Chapter 7

The Korean War


"Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds."-Henry Adams

The roots of the Korean War are deeply embedded in history. While few regions are less suited to warfare than is the mountainous, river-slashed Korean peninsula, few have known more conflict. For centuries, Korea’s three powerful neighbors — China, Japan, and the Soviet Union —  vied for its control. By 1910, Japan had established a supremacy it maintained until its defeat in World War II.

Seven days before the Japanese surrender that ended World War II, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Soviet troops entered Korea. By agreement, the Soviet Union accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces in Korea north of the 38th parallel of latitude, while the United States accepted the surrender of Japanese units south of the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union quickly sealed off the 38th-parallel border. It soon set up an interim civil government for the nine million Koreans of the north, which contained most of Korea’s industry. The government was run by Soviet-trained communist officials.

The United States maintained a military government in the south. The 21 million Koreans of the largely agricultural region were not satisfied with it. A U.S./Soviet commission, established to make plans for the reunification of Korea under a free government, made no progress. In 1947, the United States took the problem before the United Nations, which voted that free elections under its supervision should be held throughout Korea in 1948 to choose a single government. The Soviet Union refused to permit the United Nations election commission to enter the north. Elections were thus held only in the south, where a National Assembly and a president, Syngman Rhee, were chosen. The new democracy was named the Republic of Korea.

In the north, the Soviet Union proclaimed a Communist dictatorship called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Pyongyang was named its capital. Late in 1948, Soviet forces began to withdraw from North Korea, leaving behind an entrenched communist regime and a well-trained, well-equipped North Korean army. U.S.  occupation forces left South Korea in 1949. They left behind a government still “feeling its way,” and an army ill-trained and ill-equipped compared to that of the north. Nevertheless, South Korea successfully resisted North Korean attempts at subversion, communist-supported guerrilla activities, and border raids by North Korean forces. Frustrated, North Korea early in 1950 decided upon war to achieve its goal of Korean unification under Communist rule.

In June 1950, North Korea’s army totaled 135,000 men. North Korea’s infantry was also supported by approximately 150 Soviet-made medium tanks, ample artillery, and a small air force. South Korea’s ground forces included a 45,000-member national police force and an army of 98,000. South Korea was armed largely with light infantry weapons supplied by the United States. It had no tanks or combat aircraft, and its artillery was inferior to that of North Korea. Its officers and enlisted men generally had less training and experience than did those of North Korea. After the insurgency showed signs of failing, the northern government undertook a direct attack, sending the North Korea People’s Army south across the 38th parallel before daylight on Sunday, June 25, 1950. The invasion, in a narrow sense, marked the beginning of a civil war between peoples of a divided country. In a larger sense, the Cold War between the great power blocs had erupted in open hostilities.

The Western Bloc, especially the United States, was surprised by the North Korean decision. Although intelligence information of a possible June invasion had reached Washington, the reporting agencies judged an early summer attack unlikely. The North Koreans, they estimated, had not yet exhausted the possibilities of the insurgency and would continue that strategy only.

The North Koreans, however, seem to have taken encouragement from the U.S. policy that left Korea outside the U.S. “defense line” in Asia and from relatively public discussions of the economies placed on U.S. armed forces. They evidently accepted these as reasons to discount American counteraction —  or their sponsor, the USSR, may have made that calculation for them. The Soviets also appear to have been certain that the United Nations would not intervene, for in protest against Nationalist China’s membership in the UN Security Council and against the UN’s refusal to seat Communist China, the USSR member had boycotted council meetings since January 1950 and did not return in June to veto any council move against North Korea. Kim Il Sung, the North Korean Premier, was confident his army, a modest force of 135,000, was superior to that of South Korea. Koreans who had served in Chinese and Soviet World War II armies made up a large part of his force.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) Army had just 95,000 men and was far less fit. Raised as a constabulary during occupation, it had not in its later combat training under a U.S. Military Advisor Group progressed much beyond company-level exercises. The ROK Navy matched its North Korean counterpart, but the ROK Air Force had only a few trainers and liaison aircraft. U.S. equipment, war-worn when furnished to South Korean forces, had deteriorated further, and supplies on hand could sustain combat operations no longer than fifteen days. Whereas almost eleven million dollars in materiel assistance had been allocated to South Korea in fiscal year 1950 under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, congressional review of the allocation so delayed the measure that only a trickle of supplies had reached the country by June 25, 1950.

The North Koreans quickly crushed South Korean defenses at the 38th parallel. The main North Korean attack force next moved down the west side of the peninsula toward Seoul, and entered the city on June 28. The South Koreans withdrew in disorder. The troops driven out of Seoul were forced to abandon most of their equipment because the bridges over the Han River at the south edge of the city were prematurely demolished. The North Koreans halted to regroup after capturing Seoul, but then soon crossed the Han.

In Washington, where a fourteen-hour time difference made it June 24 when the North Koreans crossed the parallel, had its first report of the invasion at night. The United States soon requested a meeting of the UN Security Council. The Council adopted a resolution that afternoon, demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities and a withdrawal of North Korean forces to the 38th parallel.

In independent actions on the night of June 25, President Truman relayed orders to Army General Douglas MacArthur who was at the Far East Command headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Truman ordered the general to supply ROK forces with ammunition and equipment, evacuate American dependents from Korea, and survey conditions on the peninsula to determine how best to assist the republic further. The president also ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet from its current location in Philippine and Ryukyu waters to Japan.

