End of an Empire
On 10 August 1945, the day after the atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, American officials worked late into the night at the State Department. With Japan on the brink of surrender, it was necessary to agree upon a future Asian policy. Poring over maps of the Japanese Empire, members of the State-WarNavy Coordinating Committee focused on occupied Korea, that remote land mass jutting out from the mainland of China. For several centuries Korea had been an independent, unified nation, but early in the twentieth century it had been overrun by an expansionist Japan. The occupation had been bitterly resented by most Koreans, who now hoped that Japan's imminent defeat would bring an end to it, leading once more to an independent Korea.
The Soviet Union, which had declared war on Japan only a day before Nagasaki was bombed, marched through Manchuria, rolling up Japanese forces still deployed there, and entered Korea. At the Potsdam Conference, the United States, then making plans to invade the Japanese mainland, had been more than happy to leave Manchuria and Korea to the Soviets. But now, with the war actually coming to a sudden end, the United States urgently reassessed its future interest in Asia and came rapidly to a decision: America must share with the USSR the occupation of Korea at the end of the war. With no appropriate natural division to the Korean peninsula, the 38th parallel, which roughly divided the country in half, was proposed to the Kremlin. The Soviet Union should occupy Korea to the north of this line, and the United States would occupy the area to the south. Dean Rusk, a member of the Coordinating Committee, pointed out to his colleagues that if the Soviets chose to ignore this proposal and continued to sweep south, they could occupy all of Korea before a single US marine was landed. However risky this policy, the Kremlin agreed to divide Korea along this artificial boundary and halted the Red Army when it was reached. In early September 1945 US soldiers landed in Korea at Inchon and set up their military occupation of the South. When the advance guard entered Seoul, the capital, the streets were filled with thousands of Koreans cheering the end of Japanese rule.
Inheriting a political vacuum that stemmed from the war's sudden end, the US occupation force, commanded by General John Hodge, was brought face to face with Korean politics when rival groups identified themselves as representing the new Korean government. Hodge ignored them all and turned instead to former Japanese officials to help him run the country. There were still more than half a million Japanese soldiers in Korea and tens of thousands of Japanese civil servants, who dutifully put themselves under Hodge's command. The Koreans were deeply offended that their new occupiers should line up with the hated Japanese.
Slowly the Japanese administrators were expelled from Korea, and the US military had to turn to a variety of collaborators in maintaining law and order. Prominent nationalists and members of the anti Japanese resistance had formed a provisional government, but at least half of them were Communists, a powerful force in the land. However, their hectoring alienated the American generals, who now found themselves at the front line politically. They preferred a more conservative group that was made up of professionals and those educated in America or by American missionaries. This faction looked to one of Korea's most famous exiles as leader. His name was Syngman Rhee.
Rhee was born in 1875 into the Korean middle class, and studied at Harvard and Princeton, becoming the first Korean to receive a doctorate from an American university. He left Korea again in 1910, at the time of the Japanese occupation, and spent the next thirty-five years in the United States, lobbying on behalf of Korean independence. Rhee had several assets as far as the United States was concerned: he was not tainted by collaboration with the Japanese; he was strongly anti-Communist; and with his perfect English, he seemed a more comfortable figure to American soldiers and diplomats than most other Korean politicians. Rhee emerged in the winter of 1945 as the US nominee for political control over South Korea.
Although Rhee appealed to the American generals, his natural power base in Korea was small. He had to rely upon officials who, having worked with the Japanese, were discredited in the eyes of most Koreans. Ambitious for power and wealth, he became corrupt and ruthless. The United States had unwittingly transferred power to a clique with no real interest in popular democracy and to whom personal freedom meant nothing. But for the American generals Rhee offered a least-bad option.
North of the 38th parallel, under Soviet guidance and supervision, a network of People's Committees was formed. In February 1947 these committees met in Pyongyang, the northern capital, and established the People's Assembly of North Korea. Kim II Sung, another Korean exile, was elected its chairman.
Nearly forty years younger than Rhee, Kim had opposed the Japanese occupation during the 1930s and had gone to the Soviet Union during the war. By 1945 he was leading a Korean unit in the Red Army. When installed by the Soviets as their candidate to rule in North Korea, he advocated wholesale land reform; the great estates were broken up and most tenant farmers were given their own land. But there was no policy in North Korea of widespread collectivization of land on the Soviet model. Farming remained a small-scale activity. Kim was vicious in putting down all opposition to Communist rule, and many anti-Communists emigrated to the south.
