This article was last modified on February 19, 2015.

America, Korea and the World: 1945-1950

Following World War II, there remained only two superpowers on Earth: the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite being allies in the war against Germany and Japan, the two now found themselves at odds with each other. Was the world big enough for two superpowers, and what is to be done when the very existence of one seemingly threatens the existence of the other? With America being “democratic” and the Soviet Union being “Communist” (words I find deceiving, but I will use them for simplicity) there really was little common ground for the two countries.

The Next Battleground: Korea

In the years after WWII, Germany was divided between the West (America, England, France) and the East (Soviet Union). As we know, a wall was erected (the “Berlin Wall”) to keep the two sides separate.

Korea was also divided up after the war. While it had been the property of Japan since 1910, Korea was soon divided up between America and the Soviet Union much as Germany had been partitioned. This took place during a late night meeting, about 1:00am on August 11, 1945 in a Washington office. Japanese forces were to be expelled from the country. The division was arbitrarily placed at the 38th Parallel, with no one being allowed to cross over. The benefit of such a division was that it was easy to draw on a map, but created a variety of problems stemming from the crude and thoughtless bifurcation.

The Soviet Union installed a Soviet-friendly government in the north, while America set up a democratic government in the south.

This partition was intended to be temporary, with the Korean people to be reunited as one country. However, as of this writing (October 2014), there is a still a stark difference between north and south. While today we see North Korea and South Korea as two unique entities, this was not the case at the time despite the different governments. Any conflict would be seen as a civil war rather than an external invasion (comparable to the American Civil War where the South had its own government).

While there were American forces in Korea directly following World War II, they were pulled out before the beginning of the Korean Conflict. America at this point had the mindset that all war was total war (rather than limited war), making Korea “militarily dispensable within the pattern of American security.” According to John Spanier, “A Soviet occupation of Korea would not raise Korea’s strategic significance, since the peninsula could be neutralized by American air and sea power.” [Spanier: 60]

Lt. General John Reed Hodge set up a Representative Democratic Council of Koreans in February 1946, with its purpose being to advise the formation of a new government. Hodge appointed Syngman Rhee as chairman. At this point Rhee, 70, was a “right-wing Christian” who had spent much of his life in America campaigning for Korean independence. The council “withered” when it refused to work with more liberal factions. [Hanley: 50] Rhee had spent World War II in Hawaii and his political importance had been (correctly) denied by the US State Department until they were persuaded by Rhee’s friend Millard Preston Goodfellow, a New York publisher turned OSS deputy director. (Today, Goodfellow has largely been forgotten.)

George Kennan’s Long Telegram

George F. Kennan was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States to the USSR from 1944 to 1946, and had studied the Soviet Union from the inside. He was also a strong supporter of the Berlin Wall.

In response to a question about Soviet resistance to the World Bank, Kennan sent President Truman his assessment of the current Soviet situation February 22, 1946. It was filled with not only policy suggestions, but a thorough explanation of the background leading to such decisions.

Basically, Kennan was in favor of Soviet containment in a non-aggressive sense. He felt that building strong alliances would be a good idea, whereas attacking the Soviet Union would probably cause more harm than good to the attacker (the United States). Some interpreted him as being in favor of more aggressive policies, as Kennan noted the Soviets were “highly sensitive to the logic of force.” He also made the assertion (typical at the time) that the Soviets would use American labor unions and women’s groups to push their cause. But ultimately, Kennan saw the Soviet Union’s propaganda system as their biggest weakness and felt that the best defense for America would be a solid American education while the Soviet Union crumbled from within.

Life was rough in South Korea, with the people of Taegu almost starving to death. 10,000 protesters met on October 1, 1946, and many were shot down by the police. When the crowd retaliated, killing the police officers, the US Army stepped in to declare martial law. Violence erupted all over, with peasants killing government officials, their landlords and police. American soldiers “killed uncounted hundreds” of the South Korean peasants. [Hanley: 53]

The last remaining hope for moderate coalition politics emerging in South Korea effectively disappeared with the assassination of Lyuh Won-hyung on July 19, 1947. He was the only person still actively committed to leftist-rightist dialogue. [Buzo: 65] The military government outlawed the Korean Workers’ Party (a communist group) on August 7, forcing its members underground. [Hanley: 53] The KWP had been founded on November 23, 1946 through the merger of the Communist Party of South Korea, New People’s Party of South Korea and a fraction of the People’s Party of Korea (the so-called ‘forty-eighters’). It was led by Pak Hon-yong.

Eisenhower to Forrestal

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent Defense Secretary James Vincent Forrestal a memo on September 25, 1947. Eisenhower indicated that “from the standpoint of military security, the U.S. has little strategic interest in maintaining the present troops and bases in Korea.” [Goulden: 25]

Policy Planning Study 23

Another important document written by George Kennan was Policy Planning Study 23, released on February 24, 1948. Unlike the somewhat personal nature of the long telegram, this document is more in the “realpolitik” style, matter-of-fact without regard to normative issues. Kennan’s overly methodical style remains.

One often-quoted passage reads as follows:

…we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity… To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives… We should cease to talk about vague and — for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better. (emphasis mine)

What is of importance here is that the government was very open about the nation’s wealth and the military might such wealth could command. If we admit having the world’s leading economy (and military by extension), the government could not realistically consider the Soviet Union to be the imminent threat many would make it out to be.

Professor Noam Chomsky, in his book Turning the Tide, calls this document “noteworthy” because the content is very blunt, despite being written by “one of the most thoughtful and humane of US planners” [Chomsky 1985: 48]. Ironically, this planning document calling for an ignoring of rights was drafted the same year the United States signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps more interesting is that Kennan was replaced by Paul Nitze (key author of NSC-68) on January 1, 1950. The shift from Kennan to Nitze correlates directly with a shift in America’s foreign policy, especially with regard to the Soviet Union.

Upon being replaced, George Kennan became the Counselor to the Department of State.

South Korean Elections

On March 8 and 9, 1948, U.N. delegates from Australia, Canada, India, and Syria expressed their doubts and some complete rejection to the election on May 10 for South Korea. The delegates were concerned of Korea’s political maturity at the time, feeling that the election might not validly express the popular will after only being an independent country for four years. There were even Korean politicians, such as Kim Koo and Kim Kyu-sik, who denounced the election as it would dash the hopes of reunification with North Korea.

Admiral Sidney Williams Souers, executive secretary of the National Security Council, presented a report to President Truman on April 2: “The Position of the United States with Respect to Korea”. The report called for a united, self-governed and sovereign Korea. Specifically, the report suggested the most useful way to achieve this would be further negotiations with the Soviet Union.

On April 3, 1948, the police on Jeju island fired on a demonstration commemorating the Korean struggle against Japanese rule. Outraged, the people of Jeju attacked twelve police stations. In the fighting up to 100 policemen and civilians were killed. Rebels also burned polling centers for the upcoming election and attacked political opponents and their families. They then issued an appeal urging the local population to rise against the American military government.

May 19, 1948 was the election in southern Korea. On August 15, 1948 the new president, Syngman Rhee (elected July 20), established his government and proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Cabell Phillips claims that Rhee was “despotically inclined” and “no great favorite with Washington”. [Phillips: 292] Although overlooked at the time, Lt. General John Reed Hodge (the military governor of South Korea) warned reporters in August 1948 that a Korean civil war was possible. [Hanley: 30] The withdrawal of all American troops began in September 1948.

The north also had elections, and soon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) had a new premier, Kim Il Sung. Kim was the son of Korean independence activist and Communist politician Kim Hyong-jik. He also claimed his great-grandfather, Kim Ung U, had helped destroy the merchant marine ship General Sherman in July 1866, though no evidence exists to confirm or refute the claim. North Korea later issued a postage stamp commemorating the sinking of the merchant vessel. A new constitution was promulgated on September 3, and the establishment of the DPRK was proclaimed on September 9. The Soviets withdrew all their forces on December 25, 1948.

On December 12, the United Nations General Assembly designated South Korea “the only lawful government in Korea.” [Buzo: 67]


On March 23, 1949, the National Security Council released NSC-8/2, that stressed a need to keep the military in South Korea to maintain stability, internal security and provide a defense against any attacks from the North. [Thornton: 148]

Johnson Replaces Forrestal

Secretary of Defense James Forrestal was replaced on March 28, 1949 due to failing health and disagreements with Truman over budget cuts. His replacement was Louis Arthur Johnson, a strong fundraiser for Truman. Edwin Hoyt calls this move a “mistake”, refers to Johnson as “a political crony” and says Johnson “proved to be a total disaster as he presided happily over the dismemberment of the American military establishment.” [Hoyt: 285] These issues are open to debate. Johnson had previously been Assistant Secretary of War, served in World War I and helped found the American Legion. To reduce his commitment to the military to “political cronyism” seems excessive. It is true that Johnson cut the defense budget, but this was Truman’s decision, not Johnson’s.

Forrestal was sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital with depression, and after writing an extensive suicide note that quoted Sophocles, he jumped out the 16th floor window to his death on May 22. (Some historians see foul play, but that is not the official story and not important to the Korean situation.)

South Korea Attacks North Korea

On May 5, 1949, Kim met Stalin in Moscow and, among other things, discussed the military capabilities of South Korea. Kim informed Stalin that South Korea had 60,000 soldiers and he believed the Americans had 20,000 stationed there. Soviet General Terentii Fomich Shtykov agreed with Kim’s assessment, estimating American numbers at 15-20,000.

More than 250 guerrillas from the South are said to have launched an attack on North Korean villages along the east coast in May and June 1949. Some reached the town of Wonsan, although all but fifty were killed in two weeks.

On June 26, 1949, there was heavy fighting on the Ongjin peninsula around the 38th parallel, which attracted UN officials. In their estimation, Korea was already in “a state of warfare”. [Barris: 13]

What knowledge America had of these skirmishes is unknown. They withdrew their forces to Japan on June 29, 1949, although 500 military advisers were left behind. [Barris: 12]

North Korea Prepares for War

In December 1949, Major J. R. Ferguson Innes of the British War Office wrote an assessment of the military situation in Korea. His belief was that the North Koreans could easily defeat the South, and the Americans disagreed because they had trained the South and thought highly of this training. Innes thought the “ultimate objective” of the North was to take over the South, and “in the long term there is no doubt that they will do so”. On this, he may have been right. But he erred in judgment over the Americans, writing that “I think it improbable that the Americans would become involved” when such an invasion happened. His reasoning? “The possession of South Korea is not essential for Allied strategic plans.” [Hastings: 47]

On December 27, 1949, the North Korean leadership sent instructions to their South Korean communist cadre to prepare to go to action when war began. [Thornton: 46]

Acheson Addresses the National Press Club

John Stoessinger theorizes that the Soviet Union may have first set its sights on Korea on January 12, 1950. On this day, Secretary of State Dean Acheson addressed the National Press Club and outlined what he considered to be America’s “military defense perimeter”. Absent from his speech was Korea, which may have given the Soviets the idea that they could be a commanding force there without American resistance. [Stoessinger: 55]

Whether the Soviets viewed this as an opening or not remains unclear, but we now know that Korea’s omission from the list by no means implied that America was not keeping the Asian peninsula in its sights.

