The Korean War- 70 years on
It was a conflict which was said to be the first military engagement of the cold war, and it began just five years after guns fell silent after the Second World War.
The Korean War pulled soldiers from across the world into the Korean peninsula. The nation had been divided after peace was declared in 1945, and by the turn of the decade the politics had taken hold.
The war was primarily between the communist North Korea and the democratic South Korea. However, the interest of the war as a strategic importance was not lost on the wider world.
The Soviet Union threw their weight behind the north, and the United Nations (represented in Korea by the UK, USA, Canada, Turkey and many more), supported the South.
The war began when 75,000 troops from North Korea entered the 38th parallel o, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south.
For the USA, similar to how it would be in Vietnam in the following decade, the war was a simple battle against the spread of international communism. Stop communism, and protect democracy and other western ideals.
There were also fears within the UN, particularly American officials, that if the Korean War was not ended swiftly, then it could draw in increased military action which could escalate into a nuclear conflict. The concern of world war three less than a decade after world war two was genuine.
The opening months of the war were defensive for the western forces. The aim was to force the North Koreans out of the south, but this failed initially. The North Korean soldiers were far more experienced and prepared for conflict.
This, combined with a hot summer forcing UN troops to drink infected rice paddy water causing sickness amongst the soldiers, gave the north a significant advantage.
Following the disappointing opening months, President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, who was in charge of the allied forces in Asia, created a plan to put the western forces on the offensive. This began with the amphibious attack on North Korean troops to reclaim the city of Inchon, which lies 15 miles south west of Seoul.
The battle of Inchon began on 15 September 1950, taking the KPA (Korean Peoples Army of North Korea) by surprise. Inchon was only lightly defended, with most troops defending the Pusan Perimeter further north. It was a vital victory for the south and UN forces, and one which helped to set up the recapturing of Seoul just weeks later. The KPA had far more troops and weaponry to call upon at the start of the war, so a victory for the south was a significant morale boost.
It was later in the year, when UN forces invaded North Korea, that tensions threatened to rise. China announced they would step in to support the north, even though some generals were wary about facing up to the USA in Korea. A full scale third world war could easily have broken out during this time, dragging in many of the worlds biggest military powers.
Despite the involvement of over 4.5 million personnel, the conflict is seen as a forgotten war. It is one which, when looking back through the history books and media coverage of 20th century wars, fails to stand out.
Over 5 million people, soldiers and civilians, died and many more were injured or displaced during the war. It was the beginning of three decades of cold war uncertainty, and it showed that the communist forces in Asia would have more than enough support from China and Russia to concern the west.
It may have been a forgotten war to the media, but to those who fought and suffered in the fields and streets of Korea it was a conflict which changed millions of lives.
The most famous representation of the war in the media is arguably the TV show ‘MASH’, which followed the fortunes of a US army hospital in the conflict. The show was hugely popular, running for 11 years. This was nearly four times longer than the war itself.
The Korean War saw aggressive warfare ravage the nation. It pitched communism against democracy and could have so easily seen millions more soldiers from both sides thrown into the Korean peninsula, escalating the war to an unprecedented level.
As it was, the Korean War would be the first test for western forces in Asia since the second world war, and with tensions rising in Vietnam throughout the 1950s the next engagement would soon be around the corner.