Between 1945 and 1947, the situation in Korea polarized as the two power blocs, North and South, became more secure. Both sides constantly expressed their desire for national unity, but in practice, re-unification became a more and more remote goal. As in Europe, the difficulties of postwar reconstruction plunged much of Korea into economic chaos and hardship. With inflation, poverty, and distress came civil disturbances. A rising in Cheju Island in the South was viciously put down by soldiers of the southern government. More than a thousand died. In the North, there were public show trials of opponents of the regime.
In January 1948 the United Nations called for free elections in both North and South Korea. The Soviet Union rejected any UN involvement, and elections eventually went ahead only in the South. Amid mounting repression, and with the Communists boycotting the polls, Rhee and his right-wing supporters won a majority of seats in Korea's new constitutional assembly. In August, Rhee was inaugurated president of the new Republic of Korea. A month later the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed in Pyongyang.
During 1949 the border between the two Korean regimes became tense as both sides made major incursions across it. Radio propaganda from the North constantly predicted imminent invasion. In the South left-wing activists by the thousands were arrested and imprisoned. Meanwhile, the Red Army withdrew from the North, leaving behind only a handful of military advisers. In June 1949 the US Army withdrew from the South. Dean Acheson, who had replaced Marshall as US secretary of state, was deeply involved with the situ ation in Europe and the crisis in Berlin. He had little time for Asian affairs. years.
The "Loss" of China
In the fall of 1949 the situation in Korea was transformed by events in China. From 1927 onwards the Communist forces of Mao Zedong had been engaged in a long civil war with the Kuomintang armies of Chiang Kai-shek. Since 1945 America had given $2 billion of military aid to Chiang, while Stalin had provided but grudging support to the Chinese Communists. Nevertheless, Chiang's army overextended itself in Manchuria, as it took over from Soviet troops occupying the country at war's end. Corruption and massive inflation eventually weakened the resolve of Chiang's supporters, and America began to realize that without a vast commitment it could no longer prop up Chiang's Nationalist regime. In the meantime, using captured Japanese arms, Mao's army slowly won the upper hand, and Chiang fled to Taiwan. In October 1949 Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China: "We, the Chinese people, have now stood up."
In the United States the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek was regarded as a major disaster - the "loss" of China. In their vision of the postwar world, US policymakers had seen Chiang's China as a major player, as one of the "Big Five" members of the UN Security Council. When Mao forced Chiang to flee the mainland, it seemed to Washington that worldwide communism was given a huge boost.
of China, coinciding with the explosion of the Soviet atom bomb, provoked a
hardheaded response in Washington. At the end of January 1950, President Truman
ordered the development of a hydrogen bomb. He also called for a new overview
of America's foreign and defence policies, which was drafted by Paul Nitze and
others at the State Department. The result was a secret National Security
Council document known as
In December 1949 Mao went to Moscow to participate in the seventieth birthday celebrations for Stalin. Despite all the rhetoric of Communist fraternity, the first meetings of the two leaders were uncomfortable. At the end of the war, Stalin had signed a treaty of friendship with Chiang Kai-shek and had done very little to help Mao in his long campaign to win China for communism. Stalin viewed Mao, leader of the world's most populous nation, as a threat to his own worldwide leadership of communism. Mao, deeply respectful towards Stalin, deferred to him on developing communism in China. In his two months in Moscow, Mao negotiated the first Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance, which was signed on 14 February 1950. In this momentous agreement, Stalin gave support for the re-unification of China under the Communist banner and in effect abrogated Yalta agreements to maintain the status quo in Asia. The Sino-Soviet alliance signalled the opening of a second front in the Cold War, in Asia.
Washington the Truman administration completed its review of Far Eastern
Kim Il Sung repeatedly asked for permission from Stalin, and later from Mao, to launch an attack on South Korea to re-unite the Korean peninsula under the Red flag. But Stalin resisted this idea, doubtful of the US response. Stalin was still respecting agreements made with the United States at the end of the war, and in early 1949 he was preoccupied with the crisis in Berlin. Despite several further requests by Kim, Stalin again concluded in September 1949 that the risks of American intervention were too great, and he once more vetoed an invasion.
In April 1950 Kim went secretly to visit Stalin in the Kremlin. By this time, after the Communist victory in China and the Soviet development of an atom bomb, Stalin felt more confident that America would hesitate to intervene in a distant war, even if the result could be another Communist victory in Asia. Stalin felt the international situation was going his way and finally gave Kim the go-ahead. The Chinese were informed of Stalin's green light for invasion and also extended their support to North Korea. Mao assured North Korea's ambassador that there was little to fear from the Americans, because "they would not start a third world war over such a small territory." A special protocol already had been signed between Moscow and Pyongyang, under which the Soviet Union agreed to supply military and technical assistance. By the spring of 1950 large numbers of tanks, cannons, machine guns, and planes had been delivered to North Korea. But Stalin still wanted to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States.
