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The Foundation of Freedom is the Courage of Ordinary People

History  Bert '53  On Line

After a year of bitter combat, the war in Korea lost momentum. By the first of July 1951, the war of movement had come to an end and a new, more static phase began. As the battle lines stabilized, the impetus for a political settlement of the conflict mounted. This shift in emphasis introduced a new set of values and changed the complexion of the fighting completely. For the rest of the war, battle was to be the handmaiden of policy rather than its consort.

The first year had been quite different. When the military forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea moved southward across the 38th Parallel in June 1950 the United Nations had supported the efforts of the Republic of Korea to halt the Communist invasion. The United States bore the brunt of the burden as the United Nations had first contained, then driven back the North Koreans in defeat. Only the entry of the Chinese Communists into the war in November had prevented the United Nations from attaining a clear-cut military victory as well as a potential political triumph in the unification of Korea.

But from this point on, the war had become more complicated. The expansion of the conflict to include Red China might also presage the entry of the Soviet Union at a future date. Political considerations increasingly overshadowed the battleground as the Chinese Communists forced the U.N. units to draw back of the 38th Parallel. To defeat the North Korean forces had been one thing; the immense manpower reserves of China and possibly the Soviet Union were another. After U.N. counterattacks had pushed the Communists back to the general area of the 38th Parallel, the prospects for a military victory for either side without a tremendous expenditure of lives and materiel became evanescent. The time for a reappraisal had arrived.

There could be little doubt that the outbreak in Korea was but a segment of the larger contest between the Soviet Union and the United States. The major question revolved about the importance of that segment. Was Korea simply a local test of power, a part of the continuous Communist probing for soft spots that could be easily brought under control by direct action? Or could it become something more serious-the first step toward World War III if the Soviet Union felt her basic interests threatened by a setback in Korea? The search for an answer to this problem was to plague the United States and her allies throughout the war and to exert a profound influence on the direction of political and military affairs.

The Battleground

Before the war broke out in mid-1950, few people in the Western World either knew or cared to know a great deal about Korea or its people. Under the impact of war, knowledge became essential. Old books on the subject were dusted and new ones were quickly rushed to the printers. Maps of Korea filled the newspapers and slowly some of the strange-sounding names became familiar to the man on the street. The candle of indifference was replaced by the searchlight of interest as Korean geography and history assumed new importance.

Korea shares a long, common frontier with Manchuria along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers and touches the Soviet Union at the mouth of the Tumen. From the northernmost bend of the Tumen, Korea extends some 600 miles to the southern tip of the peninsula with a width varying from slightly over 100 miles at the waist to approximately 220 miles at its broadest part. The dominant feature of the topography is the mountainous Taebaek chain covering northeastern Korea and running south along the eastern coast. As one observer has remarked: "There is no spot in the country in which a mountain does not form a part of the landscape."1 The mountain slopes dip sharply down to the sea in the east, but are more gentle in the west. Roads, railroads, and the communications network follow the valleys and mountain passes in the broken terrain.

Korea is an agricultural country raising most of its dry crops in the north and the bulk of its rice in the south. The majority of its heavy industry and hydroelectric development is located in the north. Average precipitation and mean temperatures are similar to those in the Middle Atlantic States of the United States, but the winters are much colder and over 80 percent of the rainfall is concentrated in the seven months between April and October. Floods are fairly frequent during this period.

With such a long salt-water frontier, fishing villages dot the coast of Korea. Ironically, the best ports are on the southern and western coasts, where tidal variations are more extreme. There are few good harbors on the Sea of Japan which has a tidal range of only about three feet.

