Background for Korea

Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo flying both the American and United Nations flags

Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo flying both the American and United Nations flags

Korea was not a happy nation and hadn’t been for a long time. After the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, it was annexed by Japan in 1910. Korea was then promised her independence in 1943 by the Allied conference in Cairo; this was reaffirmed by the July 1945 Potsdam Conference. But, when Japan surrendered one month later, Soviet forces were already entering Korea via Manchuria. The sector north of the 38th was given to Russia and the southern zone to the U.S.

After two years of political debate, the Communists still refused to leave and the U.S. handed the problem over to the United Nations. The U.N. attempted, with nationwide elections, to help unite the country, but without Soviet cooperation, it was to no avail. The southern Republic of Korea was created 15 August 1947 and Seoul, its capital. The Communists responded by declaring the northern part to be called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shortly afterward and established Pyongyang as its capital.

Korean War map

Korean War map

The Soviet forces officially left North Korea in December 1948, but left behind advisers, instructors and massive amounts of matériel and supplies.  On the other hand, the Americans departed in June 1949, leaving behind very little. The South Korean army was left pretty much to fend for themselves and one year later, on 25 June 1950, the movement and tactical surprise attacks would be overwhelming.

MacArthur and Sygman Rhee

MacArthur and Sygman Rhee

While handling the affairs of Japanese occupation, MacArthur only visited Korea twice before the war would erupt with Russia and China both influencing those north of the 38th. South Korea still felt the U.S. would back them in their wish to reunite the country, despite public American statements to the contrary. The four military divisions in Japan in May 1950 had only one regiment in three as infantry and they were not prepared for or experienced combat.

Between 1945-50, the U.S. government, in its struggle to halt the rapid spread of communism, prepared for a WWII-style of war and they expected it to be fought in Europe. Congress had ratified the Truman Doctrine and sent economic and military aid to Turkey and Greece. Afterward came the Marshall Plan for a foreign aid program to rebuild Europe. The U.S. military reduced its forces, with the bulk of the remaining men stationed across the Atlantic. The U.S. was wholly unprepared for another war in the Pacific. Any defensive plan they did have, excluded Korea altogether. A soldier who received orders for Japan considered it a plum assignment and had not been given combat training.

Formosa was the only cause for U.S. concern at this time. Mac Arthur’s intelligence, from a source in Taipei in June, found “undeniable evidence” of a Communist invasion fleet along the Chinese coast near Formosa; 121 miles across the Strait of Korea. But, the U.S. State Department had jurisdiction, not the general. Also, MacArthur’s data was coming through MGeneral Willoughby (Chief of Intelligence for MacArthur), who was known to pretty much tell the general what he felt he wanted to hear; and he kept the CIA out of the area as well. (so no confirmation of intel.)

General Omar Bradley

General Omar Bradley

Omar Bradley did not trust MacArthur and asked BGeneral William Roberts, who sat 25 miles from the 38th parallel, for his opinion. The reply came back that the U.S. Korean Military Group were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. But, during the first half of 1950, no one apparently was aware of construction going on; roads and railroads were being built to accommodate heavy equipment and troops. MacArthur did apparently give Cyrus Sulzberger, a “N.Y. Times” correspondent, the opinion that if another war broke out – it would be there [Korea]. The general told him, “WWII had changed the nature of war. Scientists had made mass killing easy… Even the public realizes all too well in terms of war that there can be no victory in a future war.”

By early June, Kim Il Sung’s army (with men and women) had infiltrated the south with orders to disrupt transportation and communications once war broke out. Russian “training officers” withdrew and elite operation advisers took their place. Attacks were to begin at 0400 hours on 25 June, as per orders from Pyongyang, but one participant observed border defenses going on as early as the 21st.

Kim Il Sung speaking at a mass rally

Kim Il Sung speaking at a mass rally

The ROK army had no heavy artillery and many of the troops had left to harvest the crops on their farms. The divisions, in all reality, were no more than gendarmerie who were unable to put a halt on any offensive action. Five hours after his own invasion had started, Kim Il Sung announced in a radio broadcast that the south had “dared to commit armed aggression north of the 38th parallel.” North Korean troops, armed with Russian T-34 tanks were met by grenades and American supplied 2 36-inch bazookas, that did nothing to slow the onslaught.

