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The Korean War: Barbarism Unleashed

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“Massacre in Korea” by Pablo Picasso, 1951

I. Introduction: Contrasting views

  • Remembering the Korean War
  • Was the Korean War necessary and just?
  • Could the war have been avoided?

II. Origins and causes of the Korean War

  • Backdrop of Japanese colonialism
  • American imperial ambitions
  • Social revolution and repression in North Korea
  • Brutal anticommunist pacification in South Korea
  • Southern provocations and the origins of the war
  • Domestic politics and bipartisan support for the war

III. Military history of the war

  • North Korean blitzkrieg and occupation of Seoul
  • “So terrible a liberation:” Pusan, Seoul, Inchon, and Operation Rat Killer
  • MacArthur heads to the Yalu River
  • Chinese counterattack and American retreat
  • High noon: The Truman-MacArthur stand-off
  • Bombing ‘em back to the Stone Age: Aerial techno-war over North Korea

IV. Public opinion and antiwar dissent in the United States

  • Manufacturing consent: Media coverage of the war
  • The responsibility of intellectuals: “Crackpot Realists” and the New Mandarins
  • Grassroots antiwar activism and dissent
  • American soldiers’ experience and disillusionment
  • Letter exchange between a questioning Marine, his father, and Dean Acheson

V. The war’s costs, dirty secrets, and legacies

  • South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and atrocities in the war
  • Dirty little secrets: Maltreatment of prisoners of war
  • Allegations of biological warfare
  • “The Horror, The Horror”: Korea’s Lieutenant Kurtz
  • Racism and class stratification in the U.S. Army
  • Canada and Great Britain’s Korean War
  • Legacies of the war


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About the author

Did you know?

  1. Japan imposed colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945.
  2. With Japan on the verge of defeat in World War II, two young American army officers drew an arbitrary line across Korea at the 38th parallel, creating an American zone in the south and a Soviet zone in the north.  Both South and North Korea became repressive regimes.
  3. In South Korea, the United States built up a police force and constabulary and backed the authoritarian leader Syngman Rhee, who created a police state.  By 1948 partisan warfare had enveloped the whole of South Korea, which in turn became enmeshed in civil war between South and North Korea.
  4. In North Korea, the government of Kim II-Sung arrested and imprisoned student and church leaders, and gunned down protesters on November 23, 1945.  Christians as well as business and land owners faced with the confiscation of their property began fleeing to the South.
  5. The U.S. Army counter-intelligence corps organized paramilitary commandos to carry out sabotage missions in the North, a factor accounting for the origins of the war.  The Korean War officially began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea conducted a massive invasion of the South.
  6. The U.S. obtained the approval of the United Nations for the defense of South Korea (the Soviet Union had boycotted the UN over the issue of seating China).  Sixteen nations supplied troops although the vast majority came from the United States and South Korea.  U.S. General Douglas MacArthur headed the United Nations Command.
  7. The three-year Korean War resulted in the deaths of three to four million Koreans, produced 6-7 million refugees, and destroyed over 8,500 factories, 5,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals and 600,000 homes.  Over 36,000 American soldiers died in the war.
  8. From air bases in Okinawa and naval aircraft carriers, the U.S. Air Force launched over 698,000 tons of bombs (compared to 500,000 tons in the entire Pacific theater in World War II), obliterating 18 of 22 major cities and destroying much of the infrastructure in North Korea.
  9. The US bombed irrigation dams, destroying 75 percent of the North’s rice supply, violating civilian protections set forth in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
  10. The Korean War has been called a “limited war” because the U.S. refrained from using nuclear weapons (although this was considered).  Yet the massive destruction of North Korea and the enormous death toll in both North and South mark it as one of the most barbarous wars in modern history.
  11. Reports of North Korean atrocities and war crimes were well publicized in the United States at the time.  The 2005 South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission, however, judged that most of the mass killings of civilians were conducted by South Korean military and police forces, with the United States adding more from the air.
  12. For all the human suffering caused by the Korean War, very little was solved.  The war ended in stalemate with the division of the country at the 38th parallel.

I. Introduction: Contrasting views

The Korean War memorial on the National Wall in Washington features nineteen light-colored steel American combat soldiers, representing different nationalities, heading in formation towards the American flag.  The statues stand in patches of juniper bushes and are separated by polished granite strips symbolizing the rice paddies of Korea.  The four architects selected for designing this memorial sued the government because their design was to include quotes on war and peace intended to raise “huge doubt about war as an institution.”  The approved final version, however, omitted the telling quotes and related images, thus memorializing those who served in Korea without attempting to assess the political context for the war or the human suffering it engendered.[1]
Korean War Memorial in Washington

Korean War Memorial in Washington

The Washington war memorial stands in sharp contrast to one of the finest pieces of art to emerge from the war, Pablo Picasso’s painting “Massacre in Korea” (1951).  Picasso captured much about the horrors of American style techno-war in depicting a group of robot-like soldiers descending on a village – thought to be Sinchon in South Hwangae Province, North Korea.  The soldiers are preparing to execute women and children suspected of sheltering guerrilla combatants.  The miracle of the painting is that the faces of the women about to be shot are transformed into masks of art, an expression of life amidst the horror and death that is war.

Inspired by Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” which shows Napoleon’s soldiers executing Spanish civilians, Picasso’s painting provides an important commentary not only on the Korean War but also on America’s role in the world.  Hiding behind their advanced weaponry and technology, Americans became predominantly cut off from the people they were supposedly saving from communism or other evil, never heeding their aspirations and dreams or feeling their pain.  In attempting to project power through superior technology, they also lost something of their own souls, shedding the blood of too many innocents.

Remembering the Korean War

On Memorial Day in 2015, as President Barack Obama Jr. honored fallen soldiers with an emotional speech, his guest of honor was former Republican Party presidential candidate Robert Dole, a representative of the “greatest generation” who had fought in World War II.  Dole’s contemporaries were seated on stage.  Vietnam veterans were also called out during the ceremony as were wounded warriors who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many of their letters read out loud.[2]  Korean War veterans, however, were largely absent from the ceremony despite it being the 65th anniversary of the war’s outbreak.