Located at the strategic crossroads of east Asia, Korea has had a long and checkered history. For many centuries the peninsula experienced a series of petty wars between rival powers seeking to establish hegemony. Finally, during the seventh century, the kingdom of Silla managed with Chinese aid to gain control of most of Korea. The influence of Chinese civilization at this time brought about Korean acceptance of the Confucian system of social relationships and left a lasting imprint upon Korean ethics, morals, arts, and literature. Despite invasions of barbarian hordes during succeeding centuries, Korea remained faithful on the whole to its father-son relationship with China and regarded itself as inferior to its mentor.2


When the Western nations attempted to establish commercial relations with Korea in the mid-nineteenth century, they encountered a steadfast resistance to any contacts with foreigners. Unfamiliar with the Confucian tradition, which placed Korea in the position of a son or younger brother to China, the West misinterpreted the relationship and considered it a vassal state to China. But China disclaimed suzerainty over Korea and the Japanese later used this admission in their efforts to detach Korea completely from China.

Japan, whose interest in Korea had covered many centuries, understood the Confucian relationship perfectly, yet its desire to extend the Japanese Empire and to secure its flanks led to economic penetration of Korea in 1876. By applying pressure on the Chinese, Japan secured a commercial treaty that opened some of Korea's ports.

Six years later the United States also concluded a treaty of peace, amity, commerce, and navigation with Korea. As a result of this agreement the United States sent its first military assistance group to Korea in 1888, when several military instructors were dispatched to train the Korean Army. By introducing U.S. participation in the opening of Korea, the able Chinese statesman, Li Hung-chang, sought to balance Japanese political aims with American commercial interest.

As Li attempted to strengthen China's position in Korea from 1885 to 1894, he clashed directly with the Japanese and the rivalry erupted into war. The Japanese emerged victorious, and by the treaty of 1895 Korea was completely cut off from the old familiar ties with China. Clumsily Japan tried to adopt the orphan, but Japanese intrigue miscued in 1896 when the Korean queen, who opposed Japanese control, was murdered. Popular reaction in Korea forced the Japanese to desist for the time being and the Korean king turned to the Russians to neutralize Japanese influence.

The Russians proved to be as inept as the Japanese as they quickly tried to secure valuable mining, lumber, and commercial concessions. Thus, when the Russian representatives inadvertently gave the king a chance to dispense with further Russian assistance in 1898, the latter, much to the discomfort of the Russians, eagerly seized his opportunity.

Although both Russia and Japan were temporarily checked in their plans for gaining the favored position in Korea, they watched each other jealously for the next few years. Finally in 1904 the Japanese decided to halt Russian maneuvering in Manchuria and Korea. The Russo-Japanese War ended with another Japanese triumph and this time they were determined not to lose the prize. Japanese administrators, officials, and police moved into Korea and gradually increased their control. Japanese diplomats negotiated successfully for British and American acceptance of their special interests in Korea. The Taft-Katsura agreement of 1905 traded U.S. acquiescence to Japanese suzerainty over Korea for Japanese denial of aggressive designs upon the Philippines. When formal annexation of Korea by the Japanese occurred in 1910, there was little protest except from the Koreans themselves.

During the next thirty-five years, Korea became a Japanese colony. There were several Korean attempts at rebellion, but the Japanese swiftly suppressed


any opposition and tightened their control. Japanese officials and spies blanketed the peninsula and helped the Japanese police maintain strict order. In the meantime they exploited the country economically and attempted to assimilate it culturally. They modernized the industrial and communications system of Korea considerably. When World War II began, Korea became an armed camp and an important part of the Japanese war base.

In late 1943, Korean patriots received their first words of outside encouragement. In the Cairo Declaration of 1 December, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China issued the following statement: "The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent."3

The patriots might have been a little less enthusiastic if they could have listened to the conversation of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Joseph V. Stalin of the Soviet Union at Yalta in February 1945. In discussing a possible four-power trusteeship for Korea in the postwar period, Roosevelt stated that he thought it would take twenty to thirty years before Korea was ready for complete independence. The Soviet leader hoped it would take less time, but he was pleased that the President felt that no foreign troops should be stationed in the liberated country.4

