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The Korean War: 1950-1953

Korea is a country vulnerable to the interference of internationals. After World War II in the year 1950, war broke out between the recently divided North and South Korea. It was a war with political aims of reunification that were never completely resolved. Today, the 38th parallel continues to be a reminder of a country permanently divided.

Precipitating Factors and Course of Events

The Cold War between the West and Communists began at the end of World War II. Korea, newly liberated from Japan in 1945, was subsequently placed under a trusteeship. This involved Soviets occupying Korean territory north of the 38th Parallel, and United States (US) forces occupying territory south of the 38th parallel.

Over time, disagreement about ideals as to how Korea should run as a unified nation led to increasing border clashes between the Soviets and the US. On June 25th 1950, the Korean War officially began. Soviet troops from North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and launched a surprise attack on US troops in the south. Troops in the south were grossly unprepared, and were forced to move back.

This political battle sparked United Nations (UN) intervention. The UN declared Soviet actions as a “breach of peace” and decided to give full support to the US troops in securing South Korea. The UN put US president Truman in the commander-in-chief position of the war, with US General MacArthur as second-in-command. General MacArthur helped to carry out various successes in regaining territory that was lost to the north. Under his command, some US troops went as far as attempting to push through the border of North Korea and Communist China. Aware of this development, President Truman was in strong disagreement with MacArthur’s objective of taking over involving China in the war because he did not want to risk World War III. At the same time, the UN changed their objective from simply saving South Korea to unifying Korea as a whole and ridding it of all Communists. Despite Truman’s open disagreement with MacArthur, his tenacity did lead to the involvement of Communist China. The Soviets allied with Communist China and had them send forces into North Korea. At that time, UN forces because overwhelmed by Chinese forces and retreated behind the 38th parallel, losing the city of Seoul and ending up a bit further back from their original starting point. Communist China involvement in an original Soviet and UN affair led to a final change in war objective: to negotiate a settlement, seeing as total unification would no longer be possible without great risk. In 1951, President Truman relieved MacArthur of his duty and replaced him with another commander that was able to operate within these new aims. Following the new war objective and replacement of MacArthur, the UN was able to push China back up north to regain Seoul, ending up just behind the 38th parallel.


The Chinese Communist and other forces in North Korea began to restrain from further attack. In 1953, the war ended in a political and military stalemate. Negotiations began regarding the issues of where to fix a permanent boundary line and what do to about the prisoners of war (POW). The aftermath of the war resulted in immense casualties on all sides. In total, was estimated that Americans lost 33,000, UN allies 16,000, China around 900,000, North Korea 520,000, and South Korea 415,000. Civilian Korean life was left utterly devastated. After the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died and America elected President Eisenhower, interest in continuing the conflict in Korea waned. On July 27th, 1953 an official armistice (i.e., cease-fire agreement) was signed between North Korea, Communist China, and the UN. A new border between North Korea and South Korea was established near the 38th parallel, and a demilitarized zone was established where troops for both sides could remain stationed on patrol. The issue of POW’s was also resolved through the armistice; a selection of neutral nations was chosen to oversee voluntary repatriation. In the end there was no peace treaty or political resolution to be had. In the present day, Korea continues to remain divided as it did half a century ago.

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