The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations, with the United States as the
principal force, came to the aid of South Korea. China and the Soviet Union came to the aid of North Korea.
Korea was ruled by Imperial Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II. In August 1945, the Soviet
Union declared war on Imperial Japan, as a result of an agreement with the United States, and liberated Korea north of
the 38th parallel. U.S. forces subsequently moved into the south. By 1948, as a product of the Cold War between the
Soviet Union and the United States, Korea was split into two regions, with separate governments. Both claimed to be
the legitimate government of all of Korea, and neither accepted the border as permanent. The conflict escalated into
open warfare when North Korean forces—supported by the Soviet Union and China—moved into the south on 25
June 1950. On 27 June, the United Nations Security Council authorized the formation and dispatch of UN forces to
Korea to repel what was recognized as a North Korean invasion. Twenty-one countries of the United Nations
eventually contributed to the UN force, with the United States providing 88% of the UN's military personnel.
After the first two months of war, South Korean and U.S. forces rapidly dispatched to Korea were on the point of
defeat, forced back to a small area in the south known as the Pusan Perimeter. In September 1950, an amphibious
UN counter-offensive was launched at Incheon, and cut off many North Korean troops. Those who escaped
envelopment and capture were forced back north. UN forces rapidly approached the Yalu River—the border with
China—but in October 1950, mass Chinese forces crossed the Yalu and entered the war. The surprise Chinese
intervention triggered a retreat of UN forces which continued until mid-1951.
After these reversals of fortune, which saw Seoul change hands four times, the last two years of fighting became a
war of attrition, with the front line close to the 38th parallel. The war in the air, however, was never a stalemate.
North Korea was subject to a massive bombing campaign. Jet fighters confronted each other in air-to-air combat for
the first time in history, and Soviet pilots covertly flew in defense of their communist allies.
The fighting ended on 27 July 1953, when an armistice was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized
Zone to separate North and South Korea, and allowed the return of prisoners. However, no peace treaty has been
signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war.
As a war undeclared by all participants, the conflict helped bring the term "police action" into common use. It also led
to the permanent alteration of the balance of power within the United Nations, where Resolution 377—passed in 1950
to allow a bypassing of the Security Council if that body could not reach an agreement—led to the General Assembly
displacing the Security Council as the primary organ of the UN.
A Divided Korea Heads for War: 1948–1950
By 1947, an overpopulated southern Korea, without industry or energy sources, was quickly going into an economic
tailspin, with widespread famine and unemployment. A new and stronger right wing (a group composed of
anticommunists who generally supported a government by the wealthy or elite) was forming, and youth gangs were
terrorizing the leftists (those who sought reform and equality, some of whom were communist). Conflicts among the
Koreans were becoming more violent and more frequent. Something needed to be done and quickly.
Talks were held between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1946 and again in 1947 to try to create a joint
trusteeship over Korea, with the idea that a few nations jointly govern the country. In 1947, the Soviets proposed to
the United States that both powers withdraw their troops from Korea at the same time, leaving the Koreans to create
their own independent nation. The United States knew its position in Korea was too difficult to defend. In September,
despite Russia's strong objections, the United States passed the matter of Korea on to the United Nations.
The United Nations "adopts" Korea
The United Nations (UN) was founded right after World War II (1939–45) in 1945 to maintain worldwide peace and
to develop friendly relations among countries. It was orig inally formed by the Allies (the United States, the British
Com monwealth, the Soviet Union, and other European nations) during the war. When the United States asked for the
United Nations's help with Korea, the UN agreed to set up supervised elections in Korea, after which Korea would be
The United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) was then formed; its members arrived in the
capital city of Seoul in May 1948.
The Soviet Union and the northern Koreans did not believe that the UN had authority to decide the future of Korea.
The northern Koreans blocked UNTCOK from entering its part of the country to set up the elections and refused to
participate in any way. Korean independence leader Syngman Rhee (1875–1965) urged going forward with the
elections without the northern vote, a plan that was clearly in his favor. (In order to fight the communist elements in
southern Korea without starting an all-out revolution, the United States had sought out Rhee, who was staunchly
anticommunist, to come help lead a new independent Korea after World War II. He was already in place in southern
Korea.) Many in southern Korea strongly objected, believing that an election in which only the south participated
would doom any possibility of reunification. Several prominent leaders from southern Korea went to the north to try
to work out some kind of arrangement with the northern Koreans, but they did not succeed before the elections.