When the Soviet Union later declared war upon Japan in August 1945, it adhered to the Potsdam Declaration of 28 July 1945 and joined the United States, the United Kingdom, and China in supporting the independence of Korea "in due course."5

During the hectic days of early August 1945, the necessity for a quick decision on the division of responsibility for accepting the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea became pressing. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th of August and Russia's entry into the war on the 8th proved to be the final straw that broke Japan's back. But while the Japanese were negotiating, the Russians prepared to invade Korea. The situation called for immediate action and U.S. War Department planners suggested the 38th Parallel of north latitude as an arbitrary dividing line of operations. The Americans would receive the surrender of Japanese forces south of the parallel and the Russians would have the same responsibility to the north.6

By 14 August, the Army recommendation had been approved by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) , the State Department, and, finally, by President Harry S. Truman. The next day, the President proposed to Marshal Stalin that the 38th Parallel be accepted as the demarcation line between the American and Russian operational zones of responsibility. On 16 August Stalin agreed and orders were issued to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Forces, Pacific, containing detailed instructions on procedures and arrangements for receiving the surrender and including the provision concerning the 38th Parallel.

With Russian forces already advancing into Korea and American troops still some six hundred miles away on Okinawa, the 38th Parallel seemed to be an advantageous line for the latter. Without the zonal agreement, there was a distinct possibility that the Russians could occupy all of Korea before American soldiers could reach the peninsula. There was no intention on the part of the Americans that the 38th Parallel should serve any purpose other than as a temporary line of convenience. The development of the line into a permanent wall came later.

The line of division was arbitrary. It cut across roads, rivers, and railroads willy-nilly and separated the primarily agricultural south from the more industrialized north. There were about 16,000,000 people in the 37,000 square miles of the southern zone and 9,000,000 in the 48,000 square miles to the north. As for regional differences, there were shades of the American Civil War period. The North Korean "Yankee" was more likely to be independent and hard working and to own his own farm, while the "Southerner" was apt to be more tractable and a tenant farmer. The "Southerners" looked down upon their northern countrymen as unpolished troublemakers and the North Koreans viewed their southern neighbors as lazy rascals.7

These regional prejudices, under normal conditions, might not have amounted to a great deal, since they exist to some degree in most countries. Unfortunately for Korea, the conditions that developed after the end of World War II were not normal. The collapse of the Axis nations brought an inevitable shifting of the balance of international power. A divergence between American and Soviet policies had appeared even before the defeat of their common enemies and the temporary relief from tension that the end of a war usually brings did not follow World War II Instead, a period of mounting pressure began during which the basic conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States became more and more apparent. In the contest of these titans, Korea was but one of the prizes.

The Ideological Conflict, 1945-50

When the first U.S. troops arrived at Seoul in early September 1945, Korean civil affairs were in a state of complete confusion. With the country in dire need of assistance- economic, financial, administrative, and political- the American military commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, decided to retain many of the Japanese officials temporarily to provide order and continuity in the period of the transfer of power. In time, he felt, they could be gradually replaced by American civil affairs officers or by newly trained Koreans.

A quick storm of protest arose from the politically minded Koreans. After forty years of subjugation, they wanted all of the Japanese removed and sent home as soon as possible. The excitement generated by the prospects of independence would brook no halfway measures at this point and General Hodge was forced to speed up the process of replacing and repatriating the Japanese officials. This successful use of political pressure upon the American military leaders established a pattern that the Koreans would skillfully repeat many times in the years ahead.

With the removal of the Japanese under way, the American occupation forces created a small Korean constabulary, armed with Japanese small arms and rifles to preserve internal order. Dozens of political parties had sprung up overnight and each claimed to have the support of the majority of the people. Demonstrations and altercations between the partisans became common in South Korea as the rival factions strove for improved positions.8 But General Hodge soon became convinced that none of the political parties had either the broad support that it claimed or the political experience necessary for assuming the tremendous task of rehabilitating Korea. He steadfastly opposed the recognition of any provisional government for Korea at that time.