On January 19, Stalin finally agreed to discuss the possibility of war with Kim Il Sung, after repeated requests from Kim.

Stalin and Korea Set Up a Strategy

In a message on January 30 to Ambassador Terentii Shtykov, Stalin declared that he was “ready to grant approval” for war in Korea. He warned, though, that “an operation on such a large scale demands preparation. It is necessary to organize the operation in such a way as to minimize risk.” Shtykov replied on January 31, saying he had relayed the “orders” and said that “Kim Il-sung received my report with great satisfaction. Your agreement to receive him and your readiness to assist him in this matter made an especially strong impression.” [Thornton: 101]

The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance was signed on February 14, 1950.

The CIA reported on March 10, 1950 that the North was planning their invasion for June. [Hastings: 52]

Stalin sent word to Kim on March 18 that “the Soviet government has decided… to satisfy fully this request of yours” for “arms, ammunition and technical-equipment.” [Thornton: 102]

Kim arrived in Moscow on March 30. They speculated that invading the South would take only a few days, and once Seoul was captured, the government would dissolve and a popular uprising would push Syngman Rhee out.

On April 13, Kim visits Mao in Beijing. Mao grants Kim approval to strike South Korea.

The Rhetoric at Home

Helping in no small way to encourage American concern for Asia was the anti-Communist rhetoric coming from such figures as Senator Joseph McCarthy. On February 9, 1950, he gave his infamous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia where he claimed to have the names of 205 State Department employees loyal to the Communist Party. And he slammed the Secretary, as well. “As you know, very recently the secretary of state (Acheson) proclaimed his loyalty to a man (Alger Hiss) guilty of what has always been considered as the most abominable of all crimes — of being a traitor to the people who gave him a position of great trust.”

NSC-68 contra George Kennan

While Kennan (in his telegram) wanted to approach the Soviet Union with caution and with a degree of level-headed reason, not everyone shared his view on the matter. Truman’s advisers in the National Security Council released a report on April 14, 1950 (known as NSC-68, and declassified in either 1975 or 1977 — sources differ) that pushed for Soviet containment in a far more aggressive manner.

Kennan’s telegram did lead to some Cold War policy, but it is not to be confused with NSC-68. According to the Wikipedia, there were some very key differences.

“The Long Telegram called for economic pressures against the USSR, whereas NSC-68 called for militaristic pressures. Kennan believed that it was not only acceptable but futile to resist the spread of Soviet Communism to nations surrounding the USSR as these states would constitute a legitimate security buffer-zone, but NSC-68 dictated that any and all “losses” of nations to communism (epitomized in the Domino theory) were unacceptable and a threat to US national security.”

They encouraged an increase in defense spending, and felt that a military economy would help prevent a depression for America (much as military spending during WWII had helped). With regards to the Soviet Union, there was a fear that a stockpile of nuclear weapons would lead to nuclear war, with the USSR being able to launch a surprise attack on America by 1954. By attacking the Soviet Union in a smaller, insignificant region (such as Korea) and winning, we would discourage a much larger attack and prevent a direct war with the USSR.

The Korean War (as well as the Vietnam War) was anticipated in NSC-68 in such phrases where efforts should be focused on “fomenting and supporting unrest and revolt in selected strategic satellite countries” and the need to “foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system”.

NSC-68 can also be seen as a historical document that pushed the viewpoint of America as the world’s greatest superpower and encouraged American imperialism. Th document called the Soviet Union an enemy “unlike previous aspirants to hegemony… animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own” (implying that hegemony ought to be solely for the United States). They also did not want the Soviet Union to “impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world” and wished to accomplish this by, ironically, imposing an absolute (American) authority over the rest of the world.

Lastly, NSC-68 noted that “a large measure of sacrifice and discipline will be demanded of the American people”, with the emphasis on “discipline”. Americans would need to be united and conform to the idea that the Soviet threat was real and great; dissent would make America “vulnerable” (again, with reference to the allegations that Communists might sneak their ideas in through labor unions and such).

There was, naturally, some disagreement with the conclusions drawn by NSC-68. George Kennan, for one, was not in favor of it. Willard Thorp, President Truman’s Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, did not believe that the “USSR is steadily reducing the discrepancy between its overall economic strength and that of the United States.” Thorp responded, “I do not feel that this position is demonstrated, but rather the reverse… The actual gap is widening in our favor.” He pointed out that in 1949 the US economy had increased twice that of the Soviet Union. Steel production in the US outpaced the Soviet Union by 2 million tons, and stockpiling of goods and oil production far exceeded Soviet amounts.

The members of the NSC study group, much less known than their report, were: Chairman Paul Nitze (Director of Policy Planning for the State Department), John P. Davies (an expert on China), Robert Tufts, Robert Hooker, Chip Bohlen (an adviser to George C. Marshall) and Major General Truman Landon.

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Not only were Truman’s advisers pushing for a war, but Senator Joseph McCarthy was putting pressure on the administration, as well. McCarthy was rabidly anti-Communist, and accused Truman of being soft on Communism. More generally, McCarthy accused the Democrats of “twenty years of treason” with regard to Communism. This would not be good for Truman politically to appear pro-Communist, so he took the accusation to heart.

McCarthy also declared that Truman’s State Department had at least 205 “known Communists”, including the authors of NSC-68. The sheer nonsense of an anti-Communist document being written by Communists illustrates how absurd some of McCarthy’s positions were. Nonetheless, he was very influential and put great pressure on the administration.

McCarthy’s rationale for his position, which I consider absurd, is explained by John Spanier: “America’s China policy had ended in Communist control of the mainland; the administration leaders and the State Department were responsible for the formulation and execution of foreign policy; thus, the government must be filled with Communists and Communist sympathizers who ‘tailored’ American policy to advance the global aims of the Soviet Union.” [Spanier: 68]

If Spanier accurately describes McCarthy’s views, we could make similar observations today: if George W. Bush and his administration make decisions which allowed 9/11 to happen and encourage the growth of terror abroad, clearly they must be terrorists themselves or terrorist sympathizers. When written this way, it comes across as a sign of lunacy.

Truman’s Military Increase

While it could be argued that George Kennan was more informed than McCarthy or the National Security Council, and certainly more rational in his thinking, Truman was a pushover to criticism. He increased defense spending each year through 1952, as well as raising the level of troops. One could easily say that it makes sense to increase troops and spending as a war progresses, while others would argue that these actions only further justified the criticisms of Truman’s detractors.

More Pre-War Aggression

In April 1950, Philip C. Jessup of the State Department explained that a war was already raging in Korea. “There is constant fighting between the South Korean Army and bands that infiltrate the country from the North,” he said. “There are very real battles, involving perhaps one or two thousand men. When you go to this boundary, as I did … you see troop movements, fortifications, and prisoners of war.” The North Korean government claimed that in 1949 alone, South Korea had “perpetrated 2,617 armed incursions” across the border for “murder, kidnapping, pillage and arson”. [Blum: 46]

On April 5, the carrier Boxer dropped anchor in Inchon harbor, and several Corsairs, Panthers and Skyraiders flew overhead to show solidarity with South Korea. “You are our friends,” said Syngman Rhee. “Come again, come often, and stay longer.” [Hallion: 29]

North Korea and China Meet

Kim and Pak arrived by plane on the evening of May 13 and met with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. They passed on word that Stalin felt that the situation in Korea had changed, and that now was the time for North Korea to strike South Korea. [Thornton: 106] The next day, Stalin sent a cable confirming his support for Kim, and that was enough to get Mao on board. When Mao asked Kim if he needed Chinese military support, however, Kim declined the offer. [Halberstam: 50]

South Korea Denied Planes

On May 19, Acting Secretary of State Webb sent a cable to Seoul replying to Ambassador Muccio’s request for F-51 combat planes. Before even giving consideration to the request, Webb wanted to know “how [the ROK] intended to provide maintenance and other ground facilities necessary to keep such planes operational?” And how would they “provide adequately trained Korean air and ground personnel, especially mechanics?” [Thornton: 175]

Army Intelligence

On May 23, Army intelligence warned that “the outbreak of hostilities may occur at any time in Korea.” [Thornton: 126]

Politics in Korea, Pre-Conflict

On May 30, 1950, things were not looking well for President Rhee in South Korea. His party was able to secure 48 parliament seats in the election, but the other parties grabbed a total of 120, outnumbering the ruling group. Rhee had arrested thirty political opponents just before the election (alleged Communists) but not even this extreme maneuver was able to save him. [LaFeber: 96]

Muccio Assesses Korea

Ambassador Muccio testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on June 6, giving his assessment of the ROKs. Muccio warned that the “undeniable material superiority of the North Korean forces would provide North Korea with the margin of victory in the event of a full-scale invasion of [the South], particularly in the matter of heavy infantry support weapons, tanks, and combat aircraft which the USSR has supplied and continues to supply.” [Goulden: 33]

Politics in Korea, Continued

Kim Il Sung in North Korea tried to take advantage of Rhee’s problems on June 7. Kim pushed for a country-wide general election to secure a reunification of Korea. Rhee tried to stop the Southerners from hearing of this plan, which only intensified the efforts in the North. [LaFeber: 96] William Blum speculates that “like countless statesmen before and after him”, it wouldn’t have been strange if Rhee chose “to play the war card to rally support for his shaky rule.” [Blum: 47]

While reunification under Kim’s rule may not have been preferable, the unification of Korea by some means would be necessary if the country wanted to be self-sufficient. Divided they could not stand, as Joseph Goulden makes clear:

“The southern zone covered 37,000 square miles and contained some 21 million people, about two-thirds of them in farm families. Although the South contained twelve of Korea’s twenty largest cities — including Seoul, the capital, with 2 million people — it was primarily agricultural and historically supplied rice for the entire country. The northern zone, although larger with 48,000 square miles, had only about 9 million population. But because of its highly developed hydroelectric plants, the North had most of Korea’s industrial plants — chemical, steel, cement, and fertilizers, products that complemented the South’s agrarian economy. Neither zone had the capacity for self-sufficiency.” [Goulden: 20]

CIA and Dulles Do Not Anticipate War With Russia

North Korean forces had begun to concentrate along on the 38th parallel on June 12. [Thornton: 118] The NKPA issued orders to field commanders on June 18, telling them to prepare to invade South Korea. [Goulden: 41]

A day later, on June 19, the Central Intelligence Agency released a report on Korea that said: “Despite the apparent military superiority of northern over southern Korea, it is not certain that the northern regime, lacking the active participation of Soviet and Chinese Communist military units, would be able to gain effective control over all of southern Korea.” In essence, the threat of a Communist takeover in Korea was viewed as questionable, the Agency clearly unaware of outside involvement. Also on June 19, General Douglas MacArthur’s Far East Command passed on an intelligence report offering “strong evidence of an imminent enemy offensive.” [Thornton: 126]

That same day, John Foster Dulles, “a prominent Republican spokesman on foreign policy”, informed President Rhee that Washington did not believe that Moscow had any desire “to become involved in a shooting war.” [Kaufman: 27] Rhee, in turn, pressed Dulles for support in “a cross-border invasion”, showing he had aggressive intentions of his own. [Hanley: 57]

A brief aside is necessary here to talk of Douglas MacArthur’s impressive lineage. His father was Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (1845–1912), a United States Army general who became the military Governor-General of the American-occupied Philippines in May 1900. He replaced General Elwell Stephen Otis, whom he despised. His term ended a year later due to clashes with the civilian governor, future President William Howard Taft. Prior to his days in the Philippines, Arthur had served in the Civil War as part of the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin Regiment. His father, Arthur MacArthur Sr., had been a Milwaukee judge and briefly the Wisconsin governor. His influence, including a personal meeting with President Lincoln, got Arthur Jr assigned the post of regimental adjutant, an officer at only age 18.

