Korean War Begins


By Arnie Silverman

June 2 marks the anniversary of the start of the Korean War.  On that date in 1950 armed forces from communist North Korea attacked South Korea, starting the Korean War.  The U.S. came to the defense of South Korea and fought a bloody and for many a frustrating war for the next three years.  Having personally participated in that one in the Land of the Morning Calm (their term; not mine), I thought I would expound on it a little.

Following WWII, Korea, a former Japanese possession, had been divided into two zones of occupation.  U.S. forces accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in southern Korea, while Russian forces did likewise in northern Korea. As happened in Germany, however, the “temporary” division soon became permanent. The Russians assisted in the establishment of a communist regime in North Korea while the United States became the main source of military support for South Korea.

The so-called domino theory was prevalent then.  Promoted by then Secretary of State John Forster Dulles and what was then termed the China lobby, its major premise was that once Communist forces took over one Far East nation (China included), others would fall one after the other as in dominoes.  Fearing that that would be the fate of South Korea, the U.S. honored its commitment to defend it.

Initially the North Korean forces surprised the South Korean army and the small U.S. force stationed there.  The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the U.N.’s Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. When this resolution passed, President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.”  In time the American intervention turned the tide, and pushed the North Korean forces back to the original demarcation line.  However, against Truman’s orders, Douglas MacArthur ordered an attack into North Korea.

This action prompted the intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950 with a massive number of troops. The war bogged down into a bloody stalemate.  In 1953 after contentious negotiations, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

Over 55,000 American troops were killed in the conflict. It was also the first war in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the limited goal of protecting South Korea.  At the time such an approach seemed the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching American resources too thinly around the globe.  For most Americans who expected the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II, it was frustrating.   Thus, the Korean War never really gained popular support.  However, today when you perceive what has occurred in bustling, democratic South Korea as compared to the mess in the north, maybe we did some good.


Arnold Silverman, commander of the Laguna Beach VFW Post 5868, served in the Korean War.

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