The problem of channeling the mounting Korean nationalism into productive areas was made increasingly difficult by the failure of the Russians to remove the artificial barrier imposed at the 38th Parallel. Efforts at the military level to dispose of the political wall proved unavailing and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes finally took up the matter directly with the Soviet Union. At the meeting of the Foreign Ministers at Moscow in December 1945, he and Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav M. Molotov agreed to establish a joint commission to consult with Korean democratic parties and social organizations on the formation of a provisional government. The commission would also submit proposals for putting into effect a four-power trusteeship over Korea for a period of up to five years.9

The reaction of most of South Korea's political parties to the concept of trusteeship was violent. With the scent of independence in the air, they were firmly opposed to five more years of foreign control. But their vehement protests succeeded only in providing the Soviet Union with a political weapon. When the Joint Commission met in March 1946, the Soviet representatives stated that they would not consult with any parties or organizations that had opposed the idea of trusteeship. Since this would have eliminated all of South Korea's important political parties, except for the Communists, the United States refused to accept the Soviet interpretation and the meetings adjourned sine die in May.10

In the meantime, the Russians built up the Communist Party organization in North Korea and brought in an exiled Korean Communist, who called himself Kim Il Sung after a former guerrilla hero, to assume the leadership in late 1945. With the facade of a native government, the Soviet Union carried out its program and by mid-1946 had managed to withdraw all but 10,000 of its troops from Korea.

The split between the north and the south became more permanent as later efforts of General Hodge to negotiate with the Soviet commander in Korea were ignored. As the north became more oriented toward the Soviet Union politically, economically, and militarily, the south tended to depend increasingly upon the United States for assistance. As President Truman pointed out in July 1946, Korea had become "an ideological battleground upon which our entire success in Asia may depend." 11

With both of the great powers pursuing their own goals in Korea and elsewhere, the prospects for unification grew more remote. The United States began to concentrate to a greater extent on establishing sound economic and fiscal policies and the formation of a trained civil administration in South Korea. And looking ahead to the future, the problem of creating a defense force came in for more detailed study. By November 1946 the native constabulary had been expanded to 5,000 and the basis for a South Korean army had been laid.

Secretary of State George C. Marshall made another effort to come to terms with the Russians in the spring of 1947 and succeeded in obtaining a reconvening of the joint Commission in May. But, after a promising start, the meetings foundered once more on the exclusion of political parties opposed to trusteeship.

Faced with the possibility of another long impasse, the United States decided to place the Korean question before the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 1947. The lack of agreement with the Soviet Union posed the alternatives of either continuing the occupation of southern Korea indefinitely- a course becoming more unpopular in the United States and offering a mounting of the tensions between the South Koreans and the occupation force- or of withdrawal. The United States balked at the latter action, for weakness in Korea would probably have adverse repercussions in the Far East, especially in Japan and China. The United Nations offered another recourse.

The Soviet Union tried to forestall the United States by proposing that all troops be withdrawn from Korea in early 1948, but the Americans refused to be diverted. After some discussion, the General Assembly approved in principle the U.S. resolution calling for over-all elections in early 1948 under U.N. observation, to be followed by the withdrawal of foreign troops after a legal government was formed. The Soviet Union served notice that it would neither permit U.N. observers to enter the North Korean zone nor would it consent to general elections.

While a U.N. commission investigated conditions in South Korea, the United States began to increase the Korean constabulary in preparation for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.12 The Joint Chiefs of Staff had authorized an expansion of the police force to 50,000 men, equipped with light and heavy weapons, and provided for additional U.S. officers and men to train them.

After the U.N. commission completed its inquiry in February 1948, it recommended that elections be held in as much of Korea as possible by May. The General Assembly quickly approved the commission's proposals and General Hodge made the arrangements for the elections. On 10 May over 92 percent of the registered voters in South Korea went to the polls and selected their representatives to a National Assembly. A constitution was soon drawn up and adopted and Syngman Rhee was chosen the first President of the Republic of Korea on 15 August 1948.

