The Korean War


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U.S. Marines Make an Amphibious Landing at Inchon During the Korean War

Mariines at Inchon Korea

North Korea FlagSouth Korea Flag
The Korean War


ALTERNATE NAMES: "The Forgotten War"


North Korea & China
South Korea & The United Nations ( United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, Turkey, Greece, India, Belgium, Colombia, Ethiopia, Holland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand)


BEGAN: June 25, 1950

ENDED: July , 1953



PREDECESSOR: Korean Resistance to Japanese Occupation, World War 2

CONCURRENT: The Cold War, The First Indochina War, China-Taiwan Cold War

SUCCESSOR: Ongoing Korean Border Battles and Incidents

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The Korean War was the first major military conflict of the Cold War between the Western powers and the Communist nations in the years following World War Two. The war lasted three years, cost millions of lives, devastated both North and South Korea, and actually continues to this day as the military conflict concluded with a truce, not an actual peace treaty. The Korean War involved all of the major powers of the 1950s: The United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia (the Soviet Union), as well as the relatively new United Nations. The war in Korea was just one of several major conflicts pitting the Western powers against Communist forces, but this was the only one at the time that carried the potential for escalating into a Third World War. Such a world war could easily have become a nuclear conflict as both the U.S. and Soviet Union possessed atomic weapons.

Background to the Korean War

The Japanese Empire had ruled Korea from 1895 to the end of World War Two in 1945. Following the Japanese surrender to the Allies, Korea was occupied by both Soviet and American forces. Though the original agreement between the Americans and Soviets had been to unite the two occupied halves of Korea, both occupying powers set up rival government in the areas under their control. In the north, the Soviets set up a Communist regime led by a Korean-born former Soviet soldier named Kim Il-Sung. In the south, the Americans set up a Western-style democratic government in 1948 led by President Syngman Rhee.

One reason the two rival governments were set up was due to the growing Cold War between the United States and other Western nations on one side, and the Communist Soviet Union and other Communist nations on the other side. Though negotiations were held on the possibility of reunification, North Korea sponsored a low-level insurgency in South Korea and engaged in border skirmishes along the 38th Parallel, which formed the North-South border.

The Communist dictatorship in North Korea was built on the Russian Stalinist model; no political freedom, no religious freedom, no private ownership of property, and total control held by the Communist Party. The Soviets set up North Korea with a ready-made veteran military, bringing in Korean units that had served in the Soviet Union during World War Two and units of the Chinese Communist forces made up of ethnic Koreans. These China-based units had extensive combat experience fighting against both the Japanese (1937-1945) and against the Nationalist Chinese forces of the Chinese government in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949).

In the South, the United States set up a government based on the Western-style democratic model, and built up a South Korean military force. The U.S. ended its occupation of South Korea in 1948. Tensions between North and South Korea escalated throughout 1949 and the first part of 1950. In January, 1950, the United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, gave a speech at the National Press Club in which he described America's "defense perimeter" in the Pacific and Far East. In his remarks, he included Japan and the Nationalist Chinese government in what is now called Taiwan, but he left South Korea out of the areas described as part of America's defensive commitment. The North Koreans took the omission of South Korea from the areas under automatic American protection as a sign that the U.S. would not interfere in an inter-Korean conflict.


The Korean War Begins

With the blessing of Soviets, North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 with an invasion force numbered approximately 90,000 men supported by 150 Soviet-supplied T34 tanks. The North Koreans quickly overran the Southern capital city of Seoul, and advanced southward.

The United States, led by President Harry Truman, immediately sent military forces to engage the North Koreans, and got the United Nations to enter the war in order to halt the North Korean aggression.


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Korean War Timeline

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