(Author’s Note: At the beginning of my forthcoming book on war hero Ricardo Carrasco entitled FORGOTTEN WARRIOR: Twice In One Day, I have a preface break-down of what led America into the Korean War, the Cold War and the importance to this day of our continued presence in and support of the Republic of Korea. At the request of many who have graciously read the first chapters of my rough draft, I am publishing in parts this vital information in exclusively for readers of Politichicks.TV. Given the daily appearance of North Korean aggression 60 years after the cease fire, causing the ongoing Korean War to be front page news again, this information is vital to anyone wanting to know how we got here and why it is important that we permanently eschew the nation-killing idea of “limited war.)
It was so odd reading about this war. I had heard of World War II, and had been a small child during the last years of Vietnam. My only real memories of that particular war revolved around filthy, long-haired hippies and their contributions of the selfish drug culture and sexually transmitted diseases, whirling helicopters on top of buildings, surrounded by panicked and sobbing Vietnamese pushing on guarded gates, the cold fear of Communist oppression and paranoia and Khmer Rouge slaughter reflected in their eyes.
But I knew nothing about Korea, which was sad, especially given that my dad was active duty during this war. How could I have gone my whole life knowing nothing about it? That one was easy. It was, after all, nicknamed the “Forgotten War” long before I came on the scene. Clearly I wasn’t alone in my ignorance; no one in my generation knew anything about that war, and school knew even less, at least that was the reasonable assumption to make given the half page in our history books.
I pondered on that a bit. Korea had been our first stand against Communism, and we had kept the commies from gaining one more inch of territory in their war of totalitarian aggression. It was the only war from the 20th century that we were still fighting as we entered the 21st, America’s longest running war. Why had it been so furiously ignored by the countrymen who hadn’t had to fight it? Such was not the case with our other wars from the 20th century. These were our fathers and grandfathers, the lives they had lived! It was the first salvo in the 45-year cold war. How could that not matter? Was there some terrible secret about Korea that I didn’t know? I knew I had to know about this ongoing war if I was to learn exactly why Ricardo’s story had so affected me that I spent over two decades chasing it.
Sandwiched in between the atrocities of WWII and the political strife that was Vietnam sits the aptly named Forgotten War. Not officially declared a “war” by Congress until 1998, it remained in that frustrating limbo and insulting title of “police action” throughout its three years of active fighting, but finally dropped from our lexicon 48 years later. It was just too absurd to call this horrific and ongoing battle anything other than a war.
Over 54,000 American soldiers died in those three years–only about 38,000 in Korea itself–compared to approximately 57,000 deaths in all 12 years of Vietnam. It was a cold, cruel, and bloody war, the first of its kind ever fought by war-weary America. It was different in two ways: it was the first directed totally against communism and the first with no real defined goal.
It would also be our longest, still going to this day. And in recent years, heating up fast.
To understand what led up to this controversial war and our involvement in it, we need to go back to 1910, for Korea was a hotbed of trouble long before 1950. It was in that year that the “Land of the Morning Calm” became a slave state under the Japanese Empire, and remained as such until Japan was defeated by allied sources in 1945. As WWII drew to a close, the US and Soviets—temporary allies in order to defeat Hitler and the Axis—agreed to get all of Korea back to its own independent government. However, busy with the war’s aftermath and frustrated over what to do with Korea, both countries eventually conceded that a temporary government would be set up until an independent one could be established. They did this by dividing the country at the 38th parallel, with the Soviets establishing a Communist government in the North and America establishing a Republic in the South.
For the first time our reasons for even being in Korea became clear to me. Already I could see the pattern that had led to the decades-long war being set up.
The Soviet Union wasted no time in occupying North Korea—later known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)—in August, 1945, and assigned administration duties to a brutal Korean Communist named Kim Il-sung. True to Communist form, they immediately cut all railways, roads, and telephones to the south: cut off those you conquer from the rest of the world, control all media and communications the people have access to so they don’t know the truth from the lies, or the advantages of freedom in a Republic. It would later become obvious that the Soviets had never had any intention of leaving Korea to establish its own free nation. It is indisputable that they intended–and still intend–for Korea to be united only under Communism.
In the meantime, America, unaware of true Soviet intentions (or pretending to be), was setting up house in South Korea—eventually known as the Republic of Korea (ROK)—and quickly organized a government run by Syngman Rhee, a fervent anti-communist. Clearly our actions were duplicitous; the placing of Rhee to lead Korea was a clear indicator that we were already fully aware that our new enemy was going to be our former ally from WWII. The cold war temperature had begun its plunge.
By 1947 it became obvious to President Harry S. Truman that a unified Korean Republic was no longer a given. The Soviets would not budge, and were becoming increasingly bellicose, making the newly formed United Nations (UN) nervous. Adding to the problem was the fact that Dean Acheson, his own Secretary of State, was urging for troop withdrawal from Korea, insisting that Korea “held no strategic importance for America.” In spite of his own misgivings that communists would jump at the chance to overtake the entire country if America pulled out, Truman followed the advice of his advisors. He turned to the UN for a resolution that would pull us out peacefully while “saving face.”
So in November 1947, the UN passed the US-sponsored resolution that a single government would be established for the entire country of Korea. The Soviets refused to cooperate as was expected, and the UN was becoming disgusted with Soviet stubbornness. So after the election was held in Korea, the UN recognized the ROK as the official government of all Korea, and it was installed in Seoul on August 15, 1948, under the direction of President Syngman Rhee. Even though they claimed jurisdiction over the entire country, the ROK knew that their power really ended at the 38th parallel.
Three weeks later the DPRK acted similarly and claimed all of Korea as their jurisdiction under the direction of Kim Il-sung, but without UN sanctioning or recognition.
It was obvious that a conflict was fated, but with fingers crossed and lips squeezed tightly, America—anxious to be out of the Korean quagmire and playing a deadly game of “Let’s Pretend” with freedom’s greatest enemy, communism—began pulling out its combat units, and by June 29, 1949, only 500 American remained in Korea.