One should not forget. . . that the earth is round and that "every
road leads to Rome." |
WALDEMAR ERFURTH, Surprise
Every now and then in the history of mankind, events of surpassing importance
take place in little-known areas of the earth. And men and women in countries
distant from those events whose lives turn into unexpected and unwanted
channels because of them can but wonder how it all happened to come about.
So it was with Korea in 1950. In this ancient land of high mountains and
sparkling streams the United Nations fought its first war.
For decades it has been axiomatic in Far Eastern politics that Russia,
China, and Japan could not be indifferent to what happened in Korea, and,
to the extent that they were able, each consistently has tried to shape
the destinies of that peninsula. For Korea lies at the point where the
Russian, Chinese, and Japanese spheres meet-the apex of the three great
power triangles in Asia. Korea, the ancient invasion route of Japan into
the Asian continent, in turn has always been the dagger thrust at Japan
Korea is a mountainous peninsula of the Asiatic land mass and has natural
water boundaries for almost the entire distance on all sides. The Yalu
and Tumen Rivers are on the north, the Sea of Japan on the east, the Korea
Strait on the south, and the Yellow Sea on the west. The only countries
of the Asiatic mainland having boundaries with Korea are China across the
Yalu and Tumen Rivers for 500 miles and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR) for a distance of approximately eleven miles along the lower reaches
of the Tumen River.
Korea embraces a little more than 85,000 square miles, is about the
size of Utah, and in shape resembles Florida. It has more than 5,400 miles
of coast line. High mountains come down abruptly to deep water on the east
where there are few harbors, but on the south and west a heavily indented
shoreline provides many. There is almost no tide on the east coast. On
the west coast at Inch'on the tidal reach of thirty-two feet is the second
highest in the world.
Korea varies between 90 and 500 miles in width and 525 to 600 miles
in length. The mountains are highest in the north, some reaching 8,500
The high Taebaek Range extends down the east coast dike a great spine,
gradually falling off in elevation to the south. Practically all of Korea
south of the narrow waist from P'yongyang to Wonsan slopes westward from
the high Taebaek Range. This determines the drainage basins and direction
of flow of all sizable rivers within Korea-generally to the southwest.
Only about 20 percent of Korea is arable land, most of it in the south
and west. But every little mountain valley throughout Korea is terraced,
irrigated, and cultivated. The principal food crops are rice, barley, and
soybeans, in that order. Most of the rice is raised in the south where
the warm and long growing season permits two crops a year. In 1950 the
country's population of about 30,000,000 was divided between 21,000,000
south and 9,000,000 north of the 38th-Parallel, with 70 percent engaged
in agriculture.  The population density of South Korea, 586 per square
mile, was one of the highest in the world for an agricultural people. Although
having less than one third of the population, North Korea in 1950 comprised
more than half (58 percent) the country.
Despite the fact that Korea has the sea on three sides, in climate it
is continental rather than oceanic. Summers are hot and humid with a monsoon
season generally lasting from June to September. In winter, cold winds
come from the interior of Asia.
The Hermit Kingdom or Chosen, the "Land of the Morning Calm,"
has an ancient history. Its recorded history begins shortly before the
time of Christ. An invasion from China, about one hundred years after the
beginning of the Christian era, established a Chinese influence that has
persisted to the present time. Many of China's cultural and technical advances,
however, were borrowed from early Korea.
In a short war of a few months' duration in 1894-1895, known as the
Sino-Japanese War, Japan ended Chinese political influence in Korea. Thereafter,
Russian ambitions in Manchuria clashed with Japanese ambitions in Korea.
This rivalry led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which ended with
Japan dominant in Korea. Despite the bitter opposition of the Korean people,
Japan proceeded step by step to absorb Korea within her empire and in 1910
annexed it as a colony. During World War II, in 1942, Korea became an integral
part of Japan and came under the control of the Home Ministry.
All the critical events which occurred in Korea after 1945 grew out
of the joint occupation of the country at the end of World War II by the
United States and the USSR. The boundary between the two occupation forces
was the 38th Parallel.
KOREA AND THE BACKGROUND OF CONFLICT
While all the influences operating on the decision to divide Korea for
purposes of accepting the surrender of the Japanese forces there at the
end of World War II cannot here be explored, it appears that American military
consideration of an army boundary line in Korea began at the Potsdam Conference
in July 1945. One day during the conference, General of the Army
George C. Marshall called in Lt. Gen. John E. Hull, then Chief of the Operations
Division, U.S. Army, and a member of the U.S. military delegation, and told
him to be prepared to move troops into Korea. General Hull and some of
his planning staff studied a map of Korea trying to decide where to draw
a line for an army boundary between U.S. and Soviet forces. They decided
that at least two major ports should be included in the U.S. zone. This
led to the decision to draw a line north of Seoul which would include the
port of Inch'on. Pusan, the chief port of Korea, was at the southeastern
tip of the country. This line north of Seoul, drawn at Potsdam by the military
planners, was not on the 38th Parallel but was near it and, generally,
along it. The American and Russian delegates, however, did not discuss
a proposed boundary in the military meetings of the Potsdam Conference.
