The Korean War the Unnecessary War

The Unnecessary War

Contemporary World History
Tues. & Thurs. 2:00-3:20
Fall 2010

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???It was very easy to start a war in Korea. It was not so easy to stop it.??? – Nikita Khrushchev. 1894-1971

Even today, 57 years later, that statement still rings true. The fighting has stopped but the war has been ongoing. In the years since the fighting stopped in 1953, North and South Korea, with their strange love-hate relationship have been in the news numerous times. Most recently with the North Korean sinking of a South Korean military ship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong, leaving villages destroyed, four people killed and others injured. I often wonder if the conflict between them will ever end in peace.

The Korean War is often called the forgotten war, overshadowed by the end of World War II and with what was brewing in Vietnam. The Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a treaty, which means nobody was said to have won the war.
The conflict between North and South Korea stems back to 1945 when Korea was divided at the 38th parallel.

The Korean peninsula was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II on August 14, 1945 when Japan quickly surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the week before. The Soviet Union invaded Manchuria and drove the Japanese Southward down the Korean Peninsula. The Americans rather arbitrarily set the 38th parallel as the boundary between Soviet and American Control. Soviet troops being stationed above the 38th parallel and US troops stationed below. It was decided that the division at the 38th parallel would be short-term and the US, Soviet Union, Britain and China were to organize a trusteeship administration with the hopes of unifying Korea. However, with strong opposition from the Soviet Union, that didn??™t happen. Therefore, Korea was permanently divided in 1948. The United Nations established an anti-communist Republic of Korea in the South, where Sygman Rhee was elected President. The Soviet Union established a communist government in North Korea, which was led by Kim Il-Sung.

Personally, I don??™t think it was very smart to split Korea giving the communist Soviet Union control over the North and the anti communist United States over the South! You don??™t have to be a sailor to know that that boat won??™t float!

Both Sygman Rhee and Kim Il-Sung wanted to reunify Korea under their own political system. Kim Il Sung visited the Soviet Union??™s leader, Joseph Stalin in hopes of gaining the Soviet Union??™s support to invade the south to unify Korea by force. Stalin didn??™t encourage it but he didn??™t discourage it either. He just told Kim to inform his ally, Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader, his plans. Mao didn??™t really get involved and said he didn??™t think the United States would get involved with such a small country. Kim also assumed that the US lacked the means to come to the rescue of South Korea, therefore, on June 25, 1950; he launched an invasion into South Korea where they drove South Korean forces down to Pusan. This left Pusan and its perimeter as the only area still under South Korean control, which is roughly ten percent of Korea. While defending the perimeter against North Korean forces, South Korean forces were being reinforced from Japan and the United States. By September 1950, General MacArthur, head of the UN command, organized a reversal of the war with the landing of US and UN troops at Inchon. They came from behind and surprised North Korean troops forcing them to retreat back across the 38th parallel.

General Douglas MacArthur and President Truman met at Wake Island where MacArthur assured Truman that U.N. forces could push all the way to the Yalu River (the border between North Korea and China) without Chinese intervention. MacArthur predicted that troops would be home by Christmas. His prediction was wrong. As U.N. forces got closer to the border, they had no idea that nearly 300,000 Chinese soldiers were waiting for them. Mao Zedong said that the U.N. troops posed a threat to China, and in November, he ordered his forces to attack. They pushed MacArthur??™s forces back below the 38th parallel to Seoul, South Koreas capital. From Jan-April the Chinese were driven back above the 38th parallel in a counter offensive by General Matthew Ridgeway, who was MacArthurs replacement. Truman fired MacArthur in April for insubordination.

The front lines were now stalemated but fighting still continued. In July of 1951, negotiations for a cease-fire started at Kaesong and went on and off throughout the summer, with disputes over prisoner repatriation and borders. In hopes of speeding up the talks, which weren??™t making much progress, the US started bombing Pyongyang, North Koreas capital. On August 19, the Communists complained to the UN saying that UN forces had illegitimately entered the neutral Kaesong area. Matthew Ridgeway called the Communist delegates liars, and declined to apologize for the supposed violation of the Kaesong zone. Ridgeway??™s insult gave Communists a reason to stop negotiating and the talks at Kaesong ended without any agreements being worked out.
In October of 1951, the Communists were ready to re-start the peace talks and this time they took place at Panmunjom, which is a town near the battle line. The talks were slow moving and went on and on so the US started more bombing. This time they bombed hydroelectric power plants on the Yalu River. Then the US bombed Pyongyang again and by October of 1952, it didn??™t seem as though a peace treaty would ever happen. But on July 27 1953, The UN, China, and North Korea signed an armistice; South Korea refused to sign. The terms of the treaty stated that neither side could increase the number of non-Korean military personnel stationed in Korea. The armistice also established a 2.5-mile wide strip of land between North and South Korea along the 38th parallel that was the “demilitarized zone,??? (DMZ) within this zone, all troops and weapons were banished. Because South Korea never signed the armistice, North and South Korea are still at war today.

One of the biggest and most obvious effects of the war was the large number of casualties. The exact number is unclear, but it is estimated that the number totals more than 2 million.
The war left the Korea divided, with a communist state in North Korea and an authoritarian state in the South. Later, South Korea changed over to a democracy with a rapidly growing free-market economy, while North Korea stuck to its Stalinist communist roots, with totalitarian rule and a cult of personality around leaders Kim Il-sung and his son Kim- Jung Il. The war was catastrophic, destroying most of Korea??™s industrial plants. North Korea, even with its mineral and hydroelectric resources, fell into poverty and couldnt keep up with South Koreas economic pace.
Though the war brought economic and social damage to Korea, it improved the economy of Japan and the United States. Many of the materials used in the war were bought from Japan, which helped their economy. The war also led to U.S. military expansion.
Another result of the war in Korea is that many families were divided and lived on opposite sides of the DMZ and haven??™t been able to have any contact since. Even today, many are still separated with hopes of being reunited.

Although the United States tried to keep the war on a small scale, it quickly escalated out of proportion, involving China, at times it seeming as if it might become World War III. The Korean War can also be considered a success. Although the war got out of hand at times, the United States and the Soviet Union avoided direct confrontation.

In conclusion, the Korean War was one of the most influential conflicts in the 20th century after World War II. It was a decisive battle of powers between the aggressive Soviet Union, which was determined to spread communism to other countries. The Korean War was an example of successful containment for the US and the influence of United Nations and its allies.


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