Korean War Monument in Seoul

The ceremony epitomizes Korea’s status as a “forgotten war” in American memory, one which came between the glorious victory in World War II and inglorious defeat in Vietnam.  Writing in the Washington Post, Richard L. Halferty, head of the Texas Korean War Veterans Committee compared the Memorial Day slight with the heroic reception he claimed to have received on a visit to Seoul and Chipyong-ni in 2010, where he was allegedly hugged and thanked by women and men who spotted his Korean War veterans hat.  In considering the question, was the war worth it, Halferty urged readers to look at the results.  “When the U.S. entered the war to protect the freedom of South Korea, the nation was at the bottom of the world.  The Korean people took the freedom we helped buy with our blood and rose to become one of the top economies in the world.”[3]

Halferty sounded very much like George H. W. Bush, who at a speech commemorating the Korean War memorial in June 1992 heralded the contributions of U.S. soldiers in stopping totalitarianism and in sacrificing themselves so that “the enslaved might be free.”  Defining the war explicitly as a victory, he claimed that in the wake of “North Korea’s wanton aggression,” the United States did not hesitate to act, and had since “built a stable peace in Korea that has lasted nearly 40 years.”  Previously, Bush had called Korea “a war in which we turned the tide against communism for the first time in a victory regrettably sometimes ignored by history.”[4]
From these examples we can see that if remembered at all, Korea is considered a just war that contributed to the defeat of communist totalitarianism and enabled development of South Korea into a stable and prosperous democracy.  The darker aspects of U.S. conduct, the commission of wide-scale atrocities spotlighted in the Picasso painting, are little discussed or contemplated.  Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary from 2001 and 2005 and key architect of the Iraq War, wrote a New York Times editorial in August 2010 entitled “In Korea, a Model for Iraq,” suggesting that South Korea had evolved because of a long U.S. military presence as a “haven for freedom.”  Compared to the “bleak and brutal despotism of North Korea,” South Korea was a “political success story.”  This was epitomized by the advent of free elections in 1987, thirty-four years after the Korean War ended.  The lesson was that Americans needed to be patient about the evolution of democracy in Iraq.[5]

Korean War Memorial in Pyongyang

Wolfowitz’ analysis is undercut by George Katsiaficas’ history, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century (2012), which shows that democracy emerged in 1987 not because it was promoted by the U.S. but because of the efforts of committed social activists, many of whom endured torture, beatings, and massacres fighting against the American-imposed military dictatorship.  For years, the U.S. had built up South Korea’s military and police forces, honoring the generals who committed myriad atrocities, including the 1980 Kwangju massacre, South Korea’s equivalent to the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989.[6]

Many prominent historians have reinforced the official narrative about the Korean War.  John L. Gaddis of Yale University, the so-called Dean of Cold War scholars presents the war as a clear-cut case of communist aggression backed by Soviet premier Joseph Stalin.  David J. Bercuson of the University of Calgary considers the war to have prevented Korea from “becoming the Munich of the Cold War.”[7]  Absent from this viewpoint are the perspectives and experiences of the Koreans themselves, which scholars such as Bruce Cumings take into account.
Well before the Korean War officially began on June 25, 1950, South Korea was in a state of revolt.  The war actually began in 1946 when the American Military Government supported the repression of opposition movements in South Korea, particularly in the southern island of Cheju-do where tens of thousands of peasants were massacred between April 1948 and May 1949.  The South also provoked the North, mounting clandestine raids and sabotage.  Also absent from the official U.S. narrative is the recognition of the horrors of the war and the fact that U.S. and South Korean forces committed mass atrocities against civilians.[8]

Was the Korean War necessary and just?

A good barometer for judging whether a war is just or unjust is to decipher whether it was undertaken as an act of self-defense, in accordance with domestic and international legal principles, as established in the United Nations Charter.
Rather than an act of self-defense, President Harry S. Truman presented military intervention as a police action and limited war, waging it without Congressional authorization.  The North Koreans, it was said, had crossed a United Nations-recognized border – the 38th parallel – and thus had committed military aggression against a “democratic” Western ally, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the defense of which had been assumed by the United States.  The UN Security Council approved a U.S.-led military intervention in a 9-0 vote.  (The Soviet Union had walked out of the Security Council in a dispute over the seating of Communist China, and thus was unable to veto the measure.)  Canada, Great Britain, Turkey, Australia, and Thailand subsequently sent military forces, paid for mostly by the Americans.  Compared to the war in Vietnam, where the U.S. did not sign the Geneva Accords nor receive UN sanction, the Korean War was legal and considered by many justifiable in its first phase.
Michael Walzer, in his book Just and Unjust Wars, accepts the legitimacy of the U.S.-UN intervention but considers the subsequent U.S.-UN invasion of North Korea to be an act of military hubris.  He also condemns the U.S. military strategy of deploying indiscriminate firepower to conserve American soldiers’ lives.[9]  While Walzer may be correct in these judgments, the legal justification for defending South Korea from northern attack does not necessarily make the war right, as the Korean perspective was not taken into account when the country was divided.  The 38th parallel line, in fact, had no historical justification and was selected arbitrarily by two U.S. colonels, Charles Bonesteel and the future Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, near the end of World War II.  Granted that the United States came to the defense of South Korea, it also contributed to the outbreak of war by projecting its Cold War mission onto Korea and establishing a repressive state in the south that opposed unification.  The United States also trained South Korean saboteurs and commandos who infiltrated the North and even tried to assassinate Kim Il-Sung in the months prior to the June 25 invasion.  The northern invasion of the South can thus be considered to have been provoked.
Truman dispatches U.S. forces to Korea under United Nations authority (New York Times, June 28, 1950)

On June 27, 1950, President Truman sent U.S. forces to Korea under United Nations authority, without a declaration of war from Congress

