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(The KOREAN WAR – continued)

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The KOREAN WAR (3 of 8)

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Kim Il-sung sends His Troops South

A few dissident students have described North Korea's invasion of the South as a response to the South's aggression. The fact is that Kim Il-sung in the North wanted to unite Korea – just as Rhee wanted to unite Korea – and Kim chose to invade. Kim Il-sung sent his military south across the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950. If he were just interested in defense, he could have pursued a defensive strategy that would have served him in the clash of world opinion.

Kim attacked with many World War II Russian tanks, and Rhee's forces were no match against Kim's. Rhee's forces fell back. In three days Kim's forces entered the Republic of Korea's capital: Seoul. The South's forces blew up the bridges that crossed the Han River, just south of Seoul – unfortunately while the bridges were packed with refugees fleeing southward.

In Washington, news of the invasion created excitement and dismay. The invasion was assumed to be Stalin's design. On the Senate floor, Lyndon Johnson of Texas spoke of Moscow being on the march again. Speaking after Johnson, and agreeing with him, was the liberal Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Johnson's future vice president.

Truman was not about to respond to the invasion with anything but a show of strength. He told his daughter, Margaret, that "We are going to fight." The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, called the invasion a moral outrage. He spoke against "appeasement" and said Korea was as good a place as any "for drawing the line" against communist expansion. By June 27, Truman had ordered American air and naval units into action. Troops on occupation duty in Japan were rushed to Korea.

seoul, 1950, rail yards being bombed.

Communist occupied Seoul, 1950. Enlarged photo of Seoul rail yards being bombed.

The US appealed to the United Nations, and there they had luck. The Soviet Union was staying away from its seat on the Security Council to demonstrate its frustration over the UN's refusal to seat the People's Republic of China. On June 27, the UN condemned Kim Il Sung's invasion, and without the Soviet Union there to veto the move the United Nations joined the war against Kim's invasion, to defend the Republic of Korea – the only government in Korea that the UN had recognized. The United States was entering the fight in Korea under the aegis of the UN. The UN Security Council asked the US to appoint a supreme commander for the force, and Washington appointed General MacArthur.

On 29 June 1950 eighteen B-26 bomber aircraft struck against the North's airfield near Pyongyang. On July 3, the aircraft carriers USS Valley Forge and the British carrier, HMS Triumph, sent aircraft again against this base and other airbases in the North. In early July, US troops dug in fifty miles south of Seoul. The North Koreans overran them and inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans. US Major-Genera, William F. Dean was ordered to hold Taejon (about a hundred miles south of Seoul) until July 20 in order to buy the time necessary to deploy more military units to Korea from Japan. But Dean's infantry brigade was overrun and decimated, and Dean became one of the most senior US generals ever to taken prisoner.

As the North Koreans pushed south they rounded up and killed people who had been civil servants. And rather than trouble themselves with the maintenance of prisoners of war, the North Koreans were killing their prisoners. On August 20, MacArthur sent a message warning Kim Il-sung that he would be held responsible for further atrocities committed against UN troops. On August 22, Pyongyang radio claimed that air raids on Pyongyang and five other cities between July 2 and August 3 had killed 11,582 civilians.

B-29 aircraft had begun bombing targets in North Korea. The US Air Force did so rejecting the use of incendiary bombs in an effort to avoid civilian casualties. Meanwhile, US warships were shelling targets on North Korea's coast, and the Navy claimed to have destroyed 137 locomotives.

In the South, US air power was slowing the North's advance. By September, Kim's forces were stalled at what became known as the Pusan Perimeter, around the cities of Taegu (Daegu) and Pusan, which were defended by determined US and Republic of Korea (ROK) troops.

British commandos had gone ashore and attacked a radio station near Inchon on August 23. On September 15, 1950, MacArthur came with a much larger force – a daring amphibious invasion given the tides in the area and the timing required. It was more of MacArthur's strategy from the Second World War: striking "where the enemy ain't." Kim Il-sung's forces began pulling back to avoid entrapment. South Korean forces moved in behind them. There was one and perhaps more incidents of people being rounded up and killed – people who were reported to have welcomed or to have supported the Communist forces – with the dead being thrown into mass graves on the outskirts of town. note16

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Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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