Acheson Throws Support Behind the United Nations

Dean Acheson threw the weight of the United States behind the United Nations just days before their first major decision, probably unaware of how serious his commitment would become. On June 22, he stood before the students of Harvard University to deliver a commencement address. Within that address, he assured the Class of 1950 that America would provide its “unfaltering support to the United Nations.” [Stoessinger: 58]

Days Prior to the War

The United Nations Military Observer Group was on a “field trip” in Korea, ending their visit on June 23, 1950. Later that day, South Korea began a two day bombardment of the North, and on the morning of the 25th, South Korea attacked the western town of Haeju in the North. North Korean radio broadcast news of the attack before noon. Historians would later try to deny the capture of Haeju by blaming reports on an exaggerating South Korean officer. But reports of the capture also came from “American military observers” and “American officials” in the English press. Furthermore, writer John Gunther was present on the 25th when an American official in Japan received a phone call and informed Gunther, “The South Koreans have attacked North Korea!” [Blum: 46-47]

As the Military Observer Group had left days before, no objective group was witness to the events of the 25th, making it difficult or even impossible to pinpoint which side escalated the fight to a full civil war. [Blum: 46]

North Korea Invades South Korea

The Korean War is said to have officially begun at 4 A.M. local time on Sunday, June 25, 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. The North Korean military came equipped with 110,000 soldiers, between 126 and 150 Soviet-made T-34 tanks, and about 180 aircraft, including 40 YAK fighters and 70 attack bombers.

While we have already outlined how aggression had been perpetrated by both sides prior to this point, the North Korean invasion is considered the official beginning — a decision that conveniently puts South Korea and its allies (the United Nations and America) in the light of defenders rather than aggressors. The New York Times found this North aggression unusual, noting on June 26 that before the outbreak, “[t]he warlike talk strangely [had] almost all come from South Korean leaders.”

America felt obligated to help South Korea, because if “the United Sates [sic] merely stood by while South Korea fell, it would demonstrate to the world that it was either afraid of Russian power or unconcerned with the safety of its allies.” [Spanier: 60] So while the planners were aware that Korea had no use to America as a strategic military location, fighting there would be a good way to inflate the image of American power and goodwill. Despite having previously bombed Japan twice, Truman remarked on June 26 that entering Korea “was the toughest decision I had to make as President.”

June 27: The United Nations Enters the War

On June 27, at 10:45 pm, the United Nations voted to aid South Korea in defending itself against North Korea. The resolution passed the Security Council 7-1 (Yugoslavia was opposed; Egypt and India abstained from voting). [LaFeber: 98-99] Egypt took issue with the phrasing of the resolution wherein the the North Korean invasion was described as an “unprovoked aggression”, and Egypt felt the word “unprovoked” was a clear misinterpretation of the facts.

Yugoslavia took the position that “there seemed to be lack of precise information that could enable the Council to pin responsibility” and suggested that North Korea be allowed to present their version of events. This suggestion was declined. [Blum: 48]

The legality of this resolution was questioned because the Soviet Union (represented by Yakov “Jacob” Malik) was absent from voting (and would have surely vetoed such an idea). The Soviets were currently boycotting the United Nations because the organization refused to accept the legitimacy of Red China. [Goettel: 193] Furthermore, Russia “felt that the U.N. was an American-dominated organization rather than a true international body.” [Goettel: 191] This concern is essentially as true now as it was then, but further discussion falls outside the realm of this paper.

Legality issues also arise because the war in Korea was legally defined as a civil war rather than an invasion, leaving the conflict outside of the United Nations’ powers of intervention. Perhaps surprisingly, just a few months after the war began, the chief United States delegate to the United Nations, Warren Austin, would take a similar position. Austin said the following to the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 1950:

“The artificial barrier which has divided North and South Korea has no basis for existence either in law or in reason. Neither the United Nations, its Commission on Korea, nor the Republic of Korea recognizes such a line. Now, the North Koreans, by armed attack upon the Republic of Korea, have denied the reality of any such line.” (emphasis mine) [Blum: 45-46]

Regardless of legality, the resolution passed. William Blum points out that “in 1950 the United Nations was in no way a neutral or balanced organization. The great majority of members were nations very dependent upon the United States for economic recovery and development.” [Blum: 48] How much this dependence was reflected in the vote remains open to interpretation.

Already on June 27, the United States sent F-82 Twin Mustangs and Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars into action. American air dominance was proven decisively — seven North Korean planes were destroyed without the loss of a single American plane. [Hallion: 30]

June 28, 1950: “Shrieking Missiles of Death”

By June 28, North Korea had occupied Seoul, the capital of South Korea. North Korea did not expect the government to put up a fight (they assumed a quick surrender) or for outside intervention. They were wrong on both counts. When MacArthur surveyed Seoul, it “was in flames; a city built six centuries ago now billowed columns of smoke and darting tongues of flame.” General Whitney, in his memoirs, described it as follows: “The sky was resonant with shrieking missiles of death, and everywhere were the stench and utter desolation of a stricken battlefield. Clogging all the roads in a writhing dust-shrouded mass of humanity were the refugees.” [Goulden: 94]

Major General John Church, who had been sent to Korea by MacArthur, reported on the 28th that “a reasonable defense of the Han River line from the south bank could be accomplished”, but the United States would have to involve ground troops if the 38th parallel was to be restored. [Thornton: 212]

June 29, 1950

On the 29th, the Soviets accused South Korea of provoking the hostilities and felt that the conflict was an internal affair, with no need of foreign intervention. [Kaufman: 38]

The same day, MacArthur boasted to Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune, “Give me two divisions and I can hold Korea.” The next day, he was granted two divisions that were stationed in Japan. [Goulden: 127] He had made a personal reconnaissance “without thought of personal danger” and was convinced that “the tide could not be stemmed without massive reinforcement.” [Ridgway: 21]

June 30, 1950

At 5 A.M. on June 30, Secretary of the Army Frank Pace, Jr. passed a message on from General MacArthur to President Truman: “Time is of the essence and a clear-cut decision without delay is essential.” Truman approved the commitment of one regimental combat team immediately. [Stoessinger: 67]

America was set to lead the war, with sixteen countries supporting them. This was certainly an American war, however. The United States provided 50 percent of the ground forces (South Korea provided much of the remainder), 86 percent of the naval power, and 93 percent of the air power. [LaFeber: 101] (Elinor Goettel puts the figures at America supplying 48% of the troops and South Korea providing 43%, which is probably more accurate. [Goettel: 193])

It is important to distinguish that while in common discourse this conflict is seen as a United Nations operation assisting South Korea against North Korea, it was not truly a United Nations force but an American force with United Nations members supporting them. Professor Michael Akehurst, a specialist in matters of international law, sums it up as follows:

It is doubtful whether the forces in Korea constituted a United Nations force in any meaningful sense. They were always called a United Nations force, they were authorized by the Security Council to fly the United Nations flag and they were awarded United Nations medals by the General Assembly. But all the decisions concerning the operations of the forces were taken by the USA … and the Commander took his orders from the USA … the decision to dismiss the original Commander, General MacArthur, and to replace him by a new Commander, was taken unilaterally by the USA. [Akehurst: 223-224]

Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent made it clear on June 30 that Canada would not wage war against any state, but it would take “part in collective police action under the control and authority of the United Nations for the purpose of restoring peace.” [Barris: 17]

Legality of the American Invasion

From one perspective, the attack on North Korea could be defended because it was intended to be a defensive maneuver: America wanted to prevent the takeover of South Korea by the North, and also to stop the spread of Communism and Soviet influence. North Korea could be seen as a “proxy” or “adjutant” country for the Soviet Union.

Yet, from another perspective Truman could be seen as rash and legally deceptive. There was no evidence of Soviet intentions to support North Korea in a South Korean invasion, leaving the motives appearing more as an appeasement of McCarthy and the NSC than any external threat. Furthermore, Truman characterized the Korean situation as a “conflict” (essentially a police action) rather than a “war” to skirt the Congress. Only the Congress, not the President, has the authority to declare a war — so Truman simply used another term.

Stalin Wants Updates

Stalin sent a cable to Ambassador Shtykov on July 1, demanding to know what Kim and North Korea had decided to do. “Does it intend to push on? Or has it decided to stop the advance? In our opinion the attack absolutely must continue and the sooner South Korea is liberated the less chance there is for intervention.” Stalin promised “to fulfill fully by July 10 the Koreans’ requests for delivery of ammunition and other military equipment.” [Thornton: 231]

That same day, John Foster Dulles, who had earlier supported military intervention, raised questions to Acheson and Pace. He warned that North Korea had access to “the virtually unlimited resources controlled by the Soviet Union in East Asia, including Communist China. In that part of the world we could be an (air) and sea power but it was hazardous for us to challenge communist power on the mainland.” [Paterson: 452] The question, then, must be raised: why did we commit ground troops rather than focus on precision bombings from above?