The Communists in North Korea had carried on a vigorous campaign opposing the elections in South Korea, but the failure of their attempt necessitated another approach. On 9 September they established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which claimed jurisdiction over all Korea. The Soviet Union and its satellites swiftly recognized the new government and the USSR announced that all Soviet troops would be withdrawn from Korea by the end of the year.

Despite the willingness of the U.S. Army to match the Soviet plan and withdraw its forces from Korea, neither President Rhee nor the State Department desired such quick action. They doubted the ability of the new South Korean Army to maintain internal security and deter Communist aggression. Besides, the U.S. Army had agreed to remain until the South Korean security forces could be trained and equipped. Thus, at the end of 1948 some 16,000 American soldiers still were stationed in Korea.13

The occupation of Korea was drawing to a close, however, for the U.S. Army desired to do away with this commitment. It saw little strategic value in Korea and wanted to use the troops located there in other areas. General MacArthur believed that U.S. forces would be dissipated in any large-scale Communist attack on Korea. Furthermore, budgetary limitations dictated that the Army withdraw by the end of June.

In March 1949, the United States agreed to support a South Korean Army of 65,000 to meet some of the misgivings of President Rhee. And when American forces were withdrawn on 30 June, the Provisional Military Advisory Group set up in August 1948 to train the South Korean Army was redesignated the U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea (KMAG). About 500 officers and men were included in the group that was to complete the instruction of the South Korean military forces.14

KMAG faced a difficult situation. For though the United States wanted the new army to be able to repel Communist aggression, it did not intend to make it powerful enough to launch any attack upon North Korea. Therefore, when equipment was assigned to the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA), tanks, heavy guns, and aircraft were withheld. Even the equipment allocated to the ROKA was slow in arriving. Thus, despite expansion of the ROKA to 100,000 men in 1950, its arms and equipment were more suitable to a police force than to an army. KMAG decided to train the South Koreans in individual arms first and some progress was made along this line.

In the field of leadership for the ROKA, the task proved less easy. Political appointments were customary and resulted in weak military leadership. In addition there were language barriers to be overcome and a constant struggle to secure training time for the eight South Korean divisions that had been organized. Guerrilla activity demanded their use in stamping out centers of Communist and bandit resistance in South Korea. On the whole, the ROKA had made a beginning by mid-1950, but was far from being a well-trained or wellequipped force.

Across the 38th Parallel the Russians had fashioned a more potent force. Leavened with Korean veterans of the Chinese civil war, the North Korean Army had grown to 135,000 men by June 1950 and included some heavy arms and equipment. Not only did the Communists have heavy artillery, armor, and planes but they were also better trained.

Border clashes broke out along the parallel during early 1950 and Communist political propaganda in South Korea mounted. After the elections of May 1950 in South Korea failed to strengthen their cause, the Communists decided upon sterner action. They demanded new elections, to establish a legislative body for all Korea with unification under the Communists as the objective. When the South Koreans refused to accept their proposals, the Communists launched a full-scale attack on 25 June 1950 across the Parallel.

The First Year, 1950-51

The United States reacted swiftly to the North Korean invasion and immediately presented the problem to the United Nations. Within hours of the attack the U.N. Security Council demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces back to the 38th Parallel.15 When the North Koreans continued to advance, the Security Council passed a resolution on 27 June urging U.N. members to provide military assistance to South Korea. President Truman quickly ordered General MacArthur to send air and naval forces to aid the ROK troops and when these proved insufficient to halt the fastmoving Communist battle forces, the President instructed MacArthur to commit U.S. ground units, too.16

Since other members of the United Nations indicated that they intended to send contingents to Korea, the U.N. Security Council asked the United States to form a unified command and appoint a commander. President Truman accepted the responsibility of American leadership and named MacArthur as the first U.N. commander. MacArthur would receive his instructions through the Army Chief of Staff, acting as executive agent for the joint Chiefs of Staff.17 The U.N. commander appointed Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker and his Eighth Army to take charge of all U.N. ground forces in Korea. President Rhee later placed the ROK Army units under General Walker.