Kim II Sung Moves South
Stalin gave his final go-ahead but maintained a tight rein over the North Koreans by even dictating the date of the invasion: 25 June 1950. Soviet advisers would be withdrawn from the front line a few days before, to avoid capture and disclosure of Soviet participation. Early on the morning of 25 June, on the pretext of responding to an armed incursion from the South, the North Korean People's Army attacked. Following a dawn artillery barrage, seven combat-ready divisions advanced south across the 38th parallel behind a line of giant Russian T-34 tanks. The attack achieved complete surprise.
Syngman Rhee's army was outnumbered and outmatched. Within hours his demoralized units were reeling backwards in hopeless retreat.
Sunday, 25 June, in Korea was Saturday, 24 June, in Washington, and news of the invasion reached Washington on Saturday evening. Dean Rusk, assistant secretary of state, was having dinner with Frank Pace, secretary of the army, and, still in their dinner jackets, they rushed to the State Department. There they concluded that such aggression could not go unchallenged. At the State Department's urgent request, a special session of the UN Security Council was called by Secretary-General Trygve Lie for Sunday afternoon. The Soviet Union had walked out of the Security Council in January to protest the UN decision not to admit Communist China, and it was still boycotting the council in June. Under these extraordinary circumstances, the Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's aggression and called for a withdrawal to the 38th parallel. Two days later, on 27 June, the UN went even further by calling on all member states to extend military aid to South Korea.
With the Soviets absent from the Security Council, the UN voted for the first time to send a military force to assist one country attacked by another. Over the next decades there would be other blatant acts of aggression, but not until the 1991 Gulf War would the UN again engage itself militarily on one side of a conflict. It was under the banner of UN legitimacy that the United States, Britain, Australia, Turkey, and the other Western allies fought the war in Korea, which Truman characterized as no more than a "police action."
To senior government
officials gathered in Washington to consider the situation, the invasion
fulfilled predictions of Soviet aggressiveness made in
of a conflict that could bring the United States into direct confrontation with
both China and the Soviet Union, Washington set itself on a course of military
involvement in Korea.
Kim and Stalin had miscalculated; they never imagined that America
would choose to fight over so distant a land, nor did they foresee the speed of
the West's response. For Syngman Rhee, whose corrupt regime had been on
the brink of collapse, the war provided the moral legitimacy of a UN resolu
tion, and multinational backing for his shaky government.
By the summer of 1950, American armed forces worldwide had been so drastically reduced that nearly every operating unit was under-equipped and under-staffed for combat. The nearest US military force to Korea was, lazily, occupying Japan, under the leadership of the legendary war hero General Douglas MacArthur. Tall and haughty, MacArthur was in many eyes the epitome of a great military commander. He had an unshakable confidence in the rightness of his own views. For some time he had argued with Washington that the real conflict with communism would be fought out in Asia and not in Europe. Now his moment had come.
MacArthur flew to Korea and met Rhee, who, preparing to evacuate Seoul, told MacArthur, "We're in a hell of a fix." It was no exaggeration. Rhee's army was as fragile as the government that led it. Without any suitable antitank weapons, and confronting a far better equipped North Korean army, Rhee's forces abandoned most of their equipment and fled, joining the lines of civilian refugees streaming south. On 28 June the North Korean army entered Seoul. To slow the North Korean advance, the bridges over the mighty Han River were destroyed. One of them was blown up while packed with refugees fleeing the city; more than a thousand people were killed. In a ghastly foretaste of what was to come later in the war, the Communists proceeded to round up and execute hundreds of Rhee sympathizers.
American Units Land in Korea
For soldiers stationed in Japan, the military occupation was a cushy assignment. Their relaxed training regimen failed to prepare them for what lay ahead when, with only a few hours' notice, MacArthur flew the first units into Korea as Task Force Smith. With virtually no battle plan, American soldiers were deployed east-west fifty-odd miles to the south of Seoul and told to dig in. They didn't have long to wait for action.