There was much controversy within the UN about holding such a one-sided vote, but the election went on without
the Koreans north of the 38th parallel. The elections filled two hundred of the three hundred seats in the new Korean
National Assembly, reserving one hundred seats for northerners. The new government was to rule over all of Korea.
On May 10, 1948, the Republic of Korea's first Korean National Assembly was elected. It adopted a constitution
Establishing a presidential form of government and four-year terms for the president. Syngman Rhee was inaugurated
president of the Republic of Korea (ROK) on August 15, 1948. With the new South Korean flag now flying over
Seoul, Rhee cracked down on his opposition, using the national police as his own machine for repression. Political
arrests abounded, and freedom of the press was restricted.
North Korea forms a new government
Northern Korea then announced upcoming elections for a new Korean government. On September 9, 1948, the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was created, and popular guerrilla leader Kim Il Sung (1912–1994)
was elected as its premier. He claimed to be the legitimate leader of all the people of Korea, saying he had been elected
not only in the north, but in underground elections in the south as well. The Soviet Union withdrew all of its troops
from North Korea at the end of 1948.
The cold war heats up
In 1949, while the United States was getting its troops out of Korea, several world events made a wave of change in
public attitude. First, by 1948 and 1949, the Soviet Union had become very aggressive in Europe. Then the Russians
successfully tested their first atomic bomb in September 1949.
As tension was building, an unprepared American public was shocked when Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong
(Mao Tse-tung; 1893–1976) proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949,
having driven the American-backed Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) and his forces to the
island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa). The United States government cut off aid to Chiang, seeing no hope for the
Nationalists, who had lost most of their popular support in China through corruption and incompetence. The
American public was horrified, believing that Chiang Kai-shek was a strong and heroic ruler. Cold war propaganda
began to abound, spurred on by sensational media stories and attention-seeking politicians. (The cold war refers to the
political tension and military rivalry that begun after World War II between the United States and the Soviet Union,
which stopped short of full-scale war and persisted until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.) Fingers pointed
everywhere, and U.S. leaders, especially in the White House and the State Department, were accused of selling out
China and being communist sympathizers.
From scattered uprisings to guerrilla warfare
Meanwhile, hostilities between South Korean factions mounted. Small battles arose daily, often between peasants and
the national police or youth gangs. In certain parts of South Korea there were large pockets of leftists, particularly in
places where the People's Committees remained strong, such as the provinces of Chölla, Kyöngyang, and Kangwön,
and the island of Cheju (pronounced SHE-shoo). (People's Committees were formed as local branches of the
Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence [CPKI], the first organized effort after World War II for
Korean independence and unity. In many places they served effectively as the local government.)
In 1948, guerrilla warfare broke out on Cheju-do (do means island), an island with a population of three hundred
thousand. Cheju, blissfully isolated from the rest of Korea and its conflicts, had been existing peacefully, governed by
its People's Committee. But in 1948, the national police started a brutal campaign there to eliminate the People's
Committee. At the
Time of the national elections in May 1948, there were protest demonstrations in Cheju over the attempts to eliminate
the People's Committee and institute police rule. Over two thousand young demonstrators were arrested; one was
tortured to death.
The people of Cheju-do had had enough; a guerrilla army of about four thousand was quickly formed and it began to
attack police stations, blow up bridges, and cut communications lines on the island. The guerrillas, working in small
groups, had taken control of most of the villages on the interior of the island by June 1948, and they managed to
maintain their control for some time. It was not until a year later, in April 1949, that the American embassy reported
that the guerrillas had been stopped. The price, however, was costly. The national police and the youth gangs who
came in to put down the uprisings were ruthless, taking an appalling toll on the population of Cheju-do. American
sources cited fifteen thousand to twenty thousand islander deaths, but the governor of Cheju cited a much higher
figure of sixty thousand deaths. Out of four hundred villages on Cheju-do, only one hundred seventy villages
remained after this warfare. Terrified people fled across the water to Japan as their homes and villages were
demolished. The people of Cheju have long kept silent about the atrocities that befell them, but in the 1980s the
survivors began to record the tales of torture, murder, and rape to which they were subjected by the youth gangs and
the national police.
Soldiers turn rebel
In October 1948, some South Korean soldiers who had been sent to fight the rebels in Cheju-do decided instead to
turn against the government. They took control of the port city of Yosu and restored the People's Committee. While
the town was in rebel hands, trials began for police and landlords, among others, and some executions took place. As
the rebellion spread, red flags and DPRK (North Korean) flags flew over surrounding villages. After one week of this
rebellion, the Korean army regained control of Yosu. Many of the townspeople fled; those who remained were beaten
and tortured. More than five hundred townspeople in Yosu were shot on suspicion of having helped the guerrillas.