Although the United Nations sought to bolster the South Korean cause, the war proceeded at a disastrous pace. Taking full advantage of surprise and superior troops, the North Korean Army overran the ROK defenses at the 38th Parallel and reached Seoul in four days. The South Korean forces fell back, broken and disorganized. To slow down the victorious advance of the North Koreans, General MacArthur was forced to commit his major ground units on a piecemeal basis and trade space for time. Finally, the U.S. and ROK defensive lines were driven back to a narrow perimeter around the port of Pusan in the southeastern corner of the peninsula.

As the battle lines stabilized along the Pusan Perimeter, the initial advantage of the North Koreans passed. They had counted upon overwhelming ROK resistance and securing control of all of South Korea before American aid could become effective. The extension of the conflict exposed their own weaknesses. Their longer lines of supply and communication became more vulnerable to U.N. air attack and their small navy was destroyed by the U.S. naval forces which imposed a blockade on the Korean coast. With the arrival of U.S. reinforcements and the reorganization of ROK troops into effective combat units, MacArthur was able to plan a counterattack.

Leaving Walker to carry out a co-ordinated ground attack upon the perimeter, MacArthur organized a separate corps, the U.S. X, for an amphibious assault behind the North Korean lines. In mid-September, Army and Marine forces landed at Inch'on and quickly recaptured Seoul. The Eighth Army broke through the North Korean ring and raced north to link up with the amphibious attack. With their rear threatened, the Communists fell back behind the 38th Parallel as best they could-defeated but still resisting.

The status quo was restored but was that enough? The North Koreans could reorganize and try again. Now seemed to be the propitious moment to destroy the enemy army and unify Korea. Prompted by the United States, the United Nations gave tacit approval in early October and the U.N. forces pushed northward against token resistance. The goal became military victory and political unification rather than repelling aggression and restoring the old situation. So quickly had the modest aims of June been expanded by the heady successes of September.

With triumph on the horizon, the Eighth Army rolled ahead toward the Yalu and the X Corps made another amphibious landing on the east coast. The war appeared to be just about over when reports of Chinese troops in Korea were confirmed at the end of October. After a brief moment of doubt, MacArthur decided to continue the advance to the Yalu. The Chinese reaction to MacArthur's move was swift and violent as they launched strong attacks that halted and then turned back the U.N. forces. By December they had followed the withdrawing Eighth Army south of the 38th Parallel and in early January they retook Seoul. With the precipitous transformation of victory into a galling reverse, a thorough reappraisal of the situation appeared mandatory.

The U.N. Command (UNC) had gambled, even as the North Koreans had initially, on concluding the war before the Russians or Chinese could intervene effectively while hoping that they would not intervene at all. And like the North Koreans, the U.N. Command forfeited its wager, as the Chinese recouped the Communist losses. Combining Confucian concepts with Communist dialectic, the Chinese appeared to be reasserting their ancient role of father-elder brother to Korea and after a lapse of fifty-five years again assumed a dominant part in determining the destiny of Korea.18

The entry of the Communist Chinese into the war and the retreat of the UNC forces led to a resurgence of domestic and Congressional pressure upon President Truman to use atomic weapons in Korea to attain military victory. Earlier the President had told the press on 27 July that he was not even considering the use of atomic bombs in Korea.19 The fact that the Soviet Union had exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949 and broken the U.S. monopoly may have had some influence upon this decision, but it is just as possible that the fluid nature of the war and the moral implications of using the terrible weapon again may also have served as deterrents.20 At any rate, the pressure had eased as the UNC forces had gained the ascendancy and it was not until late November that the Chinese threat gave it fresh impetus. The President, however, declared in a press conference on 30 November that although the use of all weapons at the United States' disposal, including the atom bomb, had been considered, he did not want to see the bomb employed on innocent people who had nothing to do with military aggression.21

Haberdasher Harry

Haberdasher Harry

The continued reluctance of the President to use the bomb in Korea unless it was absolutely necessary was strongly bolstered by the obvious disinclination of its principal allies- Great Britain and France- to risk a possible broadening of the war that the introduction of atomic bombs might have produced. Unless circumstances changed radically, it appeared that atomic weapons would be kept in reserve.

