Today in 1950, Harry Truman ordered American forces to South Korea, in response to North Korea’s invasion. Truman was enforcing a UN resolution that called for an end to the hostilities between North and South Korea. The Americans also hoped a military intervention might staunch the spread of Communism throughout Asia. Truman also sent troops to Formosa, now known as Taiwan, to protect against a feared invasion by China. He also bolstered American military support for the French forces entrenched in Vietnam.
Korea was divided into two nations during the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II. The Soviets were given control of Korea north of the 38th parallel and Americans were stationed south of the parallel.
America and Britain attempted to pressure the Soviets into holding democratic elections in North Korea in 1947 but it was unsuccessful. In May of 1948, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic was established as the governing body of North Korea. Both America the Soviets had significantly reduced their military footprint in Korea by 1949.
North Korea pushed south with 90,000 troops on June 25, 1950. South Korea was completely unprepared for the surprise invasion. The defenders fled south.
That afternoon, the UN Security Council held an emergency session and approved a resolution that called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities,” originally proposed by the United States. The USSR may have been able to veto the proposal had they not withdrawn from the Security Council over their refusal to recognize the People’s Republic of China.
Truman’s decision to get involved sparked fear that the situation could lead to full-scale war between Western democratic powers and the Communists, after so many years of the Cold War. However, the “Korean War” was met with general public support in the United States. Truman never asked for a declaration of war. Congress did, however, extend the draft.
The military action was sanctioned by a June 28 meeting of the Security Council. On July 7, the UN determined that all military forces sent to the Korean peninsula would be placed under American command. Douglas MacArthur was appointed commander of all UN forces in Korea on July 8.
The UN forces made major gains against the Northern invaders until China entered the war in October, repelling the Western forces south. MacArthur threatened to bomb China, in direct refutation of Truman’s war policy. He was removed from command. Truman believed that increased aggression against China would lead the Soviets to enter the war, which could have disastrous consequences.
By May of 1951, the Communist forces had retreated to the 38th parallel. The war became more or less a war of attrition along the parallel for the duration of the fighting. An armistice was finally signed on July 27 of 1953. The North/South division was upheld.
The Korean War claimed the lives of about 150,000 soldiers from South Korea and South Korea’s allies. Approximately one million South Korean civilians were killed, and 800,000 North Korean and North-Korean-allied troops died. The war also claimed the lives of 200,000 North Korean civilians.
The official account of how many American troops were killed – 54,246 – became a matter of national controversy when the American government admitted in 2000 that the number included any American troop who died anywhere in the world, of any cause, during the duration of the Korean War. The real number is estimated at 36,516 American soldiers killed in the War.