The War Continues

After American entrance to the war, victories were achieved relatively quickly. The North Koreans were confronted by early July 1950, and soon South Korea was again liberated. The quick success of the Americans can largely be credited to General Douglas MacArthur, a veteran of both World Wars and a brilliant strategist. He is not without his critics, however. Bernard Brodie calls MacArthur an “overweening, bombastic, and arrogant man, brilliant but also intensely narcissistic.” [Brodie: 77]

Nine American Seafires and twelve Fireflies struck North Korea’s airfield at Haeju, sixty miles south of Pyongyang, on July 3. If the Communists were going to have a chance, this was going to be a ground war. [Hallion: 34] Jets launched from the USS Valley Forge were the first ever to enter combat via an aircraft carrier. Commanding this fleet was Admiral John Madison Hoskins, who had lost his right foot during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 1944).

The Soviet Union pledged on July 4, 1950 that they would not get involved, with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko taking the legal position that the conflict was a “civil war among the Koreans.” [LaFeber: 99]

July 5: Battle of Osan

Reporter Marguerite Higgins, describing the North Korean sweep through Task Force Smith a few miles north of Osan on July 5, said: “Why they did not push their tanks straight through to Pusan then and there is one of the war’s mysteries. A hard push would have crumbled our defenses, as everyone from General MacArthur on down now concedes.” [Thornton: 237] The Koreans had rolled through with thirty tanks, causing Task Force Smith to withdraw “in some disorder, receiving heavy casualties.” [Ridgway: 26] Sixty Americans were killed and another 82 were captured. The fight showed that American forces were weak and unprepared for the war; outdated equipment was insufficient to fight North Korean armor and poorly trained and inexperienced units were no match for better-trained North Korean troops.

Air Casualties in Training

While the real danger was in Korea, some soldiers never made it out of the States alive. On July 7, 1950, John Jenkins crashed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. A week earlier, Wayne Moore crashed at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. And not long after, Williams saw another fatality with the crash of Don Gabel. [Maihafer: 46]

July 7-9: MacArthur Underestimates, Kim Contacts Stalin

MacArthur contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 7 and had to admit that “in some categories” the North Koreans were a superior army to the Americans he was working with. While he did not clarify that remark, it seems that he was talking about both weaponry and leadership, based on other remarks. [Hoyt: 57] He explained they were facing “an aggressive and well trained professional army under excellent top level guidance and demonstrated superior command of strategic and tactical principles.” [MacArthur: 337]

In a letter to Stalin on July 8, Kim asked the Soviet leader “to allow the use of 25-35 Soviet military advisers in the staff of the front of the Korean Army and the staffs of the 2nd Army Group, since the national military cadres have not yet sufficiently mastered the art of commanding modern troops.” So far as anyone knows, the request was denied. [Thornton: 235] This same day, Stalin encouraged Mao to send an ambassador to Korea “if, of course, Mao Zedong considers it necessary to have communications with Korea.” An embassy was opened in Pyongyang on July 10, but no ambassador was sent until August 13. [Thornton: 252]

Despite his claim on June 29 that two divisions could hold Korea, MacArthur admitted to Washington on July 9 that not even four divisions could stop the North Koreans. In a cable, he requested an additional four. While a seemingly small number of troops, at this point a great deal of American servicemen were actively stationed in Western Europe. [Goulden: 134]

On July 10, General Collins and General Hoyt Vandenberg arrived in Tokyo to interview MacArthur. They were anxious. [Hoyt: 67] Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd of the Marines visited the same day, and MacArthur told him that if he could have a Marine division, he would land them at Inchon, behind enemy lines. Shepherd was supportive and encouraged MacArthur to request such a division. [Halberstam: 295]

McCarthy Strikes Again

Despite American victories, Senator McCarthy was not ready to pull his punches. On July 12, 1950, he wrote to the President, “Today American boys lie dead in the mud of Korean valleys. Some have their hands tied behind their back, their faces shot away by Communist machine guns.” McCarthy said these alleged atrocities occurred due to the Congressional program for Korea being “sabotaged”. [LaFeber: 105] With McCarthy, Truman was damned if he fought the Communists and damned if he didn’t.

Commander William B. Porter, executive officer of the cruiser Juneau, took a crew ashore far north of the 38th parallel and executed a “daring raid”. His men blew up a strategically important railroad tunnel near Songjin on the Chongjin-Wonsan railroad. [Hoyt: 94]

The next day, July 13, General Walton Walker came to Southeast Asia and took over command of the ground forces, and ROK headquarters moved to Taegu (in Korea’s southeast corner) to be near the command. At this point, Walker’s Eighth Army consisted entirely of men from the American Occupation Army in Japan. As of this day, the United Nations had 58,000 ROK troops and 18,000 American troops. [Hoyt: 70] It is unknown how many, if any, other nations had committed troops at this point.

Also on July 13, Generals Hoyt Vandenberg and Joseph Lawton Collins of the JCS arrived in Tokyo to meet with MacArthur and Walker. Their goal? To establish a perimeter beachhead around Pusan. MacArthur told them he was determined to “destroy” the North Korea forces and “to compose and unite Korea.” [Halberstam: 369]

Canada Weighs In

Although on June 27 Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson had said he did not expect the Korean conflict to involve the American (or Canadian) military, he quickly changed his tune. On July 14, he believed the Canadians should be doing more, because if “peace is endangered in Korea, it becomes a matter of immediate concern to the Canadian people; for Canada, in this jet-propelled, atomic interdependent age, cannot by itself remain secure and at peace in a warring world.” [Barris: 18]

Also on July 14, J. Lawton Collins, army chief of staff, presented the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers with the blue and white UN colors atop the Dai Ichi roof. MacArthur responded, “I accept this flag with the deepest emotion.” [Manchester: 655]

The grim mood in Washington and Tokyo was evident in the July 16 editorial of the New York Times. “Our emotions, as we watch our outnumbered, out-weaponed soldiers in Korea, must be a mingling of pity, sorrow and admiration. This is the sacrifice we asked of them, justified only by the hope that what they are now doing will keep this war a small war, and that the death of a small number will prevent the slaughter of millions. The choice has been a terrible one. We cannot be cheerful about it, or even serene. But we need not be hysterical. We need not accept a greater war and the collapse of civilization.” [Halberstam: 149]

Advantage: North Korea

General Dean ordered his divisional headquarters to move from Taejon southward to Yongdong on July 17. He stayed on at Taejon, along with Colonel Charles E. Beauchamp. Dean’s rationale for staying was the idea that communications, as bad as they were, would be more effective if on the scene of battle. [Hoyt: 81]

By July 19, the North Koreans had the clear advantage, and “the front was so fluid around Taejon — the linchpin of the UN defensive line — that General Dean confessed, ‘I could not even be certain we still held a solid line northwest of the city, and very few important command decisions were made at that time.'” [Goulden: 147] This day also marked the first loss of an American airplane. [Hallion: 54]

Also on the evening of July 19, President Truman addressed the nation and said, “Appeasement leads only to further aggression and ultimately to war.” [McCullough: 784] He refused to accept that the aggression in Korea was, in fact, a war. Despite this, he called on the National Guard and Reserves to assist, announcing, “I have authorized the Secretary of Defense to meet the need for military manpower by calling into active Federal service as many National Guard units and as many units and individuals of the Reserve forces of the Army, Navy, and Air Forces as may be required.” [Berebitsky: 3] How many would be needed remained to be seen.

On July 20, as his division fell back from Taejon following a North Korean takeover, General Dean became separated from his men. Alone, he hid in woods during the day and traveled at night. A British journalist, embedded with the North Koreans, “discovered that the South Koreans had killed thousands of political prisoners” before fleeing. Although this report was initially denounced as a “fabrication” by the US Embassy in London, the American military later confirmed it, and even had photographs of the bullet-ridden corpses dumped in long trenches. [Hanley: 98]

On July 23, General MacArthur sent a cable to the Joint Chiefs in Washington, where he explained his next strategy, the one that would prove to be the most effective move in the war:

“Operation planned mid-September is amphibious landing of a two division corps in rear of enemy lines for purpose of enveloping and destroying enemy forces in conjunction with attack from south by Eighth Army. I am firmly convinced that early and strong effort behind his front will sever his main line of communication and enable us to deliver a decisive and crushing blow. The alternative is a frontal attack which can only result in a protracted and expensive campaign.”

John Moore Allison sent an emotional memo to Paul Nitze on July 24 where he argued that stopping at the 38th parallel would cause Americans to lose stature in the eyes of the Korean people. If the Americans did that, “the people of Korea would lose all faith in the courage, intelligence, and morality of the United States. And I for one would not blame them.” [Halberstam: 328]

South Korea Oppressive?

By July 25, Stanley Earl had resigned as a labor adviser to the American aid mission in South Korea. He called the South Korean government “an oppressive regime” which “did very little to help the people”, and felt that “an internal South Korean rebellion against the Rhee Government would have occurred if the forces in North Korea had not invaded.” [Blum: 47]

This same day, Brig. General Edward L. Timberlake received a memo from Col. Turner C. Rogers ordering him to kill Korean civilians. The memo read, “The Army has requested that we strafe all civilian refugee parties that are noted approaching our positions.” Although this “may cause embarrassment” to the US government, such extreme action was deemed necessary to eliminate North Koreans hiding amongst civilians. Pilots aboard the carrier Valley Forge were told that “groups of more than eight to ten people were to be considered troops, and were to be attacked.” [Hanley: 75]

No Gun Ri

As if he could see what was about to happen, Pope Pius XII released “Supreme Grief”, an antiwar encyclical on July 26, 1950. He wrote: “Let us all remember what war brings, which, alas, we know from experience; nothing but ruin, death and every kind of misery… Such murderous and inhuman weapons have been introduced and developed as can destroy not only armies and fleets, but also innocent children with their mothers, those who are sick and the helpless aged.”

United States veterans interviewed by the Associated Press said they machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railway bridge at No Gun Ri on July 26. General Hobart Gay told rear-echelon reporters he was sure most refugees fleeing south were North Korean infiltrators.

A week later, according to other veterans, a US general ordered the destruction of two strategic bridges across the Naktong River killing hundreds of civilians. “It was a tough decision,” wrote Hobart Gay, the 1st Cavalry Division commander, in a now-declassified document, “because up in the air with the bridge went hundreds of refugees.”

More Canadians, Please

On July 27, the US government sent a message to the Canadian prime minister requesting that he send a brigade to help the forces in Korea. At this point, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa had sent troops and equipment, or at least announced such intentions. [Barris: 18]

North Koreans Crush American Windpipe

The North Koreans were still advancing in the region of the Pusan Perimeter, and North Korean Major General Wae Pang had the utmost confidence in his men. On July 28, he spoke to his troops: “Comrades, the enemy is demoralized… The task given to us is… the annihilation of the remnants of the enemy… the liberation of Chinju and Masan means the final battle to cut off the windpipe of the enemy… Men of the 6th Division, let us annihilate the enemy and distinguish ourselves.” [Goulden: 175]

Lt. General Walton Harris Walker, leading the Eighth Army, stood defiant, announcing on July 29, “There will be no more retreating! We must fight to the end! We are going to hold this line! We are going to win!”