The next day, in a broad interpretation of a UN Security Council request for “every assistance” in supporting the June 25 resolution, President Truman authorized General MacArthur to use air and naval strength against North Korean targets below the 38th parallel. The president also redirected the bulk of the Seventh Fleet to Taiwan where, by standing between the Chinese Communists on the mainland and the Nationalists on the island, it could discourage either one from attacking the other and thus prevent a widening of hostilities.

When it became clear on June 27 that North Korea would ignore the UN demands, the UN Security Council, again at the urging of the United States, asked UN members to furnish military assistance to help South Korea repel the invasion. President Truman immediately broadened the range of U.S. air and naval operations to include North Korea, and authorized the use of U.S. Army troops to protect Pusan, Korea’s major port at the southeastern tip of the peninsula.

Meanwhile, MacArthur had flown to Korea. After witnessing failing ROK Army efforts in defenses south of the Han River, he recommended to Washington that a U.S. Army regiment be committed in the Seoul area at once, and that this force be built up to two divisions. President Truman’s answer on June 30 authorized MacArthur to use all forces available to him.

It was the first time since its founding that the United Nations reacted to aggression with a decision to use armed force. The United States would accept the largest share of the obligation in Korea but, still deeply tired of war, would do so reluctantly. President Truman later described his decision to enter the war as the hardest of his days in office. But he believed that if South Korea was left to its own defense and fell, no other small nation would have the will to resist aggression, and communist leaders would be encouraged to override nations closer to U.S. shores. The American people, conditioned by World War II to battle on a grand scale and to complete victory, would experience a deepening frustration over the Korean conflict, brought on in the beginning by embarrassing reversals on the battlefield.

The speed of the ensuing North Korean drive, along with the lack of preparedness of American forces, compelled MacArthur to disregard the principle of mass and commit units piecemeal, trading space for time. At MacArthur’s order, the army moved into a defensive position astride the main road near Osan, 10 miles below Suwon, by dawn on July 5. MacArthur later referred to this 540-man force, called Task Force Smith, as an “arrogant display of strength.” Another kind of arrogance at Osan was a belief that North Koreans might “...turn around and go back when they found out who was fighting.”

The next three delaying actions, though fought by larger forces, had similar results. In each case, North Korean armor or infantry assaults against the front of the American position were accompanied by an infantry double envelopment. By July 13, the 24th Division was forced back on Taejon, 60 miles below Osan, where it initially took position along the Kum River above the town. Clumps of South Korean troops by then were strung out west and east of the division to help delay the North Koreans.

Meanwhile, fifty-three UN members signified support of the Security Council’s June 27 action, and twenty-nine of these made specific offers of assistance. Ground, air, and naval forces eventually sent to assist South Korea would represent twenty UN members and one non-member nation. The wide response to the council’s call showed the necessity for a unified command.

Acknowledging the United States as the major contributor, the UN Security Council on July 7 asked it to form a command into which all forces would be integrated and to appoint a commander. In the evolving command structure, President Truman became executive agent for the UN Security Council. The National Security Council, Department of State, and Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in developing the grand concepts of operations in Korea. In the strictly military channel, the Joint Chiefs issued instructions through the army member to the unified command in the field, designated the United Nations Command (UNC) and established under General MacArthur.

Between July 14 and 18, MacArthur moved the 25th and 1st Cavalry Divisions to Korea after cannibalizing the 7th Division to strengthen those two units. By then, the battle for Taejon had opened. In running enemy roadblocks during the final withdrawal from town, Major General William F. Dean, the division commander, took a wrong turn and was captured some days later in the mountains to the south.

While pushing the 24th Division below Taejon, the main North Korean force split, one division moving south to the coast, then turning east along the lower coast line. The remainder of the force continued southeast beyond Taejon toward Taegu. Southward advances by the secondary attack forces in the central and eastern sectors matched the main thrust, all clearly aimed to converge on Pusan. North Korean supply lines grew long in the advance, and less and less tenable under heavy UNC air attacks. FEAF, meanwhile, achieved air superiority, indeed air supremacy, and UNC warships wiped out North Korean naval opposition and clamped a tight blockade on the Korean coast. These achievements and the arrival of the 29th Regimental Combat Team from Okinawa on July 26 notwithstanding, American and South Korean troops steadily gave way. American casualties rose above six thousand and South Korean losses reached seventy thousand. By the beginning of August, General Walker’s forces held only a small portion of southeastern Korea.

Alarmed by the rapid loss of ground, Walker ordered a stand along a 140-mile line arching from the Korea Strait to the Sea of Japan west and north of Pusan. His U.S. divisions occupied the western arc, basing their position on the Naktong River. South Korean forces, reorganized by American military advisers into two corps headquarters and five divisions, defended the northern segment. A long line and few troops kept positions thin in this “Pusan Perimeter.” But replacements and additional units now entering or on the way to Korea would help relieve the problem, and fair interior lines of communications radiating from Pusan allowed Walker to move troops and supplies with facility.

Raising brigades to division status and conscripting large numbers of recruits, many from overrun regions of South Korea, the North Koreans over the next month and a half committed thirteen infantry divisions and an armored division against Walker’s perimeter. But the additional strength failed to compensate for the loss of some fifty-eight thousand trained men and much armor that was suffered in the advance to the Naktong. In meeting the connected defenses of the perimeter the enemy commanders didn't recognize the value of massing forces for decisive penetration at one point. They dissipated their strength instead in piecemeal attacks at various points along the Eighth Army line.