This is a digested version of events combated with the U.S. only having concern for Formosa and the sparse or lack of concern for intelligence, that would lead to the start of the Korean War. What becomes evident here, is this and any future conflict would be a political battle. The one fact that remains constant – our troops die. During my section on Korea, I will disregard any of Truman’s memoirs on the subject. After reading countless pages of quotes, I discovered that the politician’s recollections to be contrary to his actions and statements at the time of the war.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes –

George “Bud” Day – Shalimar, FL; Colonel USMC, WWII, Korea, Vietnam; POW for over 5 years, Medal of Honor recipient.

Alice Brausch – Honea Path, SC & W.Palm Beach, FL; U.S. Army Nursing Corps during Korea

George Fenimore, Jr. – Bertrand, MI & LA, CA; U.S. Air Force, WWII

George O’Shea – Ft Lauderdale, FL; USMC, class of 1945 Annapolis

Edgar Wyant – born in Germany, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; became U.S. citizen and enlisted U.S. Army prior to Pearl Harbor, WWII ETO

Albert Steidel – Alexandria, VA, U.S. Navy, Korea

J. Roger Miller – Phoenix, AZ; U.S. Air Force, WWII

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Resources: “MacArthur’s War” by Stanley Weintraub; History.com; WikiCommons; Kansas.com; historyinink.com; Army photos

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 1, 2013, in Korean War and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 58 Comments.

  1. This is so helpful for the context within which the war began. Understanding the most recent period of colonization by the Japanese is key. When I was in South Korea one of the groups I met with was the surviving ‘comfort women’ who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese military during their colonization. What a dignified, determined group of older women these are as they protest every week in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul – something they’ve been doing since 1992. This was a very demoralized country on so many levels as they went into the Korean war. Thanks as always for your interesting posts.

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    • I have not gotten into the ‘comfort women’ since it has now come up again in the news. If someone wishes to tell a story of these women – they should do so.

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  2. Your mention of Willoughby kinda stirred me up a bit – laughingly, of course. Sort of like your “view” of FDR. 🙂 As you know, Willoughby’s true birth name was Adolf Karl Tscheppe-Weidenbach. His father was a baron of royal German heritage. He even spoke with a very heavy German accent. Yet, Ike (he himself of German heritage but not like Willoughby) trusted him completely with intelligence/G-2 through most of WWII. Incredible he still had a hand in the Korea mess… Good stuff.

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  3. Your blog brings history to life in a way any age can appreciate. Love the illustrations, too.

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    • Thanks, I appreciate you taking the time to say so. I’m glad to hear it tho. Frankly, when I reread a post, I feel my writing is like that of a reporter – dry and a bit lifeless.

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  4. Pierre Lagacé

    A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    About the Forgotten War… Korea 1950-1953… Part Three

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  5. With everything going on in Korea today, Americans ought to read this to know how Korea came to be divided–the decades that led up to it–and the tragedy of what has gone on now for more decades.

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    • True! I’ve often wondered what the country would be like today if every country had quit interfering – but we’ll never know. Thanks for dropping by, always a pleasure to see you.

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  6. My former boss was a Marine veteran from the Korean conflict. He took a blast from a ‘burp’ gun – they patched him up and sent him back. He got bayoneted in the hip – and got out barely alive. When I met him in 1987, he walked with a distinctive limp. He was all of 19 in Korea.

    Amazing that they were caught with their pants down. But I suppose – to put it mildly – people were weary of war and the likes of MacArthur and Patton (who died a few years earlier in a motor accident) were viewed as war-mongers.

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    • I don’t think MacArthur was much of a war-monger, mainly a publicity hound, but in his mid-seventies he was enjoying peaceful life in Occupation Japan. The political handling of Korea was the ultimate reason. Your old boss was a prime example of strength of heart.

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  7. A fellow student of my late husband (1953-56) suffered screaming nightmares following his experiences of napalm bombing (while under so-called friendly fire from the US Air-Force) when serving with the Sea-Forth Highlanders in Korea. He received third degree burns covering more than 70% of his body. His Highland constitution was sorely stretched and he was never as robust again, but never lost his sense of humour.

    Modern warfare is the playground of the boffins and back-room boys. Politicians and MOD ‘experts’ want us to believe they have developed weapons that minimise the risk to participating allied troops; but there are no winners whatever they claim. Civilian casualties are ever present – and increasing as the weapons indiscriminately destroy countryside, wound, maim, and kill humans as well as livestock. Only those who stand to make money from this carnage end up winning – and smiling all the way to the bank.