By July 30, every available American was in Korea, and this was not even half of what MacArthur would need to hold the Pusan Perimeter, let alone push the North Koreans back to the 38th parallel. [Hoyt: 286] J. Lawton Collins called for the activation of four National Guard infantry divisions and two Guard regimental combat teams on July 31, with the Joint Chiefs supporting him. The selected units were alerted the next day. [Berebitsky: 7]

MacArthur received a top secret memo on July 31 informing him that “atomic bomb components” were en route to Guam, and would be ready within three days if the president gave such a command.

Return of the Soviets

On August 1, Soviet delegate Yakov Malik returned to Security Council and assumed the presidency.

This same day, the Second Infantry debarked at Pusan along with the First Marine Division, just in time to help defend the Pusan perimeter. [Thornton: 179]

Slaughter on The Notch

The 19th Infantry was climbing the west face of Notch, a pass southwest of Chungam-ni, but grew tired and went to sleep on August 2. While asleep, they were attacked by the North Koreans. Those that awoke were driven off the area, but many (including the commander) were bayoneted to death while still in their blankets. [Hoyt: 134]

The Tuksong-dong bridge was destroyed on August 3. Corporal Rudolph Giannelli told AP reporter Hal Boyle that “when the smoke settled there wasn’t anything standing at all.” He acknowledged that refugees were on the bridge when it was blasted. On August 4, after U.S. forces withdrew across the Naktong River, General Hobart Gay ordered the blowing of the Waegwan bridge, killing hundreds of refugees trying to cross.

Operation Chromite

From August 6 through the 8th, a conference was held in Tokyo between MacArthur, Ridgway, Averell Harriman, Lauris Norstad and Edward Mallory “Ned” Almond. Within two and a half hours, MacArthur “outlined his master plan”. Ridgway recalled, “I know that after this brilliant exposition, and after I had studied the plans for Operation Chromite… my own doubts were largely dissolved.” [Ridgway: 36] Perhaps one of these men had a copy of “Star and Stripes” with them — the August 6 issue featured a largely unknown model and actress, Marilyn Monroe.

Hill 342

As Monday, August 7 began, Lieutenant Colonel John H. Michaelis ordered Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Taplett to hold Hill 342 (also known as Fox Hill) “at all costs”. The job was handed down to Second Lieutenant John H. Cahill of the 1st Platoon of G Company, who was reinforced by a machine gun squad and a radio operator. [Hoyt: 146]

This same day, Canadian Prime Minister St. Laurent announced over CBC Radio that Canada was recruiting a 5,000-man brigade for duty in Korea. He wanted men aged 19 through 35, preferably veterans, for an 18-month term of service. [Barris: 18]

Elsewhere, August 9 saw a message from Col. Raymond D. Palmer of the 8th Cavalry ordering his men, “Shoot all refugees coming across river.” [Hanley: 163] Thus civilians crossing the Naktong were shot down while urging soldiers to believe they were not Communists.

Soviet Union Almost Hit?

On the morning of August 12, the State Department learned that American B-29s had bombed the east coast port city of Najin (sometimes also referred to as Rashin or Rajin), located seventeen miles from the Soviet border. [Thornton: 300] Allegedly, Najin was being used as a Soviet submarine base.

On August 14, 1950, Time quoted a “reliable source” in the Dai Ichi saying that MacArthur believed: “1) the Korean War would be useless if the U.S. did not fight Communism wherever it arose in Asia; 2) this meant backing Chiang’s Nationalists, the British in Hong Kong, and the anti-Communists of Indo-China, Siam and Burma; 3) anything less than this firm, determined action would invite Communism to sweep all of Asia.”

Adrian Beecher Brian, a soldier from the 5th Cavalry Regiment, wrote home on August 14: “We are spread thin over 3 hills, 5 miles apart. We have been busier than you can imagine for a reserve Company. In the last three days I have been on three patrols trying to clear out the Gooks from the rear. An unusual situation — the river ‘front’ is very quiet— but the rear is (or was) crawling with Gooks. We took our first prisoner night before last. He just walked in on us in a sort of daze. We didn’t see him until he was about five feet from our flank fox-hole. When the guard yelled ‘halt’ he jumped into a ditch and out of sight. I threw an illuminating grenade behind him and he gave up very willingly.” [Maihafer: 36]

Hill 303 Massacre

The Hill 303 massacre was a war crime that took place during the Korean War on August 17, 1950 on a hill above Waegwan, South Korea. Forty-one captured United States Army prisoners of war were shot and killed by members of the North Korea army during one of the smaller engagements of the Battle of Pusan Perimeter. One such soldier was Cecil E. “Cec” Newman.

At 14:00, a UN air strike took place, attacking the hill with napalm, bombs, rockets, and machine guns. At this time, a North Korean officer said that American soldiers were closing in on them and they could not continue to hold the prisoners. The officer ordered the men shot, and the North Koreans then fired into the kneeling Americans as they rested in the gully. One of the North Koreans who was later captured said all or most of the 50 guards participated. The U.S. air strike and artillery bombardment pushed North Korean forces off the hill.

On August 19, South Korean journalist Chun Wook published his report on No Gun Ri. “Shrubs and weeds in the area and a creek running through the tunnels were drenched in blood, and the area was covered with two or three layers of bodies. About 400 bodies of old and young people and children covered the scene so that it was difficult to walk around without stepping on corpses.” [Hanley: 183]

The CIA sent a memo to the White House on August 18, stressing that President Rhee would have to remain in power by American military force. They noted “his regime” was “unpopular among many if not a majority of non-Comminist Koreans” and believed a free election would actually result in a pro-Communist leader. [Hanley: 170] In other words, it was preferable to continue a war to maintain an unpopular leader than allow the country to unify under a Communist political party.

On August 20, Chou En-lai, Mao’s foreign minister, telegraphed UN Secretary-General Lie that “the Chinese people cannot but be most concerned about the solution of the Korean question.” [Manchester: 699]

Also on August 20, MacArthur contacted the North Koreans and warned then that their brutally of prisoners was unforgivable, and if not ceased then he would hold “every enemy commander criminally accountable under the rules and precedents of war.” [MacArthur: 344]

On August 23, adviser Lei Yingfu presented his analysis of MacArthur’s tactics, personality and mindset to Zhou Enlai. Lei correctly guessed that MacArthur was planning to attack at Inchon. The word was passed on to Mao, who in turn wanted to tell Kim. But Kim stubbornly refused to listen, a decision that may have cost North Korea the war. [Halberstam: 305]

General Dean is Captured!

After wandering the hills of South Korea for thirty-five days, General Dean’s odyssey came to an end on Friday, August 25. Two men offered to help him, but it was a ruse — he was turned in to the North Koreans and the men were given $5 each for a bounty. [Goulden: 150]

Back in the States on August 25, deputy press officer Michael McDermott of the State Department was in the National Press Building, sipping his beverage and standing while reading news off the ticker. McDermott ran across a statement MacArthur had sent to the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as a multitude of press outlets, and knew the statement did not mesh with official Washington policy. He immediately called Acheson and was summoned to the Secretary’s country home to discuss the urgent matter. [Goulden: 160]

By the end of the day on August 25, one month into the conflict, American casualties had reached 6,886. [McCullough: 796]

The next day, Eugene Franklin Clark was called into the office of Captain Edward Pearce of the US Navy at the Dai Ichi Insurance Building in downtown Tokyo. While “overlooking Emperor Hirohito’s imperial palace” from the window, Pearce broke the news of MacArthur’s plan to land at Inchon. Clark, under orders from Major General Holmes Ely Dager, was tapped to scout the terrain and provide intelligence for MacArthur and Pearce. [E. Clark: 3-4]

Zhou Enlai Complains

On August 28, Zhou Enlai sent a complaint to the United Nations that “United States planes bombed and strafed Chinese territory damaging buildings and vehicles and injuring and killing civilians.” [Thornton: 288] The cities alleged to have been hit were Linkiang, Tsian and Talitzu. The Americans denied these attacks. [Thornton: 289]

On August 29, General Hobart Raymond Gay declared refugees “fair game” and ordered them fired upon if they approached American forces. [Hanley: 163]

Mysteriously, days later on September 1, Ambassador Austin told the Security Council that there was “a possibility” that an American F-51 fighter “might have mistakenly violated the territory of Communist China on August 27, by strafing an airstrip at Antung.” Austin promised that if the attack was verified, the United States would pay “damages” and “appropriate disciplinary action” would be taken against those responsible. [Thornton: 290] Interestingly, the cities that Zhou mentioned were over 150 miles away from Antung.

The first United Kingdom soldiers to arrive in Korea — the British 27th Commonwealth Brigade — landed at Pusan on August 29.

National Security Council Releases NSC-81

Document NSC-81, called by General Collins a “long, somewhat rambling paper”, was released on September 1 and provided their view on the involvement of Soviets in North Korea:

“It is unlikely that the Soviet Union will passively accept the emergence of a situation in which all or most of Korea would pass from its control, unless it believes that it can take action which would prevent this and which would not involve a substantial risk of a general war or unless it is now prepared to accept such risk.”

And furthermore:

“It is possible, but politically improbable, that no action will be taken by the Soviet Union or by the Chinese communist to reoccupy Northern Korea or to indicate in any other way an intention to prevent the occupation of Northern Korea by United Nations forces before the latter have reached the 38th parallel.”

Hill 303 Aftermath

The 2nd Battalion of the 5th Cavalry attacked and captured Hill 303 on September 4. Later that night, the North Koreans counter-attacked and by midnight the 5th Cavalry’s G Company was surrounded. [Maihafer: 60]

Earlier that day, Mao’s emissary Zhai Junwu visited Kim and reported that the North Koreans and Americans were locked in a stalemate around Pusan. Kim, again stubborn, refused to believe this and said he offensive had only just begun. Kim told Zhai, “A U.S. counterattack is not possible; they do not possess sufficient troop support and therefore a landing to our rear ports would be difficult.” [Halberstam: 306]

Americans Dying En Masse

Americans were dying right and left in the battlefields of Korea. On September 5 alone, the army lost 102 men killed, 420 wounded, 587 missing. The marines had 35 killed, 91 wounded and none missing. The total casualties for one day? 1,245. [Goulden: 183]

A Soviet Veto

September 6 saw the Soviet Union casting its first veto on the Korean situation, making it clear that if America were to proceed, they could not do so through the Security Council.

There was a shift in diplomatic policy at this point (September 7), according to James I. Matray. “Kennan and probably Nitze continued to warn against military action north of the parallel, (but John) Allison’s views now appeared to represent the attitude of most of Truman’s diplomatic advisers.” [Paterson: 467]

The Defense Production Act

The Defense Production Act was enacted on September 8, 1950, in response to the start of the Korean War.