Close air support played a large role in the defense of the perimeter. But the Eighth Army’s defense really hinged on a shuttling of scarce reserves to block a gap, reinforce a position, or counterattack wherever the threat appeared greatest at a given moment. Timing was the key, and General Walker proved a master of it. His brilliant response prevented serious enemy penetrations and inflicted telling losses that steadily drew off North Korean offensive power. His own strength meanwhile was on the rise. By mid-September, he had more than five hundred medium tanks. Replacements continued to arrive, including additional units: the 5th Regimental Combat Team from Hawaii, the 2d Infantry Division and 1st Provisional Marine Brigade from the United States, and a British infantry brigade from Hong Kong. Thus, as the North Koreans lost irreplaceable men and equipment, UNC forces acquired an offensive capability.

Against the gloomy prospect of trading space for time, General MacArthur, at the entry of U.S. forces into Korea, had perceived that the deeper the North Koreans drove, the more vulnerable they would become to an amphibious envelopment. He began work on plans for such a blow almost at the start of hostilities, favoring Inch’on, the Yellow Sea port halfway up the west coast, as the landing site. Just 25 miles east lay Seoul where Korea’s main roads and rail lines converged. A force landing at Inch’on would have to move inland only a short distance to cut North Korean supply routes, and the recapture of the capital city also could have a helpful psychological impact. Combined with a general northward advance by the Eighth Army, a landing at Inch’on could produce decisive results. Enemy troops retiring before the Eighth Army would be cut off by the amphibious force behind them or be forced to make a slow and difficult withdrawal through the mountains farther east.

MacArthur formed the headquarters of the X Corps from members of his own staff. He rebuilt the 7th Division by giving it high priority on replacements from the United States and by assigning it eighty-six hundred South Korean recruits. This was part of a larger program, the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army, in which South Korean troops were placed among almost all American units. At the same time, he acquired from the United States the greater part of the 1st Marine Division, which he planned to fill out with the Marine brigade currently in the Pusan Perimeter. The X Corps, with these two divisions, was to make its landing as a separate force, not as part of the Eighth Army.

MacArthur’s superiors and the Navy judged the Inch’on plan dangerous. The Joint Chiefs of Staff anticipated serious consequences if Inch’on were strongly defended, since MacArthur would be committing his last major reserves at a time when no more General Reserve units in the United States were available for shipment to the Far East. Four National Guard divisions had been federalized on September 1, but none of these was yet ready for combat duty; and, while the draft and call-ups of Organized Reserve Corps members were substantially increasing the size of the Army, they offered MacArthur no prospect of immediate reinforcement. But MacArthur was willing to accept the risks.

In light of the uncertainties, MacArthur’s decision was a remarkable gamble — but if results are what count, his action was one of exemplary boldness. The X Corps swept into Inch’on on September 15 against light resistance and, though opposition stiffened, steadily pushed inland over the next two weeks. One arm struck south and seized Suwon while the remainder of the corps cleared Kimpo Airfield, crossed the Han, and fought through Seoul. MacArthur, with dramatic ceremony, returned the capital city to President Rhee on September 29.

General Walker, meanwhile, attacked out of the Pusan Perimeter on September 16. On September 23, after the portent of Almond’s envelopment and Walker’s frontal attack became clear, the North Korean forces broke. The 8th Army forged ahead in pursuit, linking with the X Corps on September 26. About thirty thousand North Korean troops escaped above the 38th parallel through the eastern mountains. Several thousand more, bypassed in the pursuit, hid in the mountains of South Korea to fight as guerrillas. But by the end of September, the North Korea People’s Army ceased to exist as an organized force anywhere in the southern republic.

President Truman, to this point, had frequently described the American-led effort in Korea as a “police action,” a euphemism for war that produced both criticism and amusement. Set on halting the aggression, he was determined to limit hostilities to the peninsula and to avoid taking steps that would prompt Soviet or Chinese participation. By western estimates, Europe with its highly developed industrial resources, not Asia, held the high place on the Communist schedule of expansion; hence, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance needed the deterrent strength that otherwise would be drawn off by a heavier involvement in the Far East.

On this and other bases, a case could be made for halting MacArthur’s forces at the 38th parallel. In re-establishing the old border, the UNC had met the UN call for assistance in repelling the attack on South Korea. In an early statement, Secretary of State Acheson had said the United Nations was intervening “...solely for the purpose of restoring the Republic of Korea to its status prior to the invasion from the north.” A halt, furthermore, would be consistent with the U.S. policy of containment.

But there was substantial military reason to carry the war into North Korea. Failure to destroy the thirty thousand North Korean troops who had escaped above the parallel and an estimated thirty thousand more in northern training camps—  all told, the equivalent of six divisions — could leave South Korea in little better position than before the start of hostilities. Complete military victory, by all appearances within easy grasp, also would achieve the long-standing U.S. and UN objective of reunifying Korea. Against these incentives had to be balanced warnings of sorts against a UNC entry into North Korea from both Communist China and the USSR in August and September. But these were counted as attempts to discourage the UNC, not as genuine threats to enter the war, and on September 27 President Truman authorized MacArthur to send his forces north, provided that by the scheduled time there had been no major Chinese or Soviet entry into North Korea and no announcement of intended entry.