The first Americans in the Cold War to confront Communists directly were members of a small unit deployed in the hills near the Korean town of Osan. These soldiers, part of the Twenty-fourth Division, woke up on the morning of 5 July to the noise of a column of green T-34 tanks driving slowly through their position. With little in the way of anti-tank weapons, they could put up no resistance to the famous Russian tank that helped win the Second World War. Later in the morning came the North Korean infantry, vast numbers of them in their mustard-coloured tunics, who soon nearly surrounded the US positions. The Americans found themselves running low on ammunition and blood supplies to treat the wounded. Isolated and dazed, the GIs pulled out; in no time an organized withdrawal became a disorganized rout. Five days later, little more than half the men positioned in the hills around Osan had staggered wearily into the American lines farther south. In the first military confrontation of the Cold War, soldiers of the most powerful nation on earth had been humiliated by Soviet-equipped troops from a tiny Asian country. All the atom bombs in Washington's arsenal couldn't help the men of Task Force Smith as they reeled back in disarray. In Washington, President Truman reiterated that "aggression must be met firmly."
On 7 July the Security
Council asked the United States to appoint a supreme commander of the UN force,
and MacArthur was immediately installed, with his headquarters in Tokyo. Prime
Minister Clement Attlee pledged to support the UN-US action with British
troops, and redirected ships of the Royal Navy from Hong Kong and Singapore. In
Washington, Congress gave the president powers to extend the draft and voted
for an enormous increase in military expenditure.
On the ground in Korea, the situation went from bad to worse. An entire US regiment, flown in from Okinawa, was ambushed and wiped out. The American units of Task Force Smith, under the command of Major General William Dean, tried desperately to hold back the North Korean advance. Deciding to make a stand at Taejon, the US forces were gradually caught up in the thousands of fleeing refugees, and the situation became chaotic. In the ensuing action General Dean himself was captured by the North Koreans, who continued to sweep southward. Their propaganda films celebrated the capture of one of the most senior US generals ever to be taken prisoner.
The only successes for the UN-US force in these early months were in the air, where US planes from carriers of the Seventh Fleet were shooting North Korea's Yak fighters out of the skies. And US air attacks throughout the South, and across the border into North Korea, harried supply lines of the People's Army. Giant B-29 bombers from island bases in the Pacific began to drop thousands of tons of high explosives on the North, driving Kim to make further requests of the Russians for military and technical assistance.
Throughout the rest of July and August 1950, Kim's forces continued to drive US and South Korean troops back into the southeastern corner of the country around the city of Pusan. There, determined to stand firm, they built a defensive line along the Naktong River in the west and eastward to the coast, near Pohang, which became known as the Pusan Perimeter. Gradually more American and allied troops were shipped in through the port at Pusan. The North Korean advance had been so rapid that the Communists, with little time to build up proper supply lines, had over-extended themselves. Although they kept up great pressure, their advance now ran out of steam.
The government of Syngman Rhee, now resettled in Pusan, called for complete mobilization of the Korean people. All males were to join the war effort. Peasant farmers were rounded up and without any training whatsoever - sometimes even without weapons - were thrown into the front lines of the Pusan Perimeter. American generals facing the prospect of defeat in Korea began to consider evacuation. Rhee made it clear there would be no Korean retreat from Pusan. His army would fight to the last man if necessary.
A Daring Landing
Even while more allied troops were assembling in Pusan, MacArthur conceived a daring plan to turn the tables on the North, with a vast amphibious invasion 150 miles behind enemy lines, along the beaches at Inchon, only 20 miles from Seoul. General Omar Bradley, chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, thought the scheme was reckless and sent a team from the Pentagon to try to dissuade MacArthur. The geography was all wrong, the beaches too exposed, the tides too great, they argued, and there was not enough intelligence about the defences. But MacArthur's conviction never wavered. When Bradley cabled MacArthur for his withdrawal plans, should the landings fail, MacArthur cabled back that the landings would not fail.
In September a huge invasion fleet of 269 ships, the largest since D-day, gathered off the coast at Inchon. On the morning of 15 September, after a massive bombardment, US marines went ashore in vast numbers. Inchon had been flattened, the North Koreans had evacuated the city, and the landings were almost unopposed. With the beachhead secure, MacArthur went ashore, accompanied by the army of photographers and newsmen who dogged his every step. His gamble had paid off.
The military tide now turned rapidly in favour of the UN-US, and the troops marched inland from Inchon. Their first objective was the liberation of Seoul, which occurred on 25 September. Resistance was heavy, the city was devastated, and at least fifty thousand civilians were killed in the crossfire.
With Seoul threatened, the North Korean assault on Pusan crumbled. UN troops then broke out of the enclave and, within days, linked up with US units striking northward and eastward. The North Korean army was now beginning to disintegrate. Watching events from the Kremlin, Stalin was furious; he withdrew most of his military advisers and told Kim Il Sung to make plans for evacuation. To the United Nations forces it looked as though the war would soon be over.