President Harry S. Truman claimed the U.S. goal in Korea was to prevent the “rule of force in international affairs” and to “uphold the rule of law,” but this was utterly contradicted by American support for right-wing counter-insurgent forces in Greece, which committed large-scale atrocities in suppressing an indigenous left-wing rebellion led by anti-fascist elements, and in subsequent years, by Washington’s overthrow by force of the legally elected governments of Iran and Guatemala in 1953 and 1954, respectively.  As Howard Zinn pointed out in Postwar America, 1945-1971 (1973), other cases of aggression or alleged aggression in the world, such as the Arab states invasion of Israel in 1948, did not prompt the U.S. to mobilize the UN or its own armed forces for intervention.  Zinn concluded that the decision to intervene in Korea was, at its core, political, designed to uphold the dictatorial U.S. client regime of Syngman Ree and acquire U.S. military bases in South Korea, which the U.S. did as a result of the war.[10]

Apart from the question of whether the Korean War was necessary, the horrible human cost of the war marks it as one of the worst ever fought.  Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) considered war a crime if it was fought with “malicious intent to destroy, a desire to dominate with fierce hatred and furious vengeance,” which was clearly the case for Korea.[11]  While 36,574 Americans died, three to four million Koreans lost their lives as a result of the war, including one out of every nine North Koreans, according to a UN estimate.  In addition, six to seven million Koreans were rendered refugees and over 8,500 factories, 5,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals, and 600,000 homes were destroyed.

Survivors wander among the debris in the aftermath of an air raid by U.S. planes over Pyongyang, circa 1950 (photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

Donald Kingsley, head of the UN Korean Relief and Reconstruction Agency, called Korea “the most devastated land and its people the most destitute in the history of modern warfare.”[12]  This devastation was inflicted primarily by the United States and its proxies with backing from the United Nations.  Taking this into account, the Korean War can be considered to have been a gross injustice and crime for which the U.S. bears important responsibility.  To add insult to injury, the war did not resolve the conflict between North and South, which lingers on today, over 60 years later.

In summary, while the United Nations approved the U.S.-led international intervention in Korea, other factors should be taken into account:  (1) the 38th parallel was not a legitimate international boundary in the eyes of the Korean people; (2) both South and North Korea had engaged in aggressive actions prior to the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950; and (3) the United States had set up a government in South Korea that ruthlessly repressed leftist opposition and resisted compromise toward a unified Korean government.  As to the conduct of the war, the United States employed massive firepower that rendered Korea a devastated land, causing untold suffering.  The U.S. air war flagrantly disregarded the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which ban indiscriminate attacks against civilians and their means of survival.

Could the war have been avoided?

In hindsight, the war could have been avoided and the Koreans left to determine their own future if the United States would have allowed it.  U.S. leaders viewed the conflict through the narrow lens of the East-West conflict and the Cold War when in reality it was primarily an internal Korean civil war with anti-colonial underpinnings.  Historian Bruce Cumings has suggested that the outbreak of war became inevitable once the U.S. decided to back Syngman Rhee.  Wanting to unify the two Koreas under his rule, Rhee was a hard-line anticommunist who saw no room for compromise or middle ground, considering all left-wing groups and opponents of his regime to be communists.  This viewpoint was shared by American Military Government leader John R. Hodge.  With American military backing, Rhee launched repressive counter-insurgency campaigns in the 1940s that led South Korea into a state of virtual civil war prior to the official outbreak of war between the North and the South.
Yo Unhyong, South Korean leader who sought peaceful unification

Yo Unhyong, South Korean leader who sought peaceful unification

Among Rhee’s victims were moderate nationalist politicians such as Kim Ku, who warned that Koreans should not fight each other, and Yo Un-Hyong, who had wanted the peaceful unification of North and South.  Yo had headed a provisional government preceding the U.S. military occupation and advocated a mix of liberal-nationalist and social democratic ideals which were anathema to the Rhee government.  Revered in both North and South Korea today,  Yo had been a newspaper editor who opposed Japanese colonialism, and though not a communist himself, had always been willing to work with communists.  Had the U.S. supported Yo and his efforts to create a unity government with the North, the war and its attendant misery could likely have been avoided and Korea’s history would be much different.  Instead, Congress passed the Far Eastern Economic Assistance Act in February 1950, which required immediate termination of U.S. aid to South Korea should a single member of communist-linked parties in the South join the coalition government, or if any member of the North Korean government participated in the South Korean government, which could presage an end to the artificial division of the 2,000-year-old Korean culture.[13]

The war itself hardened animosities on both sides and helped to consolidate Kim Il-Sung’s rule and the harsh authoritarian characteristics of his regime amidst legitimate security threats.  While the nature of the Kim regime in North today is used to rationalize the Korean War, it should, in my view, be considered another horrific consequence of the war.[14]  A North-South unity government was indeed the best option for the U.S. to pursue in the 1940s in order to avoid catastrophe, although the political climate of the time and the U.S. drive for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region precluded this possibility.
Once started, the Korean War could clearly have been ended much earlier had U.S. leaders been committed to diplomacy.  On December 12, 1950, journalist Walter Lippmann received a memo from New York Times reporter James Reston that the Chinese had passed to Secretary of State Dean Acheson a peace proposal from Peking offering a cease-fire in exchange for negotiations on Formosa.  Acheson, however, did not take the request seriously, saying it was “merely a maneuver instigated by the Russians to prevent completion of the NATO military command and prevent the rearming of Germany.”[15]

II. Origins and causes of the Korean War

By the 20th century, Korea had been a singular political entity for one thousand years.  It was a highly cultured state, infused with Buddhist and Confucian traditions, in which the world’s first printing press was invented.  Following invasions by the Mongols and Japanese in the 16th century, Korea became known as the “hermit kingdom” for its strong isolationist policy.  In 1897, King Gojong, proclaimed the founding of the Greater Korean Empire, effectively severing Korea’s historic ties as a tributary of Qing China.[16]  The country was thus sovereign and unified on the eve of the Japanese conquest in the early 20th century.  With the departure of the Japanese in 1945, expectations for a unified, independent Korean nation were undermined by rival nationalist leaders and their powerful foreign patrons.