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    • The student with the burns went thru hell; personally I don’t think I could come out of that with a sense of humor – a very strong young man indeed. Has there ever been a winner in a war? Money is always the answer for every question.

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  8. Keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to learning along the way.

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    • A lot of people tell me they have been learning things here (makes me proud), so if you get anything out this site – then I’m happy. Thanks for the comment and visit.

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  9. You do make mincemeat of the simplistic versions of who did what and how it was therefore someone else’s fault. Thank you.

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    • Like I’ve said before, I had to re-read many parts over and over from all my resources to TRY and make sense of this situation (mess). Thanks for visiting, Hillary.

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  10. Pierre Lagacé

    One comment…
    Lest We Forget those who served… on both sides.
    They were just pawns in the big chess game of the powerful nations

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  11. As a cynical bastard myself I don’t dare draw any conclusions from this, or your other posts.

    I still keep getting vivid images of heavily be-medalled glittering generals clinking glasses with bloated politicians in the Halls Of Power while grunts under ponchos are drowning in freezing mud …

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  12. Very interesting background. I find your last statement to be especially poignant though. Imagine a politician’s recollections being contrary to their actions and statements at the time of war. What a sad truth.

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    • I suppose he wanted to smooth over some of his actual responses to things; or his memory was fading when he wrote the memoirs. I just kept finding them contradictory. Thanks for stopping in.

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  13. Another eye-opening report! Thanks.

    God Bless,

    Don

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  14. Another great post . I wonder , when Korea was divided post WWII , weren’t elections supposed to occur , and by when ?

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  15. The brave soldiers left to repel the first invasion and defend S. Korea with “pea-shooters” were lucky to escape with their lives. From what I’ve learned there was nothing but ugliness in the way the war was handled. We were unprepared, then overconfident, and were lucky the conflict didn’t drag on for longer than it did. There’s a clear picture of future conflicts forming (Vietnam). Great job on the historical and political background.

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    • For the first six months, it seems, all I could find were exactly as you describe it. Vietnam was actually already started – straight from WWII. I’m sorry if I tend to repeat myself, but this is what you can expect when politicians handle things.

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  16. What a thoughtful post. My parents and grandparents were affected, of course.

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  17. Another interesting and informative post – you sure do keep them coming !! 🙂

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  18. Korea is still an enigma to many of us, including myself. I remember studying their forced alliance with Kublai Khan back in the 13th Century in general terms and how this increased emnity between Korea and Japan. The Korean conflict in the 20th Century has plenty of complications that I want to find out about.

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    • I am learning quite a bit myself as I go about reading the material I’ve accumulated. I’m telling the truth when I say I needed to re-read a number of sections to try and uncomplicate the what all the problems were. There have been days when I asked myself – why – why did you agree to do this? Some of the info is going to be embarrassing and distasteful.

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  19. Cpl. William H. Thompson, U S Army was declared missing in action around 7/16/1950 in Korea. His remains weren’t recovered and he wasn’t declared KIA for three more months. His date of death was recorded as 7/16/1950. He was my mother’s first husband and left her as well my 18 month old half sister, and his parents being their only child as his survivors. From my understanding, MacArthur did not want the atomic bombing of Japan. He and many other military leaders believed Japan was for all intents and purposes finished militarily. Other military leaders believed that an atomic bomb could have been detonated far out at sea but near enough to Japan to make them understand the consequences if they refused to surrender.

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    • Right you are. Your mother must have hurt terribly to not know the situation with her husband for so long. Cpl Thompson was lost during a confused segment of history and I’m sorry for your mother’s loss.

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  20. I’m looking forward to learning more history about this segment of our history. Seems I’ve studied all of the other wars/conflicts in detail but I know very little of the Korean era. Thanks for what I must have ‘doodled’ through in high school.

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  21. I am looking forward to your posts. I am staggered by how unprepared they were. I didn’t know this.

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  22. Quote: The general told him, “WWII had changed the nature of war. Scientists had made mass killing easy… Even the public realizes all too well in terms of war that there can be no victory in a future war.” This statement is so true.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Remembrance Day: Too little too late for Canada’s Korean War veterans? | Lest We Forget

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