(The KOREAN WAR – continued)

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The KOREAN WAR (8 of 8)

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Military Contests and Settlement

On March 14, 1951, UN forces retook Seoul. In April, UN forces were again crossing the 38th parallel, not to take possession of the North but in pursuit of the enemy. Mao, meanwhile, had been amassing more troops for a spring offensive. Communist forces in North Korea at this time have been described as numbering 700,000, and they had more artillery and sub-machine guns than before.

Matthew Ridgway had been appointed Supreme Commander of NATO, and the new UN commander in Korea, Lieutenant General James Van Fleet, had approximately 230,000 troops on his front line.

Mao's spring offensive began on April 22. Within a week his forces were on the outskirts of Seoul. Casualties on the UN side were heavy, but they turned the drive around. The Communists lost 90,000 in one week of fighting. Many were burned to death by napalm. The UN forces started driving the Communist forces back across the 38th parallel. The UN forces tried to be scrupulous about taking prisoners, and in the last two weeks of May they took 17,000 – men destined for a camp on Koje Island on Korea's southern coast.

Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge. Heartbreak Ridge, enlarged

Korea font line at end of war.

US 7th Infantry, July 7, 1963 " Heartbreak Ridge, enlarged

End of War

Chinese soldiers welcomed home, October 1954

In the United Nations, delegates were moving closer to the embargo on trade against China advocated by the United States. Their offensive having failed, in June the Chinese proposed negotiations. Washington responded by ordering an end to its offensive and allowing the Chinese to dig nearly impregnable positions across mountainous terrain north of the 38th parallel.

The War Drags On

General Mark Clark replaced Van Fleet as UN commander in Korea. Clark was opposed to a negotiated settlement of the war, and he believed in throwing everything at the enemy he could. He chose to bomb reservoir dikes in the North, flooding the North's sparse agricultural lands, threatening the North Koreans with starvation. He bombed North Korea's hydroelectric plant just south of the Yalu River, and he gave the Air Force permission to strike again at North Korea's industrial and population centers. Pyongyang was bombed again, including the use of napalm, and the burning to death of civilians was extensive. The Air Force was after military targets, but distinction between military targets and civilians was blurred and was recognized as such by Air Force commanders.

The US Navy attacked North Korean fishing vessels, crippling this source of food for the Koreans. General Curtis LeMay, of Tokyo firebombing fame, agreed with the Air Force's plan to flatten North Korea's cities, and in retirement was to describe the US as having "burned down every town in North Korea." [link] An estimated 2 million civilians died in North Korea. There was now more hatred for Americans among the North Koreans. US airmen downed in North Korea were beaten to death.

A few people wrote letters of protest against the bombing, among them the Archbishop of New York, Methodist leaders and the Free Church of Scotland. Winston Churchill, again Prime Minister in Great Britain, said he would not take responsibility for napalm being splashed "about all over the civilian population." note18

No matter how intensive the bombing, the Chinese were able to move their supplies south, largely through deep and narrow trenches. That the extended bombing by the US Airforce contributed to a quicker end of the war is doubtful. The North Koreans were no more inclined to give in to terror bombing than had been the British or the Germans.

In hope of winning a favorable and quick end to the Korean War, the United States let it be known that it was considering the use of atomic weapons. Apparently of more concern to the Chinese than the atomic bomb were the economic costs involved in continuing the war. Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai met with Stalin in late 1952, and they agreed that the war should be ended.


Stalin died in March 1953, and the new Soviet Premier, Gregori Malenkov, made overtures for peaceful coexistence between the superpowers and for peace in Korea. Two days after he returned from Stalin's funeral, Zhou Enlai announced China's new effort to end the war in Korea. The US had a new president, Dwight Eisenhower, with John Foster Dulles as his Secretary of State. Dulles remained opposed to ending the war, wishing to appeal to those in the US opposed to anything that could be construed as appeasing communism. And the bombing enthusiast and tough-guy UN Commander in Korea, General Clark, was also opposed. He wished to extend the war to China to end communism there.

Between March 27 and July 7, the Chinese and US fought over what was called Pork Chop Hill, and in June the Chinese launched attacks against South Korean forces. A sticking point in the negotiations, meanwhile, was the return of prisoners to Communist areas who did not want to return, the US adamant that they should not have to return.

Syngman Rhee was opposed to a compromise armistice. He favored using nuclear weapons for a quick and complete victory. Others fighting alongside the Americans in Korea protested the US inflexibility. Canada, which had troops in Korea, was especially upset with the US position, and Churchill was opposed to Dulles' preference for escalating the war. President Eisenhower, who had suggested during his 1952 campaign for the presidency that he could end the war in Korea, defied the wishes of Dulles and moved toward a settlement.

An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. A peace treaty was not signed, and South Korea did not sign the armistice. North and South Korea remained technically at war. North Korea was to remain under communist rule. Eisenhower's prestige as a soldier was great enough that only a very few hardliners accused him of appeasement. Senators William Jenner of Nevada and George Malone of Nevada called the settlement a victory for communism. Senator William Knowland of California spoke of the US losing Asia. But rather than the public attacks that Truman and Acheson had received, the public praised Eisenhower for ending the war.


Rather than having appeased communism, Truman had saved South Korea Kim Il-sung and Stalin. But the US had suffered 36,516 combat deaths and South Korean military dead is listed as 58,127(figures from Wikipedia). Other UN nations fighting in Korea suffered a total of 3,221 war dead:

Australia 339
Belgium 106
Canada 516
Colombia 140
Ethiopia 120
France 288
Greece 169
Netherlands 123
New Zealand 31
Norway 3
Philippines 92
South Africa 20
Thailand 114
Turkey 717
United Kingdom 670

The Soviet Union is said to have lost 299 dead in Korea. Wikipedia lists Chinese combat deaths at 114,000. But Mao and his associates spoke of having gained something: of having driven "the imperialists" back to the 38th parallel. North Korea's military dead is listed by Wikipedia as 215,000.


China's Road to the Korean War, by Chen Jian, Columbia Univeristy Press, 1994

Mao's Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950-53, by Shu Guang Zhang, 1995

Truman, Chapters 15-18, by David McCullough, 1992

Korea: The War Before Vietnam, by Callum A. MacDonald, The Free Press, 1986

Diplomacy, Chapter 19, "The Dilemma of Containment: the Korean War," by Henry Kissinger, 1994

Russian documents on the Korean War, translated by Katheryn Weathersby, 1995-96

Adam Ulam differs with Katheryn Weathersby

Discrepancy between Chinese and Russian Versions, by Shen Zhihua, (CWHIP Bulletins),1998

Stalin, new documents and Korea, by Paul Lashmar, 1996

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