The Act contains three major sections. The first authorizes the President to require businesses to sign contracts or fulfill orders deemed necessary for national defense. The second authorizes the President to establish mechanisms (such as regulations, orders or agencies) to allocate materials, services and facilities to promote national defense. The third section authorizes the President to control the civilian economy so that scarce and/or critical materials necessary to the national defense effort are available for defense needs.

The Act also authorizes the President to requisition property, force industry to expand production and the supply of basic resources, impose wage and price controls, settle labor disputes, control consumer and real estate credit, establish contractual priorities, and allocate raw materials to aid the national defense.

War Rages On…

Dean Acheson praised the war efforts and assured Americans on national television on September 10 that China would not enter the war. “I should think it would be sheer madness… and I see no advantage to them in doing it,” he said. Acheson believed China’s primary concern was with Russia. [LaFeber: 109]

On September 11, Truman approved an NSC paper that was “a masterpiece of evasion.” [Manchester: 696] He made “only minor alterations.” [Paterson: 467] That day, soldier Jack Madison wrote home from the ship Private Sadale Munomori, concerned about the upcoming mission. “I certainly do wish we had an opportunity for more training. I feel sure we will get some more when we arrive. It would be nothing but foolish to commit us in this state of combat efficiency.” [Maihafer: 83]

Defense Secretary Johnson was removed from office on September 12, due in part to his friction with Secretary of State Acheson. [Thornton: 288]

On Wednesday, September 13, four allied cruisers entered Inchon harbor, and US destroyers darted in to defy shore batteries. Next, warplanes from four carriers blasted defense redoubts. Then, the following night, the bulk of the UN fleet — 261 ships from seven nations — negotiated Flying Fish Channel. [Manchester: 689] Within the harbor, Wolmido Island was taken by force under constant fire. [Hallion: 57]

On September 15, MacArthur landed an army at Inchon (on the west coast) 150 miles behind the North Koreans. Serving as an aide-decamp to MacArthur during the landing was none other than Alexander M. Haig, future Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. [Hersh: 56] MacArthur went north, rather than south, and divided the North Koreans in half.

On September 18, MacArthur sent a report to the Security Council accusing Russia and China of continuing to provide support to the North Koreans. [Thornton: 318]

MacArthur held a staff meeting aboard the Mount McKinley on September 19, with most of the senior Navy and marine staff present. Clay Blair said it was “virtually a public meeting”. MacArthur berated General Walker and told everyone he wanted him replaced with someone more forceful. Walker was understandably upset and afterward contacted acting chief of staff Doyle Hickey, explaining to him, “We have been bastard children lately, and as far as our engineering equipment is concerned, we are in pretty bad shape. I don’t want you to think that I am dragging my heels, but I have a river across my whole front and the two bridges I have, don’t make much.” [Halberstam: 310]

On September 21, Truman was asked at a press conference if he had made any decisions regarding military action in Korea beyond the 38th parallel. He responded, “No, I have not. That is a matter for the United Nations to decide. That is a United Nations force, and we are one of the many who are interested in that situation. It will be worked out by the United Nations and I will abide by the decision that the United Nations makes.” [Paterson: 468] This, of course, was largely empty talk. Truman had control of MacArthur and MacArthur controlled the UN forces. Any decision made by the United Nations, largely a US-controlled body anyway, would have little sway over Truman.

Soviet General Matvei Vasilevich Zakharov met with Kim on September 21and urged him to seek military aid from the Chinese. Kim was hesitant, suspecting this might create a dependency, but realized the news was bad and there may be no other choice. [Halberstam: 343]

On September 23, Pravda wrote, “General MacArthur landed the most arrant criminals at Inchon, gathered from the ends of the earth… American bandits are shooting every Seoul inhabitant taken prisoner.” Meanwhile, General Allen called headquarters in Japan, saying, “Something must be brewing. We haven’t had a counterattack all day.” [Ridgway: 31]

Major General Ned Almond pressed the Army 7th Division ahead on September 24, and MacArthur falsely told the media the next day that Seoul had been reclaimed. This was a lie issued to coincide with the three month anniversary of the war’s beginning in order to give the story a better angle. Good publicity or not, a lie is a lie. [Spurr: 105]

China Plans to Enter the War

The Chinese Chief of Staff, Nie Rongzhen, had sent a message to the United States through the Panikkar channel on September 25, declaring that “the Chinese did not intend to sit back with folded hands and let the Americans come up to their border.” On September 30, Zhou Enlai himself announced that “the Chinese people absolutely will not tolerate foreign aggression, nor will they supinely tolerate seeing their neighbors being savagely invaded by the imperialists.” [Thornton: 333]


On September 27, the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed MacArthur that his objective was “the destruction of the North Korean Forces.” Authorization was given “to conduct military operations… north of the 38th parallel in Korea, provided that at the time of such operations there has been no entry into North Korea by major Soviet or Chinese Communist Forces, no announcement of intended entry, nor a threat to counter your operations militarily in North Korea.” Any American-Chinese conflict was strictly forbidden. [Brodie: 71]

On September 29, General Marshall followed up MacArthur’s orders with an “eyes only” telegram. Marshall wrote, “We want you to feel unhampered tactically and strategically to proceed north of the 38th parallel.” Bernard Brodie assesses this message was to sooth MacArthur, who had to answer to people clearly ranked beneath him. Marshall’s intention was by no means to give MacArthur free rein, though this telegram would later raise some eyebrows. [Brodie: 71-72] As another ego boost, MacArthur met with President Syngman Rhee the same day and was told, “How can I ever explain to you my own undying gratitude and that of the Korean people?” From a bombed-out National Assembly Hall, Rhee declared that Seoul was again the South Korean capitol. [Maihafer: 117]

That day, Adrian Beecher Brian wrote home, concerned that soldiers and refugees looked too much alike. “The main trouble now is that the NKs have all changed into civilian clothes, dropped or hidden their weapons and are joining the refugees. We spot them by looking for a group of 10 or 12 young men with crew cuts and dressed in spanking clean civvies. We are all speculating when the war will end. I am afraid it will not be as soon as most people around here think, especially if Red China comes in. That would be the last straw.” [Maihafer: 120]

On September 30, the United Nation forces reached the 38th Parallel.

By October 1950, the United Nations forces continued northward into North Korea and decided that Korea would be united — but under the government of South Korea. John Spanier sums up this decision by explaining that “Inchon, in short, transformed the whole character of the war — from a defensive action seeking only to reestablish the status quo, to an offensive one designed to effect a permanent change in the status quo.” [Spanier: 62] In theory, the war could have been ended September 30 after only two months of conflict and without Chinese intervention had an armistice been sought at this point.

MacArthur contacted North Korea on the 1st, asking them to cease hostilities “in order that the decisions of the United Nations may be carried out without further loss of life and destruction of property.” He said that “North Korean forces, including prisoners of war in the hands of the United Nations Command, will continue to be given the care dictated by civilized custom and practice and permitted to return to their homes.” [MacArthur: 359]

MacArthur’s request was rejected. That night, Kim contacted the Chinese ambassador to ask for Chinese troops. He even took the extreme step of asking if China would host an exile North Korean government if such a need arose. [Halberstam: 343]

Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai informed Indian Ambassador K. M. Panikkar on October 3 that if American troops crossed the parallel, China would enter the war. Many years later, Dean Acheson would reflect that “Zhou’s words were a warning, not to be disregarded, but, on the other hand, not an authoritative statement of policy.” This, quite simply, is a gross understatement. [Brodie: 73]

On October 4, British ambassador Sir Oliver Franks grilled Dean Rusk about military actions north of the 38th parallel. Did the United States feel that existing United Nations resolutions authorize such activity? Yes, said Rusk. [Goulden: 242] Ambassador Henderson sent a report back from Delhi on October 4, clarifying what Zhou had told Panikkar just a day before. “Panikkar said that Peiping officials had made clear that entry of South Korean armed forces into North Korea would not be considered as aggression and that therefore crossing 38th parallel by South Koreans would not necessitate Chinese intervention. Entry of forces other than South Korean into North Korea would be met, however, by Chinese intervention.” [Thornton: 338]

On October 7, the United Nations General Assembly (rather than the Security Council) passed a resolution approving of the decisions made in Washington. [Brodie: 72] As Russia had returned to the Security Council, the vote was taken in the General Assembly to work around them. By a 47-5 vote, the UN voted to pass a measure written by the State Department declaring the UN objective was “insuring conditions of tranquility throughout the county” and establishing “a unified, independent and democratic government” of all Korea. [Manchester: 699] Stanley Weintraub called the resolution “overreaching”. [Weintraub: 438]

China Enters the War (October 1950)

On October 8, 1950, the day after American troops crossed the 38th, Chairman Mao Zedong assembled the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. The members of the PVA were in actuality Chinese regulars from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, but were called volunteers so that their entry into the war would not seem to indicate a state-to-state war between the US and China (and therefore hopefully preventing an invasion into China).

China’s reasons for entering the war are something of debate. Some historians believe, more or less correctly, the orders came ultimately from Stalin himself. Yet others feel that China “may have acted through fear that the United States was preparing to invade Manchuria.” [North: 205] I suspect an analysis of the facts could pin down a more precise reason, though there seems nothing unusual in China coming to the aid of its Communist brethren, particularly a nation that shares a border. At least no more unusual than America coming to the aid of South Korea.

That same day, Zhou Enlai and interpreter Shi Zhe flew to Moscow in order to discuss Soviet assistance. The meeting happened two days later.

This coming of China was clearly unknown to Time magazine, who announced on October 9 about the “victory in South Korea” and “Stalin’s defeat in Korea.” [Goulden: 231]


On October 8 (some reports say October 9), two United Nations (American) F-80 “shooting star” jets penetrated Soviet airspace to strafe an airbase located on the coast at Dry River, approximately midway between the North Korean-Soviet border and Vladivostok, 62 miles inside the Soviet border. [Thornton: 354]

Ned Almond threw a dinner party on October 9. He was known for his good eating, regularly having steaks, fresh vegetables and fine wines flown in from Tokyo. Marine O. P. Smith and his three regimental commanders were there, served by enlisted men in white uniforms on linen tablecloths with china and silver place settings. The Marines were appalled and Lewis “Chesty” Puller later called it “an unconscionable waste in a war zone.” [Halberstam: 429]

A meeting took place at Stalin’s home on October 10. Present were Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Georgi Malenkov, Lavrenti Beria, Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bulganin, Anastas Mikoyan and Molotov.