The outlook for the UNC in the last week of October was distinctly optimistic, despite further warnings emanating from Communist China. Convinced by all reports, including one from MacArthur, that the latest Chinese warnings were more saber-rattling bluffs, President Truman revised his instructions to MacArthur only to the extent that if Chinese forces should appear in Korea, MacArthur should continue his advance if he believed his forces had a reasonable chance of success.

In hopes of ending operations before the onset of winter, MacArthur on October 24 ordered his ground commanders to advance to the northern border as rapidly as possible and with all forces available. In the United States, a leading newspaper expressed the prevailing optimism with the editorial comment that “Except for unexpected developments...we can now be easy in our minds as to the military outcome.”

UNC forces moved steadily along both coasts, and one interior ROK regiment in the Eighth Army zone sent reconnaissance troops to the Yalu at the town of Ch’osan on October 26. But almost everywhere else, the UNC columns encountered stout resistance and, on October 25, discovered they were being opposed by Chinese. “Unexpected developments” had occurred.

At first, it appeared that individual Chinese soldiers, possibly volunteers, had reinforced the North Koreans. By November 6, three divisions of ten thousand men each were believed to be in the 8th Army sector and two divisions in the X Corps area. The estimate rose higher by November 24, but not to a point denying UNC forces a numerical superiority or to a figure indicating full-scale Chinese intervention.

Some apprehension over a huge Chinese intervention grew out of knowledge that a huge Chinese force was assembled in Manchuria. But General MacArthur felt that the auspicious time for intervention in force had long passed; the Chinese would hardly enter when North Korean forces were ineffective instead of earlier, when only a little help might have enabled the North Koreans to conquer all of South Korea. He seemed convinced that the United States would respond with all power available to stage a massive intervention, which would deter Chinese leaders. In an early November report to Washington, he acknowledged the possibility of full intervention by the Chinese but pointed out that “...there are many fundamental logical reasons against it and sufficient evidence has not yet come to hand to warrant its immediate acceptance.” His reports by the last week of the month indicated no change of mind.

Intelligence evaluations from other sources were similar. As of November 24, the general view in Washington was that “... the Chinese objective was to obtain UN withdrawal by intimidation and diplomatic means, but in case of failure of these means there would be increasing intervention. Available evidence was not considered conclusive as to whether the Chinese Communists were committed to a full-scale of offensive effort.” In the theater, the general belief was that future Chinese operations would be defensive only, that the Chinese units in Korea were not strong enough to block a UNC advance, and that UNC air power could prevent any substantial Chinese reinforcement from crossing the Yalu. Hence, UNC forces resumed their offensive. There was in any event, MacArthur said, no other way to obtain “...an accurate measure of enemy strength....”

In northeastern Korea, the X Corps, now strengthened by the arrival of the 3d Infantry Division from the United States, resumed its advance on November 11. In the west, General Walker waited until the 24th to move the Eighth Army forward from the Ch’ongch’on while he strengthened his attack force and improved his logistical support. Both commands made gains. Part of the U.S. 7th Division, in the X Corps zone, actually reached the Yalu at the town of Hyesanjin. But during the night of November 25, strong Chinese attacks hit the Eighth Army’s center and right; on the 27th the attacks engulfed the leftmost forces of the X Corps at the Changjin Reservoir; and by the 28th UNC positions began to crumble.

MacArthur now had a measure of Chinese strength. By November 24, more than 300,000 Chinese combat troops were in Korea. “We face an entirely new war,” MacArthur notified Washington on November 28. On the following day, he instructed General Walker to make whatever withdrawals were necessary to escape being enveloped by Chinese pushing hard and deep through the 8th Army’s eastern sector, and ordered the X Corps to pull into a beachhead around the east coast port of Hungnam, north of Wonsan.

In the 8th Army’s withdrawal from the Ch’ongch’on, a strong roadblock set below the town of Kunu-ri by Chinese attempting to envelop Walker’s forces from the east caught and severely punished the U.S. 2d Division, last away from the river. Thereafter, at each reported approach of enemy forces, General Walker ordered another withdrawal before any solid contact could be made. He abandoned P’yongyang on December 5; by December 15 he was completely out of contact with the Chinese and back at the 38th parallel, where he began to develop a coast-to-coast defense line.

In the X Corps’ withdrawal to Hungnam, the center and right-most units experienced little difficulty. But the 1st Marine Division and two battalions of the 7th Division retiring from the Changjin Reservoir encountered Chinese positions overlooking the mountain road leading to the sea. After General Almond sent Army troops inland to help open the road, the Marine-Army force completed its move to the coast on December 11. General MacArthur briefly visualized the X Corps beachhead at Hungnam as a “geographic threat” that could deter Chinese to the west from deepening their advance. He later ordered the X Corps to withdraw by sea and proceed to Pusan, where it would become part of the 8th Army. Almond started the evacuation on the December 11, contracting his Hungnam perimeter as he loaded troops and materiel aboard ships in the harbor. With little interference from enemy forces, he completed the evacuation and set sail for Pusan on Christmas Eve.

On the day before, General Walker was killed in a motor vehicle accident while traveling north from Seoul toward the front. Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway hurriedly flew from Washington to assume command of the 8th Army. After conferring in Tokyo with MacArthur, who instructed General Ridgway to hold a position as far north as possible and maintain the 8th Army intact, the new army commander reached Korea on the December 26.

