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The Cold War
US Battleship during Korean War
The Korean War was fought between South Korea and communist North Korea. It was the first major conflict of the Cold War as the Soviet Union supported North Korea and the United States supported South Korea. The war ended with little resolution. The countries are still divided today and North Korea is still ruled by a communist regime.
Dates: June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953
The leader and Prime Minister of North Korea was Kim Il-sung. North Korea's chief commander was Choi Yong-kun.
The President of South Korea was Syngman Rhee. The South Korean Army was led by Chung II-kwon. The United States Army and United Nations forces were lead by General Douglas MacArthur. The US President at the start of the war was Harry Truman. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president by the end of the war.
Supporting North Korea was the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Supporting South Korea was the United States, Great Britain, and the United Nations.
Before the War
Before World War II the Korean Peninsula had been a part of Japan. After the war it needed to be divided up. The Northern half went under the control of the Soviet Union and the Southern half under the control of the United States. The two sides were divided at the 38th parallel.
Eventually two separate states formed with North Korea forming a communist government with Kim Il-sung as leader and South Korea forming a capitalist government under the rule of Syngman Rhee.
The two sides did not get along and there were constant skirmishes and battles along the border at the 38th parallel. Attempts were being made to negotiate a unified country, but they were going nowhere.
North Korea Attacks
On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The South Korean Army fled and forces from the United Nations came to help out. The United States provided the majority of the United Nations forces. Soon the South Korea government only occupied a small part of Korea on the southern tip.
At first the United Nations was only trying to defend South Korea, however, after the first summer of fighting, President Truman decided to go on the offensive. He said the war was now about liberating North Korea from communism.
Battle of Inchon
General George MacArthur led the UN forces on an attack at the Battle of Inchon. The Battle was a success and MacArthur was able to move in and route much of the North Korean army. He soon had retaken control of the city of Seoul as well as South Korea back up to the 38th parallel.
China Enters the War
MacArthur continued to be aggressive and pushed the North Koreans all the way to the northern border. However, the Chinese were not happy with this and sent their army to enter the war. At this point President Truman replaced MacArthur with General Matthew Ridgway.
Back to the 38th Parallel
Ridgway fortified the border just north of the 38th Parallel. Here the two sides would battle for the rest of the war. North Korea would attack the south at various points and the UN army would retaliate trying to prevent more attacks.
End of the War
Negotiations continued for much of the war, but President Truman did not want to appear weak. When Eisenhower became president, he was much more willing to offer concessions to end the war.
On July 17, 1953 a treaty was signed that ended the war. Few things had changed as a result of the war. Both countries would remain independent and the border would remain at the 38th parallel. However, between the two countries a 2 mile demilitarized zone was placed to act as a buffer in hopes to prevent future wars.
Facts About the Korean War
Take a ten question quiz on the Korean War questions page.
- Although Korea was not strategic to the US, they entered the war because they did not want to appear soft on communism. They also wanted to protect Japan, which they did consider strategic.
- The TV show M*A*S*H was set during the Korean War.
- The situation today in Korea is similar to what it was 50+ years ago after the war. Little has changed.
- It is estimated that around 2.5 million people were killed or wounded during the war. Around 40,000 US soldiers died in the war. The civilian casualties were especially high with estimates of around 2 million civilians killed.
- It is thought that President Truman strongly considered using nuclear weapons during the war.
To learn more about the Cold War:
Back to the Cold War summary page.
Back to History for Kids