When the UN troops reached the 38th parallel, a difficult decision presented itself. The invaders had been expelled from the territory invaded, but Rhee, burning to re-unite Korea, had no doubt that re-occupying the South was only the first step. MacArthur was fully behind him in this; he hadn't got this far just to stop where the fighting began.
General Marshall, recalled to government service as secretary of defence, cabled MacArthur that he was to feel "unhampered" by the 38th parallel. Accordingly, on 1 October, South Korean troops crossed the line and entered North Korea. On 7 October, the UN established a Commission for the Re-unification and Re-habilitation of Korea, which added to the ambiguity of the UN's role there. On that same day, US troops crossed the 38th parallel and advanced into Communist territory. This now went well beyond "containment."
Stalin's concern about the failings of the North Korean army had grown throughout September. The Chinese also were annoyed with their North Korean allies. More than once, Mao Zedong expressed his willingness to send Chinese troops to aid their North Korean "brothers." On 1 October, Stalin, still determined to keep the Soviet Union out of the conflict, decided that China must rescue the North Korean regime. Now hesitating, China suggested that Kim Il Sung accept defeat and resort to guerrilla tactics. There was intense debate in Beijing whether China should intervene, before in mid-October Mao decided to send "volunteers" from the Chinese People's Army into Korea. It is clear that Mao thought a Chinese victory would enhance the world standing of his young Communist republic.
Meanwhile, on 19 October, Pyongyang fell to a combined force of UN and South Korean troops, the only Communist capital ever to fall to the West in the Cold War. MacArthur was jubilant. He now divided the UN forces into two different operations. The Eighth Army, under General Walton "Bulldog" Walker, would head up the west side of the Korean peninsula; the Tenth Corps, under General Edward Almond, would drive up the east. Separated by the mountains of North Korea, both units raced north towards the border with China. MacArthur was so certain of victory that spare supplies of ammunition were shipped back to Japan.
5 October, President Truman summoned General MacArthur to a meeting on Wake island in the mid-Pacific. When the president disembarked at Wake, MacArthur chose not to salute him but shook hands, a clear sign that he regarded this encounter as a meeting of equals rather than that of a field commander reporting to his commander-in-chief.
MacArthur despised the whole event and saw it, probably rightly, as an electioneering' exercise by Truman, who wanted to associate himself with the fruits of victory n Korea. No real agenda had been prepared. MacArthur assured the president that all Communist resistance would cease by Thanksgiving, that the Chinese would not intervene, and that victory was imminent. The president reiterated his support for MacArthur and decorated him with another Distinguished Service Medal (MacArthur's fifth).
Irritated by being summoned to report to his political master, General MacArthur declined the president's invitation to lunch and flew back to
his headquarters in Tokyo.
As he boarded his own plane, President Truman told reporters, "I've never had a more satisfactory conference since I've been president."
China Hints at Intervention
Having made the decision to enter the conflict, the Chinese now dropped various hints through the Indian ambassador in Beijing that if the UN advanced farther they would intervene. But in Washington, Dean Rusk and others in the State Department thought the Chinese were bluffing.
In mid-October the first Chinese People's Volunteers secretly crossed the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea. Their first confrontation with UN troops came near the village of Onjong on 25 October. A battalion of the South Korean Sixth Division, encountering heavy fire, believed they had caught up with a small North Korean force covering their retreat. That night this force counter-attacked and routed the South Koreans. Advancing south, the Chinese soon encountered units of the US Army. Some were captured. American interrogation officers were puzzled that their prisoners did not respond to questions in the Korean language. Then they understood: China had entered the war.
After several days of fighting, the Chinese forces withdrew to the hills, having given the UN troops a "bloody nose." But this warning was not heeded. In Tokyo, MacArthur refused to believe that the Chinese had entered the conflict. Still convinced that the war would be "over by Christmas," he ordered more units north, towards the Yalu River.
American soldiers enjoyed a respite on Thanksgiving Day; turkey and cranberry sauce were flown up to the front line. Three days later, on 26 November, the Chinese launched a full-scale assault. Pouring out of the mountains where they had been massing, vast numbers of Chinese soldiers engulfed the front-line UN units. Troops of the US Second Division found themselves surrounded. As they tried to move back along the roads, their retreat was blocked by knocked-out trucks and heavy equipment. Some American soldiers panicked, abandoning everything in their headlong rust to get away. Other units, including the Turkish, stayed put, firing into the Chinese advance until they ran out of ammunition and had to surrender. But it was all in vain. Nothing could stop the human-wave assaults of the Chinese People's Volunteers. They suffered immense casualties, but the tide of war had turned again.