Backdrop of Japanese colonialism

The Korean War’s origin is rooted in the era of Japanese colonialism.  Japan had colonized Korea in 1910 under the Pan-Asian doctrine, claiming that its destiny was to help uplift Asia and prevent Western colonial exploitation.  Emulating the practices of the West, the Japanese built up Korea’s transportation infrastructure and nascent industrial capacities, while promoting divide and rule tactics by ruling through native collaborators among the old bureaucracy and landed elites.  The system was marked by pronounced social inequality, labor exploitation, rural poverty, and draconian police tactics.
Japanese oppression prompted the growth of nationalist opposition which by the 1930s was predominantly led by communists, as in Vietnam.  Historian Dae Suk Suh notes that “for Koreans, the sacrifices of the communists, if not the idea of communism, had strong appeal. . . . The haggard appearance of the communists suffering from torture, their stern and disciplined attitude towards the common enemy of all Koreans [Imperial Japan], had a far reaching effect on the people.”[17]
Following the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931, the communists spearheaded anti-Japanese guerrilla operations under the banner of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, which bogged down Japan’s Kwantung Army.  The Japanese engaged in “bandit suppression” activities that included the denial of food to rebel base areas.  Kim Il-Sung emerged in this milieu as a prominent guerrilla commander adept at unifying disparate factions and mixing nationalism with revolution.  His most famous exploit was a raid on Poch’onbo, a Korean town across the border in Manchuria where he led almost two hundred guerrillas on June 4, 1937, in destroying local government offices and setting fire to the Japanese police station.  Kim was hunted by a special “Kim II-Sung Activities Unit” of the Japanese, which was made up of fifty pro-Japanese Korean soldiers commanded by Kim Sok-Won, a colonel decorated by the Emperor Hirohito who later became prominent in the American-backed Republic of Korea Army.  Kim Sok-Won resumed his role in targeting Kim Il-Sung after the Korean War broke out in 1950.[18]
The redrawing of old battle lines exemplified the colonial origins of the Korean War, with the revolutionary supporters fearing the restoration of Japanese domination in Korea.  Reinforcing these sentiments, Japan actually provided military assistance to South Korea during the war, hedging on violation of international agreements stipulating its demilitarization.  It contributed minesweepers to clear Inchon harbor ahead of General Douglas MacArthur’s invasion and naval vessels along with other logistical support and provided a hub for paramilitary training of covert operatives who infiltrated North Korea.  At least twenty-one Japanese perished during the Korean War and one was taken prisoner.[19]

American imperial ambitions

Japanese rule formally came to an end in Korea in September 1945.  At the Potsdam conference in late July, Allied leaders failed to agree on a plan for administering Korea after the surrender of the Japanese.  President Truman hoped that the Japanese would surrender before the Soviet Union entered the war in Asia, thus giving the U.S. and Great Britain a free hand in reconstructing governments in Korea, Japan, and China in the postwar period.  However, the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 9, 1945, the same day that the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  The following day, Secretary of State James Byrnes directed the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee to draw up a proposal for dividing Korea into separate zones controlled by the Soviet Union and the United States.  The committee delegated the task to Colonels C. H. Bonesteel and Dean Rusk, who drew the line at the 38th parallel.  The proposal was designed to limit the Soviet advance into Korea, as Soviet troops were poised on the Korean border and U.S. troops were 600 miles away.  Surprisingly, Stalin accepted the proposal, no doubt expecting his compromise to be reciprocated in other matters.  Soviet troops entered Korea on August 12 and occupied Pyongyang on August 24.  Two weeks later, on September 8, U.S. forces arrived in southern Korea.
The former World War II allies each put into place a government that maintained close ties with its foreign patron.  As the Cold War intensified, the idea of forming a unified Korean government faded; or put another way, both the South and North Korean governments sought to unify the country under their own authority.  The Chinese revolution, which pitted the U.S.-backed forces of Jiang Jieshi against the Soviet-backed forces of Mao Zedong, exacerbated tension.  Mao’s victory in October 1949 raised fears in the U.S. that communism would sweep across Asia.  By this time, both U.S. and Soviet troops had been officially withdrawn from Korea.  Yet a sizable group of U.S. military advisors remained to train and participate in South Korean counterinsurgency operations; while in North Korea, Soviet advisers remained at least to the battalion level and possibly as far down as company level.
Japan and the U.S. both entered the imperial competition in Asia at the turn of the 20th century, Japan in Korea and the U.S. in the Philippines. Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands had already established control over large areas of Asia.

Japan and the U.S. both entered the imperial competition in Asia at the turn of the 20th century, Japan in Korea and the U.S. in the Philippines. Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Russia had already established control over large areas of Asia.

Beyond occupying South Korea at the end of World War II, U.S. involvement in Korea was a consequence of the long American drive for power in the Asia-Pacific region dating to the seizure of Hawaii and conquest of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.  This mission was motivated by a trinity of military, missionary, and business interests.  After the defeat of Japan in World War II, the prospect opened up that the region could come under U.S. influence, its rich resources tapped for the benefit of American industry.  In a March 1955 Foreign Affairs article, William Henderson of the Council on American Foreign Relations (which Laurence Shoup and William Minter aptly termed the “imperial brain trust”) wrote: “As one of the earth’s great storehouses of natural resources, Southeast Asia is a prize worth fighting for.  Five sixths of the world’s rubber, and one half of its tin are produced here.  It accounts for two thirds of the world output in coconut, one third of the palm oil, and significant proportions of tungsten and chromium.  No less important than the natural wealth was Southeast Asia’s key strategic position astride the main lines of communication between Europe and the Far East.”[20]  To secure access to these resources, the U.S. established a chain of military bases from the Philippines through the Ryukyu Archipelago in southern Japan.

