Magazine article Army

Lessons Learned: Reviewing the Korean War

Magazine article Army

Lessons Learned: Reviewing the Korean War

Article excerpt

Korean War at 60

It hardly seems possible that 60 years have gone by since the war in Korea, yet so they have. It is time, as we commemorate the anniversary, to review what happened.

Apparently to legitimize a military commitment lacking the constitutionally required congressional declaration of belligerency, the confrontation of arms was originally called a police action or the Korean conflict. It was an actual war.

No longer regarded as an inconsequential sequel to World War II, the Korean affair was much more than an afterthought. The expenditure of lives and resources signaled a change in American perspectives and a development on the world stage.

Coming five years after the global conflagration, rooted in the waning days of the Pacific operations, the Korean War at first glance tends to resemble an epilogue rather than a new phenomenon. By defeating Japan, the Allies liberated Korea, a country annexed by Japan in 1910. In 1945, to facilitate the surrender of the Japanese troops in Korea, the Allies divided the Korean peninsula temporarily at the 38th Parallel. The Soviets were to round up the Japanese soldiers in the northern part, the Americans to do the same in the south. The border between the two segments of about equal size was an artificial line set for convenience only.

Very quickly the demarcation hardened and became permanent. The Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south remained present in order to help develop the two areas, and the two lands turned into different entities. North Korea became totalitarian like the Soviet Union and Communist China. South Korea was a free society like the United States. Both Koreas began to see the other as alien and dangerous, and eventually each identified the other as the enemy. Both aspired to erase the boundary and to reunite the Korean people into a single state.

These attitudes burst into flame on June 25, 1950. There were no declarations of war, no diplomatic maneuvers, no preliminary warnings. The armed forces of North Korea, trained and equipped by the Soviet Union for offensive warfare, simply crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea. Defending South Korea was a constabulary-type military establishment sponsored by the United States and structured to provide internal security.

The Korean War thus emerged out of the conflict with Japan and seemed to be a deferred adjunct of it. The involvement of prominent U.S. military figures reinforces the idea, for all the leading personalities in uniform were heroes of World War ?. All were well known to the American people.

GEN Douglas MacArthur had headed a theater of operations in the Pacific. He had liberated the Philippines. He was to have directed the climactic invasion of Japan. In mid-1950, General of the Army MacArthur was still in the driver's seat. He commanded the joint U.S. military assets in the Far East. His immediate task was to rescue the Republic of Korea from what looked like instant extinction.

The other military principals had gained fame in Europe. General of the Army Omar N. Bradley had commanded an Army group and was now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His main concern was the ability of the United States to meet crises worldwide, particularly in Europe. He later opposed extending the Korean struggle because he thought an expanded venture would be "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." GEN J. Lawton Collins, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff and, as such, the executive agent of the Joint Chiefs for Korea, had headed the VII Corps and, it was widely reputed, had seemed to run First U.S. Army, too. Directing the American ground forces in Korea, LTG Walton H. Walker had commanded the XX Corps in Third Army.

When Walker died in an automobile accident, LTG Matthew B. Ridgway, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and XVIH" Airborne Qnps, replaced him at Eighth U.S. Army in Korea (EUSAK). …

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