Right across North Korea the UN forces were now thrown back in a rout. What the American government most wanted to avoid was taking place; the conflict was turning into a full-scale war with China. And the Chinese were hitting the UN forces with tremendous numbers, determined to throw the Americans out of Asia.
In Washington, President Truman told a press conference, "We are fighting for our national security and our survival." Pressed further by a journalist, Truman conceded that no military option would be ruled out, presumably including the use of the atom bomb. In London, Prime Minister Clement Attlee was alarmed and announced the following day that he would fly to Washington for urgent talks. He was relieved to learn from Truman that there were in fact no plans to use atomic weapons in Korea. Dean Rusk assured him the war was already larger than Washington wanted and there was no desire to enlarge it further by inviting confrontation with the Soviet Union.
Through the bitterly cold winter of 1950-1951, the Chinese forced the UN armies back. Neither side was properly equipped for such cold, and frostbite began to claim even more victims than the fighting. To the west of the mountains, the Eighth Army was falling back in shambles. To the east, the US Marines, managing a more disciplined and orderly pullback, eventually reached the relative safety of the coast. Adopting a scorched-earth policy, the Americans destroyed everything in their retreat. Having evacuated their marines through the port of Hungnam, US engineers then blew up the harbour as they left. Both Korean armies committed appalling atrocities, as they moved south, rounding up and massacring civilians.
On 6 December 1950 Pyongyang was recaptured by Chinese troops - at least what was left of it. Much of the city had been destroyed earlier by allied bombing, the rest was demolished by retreating UN troops. As the Communist armies continued their drive south, the UN forces faced yet another setback. Two days before Christmas, General Bulldog Walker, commander of the Eighth Army, was killed in a jeep accident.
General Matthew B. Ridgway, who had served with great distinction in the Second World War, was having after-dinner drinks with friends in Washington when he received a call from MacArthur asking him to take immediate command of the Eighth Army. Pausing only to collect some papers from the Pentagon, Ridgway left at once and arrived in Tokyo just before midnight on Christmas Day. An inspired choice, Ridgway slowly managed to revive the morale of those under his command. Insisting on a novel strategy for defence, he ordered his troops to forsake the roads and seize the high ground, to deny the enemy that advantage. Next he introduced a new tactic to the demoralized UN army: attack.
But all this took time. Early in January 1951 the Chinese launched another offensive. On 4 January 1951 Seoul fell for the second time to the Communists. The remains of Inchon, the site of MacArthur's triumphant landing only four months earlier, were now torched by retreating soldiers. But this was the extent of this Communist advance. The momentum of the Chinese assault was running down, and they faced a newly invigorated UN army. The tide turned once more. On 10 February the Eighth Army retook Inchon, and on 14 March Seoul was recaptured. Later in March, the Eighth Army arrived again at the 38th parallel.
This was a bewildered army, not sure of itself or its `?aders, not sure what they were doing there, wondering when they would hear the whistle of that homebound transport.
MacArthur Speaks Out of Turn
Meanwhile, MacArthur had taken the position that Chinese Nationalists from Taiwan, under Chiang Kai-shek, should come to the aid of UN forces in Korea. Speaking openly of an invasion of Communist China, MacArthur advocated the bombing of Chinese cities. He called on Washington to supply him with massive reinforcements. But Washington regarded the war in Korea as a limited operation and had no wish to extend the conflict with China, or to risk direct confrontation with the Soviet Union. Increasingly, MacArthur's views were out of line with those of his political masters, and Truman decided he had to act. After a series of meetings to get support from his principal advisers and the joint Chiefs of Staff, Truman sacked MacArthur - for "purely military considerations." General Ridgway replaced him.
In late April a new spring offensive began, as half a million Chinese and North Koreans threw themselves against the UN lines. Once more the UN forces suffered great casualties, and thousands of men were taken prisoner. In the hills around the Imjin River, British soldiers of the Gloucester Regiment, facing vastly superior Chinese numbers, displayed great heroism before being wiped out as a military force. In the west, People's Volunteers reached the suburbs of Seoul. But this time the UN line held. The Chinese were pushed back, and the war seemed to have reached a stalemate - almost exactly at the point where fighting had begun a year earlier.
In July 1951 armistice talks began at Kaesong. The US feared that the Chinese and North Koreans might use this respite as an opportunity to regroup and re-equip - which was precisely what happened. Furthermore, the North Koreans and the Chinese were determined to milk every ounce of propaganda they could, from the armistice negotiations. When the UN jeeps drove up flying white flags of truce, North Korean newsreels claimed that they were signs of surrender. After six weeks of fruitless negotiations, the Communists accused the UN of violating the neutral zone and suspended the talks.