The victory of the communists in the Chinese revolution cut off American access to the vast China market and shattered longstanding American dreams of bringing China into the American sphere of influence.  The revolution also represented an ideological challenge in advancing the Russian model of state-driven socialist industrial development as an alternative to Western capitalism.  Since the 1930s, the United States had been committed to Chinese nationalist leader Jieng Jieshi as a bulwark of an American dominated Asia.  The U.S. continued to support Jieng after he violently consolidated his power as leader of Taiwan and co-founded the People’s Anti-Communist League with Syngman Rhee.[21]
For the American right, the “loss of China” was a devastating blow, prompting the embrace of an Asian-centric rollback policy.[22]  Supporters of this policy, including mid-western Republican Senators Robert Taft of Ohio and Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska, considered Asia as a place where the U.S. could extract minerals and gain profit while spreading American and Christian ideals.  Their vision dovetailed with that of free-enterprise liberals who believed in the American mission to promote free-trade and development in the backwards regions of the globe.  They feared China’s obtaining a great-power status capable of allowing it to challenge an Asian system shaped by America.[23]
Japan was the super-domino in the postwar containment strategy.  American leaders were committed to rebuilding Japan along capitalist lines in part by opening up regional markets.  This policy gained greater urgency as a result of the Chinese revolution of 1949, whose primary goal was to escape the yoke of Japanese and Western neocolonialism by spearheading industrialization and implementing land reform and collectivized agriculture along with programs of uplift for poor peasants.[24]  State Department internationalists pushed for connecting South Korea’s economy to Japan’s, in part to enable Japan to extract raw materials capable of sustaining its economic recovery, and in part to keep Japan in the Western orbit as a counterweight to communist China.  In January 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall scribbled a note to Dean Acheson: “Please have plan drafted of policy to organize a definite government of So. Korea and connect up its economy with that of Japan.”[25]  The war ultimately served as a great boon to Japan’s economy and the U.S. acquired military bases in South Korea that are still in its possession today.
The communist victory in China also led the Truman administration to supply military aid to the French in Vietnam beginning in February 1950.  Although couched in the language of anti-communism and protection of the “free world,” it became clear to many in the “Third World” that the U.S. had chosen to align with (French) imperialism against the rising tide of nationalist revolutions in Asia and Africa.

Social revolution and repression in North Korea

Many Koreans yearned for a major social transformation following the era of Japanese colonial rule and, like other people in decolonizing nations, looked to socialist bloc countries as a model. Americans, unfortunately, were conditioned to view the world in Manichean Cold War terms and thus never developed a proper understanding for the appeal of revolutionaries such as Kim Il Sung.  North Korea experienced a genuine social revolution in the years 1945-1950, which was driven from the top down as well as the bottom up.  The liberating aspects of this social revolution, however, were compromised by the establishment of a repressive police state as well as a personality cult around Kim II-Sung, much like those surrounding Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.  Still, North Korea was not the puppet of the Soviet Union or China that Americans imagined.

Kim II-Sung (center) and Mao Tse Tung in Beijing, 1954

Kim II-Sung (center) and Mao Tse Tung in Beijing, 1954

As the Soviet Union occupied North Korea Kim Il-Sung consolidated his position as the “great leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Kim Il Sung joined the Communist Party of Korea in 1931 and, as previously noted, earned a measure of fame for spearheading nationalist resistance to Japanese rule in Manchuria during the 1930s.  After being pursued by the Japanese in Manchuria, Kim Il Sung escaped to the Soviet Union and became an officer in the Red Army during World War II.  He returned to Korea in September 1945 and, with Soviet backing, established himself as the North Korean leader.  He gained Mao Zedong’s support by recruiting a cadre of guerrillas to aid communist forces in the Chinese civil war.

Kim II-Sung and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin

Kim II-Sung and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin

The Soviet Union’s main interest in Korea was in seeking access to warm water ports and a friendly regime as a buffer against Japan.  Soviet soldiers, like most occupying armies, abused the local population, in some instances committing rapes. Their presence, however, was confined predominantly to the capital, Pyongyang.  Soviet advisers helped draft a new constitution, sponsored cultural exchanges and programs, and guided certain reforms and foreign policy.  North Koreans nonetheless asserted considerable autonomy and many looked to Russia and China as countries which were rapidly industrializing and had empowered the peasantry and masses by moving to abolish class distinctions.

Embracing state socialism as a means of “skipping over centuries of slavery and backwardness,” the Kim regime adopted an economic ideology centered on the concept of “juche,” or self-reliance, which helped to jumpstart economic development.[26]  At the time of Korea’s liberation, over 90 percent of the industry in the former colony was owned by Japanese interests.  The material resources for an egalitarian revolution were thus available.  With the Japanese deposed, workers committees led predominantly by communists took control of most of the factories in the North.  For a brief period, the Soviets seized control of the economy, including of the Wonsan Oil Company, and sent equipment, parts and the raw materials (including the oil) back to Russia as a “war prize.”  After the North Korean People’s Committee was established in February 1946 , North Koreans retook charge and promulgated a law on nationalization of major industries which resulted in more than one thousand industries (90 percent of all of them in the North including electricity, transportation, railways and communications) becoming state property.  By 1949, more than 50 percent of state revenue came from these nationalized industries, which helped finance the building of road infrastructure, schools and politicized universities as well as hospitals.  The funds were also used to create a literacy program that reached over two million farmers.[27]
The DPRK’s crowning achievement was an expansive land reform campaign that was far less bloody than its counterparts in China and North Vietnam.  According to U.S. Army intelligence, the land reform program “made 70 percent of the peasants’ ardent supporters of the regime,” although this total would later drop because of onerous taxation.  Under the terms of the March 5, 1946 land reform law, all land owned by the Japanese government and Japanese nationals was confiscated along with land belonging to Korean landlords in excess of five chongbo (roughly twelve acres) and land rented out by landlords.  Debts were also canceled.  Nearly all of the confiscated land, which amounted to 980,000 chongbo, was redistributed to 710,000 peasant households for free, with less than 2 percent kept under state ownership.  North Korea thus created a socialist economy in which major industries were under state control while most land was held by private households.
Based on the Maoist ideal of a society organized on the basis of collective social needs, Kim’s regime gained further support by promoting labor laws limiting working hours and providing collective bargaining rights as well as advancing women’s rights, passing laws to secure free rights in marriage and outlawing dowry exchange and child marriage.  An editorial in a local newspaper asserted in 1947 that the “life of a North Korean woman today has been completely freed from subordination, domination, subservience and exploitation.”
Suzy Kim, in Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, points to the importance of the people’s committees set up after liberation in spearheading revolutionary transformation.  Though Kim Il Sung refused a UN supervised general election in the North in 1948, local elections were held for positions in which participation was high.  Lt. Col. Walter F. Choinski, who was stationed in P’yongyang, likened them to the early 1900s in the U.S. in the level of excitement.  He and other observers reported that the results were contested and that village meetings vetted candidates, ensuring that those who stood for office were popular and respected.[28]  DPRK legitimacy was also bolstered after its formation through a purge of Japanese police officers linked to human rights atrocities.
The DPRK invested considerable resources into education, propaganda and culture as an important vehicle in mobilizing support for the regime.  Over one hundred writers had migrated from the South. Outside observers spoke of a “cultural renaissance” of native folk dancing, music, literature and drama.  A nascent film industry was developed that celebrated the nationalist struggle against Japan.  In late 1949, Kim Il Sung called on writers and artists to be “warriors who educate the people and defend the republic” and most importantly “portray the heroic struggle of the working people.” Pyongyang journalist Han Chaedok and novelist Han Sorya helped create a cult of personality surrounding Kim, modeled after Stalin and Mao.  It proved to be long-lasting because it drew on Neo-Confucian tradition entailing respect for familial loyalty.