Marshall and General Matthew B. Ridgway

By mid-January 1951, the tempo of the war slackened. The Chinese had outdistanced their suppliers and began to suffer heavier casualties. Under a new commander, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, the Eighth Army stiffened and struck back at the enemy.22 But the question of military victory was no longer dominant. China's immense manpower potentialities presented the prospect of a long, costly, and expanded war that none of the United Nations desired. Little could be expected in the way of U.N. reinforcements, since most of the contributing countries had other commitments. Without sizable increments the possibility of defeating China appeared forlorn. As the battle lines became more stable, the United Nations started to look upon a negotiated settlement of the Korean problem as the best method of ending the war.

The initial approach of the United Nations to the Peiping government on arranging a cease-fire met with no encouragement. General Ridgway soon provided the United Nations with a more potent persuader. Moving forward cautiously, the Eighth Army ad vanced for the second time toward the 38th Parallel inflicting heavy losses upon the Communist troops. Seoul was taken again in March and constant pressure was applied upon the Communist forces. As the U.N. troops edged closer to the old boundary line, resistance stiffened. But the general situation had improved in favor of the United Nations.

While the Eighth Army was pressing forward, General MacArthur was relieved of the U.N. command by the President.23 Since the entry of the Chinese into the war, MacArthur had voiced deep differences of opinion with the President, his advisors, and the U.N. members participating in Korea over the conduct of the war. In April, President Truman decided to replace MacArthur with Ridgway; Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet became Eighth Army commander.

Communist counterattacks in late April and May were repulsed, but the United States was inclined to proceed cautiously. The JCS withheld permission for any general advance by Ridgway without its approval. Although the U.N. commander still had the mission of destroying the Communist armed forces in Korea, he was instructed to accomplish this objective subject to the overriding considerations of the security of his forces and his basic mission of defending Japan. On the other hand, he was authorized to conduct limited tactical operations that might be desirable to insure the safety of his command, maintain contact with the enemy, and keep the latter off balance.24 The Eighth Army would repel aggression and inflict maximum personnel losses upon the Communist forces. By this line of resistance the United States hoped to make further Communist efforts to advance in Korea too costly and to induce them to consider negotiation as an alternative. With the Eighth Army ensconced north of the 38th Parallel for the most part, Van Fleet shifted to the defensive in mid-June.

General Val Fleet

Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet

The cycle was now complete. The United States had returned to the same position it had held so uncomfortably in 1947-48. It wanted very much to end the Korean commitment, but could not withdraw without an unacceptable loss of face both at home and abroad. The American public was not accustomed to entering into a fight with the current international bully and then not giving him a decisive beating. A stalemate or draw might not be popular in the United States, yet the alternative would probably be even less agreeable. To drive the Communists out of North Korea might entail the bombing of the Chinese mainland and the blockade of the Chinese coast with large expenditures of men and materiel and could lead to the possible outbreak of a global war with Soviet participation. In addition, the allies of the United States in the Korean conflict were strongly opposed to another large-scale effort to settle the war militarily. Although they recognized the value of Korea as a symbol of resistance to Communist encroachment, they had other problems and commitments to take into consideration. The European powers were concerned over Soviet capabilities on the European continent. While the Soviet Union and its satellites retained the power to ignite brush fires around the world, deep involvement in Korea seemed unwise. They had gone along with the United States in the endeavor by MacArthur to settle the Korean problem on the battlefield in the hope that this would end the troublesome affair quickly. With the reversal in North Korea fresh in their minds, it was not surprising that they displayed little enthusiasm for a second attempt. Only the Republic of Korea was anxious to prosecute the war energetically to a successful conclusion, but, without the assistance of the United States, it lacked the power. The United States might have provided the power, but the prize did not seem to justify the effort or the risks. The Korean War had already had an unfortunate effect in delaying the build-up of the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by which the United States hoped to strengthen its defensive position vis-a-vis the USSR. To seek military victory now might result in further postponement in strengthening the West's defense in Europe besides incurring prohibitive expenditure of lives and money and the risk of World War III. Discretion appeared the better part of valor at this point and a negotiated settlement preferable to military decision.