As a legendary hero of the Second World War, Douglas MacArthur enjoyed vast popular support in the United States, and Truman's exasperation with his field commander was already tempered by fear of the fallout his dismissal would provoke. After a series of secret White House meetings, the decision to remove MacArthur was made on 10 April 1951. General Bradley summed it up when he said that MacArthur was "not in sympathy with the decision to try to limit the conflict in Korea. .
It was necessary to have a commander more responsive to control from Washington." But before MacArthur could be told of the decision, the news leaked out in the Chicago Tribune, forcing the White House to call a press conference at one in the morning for the announcement. MacArthur was furious at both the decision and the shabby way it had been handled. He returned to the United States to enthusiastic parades wherever he
went. In his famous address to a joint session of Congress, MacArthur ironically quoted a line from an old ballad: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." He even considered standing as a presidential candidate in the next election, to thwart the Democrats. But most liberal opinion in the United States sided with Truman. MacArthur had got "too big for his britches."
From the fall of 1951 both sides were to confront each other from wellprepared, well-dug-in trenches. The UN forces were half a million strong, properly supplied and well armed, and their field artillery kept the Communist troops pinned down in their positions. Old soldiers observed that the fighting was now like the trench warfare of the First World War. But in the air a very advanced type of war - the first jet-versus-jet combat - was being fought, as Soviet MiG-15 fighters battled it out with American F-86 Sabers. Some of the MiGs were actually flown by Russian pilots from bases inside China. The Americans knew this but chose to make nothing of it, lest it bring the USSR fully into the war.
The US Air Force kept up a massive bombing campaign, which devastated the cities of North Korea. More than 600,000 tons of bombs fell on the North, almost as much as rained down on Germany during the whole of the Second World War. A good percentage of North Korean industry went underground, into a subterranean world of factories, shops, and hospitals. Under the slogan "The Rear Is the Front," North Korean workers were urged on to greater productivity, to be proud they could stand up to the all-powerful United States. Kim 11 Sung acquired almost godlike status as he led his people in their resistance against American aggression.
Throughout 1951 Stalin was under pressure from both Mao and Kim to supply more pilots and planes to the war in Korea. Stalin flatly turned down most of these requests. But he did continue to supply considerable military hardware to the Chinese, although he insisted that the People's Republic must pay for every item in hard cash. Stalin personally supervised these negotiations, which caused great bitterness amongst Mao and the Chinese leadership. Tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers were being sacrificed for the Communist cause on the field of battle, but for every bullet supplied to their poorer Chinese comrades, the Soviets demanded payment. "What price blood?" asked Mao of the Chinese effort in Korea. This disappointment sowed the first seeds of hostility between Beijing and Moscow.
Armistice in Earnest
In October 1951 the armistice talks began again, this time at Panmunjom in the no-man's-land between the two armies. These talks would continue for more than eighteen months, floundering from one crisis to another. Several sessions consisted of only a few minutes of talking, then hours of silence in which each side glared at the other. One dispute focused on whether the truce lines should be along the 38th parallel, as the Communists wanted, or along the final lines of engagement, as the UN wanted. Just when some agreement was reached, a military unit would go into action, and there would be further dispute as to where the battle line then stood. Another major stumbling block was the question of prisoners. This issue delayed the cease-fire agreement even further.
In the South 132,000 Communist prisoners were kept on an island camp at Koje-Do. Here Communist activists organized training and drilling, all under the eyes of guards who found it easier to ignore what was going on than to do something about it. The UN insisted on screening all its prisoners of war (POWs), asking each if he wanted to return to the Communist mainland or to stay in the South or go to Taiwan. Inside the camps this provoked violence, as the prisoners formed into opposed political groupings. Many who said they wanted to defect were beaten or killed by hard-line Communist prisoners. There were several violent uprisings at Koje-Do. During one, the American camp commander, Brigadier General Francis T. Dodd, was captured by the prisoners. He agreed to end the screenings and was released. But then the UN authorities cracked down. Dodd was court-martialled and his agreement was overturned. UN troops entered the prison camp with tanks and flame-throwers. The Communists took full propaganda advantage, claiming that the United States was pitching armed soldiers against unarmed prisoners.
