The Korean War

The Korean War lasted from 1950-1953. What happened in Korea pushed the boundaries of the Cold War towards ‘Warm War‘. Though America and Russia did not officially clash, client states did in that Communist China fought and was armed and encouraged by Russia.

The peninsula was divided after World War Two into a Russian-backed north (The People’s Democratic Republic) and the American-backed south (the Republic of Korea). Each claimed the right to the other half in an effort to unify both. The division was the result of the occupation of Korea by the communists after the end of the war with the country eventually being divided at the 38th parallel.

In June 1950, the North Koreans launched a surprise attack against the south and the capital Seoul fell in just three days.

The United Nations Security Council (which was being boycotted by Russia at this time) asked for UN states to send troops to the region under a UN flag. The huge bulk of the troops sent were American (15 nations sent troops) and command of them was given to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

By the end of August 1950 only Pusan in the south-east corner of South Korea had not fallen to the North.

In September, MacArthur took the huge risk of launching an amphibious landing at Inchon 200 miles behind enemy lines and from here he launched an attack against the North Koreans at Pusan.

The North Koreans had no choice but to retreat as they faced being cut in two.

MacArthur chose to ignore his orders and advanced north towards the Chinese border at the Yalu River. This provoked the Chinese to launch a massive attack against the UN forces and South Korea. A Chinese army of 180,000 men supported by 100,000 reserves forced the UN troops to retreat and Seoul fell once again in January 1951 and the Chinese forces were halted only 60 miles from the 38th Parallel. Between January 1951 and June 1951 a stalemate took place though the UN forces managed to stabilise themselves near the 38th Parallel.

The war became one of static warfare as both sides entrenched their positions. Peace talks started atPanmunjom and lasted for 2 years. Two occurrences helped to move the peace talks – the death of Stalin in 1953 and the replacement of Truman with Eisenhower as US president

An armistice was signed in 1953.

Casualties from the war were very high : USA – 142,000 killed

Other UN states – 17,000 killed

Between 3.5 and 4 million civilians were killed.

Once again a political belief had been fought for – the halting of communist expansion in south-east Asia – but the superpowers had avoided any direct conflict -a classic occurrence in the Cold War.






Casualties : dead and wounded : 1.3 million South Korean military;

520,000 North Korean military;

Over 3 million civilian casualties. Much industry destroyed, agriculture ruined, millions of refugees

UN Gained respect by taking prompt and direct action. Used combined force to stop aggression. Achieved joint action by members. 17,000 casualties; conduct of war almost entirely by USA and UN could have been seen as a USA puppet.
USA Saved South Korea from communism. Containment policy seen to work against Asian communism 142,000 casualties. Defence spending went up from 12 to 60 billion dollars and failed to liberate North Korea.
Russia Achieved closer friendship with China. Conflict between China and USA was to Russia’s advantage. Forced into an expensive arms race with America.
China Gained the respect of Asian communism. Saved North Korea from America. Kept a crucial buffer state on the eastern frontier. Achieved closer friendship with Russia

900,000 casualties.

Cost of the war was immense for a poor country. Failed to win South Korea for communism. Increased American protection for Taiwan (Formosa). Isolated by America in trade and politics.