After the Fall of Pyongyang

A CIA assessment on October 12 argued that “barring a Soviet decision for global war”, Chinese involvement “will probably be confined to continued covert assistance.” [Weintraub: 439]

Diplomats at the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang fled on the afternoon of October 14, not surprised they were forced to leave by Colonel Wong Lichan. According to Russell Spurr, “Their personal baggage had stood ready-packed since shortly after the colonel’s arrival. There was ample time to burn codebooks and a few sensitive files before throwing their belongings into army trucks.” [Spurr: 127] They set up an emergency capitol at Kanggye, in the northern Chagang Province.

Pyongyang quickly fell, but this only added to the urgency from Kim Il Sung. During the battle, he announced, “Do not retreat one step farther. Now we have no space in which to fall back.” To enforce this, he called upon a “supervising army”, which was little more than an execution squad ordered to shoot any deserters. [Goulden: 250] That same day, the first Chinese soldiers entered Korean territory. [Spurr: 4]

Wake Island

On October 15, President Truman went to Wake Island for a short, highly publicized meeting with General MacArthur. A dozen American officials began planning the reconstruction of Korea, without consulting the United Nations or Syngman Rhee. [LaFeber: 101]

The CIA had previously told Truman that Chinese involvement was unlikely. MacArthur, saying he was speculating, saw little risk of Chinese involvement. The general explained that the Chinese had lost their window of opportunity to help North Korea’s invasion “in the first or second months”. “We are no longer fearful of their intervention. We no longer stand hat in hand,” explained MacArthur.

MacArthur further assessed the situation by saying that China might move 50,000 or 60,000 men across the Yalu River (out of a total of 125,000 stationed along the river and 300,000 total in all of Manchuria), but as China had no air force they would be lacking air cover. America, meanwhile, now had Air Force bases in Korea. Without cover, “there would be the greatest slaughter.” [LaFeber: 110]

MacArthur further informed Truman that he expected North Korean resistance to end by Thanksgiving and he hoped “to be able to withdraw the Eighth Army to Japan by Christmas.” [Brodie: 74]

Of course, both the CIA and MacArthur were incorrect in their conservative speculations.

Sinchon Massacre

Beginning on October 17, North Korean sources claim that approximately 35,000 people were killed in the Sinchon region of North Korea by American military forces and other supporters during the course of 52 days, which would have been about a quarter of the population of the region. This event inspired the Pablo Picasso painting “Massacre in Korea” the following year.

The Situation at Pyongyang

Peng Dehuai attended a conference in Beijing with Mao, Zhou, and Gao Gang on October 18, and they ordered the first wave of Chinese soldiers—in total more than 260,000 men—to cross into Korea on the night of October 19. Peng expressed his concern that the military leaders of China were uneasy, but Mao believed it was already too late to change the course of events. [Halberstam: 362]

On October 19-20, the Eighth Army hit Pyongyang. Ground troops assaulted from the south and a parachute drop by the 187th Regimental Combat Team 25 miles north of the city completed its envelopment. [MacArthur: 364]

EUSAK intelligence estimated that fewer than 8,000 North Korean troops remained to defend Pyongyang. They speculated that the troops may try to delay the UN, but the city’s complete takeover was inevitable. [Goulden: 250] Lt. Col. Gilmon Augustus Huff, commanding the 7th Cavalry Regiment, sought to capture the port of Chinnampo in the middle of the night. Taking inspiration from Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites, he ordered his men to turn on all their radios and headlights to strike fear in the enemy. As most had fled, it was easy. [Hanley: 171]

General Paik Sun-yup lead the 1st ROK Division into Pyongyang, where most of the inhabitants had fled. “I had left five years earlier as a refugee,” Paik recalled. “Now I was back with 10,000 men, 100 guns, and a battalion of M-46 tanks. We thought the war was over. The North Koreans were now completely wiped out, throwing away their weapons as we met them.” [Hastings: 124]

Lieutenant Walt Mayo of Boston celebrated his own way: he broke into the Russian embassy and confiscated generic champagne. The booze was “so raw it made you gag”, and it had to be drank out of metal cups, but it was worth it. [Halberstam: 9]

Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell arrived on October 24 to perform a USO show at Wonsan. This same day, MacArthur orders X Corps and the Eighth Army to “drive forward with all speed and full utilization of their forces.” [Manchester: 714]

China and America Collide

On October 25, the Pentagon informed MacArthur that troops scheduled to be sent for the rest of October and November were canceled. This cancellation did not include 17,000 noncommissioned officers.

At the same time, the Chinese finally engaged American troops on October 25/26, with 270,000 Volunteer Army troops under the command of General Peng Dehuai. This greatly surprised the UN, who had ignored evidence that such a massive force existed. After “fierce bugle calls, shrill whistles, and blasts from shepherds’ horns” the Chinese attacked fifty miles south of their border. The United Nations regiments attacked were “virtually decimated”. [Stoessinger: 74]

Chinese prisoners were brought to UN stations at Pyongyang for interrogation. This confirmed the Chinese had entered the war: these men “looked Chinese, spoke Chinese, and understood neither Korean nor Japanese.” [Goulden: 287]

On October 26, Hanson Baldwin reported in the Times that 250,000 Chinese soldiers were near the Korean frontier and another 200,000 were actually in Korea. Baldwin wrote that “it is considered natural for the Chinese Communists to strengthen their frontier, for Mao may believe that Manchuria is next on the timetable.” [Manchester: 716]

However, after these initial engagements, the Chinese forces pulled back into the mountains. UN leaders saw the withdrawal as a sign of weakness leading to a great underestimation of Chinese fighting capability.

The UN forces continued their advance to the Yalu river, ignoring stern warnings given by the Chinese. Colonel Herbert Butler Powell and the 17th RCT came ashore at Iwon on October 29 to bolster the forces, but were completely unprepared for the journey. According to Ridgway, “None had insulated footwear and many had no gloves, while the clothing supply generally was short of winter gear.” [Ridgway: 67]

North Korean Capitol Captured

At the end of October, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured and a large number of prisoners of war were caught.

On November 1, the hottest November day on record in Washington at 85 degrees, Truman received word from the CIA confirming what everyone had already assumed to be true: it was now “clearly established” that Chinese Communist forces were in Korea. [McCullough: 808] In fact, that afternoon, Chinese troops struck the ROK 6th Infantry east of Unsan in such a dramatic way that General Walker had to inform General Frank William Milburn that the ROK II Corps “ceased to exist as an organized force”. [Ridgway: 54] Major General Hobart R. Gay’s 8th Regiment was also “dangerously exposed” with the loss of South Korean forces. According to Russell Spurr, “Thousands of panic-stricken troops were fleeing southward, discarding their equipment as they ran.” [Spurr: 136]

The Eight Cavalry Regiment, lead by Colonel Hal Edson, woke up on November 1 and realized “the skies were thick with smoke from forest fires.” Most likely, the North Koreans did this intentionally to mask their movements from air surveillance. [Halberstam: 23] By the end of the day, the Eighth Cav was surrounded on the North, West and South. [Halberstam: 25]

Troops withdrew from Unsan in the early hours of November 2, and ran into an ambush on the main road; the attack “jammed the road with wrecked vehicles and sent tankers and infantrymen scattering in confusion.” [Ridgway: 55] Following this setback, Chief of Intelligence Charles Andrew Willoughby upped his estimate of Chinese troops in Korea: no less than 16,500 and possibly as many as 34,000. A few days later, Lieutenant Colonel Clint Tarkenton put his estimate at 27,000. Both were way off, with the real number being possibly as high as 250,000. [Halberstam: 382]

The Chinese Slaughter Americans

On the evening of November 5-6, the Americans were in for a horrible shock. The Chinese forces found telephone lines and followed them to the positions of the 19th Infantry regiment’s C Company on a hill. The Chinese were known for their night fighting, and the Americans were caught flatfooted, many of them asleep.

The hero this night was 26-year old Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud, an American Indian from Friendship, Wisconsin. He was the first man to sound the warning alarm, and while he was ultimately killed, “a string of Chinese dead” was found in front of his body, indicating that he had more than defended himself. Red Cloud was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. [Goulden: 294] Red Cloud would also have a Korean military camp named after him in 1957.

MacArthur remarked on November 6 that “Men and material in large force are pouring across all bridges over the Yalu from Manchuria.” He believed that “the only way to stop this reinforcement of the enemy is the destruction of these bridges.” [Thornton: 368] MacArthur called China’s entry into the war “one of the most offensive acts of international lawlessness of historic record.”

Also on November 6, Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his diary about President Truman, calling him “a fine man who, in the middle of a stormy lake, knows nothing of swimming. Yet a lot of drowning people are forced to look to him as a life guard. If his wisdom could only equal his good intent!!” [Weintraub: 443]

American Congressional Elections, 1950

Strengthened by the leadership of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the growing unpopularity of President Truman, the Republicans made some gains on November 7, 1950. They acquired a total of twenty-eight seats in the House and five seats in the Senate. That McCarthy played a role in this victory, there can be no doubt. John Marshall Butler defeated the aristocratic Millard Evelyn Tydings (a McCarthy foe) in Maryland, Everett Dirksen defeated Majority Leader Scott Wike Lucas of Illinois, and Richard Nixon defeated Helen Gahagan Douglas. [LaFeber: 107-108] McCarthy wasn’t above dirty tricks; he used a fake photo of Tydings with American Communist Party leader Earl Browder to smear him. [Halberstam: 385]

Manchester reports the outcome a bit differently, saying that voters reduced the number of Democratic senators by 10 and cut the Democratic majority in the House by two-thirds. [Manchester: 735] Why he says ten senators and LaFeber says five is unclear.

This same day, General MacArthur asked for “hot pursuit”.

November 8 marked an attempt to bomb railroad and highway bridges across the Yalu at Sinuiju, which was connected to Dandong City, China. The first attempts failed, with American Shooting Stars being chased off by MiGs. [Hallion: 73] This same day, the CIA estimated that at least 30,000 Chinese soldiers were in Korea, and another 700,000 were ready along the border. [Hastings: 131]

Colonel Paul Freeman of the Twenty-Third Regiment wrote home on November 13, expressing a great pessimism. He wrote, “Even in the darkest days on the Naktong, fighting for our very existence, I could always see a ray of hope, a solution. When we returned across the 38th I thought it was utterly fantastic that we should take such a risk for nothing. I feel now that we are in a combination of the Second Crusade, Napoleon’s march on Moscow, and Bataan. I see no end to it but WWIII, and to sacrifice all our forces here in that event would be monstrous error. Even if we battle to the Yalu at a great cost and by mastering logistic obstacles almost akin to those in Burma, we would be further out on the limb with no chance of extrication. It’s just an impossible mess and I feel lower than mud about it.” [Halberstam: 406]

The Chinese Winter Offensive

On November 19, 1950, with the DPRK forces largely destroyed, Chinese military forces crossed the Yalu River, routing the UN forces and forcing them on a long retreat. Calling the Chinese intervention the beginning of “an entirely new war”, MacArthur repeatedly requested authorization to strike supplies, troops, and airplanes in Manchuria with conventional weapons and also requested permission to deploy nuclear weapons in North Korea. The Truman administration feared that such an action would greatly escalate the war into full-scale conflict with China and possibly draw China’s ally, the Soviet Union, into the conflict. Angered by Truman’s desire to maintain a “limited war,” MacArthur began issuing important statements to the press, warning them of a crushing defeat.