Ridgway wanted at least to hold the 8th Army in its position along the 38th parallel and, if possible, to attack. But his initial inspection of the front raised serious doubts. The 8th Army, he learned, was a disheartened command, the result of the hard Chinese attacks and the successive withdrawals of the past month. He also discovered much of the defense line to be thin and weak. The Chinese XIII Army Group meanwhile appeared to be massing in the west for a push on Seoul, and twelve reconstituted North Korean divisions seemed to be concentrating for an attack in the central region. >From all evidence available, the New Year holiday seemed a logical date on which to expect the enemy’s opening assault.

Holding the current line, Ridgway judged, rested both on the early commitment of reserves and on restoring the 8th Army’s confidence. The latter, he believed, depended mainly on improving leadership throughout the command. To strengthen the line, he committed the 2d Division to the central sector where positions were weakest, even though that unit had not fully recovered from losses in the Kunu-ri roadblock, and pressed General Almond to quicken the preparation of the X Corps whose forces needed refurbishing before moving to the front. Realizing that time probably was against him, he also ordered his western units to organize a bridgehead above Seoul, one deep enough to protect the Han River bridges, from which to cover a withdrawal below the city should an enemy offensive compel a general retirement.

Enemy forces opened attacks on New Year’s Eve, directing their major effort toward Seoul. When the offensive gained momentum, Ridgway ordered his western forces back to the Seoul bridgehead and pulled the rest of the Eighth Army to positions roughly on line to the east. After strong Chinese units assaulted the bridgehead, he withdrew to a line 40 miles below Seoul. In the west, the last troops pulled out of Seoul on January 4, 1951, demolishing the Han bridges on the way out as Chinese entered the city from the north.

Only light Chinese forces pushed south of the city and enemy attacks in the west diminished. In central and eastern Korea, North Korean forces pushed an attack until mid-January. When pressure finally ended all along the front, reconnaissance patrols ordered north by Ridgway to maintain contact encountered only light screening forces, and intelligence sources reported that most enemy units had withdrawn to refit. It became clear to Ridgway that a primitive logistical system permitted enemy forces to undertake offensive operations for no more than a week or two before they had to pause for replacements and new supplies, a pattern he exploited when he assigned his troops their next objective.

Whereas Ridgway was now certain his forces could achieve that objective, General MacArthur was far less optimistic. Earlier, in acknowledging the Chinese intervention, he had notified Washington that the Chinese could drive the UNC out of Korea unless he received major reinforcement. At the time, however, there was still only a slim reserve of combat units in the United States. Four more National Guard divisions were being brought into federal service to build up the General Reserve, but not with commitment in Korea in mind. The main concern in Washington was the possibility that the Chinese entry into Korea was only one part of a USSR move toward global war, a concern great enough to lead President Truman to declare a state of national emergency on December 16. Washington officials, in any event, considered Korea no place to become involved in a major war. For all of these reasons, the Joint Chiefs of Staff notified MacArthur that a major build-up of UNC forces was out of the question. MacArthur was to stay in Korea if he could, but should the Chinese drive UNC forces back on Pusan, the Joint Chiefs would order a withdrawal to Japan.

Contrary to the reasoning in Washington, MacArthur meanwhile proposed four retaliatory measures against the Chinese: blockade the China coast, destroy China’s war industries through naval and air attacks, reinforce the troops in Korea with Chinese Nationalist forces, and allow diversionary operations by Nationalist troops against the China mainland. These proposals for escalation received serious study in Washington but were eventually discarded in favor of sustaining the policy of confining the fighting to Korea.

Interchanges between Washington and Tokyo next centered on the timing of a withdrawal from Korea. MacArthur believed Washington should establish all the criteria of an evacuation, whereas Washington wanted MacArthur first to provide the military guidelines on timing. The whole issue was finally settled after General J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, visited Korea, saw that the Eighth Army was improving under Ridgway’s leadership, and became as confident as Ridgway that the Chinese would be unable to drive the Eighth Army off the peninsula. “As of now,” General Collins announced on January 15, “we are going to stay and fight.”

Ten days later, Ridgway opened a cautious offensive, beginning with attacks in the west and gradually widening them to the east. The 8th Army advanced slowly and methodically, ridge by ridge, phase line by phase line, wiping out each pocket of resistance before moving farther north. Enemy forces fought back vigorously, and in February struck back in the central region. During that counterattack, the 23rd Regiment of the 2nd Division successfully defended the town of Chipyong-ni against a much larger Chinese force, a victory that to Ridgway symbolized the Eighth Army’s complete recovery of its fighting spirit. After defeating the enemy’s February effort, the 8th Army again advanced steadily, recaptured Seoul by mid-March, and by the first day of spring stood just below the 38th parallel.

During this time, intelligence agencies uncovered evidence of rear area offensive preparations by the enemy. Evidence of this continued to mount as troops advanced. As a precaution, Ridgway on April 12 published a plan for orderly delaying actions to be fought when and if the enemy attacked.

On March 20, the Joint Chiefs notified MacArthur that a presidential announcement was being drafted that would indicate a willingness to negotiate with the Chinese and North Koreans to make “satisfactory arrangements for concluding the fighting,” and that would be issued “before any advance with major forces north of 38th Parallel.” Before the president’s announcement could be made, however, MacArthur issued his own offer to enemy commanders to discuss an end to the fighting, but it was an offer that sounded like an ultimatum.