By early 1949, there were an estimated thirty-five hundred to six thousand guerrilla rebels in South Korea, especially
strong in South Chölla, North Kyöngysang, and Kyöngju. Syngman Rhee's entire army, backed by its American
advisors, killed an estimated six thousand guerrillas between November 1949 and March 1950, claiming to have
eliminated them entirely.
Fighting begins between North and South
By 1949, Rhee was determined to go to war with the north, hoping to unify Korea under his own regime. Rhee had
been intent on one thing throughout his whole career: to be the ruler of an independent Korea. However, Rhee was
not popular with American leaders. Even the future commander of the UN forces in Korea, General Mark W. Clark,
who was very sympathetic to Rhee, described him as a zealot (fanatic) and an autocrat (a person who rules with
unlimited authority) in his book From the Danube to the Yalu: "By the time of the Korean War, Rhee had been
working for independence and unity so long that he had come to identify himself as the living embodiment of Korean
patriotism, the sole prophet who could show the way to unity and freedom for the Koreans. Opposition to Rhee's
ideas seemed to him to be anti-Korean, not anti-Rhee." Rhee badly needed strong U.S. backing to begin his mission to
take over North Korea by force, but the United States, with no wish to be involved in a war in Asia, repeatedly told
him there would be no U.S. support in an unprovoked attack against the north.
Kim Il Sung, too, wanted to reunify Korea under his leadership. But when the first battles began in 1949, it was for
the most part the south that was on the attack, and this was probably because Kim was still preparing his army for
war. In 1947, Kim had sent thirty thousand troops to Mao Zedong to fight with the communists in the civil war in
China. With Mao's victory in 1949, the troops were gradually coming back to Korea, trained and well seasoned in
war. And Kim had been building his forces by buying military equipment from the Soviets and training his own troops.
A bloody border battle between north and south took place in May 1949, started by the south. Small but vicious
battles continued at the border until the war began.
States of preparedness in 1950
In January 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971) delivered a speech to the press, outlining the
areas of concern for military defense. Korea was not mentioned among the countries that the United States was
prepared to defend. This may have been the news Kim Il Sung was hoping for. It greatly disturbed Syngman Rhee.
Without strong military support from the United States, the Republic of Korea Army (called the ROKs) was not very
prepared for war. There were about ninety-five thousand troops in the ROKs in 1950, almost all of them members of
the national police, or constabulary, that had been formed by the U.S. military government. They were undertrained
and poorly equipped. Because Rhee was so eager to go to war, the United States had deliberately underequipped the
ROKs, so they would not do something foolish. The United States had not provided the ROKs with tanks, either,
thinking that they would be useless in Korea's mountainous countryside. Heavy weapons and vehicles were in short
supply, and most of the ROK artillery units were only one-quarter armed. When the United States had withdrawn its
troops in July 1949, it had left behind a five-hundred-man Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), which was still
working on building up the ROK troops.
The American military itself was drastically reduced since the end of World War II. At the end of the war there had
been twelve million men and women in military service, but by 1948 there were only 1.5 million. Weapons and
equipment were in short supply.
The North Korean People's Army (NKPA), founded in February 1948, was significantly stronger than the ROKs. By
mid-year in 1950, the NKPA had strength of about 135,000 troops. Most of the officers in the NKPA had fought in
the Chinese Civil War or with the Soviets in World War II. The NKPA had 150 Soviet-made armored tanks and were
equipped with heavy weaponry. When the Soviets withdrew their occupation troops at the end of 1948, they, like the
Americans, left behind a military advisory group.
On June 24, 1950, unknown to South Korea or its American advisors, ninety thousand North Korean People's Army
troops—two-thirds of the entire army—gathered on the 38th parallel, prepared for battle.
The world is now under the threat of a nuclear war which will take millions of lives and contaminate the land for
decades to come.
The country should be reunited and governed under one central government.
The confusion was initiated by the US and Russia by politically dividing the country.
The North Korean Nculear buildup is to insure a successful invasion of South Korea and to defend against the military
might of the US.
The solution is free elections in Korea.
The great powers that be: The UN, US, Russia and China should supervise dismantling of both the
North and South Korean Military.
A five-year intererim government should be established and administered by the UN.
All foreign powers should withdraw from Korea.
An election mechanism should be put in place to be fully implemented in 2022.
North and South
Korea the fight
to unify and rule!
Syngman Rhee Kim IL Sung