The Americans on the front line enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, November 23. Among the items served were: shrimp cocktail, stuffed olives, roast young tom turkey with cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, fruit cake, mince pie and coffee. The officers at X Corps headquarters (including General Oliver Smith and General Edward M. Almond) had a dinner featuring cocktails, tablecloths, napkins, chinaware, silverware and even place cards. [Goulden: 323]

Stateside, General Alfred Maximilian Gruenther spent his Thanksgiving as Columbia University with his former boss, Dwight Eisenhower. Gruenther’s son Dick, a West Point graduate, was presently in North Korea with the Seventh Division, severely wounded in the stomach. [Halberstam: 402]

MacArthur flew to Eight Army headquarters on the Chongchon River on November 24 to meet with Walker. Walker was supposed to have advanced on the 15th, but the supply lines were slower than expected. The two decided that supplies or not, the time to strike was now, to avoid winter weather and the increase in Chinese troops, who were coming by the thousands. [MacArthur: 372]

The Canadians really started to enter the war on Saturday, November 25, when they sent the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry. The men shipped out from Seattle in the rain while hearing the band play World War I tunes, including “Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. [Barris: 57]

On November 27, the Chinese “attacked in overwhelming force” and turned “the American advance into a bloody rout.” [Stoessinger: 75] General Lin Piao launched a massive campaign, entering into open war. [MacArthur: 374] In “subzero temperatures” the Chinese came “blowing bugles and horns”, attacking the Marines west of Chosin, Lt. Colonel Don Carlos Faith’s battalion to the east, and the 3rd Battalion of the 31st Infantry a few miles south. [Maihafer: 173] Incidentally, Faith was the son of Brigadier General Don Carlos Faith.

United Nations Conference

On November 28, Chinese ambassador Wu Xiuquan spoke at the United Nations. Rather than address the ongoing war, he preferred to focus on the United States’ “unlawful and criminal act of armed aggression against the territory of China, Taiwan — including the Penghu Islands.” [Spurr: 242]

The government was also being attacked by the New York Herald Tribune, specifically Pulitzer Prize winner Homer William Bigart, who wrote, “U.N. forces are now paying the initial price for the unsound decision to launch an offensive north of the peninsula’s narrow neck. The move was unsound because it was undertaken with forces far too small to secure the long Korean frontier with China and Russia. Even without the open intervention of Red China, the U.N. Army was too weak to justify scattered garrisons along the Yalu River.” [Halberstam: 427]

By November 29, Faith’s battalion pulled back and met up with Task Force MacLean. Colonel
MacLean had been captured by the Chinese, putting Faith in charge. The Chinese tore into the Americans for the next two days, pushing them south, and creating “a chaotic mass of dead bodies and burning vehicles.” [Maihafer: 174] Faith died during this attack, his body not recovered and returned to America until April 2013.

The next day, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Warren Robinson Austin vetoed all three resolutions that China had presented. Austin presented his own resolution condemning Chinese aggression in Korea, causing the Chinese delegation to walk out of the UN in protest — not returning until 1971.


Despite Truman’s disagreement with MacArthur over nuclear weaponry, Truman himself could hint at it when he so chose. During a press conference in the Indian Treaty Room on November 30, he declared that America would use all the power it had to keep the Chinese in check. A reporter asked if this would include nuclear bombs, and Truman made clear, “That includes every weapon we have.” He said there was “active consideration of its use” and the discretion would be decided by the commander in the field. [Kaufman: 111]

A few hours after the press conference, a “clarifying statement” was released, as Truman’s assertions had been incorrect: the use of the atomic bomb would not be decided by the commander in the field. According to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, only the President can authorize use of nuclear weaponry. [Goulden: 396]

That same day, he defended MacArthur at the press conference, saying, “They are always for a man when he is winning but when he is in a little trouble they all jump on him with what ought to be done which they didn’t tell him before.” The Europeans were especially critical of MacArthur, but Truman said he “has done a good job and he is continuing to do a good job.” The entry in Truman’s personal journal that night told a different story, though:

“This has been a hectic month. General Mac as usual, has been shooting off his mouth. He made a pre-election statement that cost us votes and he made a post-election statement that has him in hot water in Europe and at home. I must defend him and save his face even if he has tried on various and numerous occasions to cut mine off. But I must stand by my swordsmates, and wouldn’t Mac ‘love’ that statement from a man he considers ‘inferior’.”

In the afternoon after the press conference, Belgian ambassador Baron Robert Silvercruys met with Dean Rusk. Unlike most others, Silvercruys favored the use of the atomic bomb, and told Rusk that “he could not see any particular value to using it against Chinese cities. Why not go a little further and destroy the Soviet facilities for manufacturing atom bombs?” These facilities “were not located at too great an air distance from the scene of our present operations.” [Goulden: 397]

The Defense Budget Increases

President Truman asked Congress for a $17 billion supplemental appropriation to support the war on December 1. This was four times the Pentagon’s pre-Korea annual budget. The president explained that, “We are trying to get by mid-’52 what we wanted for mid-’53.” [Goulden: 401-402]

MacArthur blasted Truman on December 1, writing in U.S. News that Truman ought to let him go in “hot pursuit” and bomb Manchurian bases. He felt the administration had given him “an enormous handicap, without precedent in history.” [Halberstam: 477]

On the afternoon of December 3, Time magazine’s Dwight Martin drove around Pyongyang. Looters had been roaming the city dismantling trucks, and according to Russell Spurr, “Lamps, dashboard fittings, even the tires had been taken. Any vehicle left unguarded for more than half an hour in this part of the country was likely to be stolen or cannibalized.” [Spurr: 222]

Britain and the Bomb

Prime Minister Attlee was quite distressed by the talk of nuclear weapons (he had, of course, committed his own troops to Korea and had his reputation on the line) and flew to the United States to meet with Truman on December 4. Truman assured Attlee that no intentions to use the atom bomb were in mind.

On December 8, Marshal Peng was urging Mao to pause the Chinese offensive until the spring and to remain north of Seoul. He believed that the Americans and UN were not as badly hurt as it might seem and were digging in even deeper. Peng felt the cost of life required to take Seoul would not be worth the small political victory. Mao, Stalin and Kim disagreed. [Halberstam: 511]

The Seventh Marine Regiment’s Fox Company and the First Marine Division finally reached the “safety of the sea” at Hungnam on December 11. [Drury: 305] They had faced over a week of horrifying battle, and not a single officer was left alive. Sgt. Richard Danford assumed command of the group which had been depleted from 246 men to fewer than 36 within ten days. [Drury: 308]

A State of Emergency?

President Truman announced on December 15 over both radio and television that the following day he would declare a state of national emergency. He further called for an increase in defense production, an expansion of the armed forces (3.5 million additional men), and an establishment of wage and price controls. [Kaufman: 116]

Indeed, on December 16, a state of emergency was declared and the Office of Defense Mobilization was set up to coordinate government efforts under Executive Order 10193. The authority to create such an agency had only been granted to Truman three months prior, under the Defense Production Act. For the next three years, ODM was one of the most powerful agencies in the federal government. Truman named Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric and a government mobilization chief in World War II, to head the ODM. Wilson became one of the most powerful people in the federal government, and the press began calling him “co-president”.

Soldiers from I Company managed to escape from Hungnam on December 20, reaching the USS Billy Mitchell. They were greeted by waiters in starched white jackets, carrying silver trays loaded with strawberry shortcake. After their first bath in weeks, the soldiers changed into clean fatigues and enjoyed the Navy’s hospitality. [Maihafer: 179]

General Walker Dies

Lieutenant General Walton Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, met with General Garrison Holt Davidson at 24th Division Headquarters on December 23, 1950. After, Walker’s Patton-style jeep crashed into another UN vehicle, an ROK weapons carrier, on an icy road while traveling at a high rate of speed. The jeep was sent flying off the road, killing the commander. Walker sustained massive head injuries, as he disliked wearing his heavy steel helmet when not in active combat. Walker’s driver, aide and bodyguard had all been thrown in the ditch and survived.

He had previously developed a close friendship with Dwight Eisenhower, from his time patrolling on the U.S.-Mexican border in 1916. Walker also served in France during World War I, taught classes at West Point, and served under George Marshall in the 1930s. Finally, Walker served under George Patton in World War II, giving him probably one of the most impressive resumes in military history.

Brigadier General Francis W. Farrell recalled that on the morning of his death, Walker had said, “I find it ironic that a man who lived as Patton did would die in a traffic accident.” Farrell said on recalling this, “That gave me a chill for a long time.” [Goulden: 425]

His body was escorted back to the United States by his son, Sam Sims Walker, who himself would become a general. MacArthur said of Walker that he had “courage and brilliant generalship” and “always radiated cheerful confidence and rugged determination.” [MacArthur: 383]

Evacuation of Hungnan

General Almond reported about the evacuation from Hungnan on December 24:

“The X Corps has completed evacuation by air and sea from Hungnan. 350,000 tons of supplies and equipment have been withdrawn. Nothing has been left to the enemy. 105,000 troops, including South Korean units and approximately 100,000 refugees, have been evacuated to safety in South Korea. Structures of possible military value to the enemy have been destroyed. The enemy paid heavily for his attempt to interfere with our operation. The losses of our forces were comparatively light.”

Ridgway Arrives in Korea

After being briefed by MacArthur at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Ridgway arrived in Korea on December 26. Taking over the Eighth Army, his goal was to “clean house, rebuild his forces, and inflict maximum casualties on the enemy.” [Kaufman: 147] Ridgway later wrote that MacArthur had given him a 90-minute monologue. “There isn’t any question that MacArthur wanted to go to war, full war with Communist China. And he could not be convinced by all the contrary arguments.” [Halberstam: 495]

Rusk Accuses China

Dean Rusk, assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, went on the Voice of America on December 29 and accused the Chinese of plotting the North Korean assault. [Stoessinger: 77] Was it the Chinese or the Soviets?

On December 31, 1950, the 726th Transportation Truck Company (Maryland) were the first National Guard unit to arrive in Korea, landing at Pusan. Four more truck units arrived the next day. [Berebitsky: 26]

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “America, Korea and the World: 1945-1950”

  1. Martino Heino Says:

    they only wanna do you dir. Martino Heino.

  2. The Framing Business » America, Korea and the World: 1951-1961 Says:

    […] This is the second part of a Korean War history. For part one, please see this page. […]

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