In the early days the North Koreans committed terrible atrocities against UN prisoners. Hundreds died of starvation, dysentery, or bad treatment. One in three American POWs died during the first winter of the war. In 1951, when the Chinese took control of the prison camps along the Yalu River, conditions at last improved. Although the Chinese seldom beat up their prisoners, they did try to indoctrinate them politically. All POWs were offered hours of lectures every day, to encourage them to see the virtues of MarxismLeninism and to understand their own role in Korea as pawns of the aggressive imperialists. Men responded to this in different ways. Some went along with it for an easy ride. Others resisted any attempt at what was then called "brainwashing." A few were genuinely interested in a radical new view of the world about them.
At the Panmunjom talks, the Communists admitted to holding only three thousand US POWs, even though the UN calculated that there were another eight thousand men in captivity. When, in turn, the UN insisted that only half the Communist POWs wished "voluntary repatriation" to North Korea and to China, the Communists were outraged at this major propaganda blow. They insisted that the screening of prisoners had taken place under intimidation and violence and the results were not to be trusted.
In November 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected the new US president. Standing as a Republican, the former supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force had campaigned on the slogan, "I shall go to Korea," and had briefly visited South Korea in December. Then, in March 1953, Stalin died, throwing the Kremlin into the confusion of an uncertain succession. In all the chaos following Stalin's death, the new Soviet leadership came to the conclusion, in only two weeks, that the war must be ended. By this time Mao had also decided the same thing.
In May 1953 Eisenhower, in an attempt to bully the Communists into a negotiated peace, threatened Beijing with the use of nuclear weapons. At the same time, US bombers hit a series of dams in North Korea, which led to disastrous flooding. There was bitter fighting throughout June 1953, with heavy losses on both sides. Although the United States was set on ending the war, Syngman Rhee proved recalcitrant. Trying to sabotage the armistice talks, he opened the gates of a POW camp in the South to allow Communist prisoners to defect. Eisenhower was furious, and Winston Churchill, once again Britain's prime minister, cabled the White House that Rhee should be removed from office. The armistice negotiations continued, with only the UN, China, and North Korea present. Finally, at on 27 July 1953, the guns fell silent. A cease-fire came into effect.
There followed an elaborate exchange of prisoners. Twelve thousand UN POWs were released, but twenty-one Americans and one Scot chose to stay on in Communist China. Fifty thousand Communist POWs were released; approximately two-thirds of the Chinese said they wanted to go to Taiwan. Some of those who returned to the North made one final, bizarre gesture. Approaching the border, they threw off their UN-issued clothes and crossed naked, waving Communist flags they had made out of old rags, stained red with their own blood.
There was little to celebrate at the end of the Korean War. The United States had lost more than 54,000 men, a further 100,000 were wounded. The other nations of the UN force lost more than 3,000 men, with nearly 12,000 wounded. The South Korean army lost 415,000 men, and it is estimated that the North Korean army suffered nearly a million deaths. The Chinese, as the price for their relentless human-wave assaults, officially claimed to have lost 112,000 men. The figure was almost certainly double that, and possibly as many as half a million men. But the real losers in the war were the Korean people. There were terrible civilian losses from US bombing of the North, and at least 5 million refugees were homeless in the South. Seoul, Pyongyang, and most of the major cities had been flattened. The North would never fully recover under Kim 11 Sung; it would remain a low-output agricultural society. The South, under Rhee, who was finally deposed in 1960, and his successors, would undergo dramatic change. A generation after the war, South Korea emerged as one of the dominant growth economies of the region.
Another major consequence of the Korean War was a huge boost to the Japanese economy. The American military spent $3.5 billion in Japan on everything from ships to trucks, from cold-weather gear to medical supplies. Japanese manufacturing output more than doubled. It was American policy to build up a strong ally in the Pacific, and Japan enjoyed a revival more dramatic than anything brought about by Marshall Plan aid in Europe. It became wholeheartedly capitalist and resolutely anti-Communist. The one positive consequence of the Korean War, ironically, was to trigger the economic growth of the whole region.
The world, during the Korean War, came near to a second Hiroshima on mainland Asia. But both sides showed restraint. Some senior American military advisers argued that the use of atomic weapons was necessary to bomb the Communists into submission.
However, the United States would have been morally tarnished in using nuclear weapons to finish off a war in Asia with such confused objectives, whose only real purpose would have been to destroy communism in China. But the Eisenhower administration came out of the war convinced that it had been the US threat to use nuclear weapons against China in May 1953 that had ended the war. This had great influence on American strategic thinking. In reality, the decision to end the war had already been made in Moscow and Beijing within a fortnight of Stalin's death in March 1953. Nonetheless, the United States now saw its role in the world as defending all countries against communism, wherever they were.