The North Korean government also relied on authoritarian measures and repression of dissent, confirming the West’s negative view of it in this regard.  The Kim II-Sung regime developed a siege mentality that demanded unity in the face of the threat of outside subversion.[29]  The DPRK created a draconian surveillance apparatus, purging political rivals to Kim and his clique.  On November 23, 1945, in Sinuiji, security forces gunned down Christian student protesters in front of the North P’yongan provincial office; and later some three hundred students and twenty Christian pastors were arrested after further anticommunist demonstrations.  American intelligence concluded that the “nucleus of resistance of the Communist regime are the church groups, long prominent in North Korea, and secret student societies.  Resistance was centered in the cities, notably Pyongyang, and took the form of school strikes, circulation of leaflets, demonstrations and assassinations.  The government replied with arrests and imprisonments, investigations of student and church groups, and destruction of churches.”[30]  Christians as well as business and land owners faced with the confiscation of their property began fleeing to the South.  With deep grievances against communism, these refugees provided a backbone of support for the Syngman Rhee government.  Many served in right-wing youth groups, modeled after fascist style organizations, which violently broke up workers demonstrations and assaulted left-wing political activists. [31]


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (north) was established Sept. 9, 1948

In June 1949, North Korea accelerated its “peace offensive” toward the South, calling for all “democratic” – that is anti-Syngman Rhee forces – to join with the North in unifying the Korean peninsula and removing the Americans.  It pushed for free elections in which left wing political parties in the South were legalized and political prisoners released.  According to the historian Charles K. Armstrong, in The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, a free political environment would have given the left an estimated 80 percent of the vote in the North and 65-70 percent of the votes in the South.  Kim and his allies could thus come to power through democratic means had the popular uprising in the South not been repressed.[32]

The North Korean People’s Army (KPA) grew directly out of the public security organizations developed after liberation.  According to Armstrong, the Kim regime required little coercion in recruiting youth between the ages of eighteen to twenty five for enlistment, with most enlistees drawn from families of workers and poor peasants who supported the regime.  The Fatherland Defense Association organized in July 1949 encouraged citizens to support the military as part of a process of mass mobilization for war that American leaders grossly underestimated.
Kim’s Manchurian cronies were placed at the head of the KPA and all Korean officers who had served the Japanese military were purged officially by June 1948.  Soviet advisers remained after 1948, and the Soviets provided vintage World War II weaponry including tanks and aircraft.  The connection to the Chinese Red Army was more intimate than to the Soviets though, as U.S. military intelligence estimated that at least 80 percent of the officers of the security forces were former members of the Korean Volunteer Army from the Chinese front, and at least half of North Korean soldiers in the KPA were veterans of China’s civil war.  The victory of the Chinese communist forces in October 1949 resulted in the return of thousands of troops to North Korea.  U.S. military intelligence said that “these experienced troops made the KPA a much more effective fighting force than it would otherwise have been.”[33]

Brutal anti-communist pacification in South Korea

Syngman Rhee was a conservative nationalist who lived in the United States for over four decades after being imprisoned by the Japanese as a young man.  The Truman administration brought him back to Korea in October 1945 to lead the new South Korean government. Considering him a “Jeffersonian democrat,” the U.S. Office of Strategic Services believed that Rhee harbored “more of an American point of view than other Korean leader.”[34]

Syngman Rhee headed South Korea from its beginning in 1948 to his overthrow in 1960

In practice, Rhee exhibited strong autocratic tendencies and relied heavily on Japanese collaborators – in part because he had been out of the country so long.  He was elected president in July 1948 by members of the National Assembly, who themselves had been elected on May 10 in a national election marred by boycotts, violence and a climate of terrorism.  The elections were originally intended to be held in both the North and South, but Kim II-Sung refused to allow UN supervisors entry into North Korea.  Some South Koreans boycotted the elections on the grounds that they would solidify the division between the Koreas, which is indeed what happened.  Syngman Rhee proceeded to consolidate his rule thereafter.  When asked by the journalist Mark Gayn whether Rhee was a fascist, Lieutenant Leonard Bertsch, an adviser to General John R. Hodge, head of the American occupation, responded, “He is two centuries before fascism—a true Bourbon.”[35]

After formal establishment of the Republic of Korea (ROK) on August 15, 1948, Rhee refused to accept power sharing proposals to unify the north and south.  Rhee also reinforced the economic status quo.  According to Bruce Cumings, “The primary cause of the South Korean insurgency was the ancient curse of average Koreans – the social inequity of land relations and the huge gap between a tiny elite of the rich and the vast majority of the poor.”  At the same time Rhee followed American dictates in passing a secret clause agreeing to export rice to Japan and signed contracts allowing American businesses to exploit the So Lim gold mine and take over the Sandong tungsten mine, which was guarded by U.S. troops.[36]

The Republic of Korea (south) was established on August 15, 1948

Political opposition to Rhee’s government emerged almost immediately when Rhee, with U.S. backing, retained Japanese-trained military leaders and police officers instead of removing them.  Those who had resisted Japanese rule, administered with the aid of these collaborators, called for Rhee’s ouster.  The communists in South Korea protested the loudest, as they had led the anti-Japanese insurrection, but opposition to Rhee was widespread.  Resistance to the U.S. occupation and Rhee’s government was led by labor and farmers’ associations and People’s Committees, which organized democratic governance and social reform at the local level.  The mass-based South Korean Labor Party (SKLP), headed by Pak Hon-Yong, a veteran of anti-Japanese protest with communist ties, led strikes and carried out acts of industrial sabotage.[37]  Rhee responded by building up police and security forces and, with assistance from the American Military Government (AMG), attempting to eliminate all political opposition, which he labeled communist-backed.  Thus, the earlier antagonism between rebels and collaborators during Japanese rule took on the dimensions of both a partisan struggle within South Korea and a struggle between North and South.