1 E. de Schweinitz Brunner, quoted in Andrew J. Grajdanzev, Modern Korea (New York: The John Day Company, 1944) , p. 9.

2 An excellent account of early Korean history and the Confucian system of association of nations may be found in M. Frederick Nelson, Korea and the Old Orders in Eastern Asia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1946) .

3 Department of State, In Quest of Peace and Security: Selected Documents on American Foreign Policy, 1941-51 (Washington, 1951) p.10

4 Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945 (Washington, 1955), p. 800.

5 Department of State, The Conflict in Korea (Washington, 1951), p. 2

6 For a detailed study of the decision to use the 38th Parallel as a dividing line, see Paul C. McGrath, The 38th Parallel Division. MS in OCMH.

7 George M. McCune with Arthur L. Gray, Jr., Korea Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), pp. 58-59.

8 For the sake of convenience the American zone of occupation and the later Republic of Korea (ROK) will be referred to as South Korea and the Russian zone of occupation and the later Democratic People's Republic of Korea will be referred to as North Korea.

9 Department of State. Korea's Independence (Washington, 1947), pp. 18-19.

10 Ibid., pp. 4-5.

11 Ltr, Truman to Edwin S. Pauley, 16 Jul 46, in S/W Korea.

12 A short account of the problems of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea may be found in Department of State, Korea, 1945 to 1948 (Washington, 1948), pp. 10ff.

13 For a good short account of the U.S. Army in Korea from 1945-50, see Lt. Col. James F. Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year, a forthcoming volume in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR, Chapter II.

14 See Major Robert K. Sawyer, Military Advisors in Korea: KMAG in Peace and War (Washington, 1962) for a detailed account of the U.S. advisory group and its work.

15 The Soviet member was absent from the Security Council in protest against the continuance of a Nationalist Chinese representative on the council instead of a Communist Chinese.

16 The complete account of these events and the plans and operations of the first year of the war will be found in: (1) Roy E. Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (Washington, 1961); (2) Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year; and (3) Billy C. Mossman, Ebb and Flow. All in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR. The last two are in preparation.

17 The Joint Chiefs of Staff consisted of General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, Chairman General J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, Chief of Naval Operations, and General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff.

18 For an absorbing account of the development of Chinese interest in the Korean War and the Chinese decision to enter the conflict, see Allen S. Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu: The Decision to Enter the Korean War (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960). Whiting maintains that the North Korean attack was planned and directed by the Soviet Union and that although Communist China was probably informed of the plan late in 1949 or early in 1950, it had no direct responsibility for its initiation or outcome.

19 New York Times, July 28, 1950.

20 The influential Bulletin of Atomic Scientists maintained in an editorial on 24 July 1950 that the atom bomb would be utterly useless in Korea since the destruction of the North Korean capital, for example, would not destroy the fighting capacity of the enemy's army.

21 New York Times, 1, 1950.

22 General Walker was killed in an accident in December.

23 A full account of the relief of MacArthur will be found in Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year. The Senate investigation of this action is covered in Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Services and Committee on Foreign Relations, 82d Congress, 1st Session, Military Situation in the Far East, 1951, Parts 1-5.

24 Msg, JCS 90000, JCS to CINCFE, 1 May 51.

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