The matter lay dormant, apparently, in the immense rush of events following
hard on the heels of the Potsdam Conference, which terminated 26 July-the
dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the first part of
August, the Russian declaration of war against Japan on 8 August, and the
Japanese offer of surrender on 1o August. The latter event brought the
question of a demarcation line in Korea to the fore. It was settled in
General Order 1, approved by President Harry S. Truman on 15 August 1945
and subsequently cleared with the British and Soviet Governments. It provided
that U.S. forces would receive the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea
south of the 38th Parallel; Soviet forces would receive the surrender of
Japanese forces north of the Parallel. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
issued General Order 1 on 2 September as the directive under which Japanese
forces throughout the Far East would surrender after the Japanese signed
the Instrument of Surrender that day at Tokyo Bay in obedience to the Imperial
Rescript by Emperor Hirohito.
It seems that the Soviet Army reached the 38th Parallel in Korea on
26 August. On 3 September, just as XXIV Corps was loading at Okinawa 600
miles away for its movement to Korea, Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, commander
of XXIV Corps and designated U.S. Commander in Korea, received a radio
message from Lt. Gen. Yoshio Kozuki, commander of the Japanese 17th
Area Army in Korea, reporting that Soviet forces had advanced south
of the 38th Parallel only in the Kaesong area. They evacuated the town
on 8 September, evidently in anticipation of an early American entry. 
Two weeks after he had accepted the surrender of the Japanese south
of the 38th Parallel in Seoul on 9 September 1945, General Hodge reported
to General MacArthur in Tokyo, "Dissatisfaction with the division
of the country grows." The 38th Parallel had nothing to commend it
as a military or political boundary. It crossed Korea at the country's widest part without respect
to terrain features; it came close to several important towns; and it cut
off the Ongjin Peninsula in the west from the rest of Korea south of the
For a few days at least after the American landing at Inch'on on 8 September
1945 the Koreans lived in a dream world. They thought this was the end
of fifty years of bondage and the beginning of an era of peace, plenty,
and freedom from interference by foreign peoples in their lives.
And for the Americans, too, who experienced those memorable September
days in Korea there was little at the moment to suggest the disillusionment
that onrushing events of the next few years would bring. A composite company,
made up of elements of each rifle company of the 7th Infantry Division,
paraded proudly and happily out of the courtyard at the Government House
in Seoul at the conclusion of the ceremonies attending the Japanese surrender.
The wide thoroughfare outside was so densely packed with the throng there
was scarcely room for it to pass. These men had fought across the Pacific
from Attu to Okinawa.  They thought that war was behind them for the
rest of their lives. Five years later this same division was to assault
this same capital city of Seoul where many of its men were to fall in the
In an effort to reunite the country and to end the ever-mounting hostilities
between the two parts of divided Korea, the General Assembly of the United
Nations in November 1947 voted to establish a nine-nation United Nations
Temporary Commission on Korea (UNCOK) to be present in Korea and to supervise
elections of representatives to a National Assembly which would establish
a national government. But the Soviet Union denied the U.N. Commission
permission to enter North Korea, thus preventing that part of the country
from participation in the free election.
South Korea held an election on 10 May 1948 under the auspices of the
United Nations, sending 200 representatives to the National Assembly. The
National Assembly held its first meeting on 31 May, and elected Syngman
Rhee Chairman. On 12 July the Assembly adopted the Constitution of the
Republic of Korea and formally proclaimed it the next day. Three days later
the Assembly elected Syngman Rhee President. On 15 August 1948 the government
of the Republic of Korea was formally inaugurated and the U.S. Army Military
Government in Korea terminated. President Rhee and General Hodge on 24
August signed an interim military agreement to be in effect until such
time as the United States withdrew its troops. The withdrawal of these
troops began about three weeks later on 15 September. The United States
recognized the new Republic of Korea on New Year's Day, 1949. Mr. John
J. Muccio, special representative of the United States to the new government
of South Korea since 12 August 1948, became the first U.S. Ambassador to
the Republic of Korea on 21 March 1949. 