President Truman had in mind to relieve MacArthur but had yet to make a final decision when the next incident occurred. On April 5, Joseph W. Martin, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, rose and read MacArthur’s response to a request for comment on an address Martin had made suggesting the use of Nationalist Chinese forces to open a second front. In that response, MacArthur said he believed in “meeting force with maximum counter-force,” and that the use of Nationalist Chinese forces fitted that belief. Convinced, also, that “... if we lose this war to communism in Asia, the fall of Europe is inevitable; win it and Europe most probably would avoid war ...,” he added that there could be “ ...no substitute for victory ...” in Korea.

President Truman could not accept MacArthur’s open disagreement with and challenge of national policy. There were also grounds for a charge of insubordination, since MacArthur had not cleared the offer to enemy commanders to discuss an end to the fighting or his response to Representative Martin with Washington. His actions were contrary to a Presidential directive issued in December requiring prior clearance of all releases touching on national policy. Concluding MacArthur was “...unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties,” President Truman recalled MacArthur on April 11 and named General Ridgway as successor. MacArthur returned to the United States to receive the plaudits of a nation shocked by the relief of one of its greatest military heroes. Before the Congress and the public, he defended his own views against those of the Truman Administration. The controversy continued for many months.

Meanwhile, twenty-one Chinese and nine North Korean divisions launched strong attacks in western Korea and lighter attacks in the east, with the major effort aimed at Seoul. General Van Fleet withdrew through successive delaying positions to previously established defenses a few miles north of Seoul where he finally contained the enemy advance. When enemy forces withdrew to refurbish, Van Fleet laid plans for, then postponed a countermove when his intelligence sources indicated he had stopped only the first effort of the enemy offensive.

Enemy forces renewed their attack after darkness on May 15. Whereas Van Fleet had expected the major assault again to be directed against Seoul, enemy forces this time drove hardest in the east central region. Adjusting units to place more troops in the path of the enemy advance and laying down tremendous amounts of artillery fire, Van Fleet halted the attack by May 20 after the enemy had penetrated thirty miles. Determined to prevent the enemy from assembling strength for another attack, he immediately ordered the Eighth Army forward. The Chinese and North Koreans, disorganized after their own attacks, resisted only where their supply installations were threatened. Elsewhere, the 8th Army advanced with almost surprising ease.

Washington decided to wait for a bid for armistice negotiations from the Chinese and North Koreans, to whom it should be clear by this time that their committed forces lacked the ability to conquer South Korea. In line with this decision, Van Fleet began to fortify his positions. Enemy forces used the respite from attack to recoup heavy losses and to develop defenses opposite the Eighth Army. The fighting lapsed into patrolling and small local clashes.

On June 23, 1951, Jacob Malik, the USSR delegate to the United Nations, announced in New York during a broadcast of the UN radio program, “The Price of Peace,” that the USSR believed the war in Korea could be settled. When Communist China endorsed Malik’s proposal over the radio, President Truman authorized General Ridgway to arrange armistice talks with his enemy counterpart. Through an exchange of radio messages, both sides agreed to open negotiations on July 10 at the town of Kaesong, in territory which was then no-man’s-land in the west but which would become a neutral area.

At the first armistice conference, the two delegations agreed hostilities would continue until an armistice agreement was signed. Except for brief, violent episodes, however, action along the front would never regain the momentum of the first year. By July 26, the two armistice delegations fixed the points to be settled in order to achieve an armistice. But then the enemy delegates began to delay negotiations, to gain time, it seemed, in which to strengthen their military forces, and thus also to strengthen their bargaining position. In any case, the enemy delegation continued to delay and finally broke off negotiations on August 22.

General Van Fleet, at that juncture, opened limited-objective attacks, which were won by the last week of October.

These successes may have had an influence on the enemy, who agreed to return to the armistice conference table. Negotiations resumed on October 25. Hope for an early armistice grew on November 27 when the two delegations agreed a line of demarcation during an armistice would be the existing line of contact, provided an armistice agreement was reached within thirty days. Hence, while both sides awaited the outcome of negotiations, fighting during the remainder of 1951 tapered off to patrol clashes, raids, and small battles for possession of outposts in no-man’s-land. The first tactical use of helicopters by U.S. forces occurred about this time when almost a thousand marines were lifted to a front-line position and a like number returned to the rear.

Discord over several issues, including the exchange of prisoners of war, prevented an armistice agreement within the stipulated thirty days. The prisoner-of-war quarrel heightened in January 1952, after UNC delegates proposed to give captives a choice in repatriation proceedings, maintaining that those prisoners who did not wish to return to their homelands could be simply “set at liberty” according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The enemy representatives protested vigorously. While argument continued, both sides tacitly extended the November 27 provisions for a line of demarcation. This had the effect of holding battle action to the pattern of the thirty-day waiting period. By May 1952, the two delegations were completely deadlocked on the repatriation issue.

On May 7,  inmates of UNC Prison Camp No. 1 on Koje-do, an island of the southern coast, on orders smuggled to them from North Korea, managed to entice the U.S. camp commander to a compound gate, drag him inside, and keep him captive. The strategy, which became clear in subsequent prisoner demands, was to trade the U.S. officer’s life and release for UNC admissions of inhumane treatment of captives, including alleged cruelties during previous screenings of prisoners in which a large number of prisoners refused repatriation. The obvious objective was to discredit the voluntary repatriation stand taken by the UNC delegation. Although a new camp commander obtained his predecessor’s release, in the process he signed a damaging statement including an admission that “...there have been instances of bloodshed where many prisoners of war have been killed and wounded by UN Forces.”

Amid the Koje-do trouble, General Ridgway received transfer orders placing him in command of NATO forces in Europe. General Mark W. Clark became the new commander in the Far East, with one less responsibility than MacArthur and Ridgway had carried. On April 28, a peace treaty with Japan had gone into effect, restoring Japan’s sovereignty and thus ending the occupation. Faced immediately with the Koje-do affair, General Clark had the impression of walking “... into something that felt remarkably like a swinging door....” He immediately repudiated the prison camp commander’s statement. Moving swiftly, he placed Brig. Gen. Haydon L. Boatner in charge of the camp with instructions to move the prisoners into smaller, more manageable compounds and to institute other measures that would eliminate the likelihood of another uprising. General Boatner completed the task on June 10.

While argument over repatriation continued, action at the front continued as a series of artillery duels, patrols, ambushes, raids, and bitter contests for outpost positions. But for all the furious and costly small-scale battles that took place, the lines remained substantially unchanged at the end of 1952. The armistice conference meanwhile went into an indefinite recess in October with the repatriation issue still unresolved.

In November, the American people elected Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower as their new president. An issue in the campaign had been the war in Korea, over which there was a growing popular discontent, in particular with the lack of progress toward an armistice. In a campaign pledge to “go to Korea,” Eisenhower implied that if elected he would attempt to end the war quickly. Consequently, when the president-elect in early December fulfilled his promise to visit Korea, there was indeed some expectation of a dramatic change in the conduct of the war. General Clark went so far as to prepare detailed estimates of measures necessary to obtain a military victory. But it quickly became clear that Eisenhower, like President Truman, preferred to seek an honorable armistice.

In the hope of prompting a resumption of armistice negotiations, General Clark in February 1953 proposed to his enemy counterpart that the two sides exchange sick and wounded prisoners. The break finally came near the end of March, about three weeks after the death of Josef Stalin, when enemy armistice delegates not only replied favorably to General Clark’s proposal that sick and wounded captives be exchanged but also suggested that this exchange perhaps could “... lead to the smooth settlement of the entire question of prisoners of war.” With that, the armistice conference resumed in April. An exchange of sick and wounded prisoners was carried out that same month; and before the middle of June, the prisoner repatriation problem was settled through agreement that each side would have an opportunity to persuade those captives refusing return to their homelands to change their minds.

The pace of battle quickened in May when Chinese forces launched regimental attacks against outposts guarding approaches to the Eighth Army’s main line in the west. A large battle flared on June 10 when three Chinese divisions penetrated two miles through a South Korean position in central Korea before being contained. That engagement could have been the last of the war since the terms of an armistice by then were all but complete. But on June 18, ROK President Rhee, who from the beginning had objected to any armistice that left Korea divided, ordered the release of North Korean prisoners who had refused repatriation. Within a few days most of these North Korean captives “broke out” of prison camp and disappeared among a cooperative South Korean populace. Since the captives had been guarded by South Korean troops, UNC officials disclaimed responsibility for the break, but the enemy armistice delegates denounced the action as a serious breach of faith. It took more than a month to repair the damage done by Rhee’s order.

Enemy forces used this delay to wrest more ground from UNC control. Units were deployed and a counterattack launched. The attack force was halted on July 20 short of the original line, since by that date the armistice delegations had come to a new accord and needed only to work out a few small details. This ended the last major battle of the war.

After a week of dealing with administrative matters, each chief delegate signed the military armistice agreement at Panmunjom at 10:00 a.m. on July 27. General Clark and the enemy commanders later affixed their signatures at their respective headquarters. As stipulated in the agreement, all fighting stopped 12 hours after the first signing, at 10:00 p.m., July 27, 1953. When the final casualty report for the 37 months of fighting was prepared, total UNC casualties reached over 550,000, including almost 95,000 dead. U.S. losses numbered 142,091, of whom 33,629 were killed, 103,284 wounded, and 5,178 missing or captured. U.S. Army casualties alone totaled 27,704 dead, 77,596 wounded, and 4,658 missing or captured. The bulk of these casualties occurred during the first year of the fighting. The estimate of enemy casualties, including prisoners, exceeded 1,500,000, of which 900,000, almost two-thirds, were Chinese.

By September 6, all prisoners wishing to be repatriated had been exchanged. >From the UNC returnees came full details of brutally harsh treatment in enemy prison camps and of an extensive communist indoctrination program, of “brain-washing” techniques, designed to produce prisoner collaboration. Several hundred U.S. returnees were investigated on charges of collaborating with the enemy, but few were convicted.

The transfer of nonrepatriates to the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was undertaken next. In the drawn-out and troublesome procedure that followed, few of the prisoners changed their minds as officials from both sides attempted to convince former members of their respective commands that they should return home. Of twenty-three Americans who at first refused repatriation, two decided to return. On February 1, 1954, the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission dissolved itself after releasing the last of the nonrepatriates as civilians free to decide their own destinations.

The main scene then shifted to Geneva, Switzerland, where the political conference recommended in the armistice agreement convened on April 26. There was a complete impasse from the beginning: the representatives of UNC member nations wanted to reunify Korea through elections supervised by the United Nations; the Communist delegation refused to recognize the UN’s authority to deal with the matter. The conference on Korea closed June 15, 1954, with the country still divided and with opposing forces, although their guns remained silent, still facing each other across the demilitarized zone. The prognosis was that this situation would continue for some time to come.

