eighth Army and other American forces remained.
And they remain there today, along with South Korea’s own military forces. Why?
Because the Korean War never ended. The agreement signed in 1953 was not surrender. It was an armistice, a cease-fire. The North Koreans have never renounced their intention to unify all of Korea under their government. The shooting can start again at any moment.
And since this is the case, then it follows that a second Korean War — which would really be nothing more than a continuation of the first — can break out at any time. This is why the danger of a second Korean war is the greatest threat to our communities at the present time.
What would such a war entail? What would a new Korean war be like? And how could it affect you and your community? These questions will be addressed in our next chapter.
NEXT: If War Comes