Meanwhile, events in North Korea took a course which seems to have been
guided by a deliberately planned political purpose. On 10 July 1948 the
North Korean People's Council adopted a draft resolution and set 25 August
as the date for an election of members of the Supreme People's Assembly
of Korea. This assembly on 8 September adopted a constitution of the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea and, the next day, claimed for this government
jurisdiction over all Korea.  Kim Il Sung took office 10 September as
Premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Thus, three years after U.S. military authorities accepted the surrender
of the Japanese south of the 38th Parallel there were two Korean governments
in the land, each hostile to the other and each claiming jurisdiction over
the whole country. Behind North Korea stood the Soviet Union; behind South
Korea stood the United States and the U.N. Temporary Commission on Korea.
The General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 December 1948 recognized
the lawful nature of the government of the Republic of Korea and recommended
that the occupying powers withdraw their forces from Korea "as early
as practicable." Russia announced on 25 December that all her occupation
forces had left the country. But North Korea never allowed the U.N. Commission
to enter North Korea to verify this claim. On 23 March 1949 President Truman
approved the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops from Korea, a regiment
of the 7th Infantry Division. Ambassador Muccio notified the U.N. Commission
on 8 July 1949 that the United States had completed withdrawal of its forces
on 29 June and that the U.S. Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) had been deactivated
as of midnight 30 June. 
While these events were taking place, internal troubles increased in
South Korea. After the establishment of the Syngman Rhee government in
the summer of 1948, civil disorder spread below the 38th Parallel. There
began a campaign of internal disorders directed from North Korea designed
to overthrow the Rhee government and replace it by a Communist one. Armed
incidents along the 38th Parallel, in which both sides were the aggressors
and crossed the boundary, became frequent. 
North Korea did not stop at inciting revolt within South Korea and taking
military action against the border, it made threats as well against the
United Nations. On 14 October 1949 the Foreign Minister of North Korea
sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations denying the
legality of U.N. activity in Korea and declaring that the U.N. Commission
in Korea would be driven out of the country. Eight days later the General
Assembly of the United Nations decided to continue the Commission and charged
it with investigating matters that might lead to military action in Korea.  The United
Nations supplemented this action on 4 March 1950 by the Secretary General's
announcement that eight military observers would be assigned to observe
incidents along the 38th Parallel.
During the month there were rumors of an impending invasion of South
Korea and, in one week alone, 3-10 March, there occurred twenty-nine guerrilla
attacks in South Korea and eighteen incidents along the Parallel. 
Beginning in May 1950, incidents along the Parallel, and guerrilla activity
in the interior, dropped off sharply. It was the lull preceding the storm.
 Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Survey (NIS),
Korea, 1949, ch. 4, pp. 41-42, and ch. 6, pp. 61-66. Figures are from
 Interv, author with Gen John E. Hull, Vice CofS, USA, 1 Aug 52.
Dept of State Pub 4266, The Conflict in Korea, gives the diplomatic
and legal background of U.S. commitments on Korea. A detailed discussion
of the division of Korea at the 38th Parallel will be found in Lt. Col.
James F. Schnabel, Theater Command: June 1950-July 1951, a forthcoming
volume in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR. TERMINAL
Conference: Papers and Minutes of Meetings (July, 1945), U.S. Secy CCS,
1945, pp. 320-21 (hereafter cited, TERMINAL Conf: Papers and Min).
 GHQ FEC, History of U.S. Army Occupation in Korea, ch. IV, MS in OCMH
 The author witnessed this scene.
 text of agreement in Dept of State Pub 3305. Korea: 1945-1948, Annex
26, pp. 103-04: Ibid., Annex 23, pp. 100-101; George M. McCune, Korea
Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), p. 231. n. 25.
 Korea: 1945-1948, p. 21: McCune, Korea Today, p. 220.
 Lt Col Joseph Rockis, Notes on United States Occupation Force in
Korea, OCMH Files; The Conflict in Korea, pp. 7, 20; McCune, Korea
Today, pp. 267-68; Interv, author with Maj Gen Orlando Ward (CG US 6th
Inf Div in Korea 1948), 31 Jan 52.
 See Capt Robert K. Sawyer, The U.S. Military Advisory Group to the
Republic of Korea, pt. II, a monograph In the files of OCMH, for an
extended treatment of this subject. (Hereafter cited as Sawyer, KMAG
MS.) This MS is in three parts: I: 1 Sep 45-30 Jun 49; II: 1 Jul 49-24 Jun
50; III: 25 Jun-30 Jul 51.
 The Conflict in Korea, p. 21.
 DA Wkly Intel Rpts, 17 Mar 50, Nr 56, p. 14; U S. Military Advisory
Group, Semi-Annual Report to the Republic of Korea, 1 January-15 June
1950 (hereafter cited as Rpt, USMAG to ROK, 1 Jan-15 Jun 50), dec. IV,
Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation