The Korean War was the first first proxy war that followed World War II in 1950. It contributed to the Cold War and occurred between 1950 to 1953, ending with 5 million casualties and a ceasefire, making it an unfinished war to this day. Americans had little knowledge of Korea until the Cairo Conference in November of 1943 where America, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and China agreed on working to free the Koreans from Japanese occupation.
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In February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, President Roosevelt proposed a trusteeship involving the United States, China, and the Soviet Union which could last twenty to thirty years. In response to this, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin responded that the “shorter the period the better.” At the Moscow Conference in December 1945, the United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain proposed trusteeship of Korea and created the Joint Soviet-American Commission, which worked on establishing a provisional Korean democratic government. When attempts to establish Korean independence failed, the United States made another proposal, but the Soviets rejected it, bringing the U.S. to discuss this issue with the United Nations on September 14, 1947. President Truman, who took control of the operation after Roosevelt’s death, began to worry about communist power spreading so he turned to the United Nations which created the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. This commission met in Seoul on January 12, 1948 to enforce elections but again, the Soviets refused to let it cross the parallel to hold elections in the north. The United States supervised free elections in South Korea, in which they were in favor of democracy and formed the Republic of Korea under Dr. Syngman Rhee. Little did they know of the extent that North Korea and Soviet Union were planning for the invasion on the South. This sets the stage for the following actions that would occur during the course of the Korean war. The war became a war for another nation, being more brutal than any nation could imagine.
Kim Il-Sung, North Korean dictator, wanted to reunify Korea and believed that the only way was through military defeat of the South. In 1949, the Chinese communists won the civil war in China, which pushed Kim Il-Sung to persuade Stalin to help support the reunification of Korea by military force. Stalin gave his approval, and began working on defeating the United States, United Nation troops, and those who were fighting for the South. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel and attacked to unify the peninsula. President Truman, who was completely surprised of the action, immediately sent the unprepared U.S. Forces to defend South Korea. For the first time, the United Nations authorized the establishment of a multinational force; the U.S. being the primary fighter of the war and twenty other countries contributing to the war effort. The U.N. Security Council called for immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of all North Korean forces to the 38th parallel. Proposed by Great Britain, the United Nations asked the United States to lead the Unified Command to end North Korean aggression, in which the U.S. accepted and Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur as commanding general.
On November 25th,1950, General MacArthur grew weary and launched a major offensive with intentions to defeat the North Korean forces and end the war in its entirety. [they had problems Though the advance appeared to make headway, American and allied units failed to maintain cohesive lines and often lost contact with one another.] Shortly after midnight on November 25th, the Chinese began their counter-attack. Mao Tse-Tung, Chinese communist revolutionary and founding father of People’s Republic of China, ordered a massive intervention of Chinese communist forces. This action completely changed the course of the war, and it was no longer a fight between the North Korean and Soviet communists, but between the Chinese. Roughly 300,000 men entered North Korea with violent attacks against the American and United Nation forces, stampeding (?) General MacArthur and fellow troops were completely caught off guard and did not believe that China would openly enter the war. Factors such as the sub-zero weather and overwhelming number of Chinese soldiers, forced the U.N soldiers to withdraw to a line well south of Seoul. On November 28th, MacArthur sent a message to Washington and stated, We face an entirely new war. The Chinese appeared in great and ever-increasing strength. MacArthur wanted the troops to use American air power to attack the Chinese communists, but Truman rejected his plan fearing that the attack would be projected on the Americans and would therefore bring the Soviet Union into the picture of this upcoming war. MacArthur criticized Truman’s decision, (quote?) and in response Truman declared MacArthur insubordinate (quote?) and relieved him of his authority as commanding general. In March 1951, the U.N. fought their way back to the 38th parallel under (who is commanding general). In April and May, the Chinese forces launched successive major offensives against U.N. troops.
Other conflicts came into play. The conflict turned into a Stalemate that lasted two and half more years. During the two years, fighting was still occurring and the major hold up to the peace negotiations was “Prisoners of War (POW)”. Article 118 read prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of hostilities. However, the communists did not abide by Geneva Convention and refused to submit the list of prisoners held in their captivity and denied access to visit POW camps or even locations of such camps. Both sides had were charged for atrocities against POWs. The U.S. charged that American and U.N. POWs had been starved, subjected to political brainwashing sessions, and randomly executed. U.S. military sources estimated that roughly 38 percent of all U.S. POWs died in captivity. The UN had 150,000 prisoners, more than were on the other side; if it were for an all for all exchanged, the UN feared that the enemies would come back with a massive attack. Sources also claim that Chinese and North Korean soldiers were caught by South Korean forces and were shot or tortured. They were then pushed into cramped living quarters and fed irregularly with inadequate food. In the UN camp on Koje-do Island, the camp commander was taken prisoner by the POWs and demanded that he issue a public statement about the inhumane treatment of the prisoners. To put an end to the issue of the POWs who refused to make amends, North Korea agreed to a system of UN camps that would keep detainees for three months before the POWs made a decision.
Finally, on July 27, 1953, representatives for the United States and North Korea signed the Military Armistice Agreement which would “ensure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” The government of South Korea refused to sign the agreement because a they were outraged that the cease-fire had come without the unification of Korea, but in general agreed to abide by the terms of the agreement which stated that both sides withdrew two kilometers from the border, creating the Demilitarized Zone.
By the end of summer 1953, Stalin was dead, MacArthur was relieved of his position, and Truman was no longer president. Losses were immense: 1,000,000 chinese troops, 33,700 U.S. troops, and the total U.N. military deaths that included Americans were 170,000. Nearly 3 million Koreans, mostly civilians and an estimated 5 million refugees were also killed. Despite this, the Korean War is often forgotten, often overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War.
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