Why Did the Korean War Start?

Published 18 Aug 2016

The Busan Perimeter

Surprised and bewildered by the attacks coming from the North Korean People’s Army, the combined forced of US and ROK army were driven back into a small area in the city of Pusan. Thousands of lives were lost as the US army was defeated in so many encounters. In the face of humiliating defeats, the US army made one valiant stand to defend what remained of the Korean Peninsula which the NKPA still had not occupied. This was later known as the Busan Perimeter. With the aid of American supplies, air support and additional reinforcements, the US and ROK army managed to defend their territory. It was said that the NKPA, which numbered to 70,000, were undaunted by the strength of the combined forces of the US army and the ROK which numbered to almost 100,000. (Stanley Sandler)

Thus, in history the Busan Perimeter became the symbol of American determination to prevent the advance of the NKPA and to unify the Korean Peninsula. Historians, however, revealed that the NKPA would still have been able to capture Busan had it not been for the tactical mistake of NKPA officials who failed to advance to Busan and were instead more concerned about their flanks to hold their positions.

What followed was the continuous fighting between the NKPA and the combined forces of US army and ROKA and the arrival of the additional troops sent by the United Nations. One by one the combined forces were able to regain their territories in South Korea and push the NKPA back. Until they have regained control of the entire South Korea. It would seem that the Truman Doctrine of containing communism had been achieved.

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Not satisfied with just containing the spread of Communism in Korea, Gen MacArthur ordered to troops to take the battle to North Korea. They thus decided not merely to contain communism but to rollback it. This decision would later prove to be a mistake. Disregarding the possibility that China might intervene in the war to protect its national security, US and ROK army advanced to North Korea. Mao Zedong was thus forced to intervene. Chinese intervention in the Korean war was the result of many factors: a) to show support to another Communist country; b) to protect its own national security; c) and most because it did not trust the United States who wanted to spread democracy. (Patrick C. Roe)

He immediately issued an order to assemble the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. Their plan was to let the UN forces enter North Korea for the purpose of stretching their food and ammunition supply. Once inside, they will begin their counterattacks. The plan worked and after the Sino-Korean offensive, UN forces led by US army were forced to withdraw from South Korea. The defeat caused the UN forces many lives as the Secretary of State Acheson later called this the worst American defeat since the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War (1861-1865). (“Korean War: Encarta”)

The Settlement

This will later on be followed by months of bloody fighting along the 38th Parallel and arduous negotiations between North and South Korea. Among the subject of their negotiations was how to properly and fairly mark their military lines and how to agree on the Prisoners of War on both sides. On July 27, 1953, the UN, North Korea, and China signed an armistice agreement which resulted to the end of fighting. (Transcript of the Address of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz”)

Consequences of the Korean War

With the conclusion of the armistice agreement, it would seem that the war was a draw. Apparently, neither side can claim victory to this war which lasted for three years and claimed the lives of 4 million Koreans throughout the Peninsula. It was said that 2/3 of these were civilians. China also lost 1 million soldiers, while the UN forces led by the United States lost thousands of lives.

I conclude otherwise. The biggest loser in this war was the United States. For the Americans, not only were they defeated in the early beginnings of the Korean War but they also failed to achieve their objective of ‘rolling back’ communism. The US army, famous for their skills and weaponry suffered humiliating defeats in the hands of the NKPA. There are several key factors that could explain the reason why the American army lost in the Korean War. The first is its underestimation of the enemy. The American troops simply thought that their mere presence will cause the enemy to retreat. This arrogance combined with their lack of manpower and firepower caused the Americans to lose the early battles in Korea. The American troops also misjudged the army they were facing. The NKPA had a larger and well-trained army. Not only that it has sufficient manpower, it was also well-equipped with sophisticated firepower and equipment because of the funding of the Soviets. The United States Army had no tanks and other anti-tank equipment that will neutralize the superior firepower of NKPA. Definitely, the US Army was not ready to face the kind of resistance they encountered in North Korea.

Another offshoot of the Korean War was the enactment of the War Powers Act of 1973. The War Powers Act of 1973 also requires the President to submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, in writing, setting forth the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United States Armed Forces, the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place and the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement in case United States Armed forces are actually introduced for combat. The said law also requires the President to terminate within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted any use of United States Armed Forces unless the Congress has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces or has extended by law such sixty-day period or is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. The sixty-day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces. The Congress by concurrent resolution is authorized at all times to order the withdrawal of US troops.

The biggest victor in this war was North Korea. For the North Koreans, they showed their resiliency in battle. They showed that even with the combined strength of the UN forces, they cannot be overcome. It was said by Kun II-Sung that this was the first time the US forces suffered ignominous military defeat in their history. This victory helped them gain political strength. Also, their resilience in battle constituted a strong challenge to the democracy of the United States. (William Stueck) Until now, there is a somewhat tension insofar as diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea is concerned. Though the six party talks have been convened between them including North Korea, Russia, South Korea and Japan, there is still no development on the issue of nuclear weapons and missile development. For its part, North Korea has declared that it will not forego its nuclear program unless the United States guarantees a steady supply of energy and other economic aids that will meet its energy needs once the nuclear program is finally abolished.

For China, their intervention proved to be very helpful for Kim II-Sung as it avoided North Korea’s imminent collapse. In a sense, they were victors because they were able to help a fellow communist country. However, in another sense, they were also losers since they failed to overwhelm the United States forces. (Chen Jian) From the time they intervened until the time of the armistice agreement the territory of North Korea remained the same.

Another consequence of the Korean War is that it led to the death of countless Korean civilians. In one of the reports of Charles Hanley, an Associated Press reporter, he exposed the indiscriminate firings against civilians by the US army upon orders of their superiors. He reported that more than 350 civilians were massacred as the result of this. He received Pulitzer Prize because of this expose. Though this report was disputed by another author, one thing is certain, though, lives were lost as a result of indiscriminate firings.

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