The Geneva impasse, leaving Korea divided essentially along the prewar line, could scarcely be viewed as merely re-establishing the land’s status quo antebellum. For by the end of the war, the ROK Army had grown to a well-organized force of sixteen divisions and was scheduled to raise four more divisions, a force North Korea’s resources would be strained to match. Within days of the armistice, moreover, South Korea had a mutual security pact with the United States and a two-hundred-million-dollar first installment of promised American economic aid.

The war’s impact reached far beyond Korea. Despite criticism of the armistice by those who agreed with General MacArthur that there was “no substitute for victory,” the UNC had upheld the UN principle of suppressing armed aggression. True, the UN Security Council had been able to enlist forces under the UN banner in June 1950 only in the absence of the USSR veto. Nevertheless, the UNC success strengthened the possibility of keeping or restoring peace through the UN machinery.

More far-reaching was the war’s impact on the two great power blocs. The primary result for the Western Bloc was a decided strengthening of the NATO alliance. Virtually without military power in June 1950, NATO could call on fifty divisions and strong air and naval contingents by 1953, a build-up directly attributable to the increased threat of general war seen in the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. With further reinforcement in the NATO forecast at the end of the Korean War, USSR armed aggression in western Europe became unlikely. For the East, the major result was the emergence of Communist China as a Great Power. A steady improvement in the Chinese army and air force during the war gave China a more powerful military posture at war’s end than when it had intervened; and its performance in Korea, despite vast losses, won China respect as a nation to be reckoned with not only in Asian but in world affairs.

Outside of these direct impacts of the war, the relative positions of West and East also had been affected during the war years by the development of thermonuclear devices. The United States exploded its first such device in 1952, the USSR in August 1953. The exact consequences of all these changes were incalculable. But it was certain the Cold War would continue and that both power blocs would face new challenges and new responses.

Every word ever written about this war tells the same story: it was an ideological struggle between the Evil Empire of Communism and the good old Capitalists. The two players are identified correctly, but what was cleverly omitted by the spin doctors of the time was that both sides shared a greater need in common — which was their respective Industrial Military Complexes and the overarching Cold War. Both the United States and the USSR were keen to demonstrate their superior technology and not keen to do so directly as the threat of nuclear war was too horrible to imagine — all assessments led them away from this option. That’s not to say it was not considered as the ebb and flow of the war frustrated the reptilian minds of the militarist politicians of either side. The bloody details of this idiotic war show clearly there was to be no winner.

At this point, in order to properly identify the competing interests, it is necessary to carry out the following process. On the one hand we have the Marxist Communists — they are readily identified. On the same side we have the Western Marxists — the socialists. Opposing this philosophical coalition are the capitalists of the West. The great problem for the West was always that their side was divided philosophically, politically and ideologically between true capitalists who worshipped power and greed and socialists who longed for a utopian society. In the middle we see, as usual, the innocent and ignorant citizens of both sides — the cannon fodder. The competing factions saw this war as the ideal opportunity to demonstrate their superior might — too bad the military leaders were not informed.

To add clarification to the dichotomy of the opposing forces — the Marxist-inspired on the one hand and the capitalists on the other— Dennis H. Wrong, in his book The Problem of Order, posits the following:

Marx is usually seen as the quintessential theorist of social conflict. Certainly, class conflict stands at the very center of his conception of class-divided societies and is identified as the motor of the historical process in which different types of societies succeed one another. The socialist revolution, however, will constitute the last of such successions, for it will usher in a new communist society that will be classless and therefore conflict-free. Conflict, in short, occurs only in the period that Marx called pre-history; when history proper begins with the overthrow of bourgeois society, universal consensus will be achieved. Communist society will transcend both the egoism/altruism and the conflict/consensus oppositions since it will abolish the conditions of scarcity and class conflict in which they are rooted. (page 210)

If we take Wrong's position as having merit, then it becomes easier to identify these opposing forces. What the innocents of the West failed to recognize was that their side was not only fighting communism but also the ever-spreading virus of socialism throughout society. The enemy had simply penetrated western society and was destroying it from the inside out. This is classic Fabianism, which found a home with the weak-minded of the late nineteenth century and the similarly weak-minded of the middle of the century. Not only had communism spread throughout Europe and Asia, but its camouflaged western version — socialism — had taken root in western society and was now allied with communism. This, then, explains why the political process of Western governments were not fully committed to victory in this or succeeding regional wars. The Korean War was simply a test of strength between communism/socialism and capitalism.

The obvious and inevitable result was an ignominious retreat by the Western allies leading to a negotiated peace agreement. The Industrial Military Complexes and those who run them (the multinationals in the West  and the party officials in the East) had been satisfied. Their reptilian natures had been adequately satiated by the show of strength. Those missing in action became mere pawns at the negotiating table — many would just be forgotten by the political zealots, although not by their families and loved ones. The excuse proffered by the treasonous politicians was that they were merely war statistics. Thousands of MIAs were shipped from North Korean prisoner-of-war camps to communist slave camps in the USSR, never to be heard of again.

The question left unanswered during the intervening forty-odd years since the cessation of the Korean War was this: Why did President Truman, a self-confessed socialist, countermand General MacArthur, relieve him of duty, and then carry on an unwinnable war? From the point of MacArthur’s demise, the war was lost as the resolve to achieve victory was not shared by Truman or his cohorts in Washington. Why?

Ten years later, this farcical episode was repeated in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was a carbon-copy of the Korean War. Only this time, the Industrial Military Complexes on both sides had a new range of military hardware to exert against each other.

Chapter 8

Knowledge Without Wisdom