In October 1946, revolts broke out in South Cholla province, triggered by police abuse and the imposition of strict wage controls by occupation authorities. Riots in Taegu were precipitated by police suppression of a railroad strike that left thirty-nine civilians dead, hundreds wounded, and thirty-eight missing.  Martial law was subsequently declared and 1,500 were arrested.  Forty were sentenced to death, including SKLP leader Pak, who fled North.  Over 100,000 students walked out in solidarity with the workers, while mobs ransacked police posts, buried officers alive, and slashed the face of the police chief, in a pattern replicated in neighboring cities and towns.  Blaming the violence on “outside agitators” (North Korean support was in fact more moral than material) and the “idiocy” of the peasants, the American military called in reinforcements to restore order.  The director of the U.S. Army’s Department of Transportation stated:  “We had a battle mentality.  We didn’t have to worry too much if innocent people got hurt.  We set up concentration camps outside of town and held strikers there when the jails got too full…. It was war.  We recognized it as war and fought it as such.”[38]
Suspected South Korean traitors fill the back of a truck, on their way to execution by South Korean security forces - Taeju, South Korea, 1950

Suspected South Korean traitors fill the back of a truck, on their way to execution by South Korean security forces – Taeju, South Korea, 1950

By mid-1947, there were almost 22,000 people in jail, nearly twice as many as under the Japanese, with the Red Cross pointing to inadequate medical care and sanitation.  Professors and assemblymen were among those tortured in custody.  Those branded as communists were dehumanized to the extent that they were seen as unworthy of legal protection.  Pak Wan-so, a South Korean writer who faced imprisonment and torture by police commented that “they called me a red bitch. Any red was not considered human…. They looked at me as if I was a beast or a bug…. Because we weren’t human, we had no rights.”[39]  The scale of repression in South Korea at this time far surpassed that of North Korea.  In Mokpo seaport, the bodies of prisoners who had been shot were left on people’s doorsteps as a warning in what became known as the “human flesh distribution case.”[40]  A government official defended the practice saying they were the most “vile of communists.”

Gordon Young who later worked for the CIA in Thailand spoke of a massacre by American troops at a checkpoint “comparable to the Calley incident in Vietnam.”  (U.S. Lieutenant William Calley was held responsible for the My Lai massacre in which 500 civilians were killed.)  The main culprit was fined one dollar and transferred out of his unit as penalty.  “Nobody worried about adverse publicity in those days…. There is a distinct habit among elements of American GIs for becoming absolute slobs when away from home and society.  Some of course came from backgrounds of bad upbringing and even criminal elements.”[41]  Young’s comments underscore the climate of impunity in which U.S. soldiers operated and the lack of public concern for the fate of Korean civilians within the post-World War II victory culture of the United States.[42]
To assist in pacification, the AMG developed a police constabulary which provided the foundation for the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA).  Building on colonial precedents in Nicaragua and the Philippines, the constabulary wore American supplied uniforms, carried American arms, and moved with American transport, with its eight divisions plus a cavalry regiment recapitulating the American military model.  Soldiers were valued for their knowledge of the local terrain and ability to tell “the cowboys from the Indians,” as legendary Marine commander Lewis “Chesty” Puller put it.[43]  The chief adviser, Captain James Hausman, provided instruction in riot control and psychological warfare techniques such as dousing corpses of executed people with gasoline so as to hide the manner of execution or blame it on the communists.
The ROKA gained valuable experience suppressing guerrilla rebellions in the Chiri-San mountains and on the southern island of Cheju-do in 1948, where units operated under U.S. military command.  They were aided by aerial reinforcements and spy planes that swept over the mountains, waging “an all-out guerrilla extermination campaign,” as Everett Drumwright of the American embassy characterized it.  A third of the population in the region was forcibly relocated and tens of thousands were killed, including guerilla leaders Yi Tôk-ku, whose mutilated corpse was hung on a cross, and Kim Chi-hoe, whose head was shipped to Capt. Hausman’s office in Seoul.[44]
Similar brutality was displayed in the suppression of a popular insurrection in Yeosu which broke out in October 1948 after the 14th ROKA regiment refused orders to “murder the people of Cheju-do fighting against imperialist policy.”[45]  Order was restored only after purges were enacted in the constabulary regiments that had mutinied under Hausman’s direction and the perpetrators were executed by firing squad.  Much of the town was set on fire.[46]
On April 14, 1950, thirty-nine Koreans suspected of being "communists" were tied to poles, blindfolded, and shot by South Korean Military Police ten miles northeast of Seoul

On April 14, 1950, ten miles northeast of Seoul, South Korean Military Police executed 39 Koreans suspected of being “communist”

In light of these events, the claim of John Foster Dulles, writing in the New York Times Magazine, that the ROKA and police had the “highest discipline” and that South Korea was essentially a “healthy society” does not stand up to historical scrutiny.[47]  Another popular myth held that the U.S. abandoned South Korea in the late 1940s.  American military advisers in reality were all over the country through this period, training Korean soldiers and police, leading counter-insurgency missions.  The latter included the forced displacement of villagers that became a basis for the Strategic Hamlet program in South Vietnam.  The U.S. provided spotter planes and naval vessels to secure the coasts, even enlisting missionaries to provide information on anti-Rhee guerrillas.  ROKA soldiers were “armed to the toenails” with American weapons.  They adopted “scorched earth” tactics modeled after Japanese counter-insurgency operations in Manchuria.

While entirely contrary to human rights principles and stated American ideals, the repression in South Korea did have a military benefit, as it deprived Kim Il-Sung’s armies of the support they expected after crossing into South Korea on June 25, 1950.[48]  This, combined with modest land reform undertaken by Rhee on the eve of the war, differentiated the war in Korea from that of Vietnam, where resistance in the South was more unified and better able to withstand state repression.

Southern provocations and the origins of the Korean War

There is still a cloud of controversy surrounding the origins of the Korean War.  Both Kim Il-Sung and Syngman Rhee had ambitions of unifying the Korean peninsula under their own rule.  Prior to July 25, Kim II-Sung undertook a military build-up on the 38th parallel and received clearance for the invasion from Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin.  Yet pitched battles were already being fought across the 38th parallel.  There is also speculation that, at 3 a.m. on June 25, South Korean forces under Paek in-Yop may have initiated fighting at Ongjin.  Media reports on June 25th curiously reported on South Korean troops pushing northward and capturing Haeju, the capital of South Hwanghae Province, a mile north of the 38th parallel.  The next morning the item was missing, which aroused suspicion among careful observers.  On June 27th, the Seoul Free Press reported that the South Korean army had secured Kaesong.  ROK Interior Minister Kim Hyo-Suk said that he was called into the headquarters of General William L. Roberts, head of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) who stated that “our attempted expedition against the North, so long mapped out, ended in a heavy loss.”  Correspondent John Gunther recounted that on 25 June, he was lunching with two important members of the occupation in Tokyo when one was called to the phone and came back and whispered, “‘a big story has just broken.  The South Koreans have attacked North Korea.'”[49]  Perhaps the latter was a Freudian slip.  Southern provocations, in any case, were considerable.
General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur’s intelligence chief, had opened an extralegal Korean Liaison Office whose mission was to “penetrate North Korean governmental, military and industrial agencies.”  Southern youth groups under the pay of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) conducted surveillance and forays into the North in violation of UN provisions.  Soviet ambassador Terentii F. Shtykov reported that South Korea had “set up subversive and guerrilla bands in every province in North Korea.”  U.S. police adviser Millard Shaw considered the cross-border operations acts “bordering on terrorism” which “precipitate retaliatory raids … from the North .”[50]  The North claimed that in light of these raids that its own actions were carried out in self-defense, and there is some justification behind that reasoning.
In March 1950, the New York Times reported that the Rhee government arrested thirteen members of the Assembly for violating the National Security Act, including opposing invasion of North Korea.  On war’s eve, seasoned intelligence analyst Lt. Walter Choinski and the South Korean G-2 chief of staff were curiously transferred and a report by distinguished cross recipient Donald Nichols predicting a North Korean attack 72 hours before was suppressed by Willoughby.  This contributed to the “intelligence failure” that rendered the North Korean attack of June 25th a “surprise;” a perception that made the war more politically palatable.[51]
On June 8th, the United States had refused a proposal by Kim Il-Sung to exchange political prisoners and hold elections and form a parliament that would meet in Seoul and unify the country, considering the proposal a propaganda ploy.  On the 19th, John Foster Dulles took a trip to the 38th parallel with the blessing of Assistant Defense Secretary Dean Rusk, which stoked North Korean suspicions and hastened the decision to go forward with the invasion.  According to Interior Minister Kim Hyo-Suk, Dulles had told Rhee to “start the invasion against the North, accompanied by counter-propaganda to the effect that the North has invaded the South.”[52]
Soviet leaders only reluctantly sanctioned the North Korean invasion after prodding by Kim, making the North pay for military hardware (unlike the U.S.).  Stalin cautioned Kim “if you get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger.  You have to ask Mao [Zedong] for all the help.”[53]  Evidence from the Soviet archives suggests that Stalin feared that an American defeat in Korea might trigger a global war.  He was prepared to accept U.S. dominance of the peninsula, telling one of his subordinates: “let the United States be our neighbors in the Far East.  They will come there but we shall not fight them now. We are not ready to fight.”  Dulles in turn said that the U.S. would compel the UN to take action within two weeks. In practice, the American Air Force went into action before any decision was made.  The UN Commission in Korea carried out no independent investigation of the question of who invaded who, and based their assessment on what Syngman Rhee told them.[54]
Although the CIA had found little evidence that “the USSR was prepared to support North Korea,” the Truman administration deemed the North Korean invasion an act of Russian aggression.  Secretary of State Dean Acheson actually greeted the invasion with relief, as it justified massive military appropriations that were essential to carrying out the vision of American pre-eminence outlined in the top-secret National Security Council Report 68 of April 1950.  In a press club speech on January 12, 1950, Acheson, a former Wall Street and DuPont Company lawyer, had excluded Korea from the American defense perimeter, perhaps to keep the North Koreans off-balance, earning him the opprobrium of Republicans still enraged by the triumph of China’s Maoist revolution.  Korea subsequently became a test case to show that the Democrats were willing to stand up to “communist aggression.”[55]

Secretary of State Dean Acheson

Acheson, one of the war’s main architects, was himself an Anglophile with a lifelong admiration of the British Empire.  Radical journalist I. F. Stone commented that he represented not the “free American spirit” but something “old, wrinkled, crafty and cruel, which stinks from centuries of corruption.”  Showing little empathy or consideration for the Korean people, Acheson said Korea was “not a local situation” but the “spear-point of a drive made by the whole communist control group on the entire power position of the West.”  Inaction in the face of invasion, he believed, would damage U.S. credibility, and the international system involving international treaties, the Marshall Plan and NATO, and would cause communists to seize Formosa, Indochina, and finally Japan as well as give strength to domestic isolationists whom he loathed.[56]

While the initial goals of the Truman administration were defensive from its point of view in thwarting the North Korean invasion, they quickly shifted to destroying the North Korean army and humbling the Soviets, and by September 1950, pushing for a unified Korea under Syngman Rhee.

Domestic politics and bipartisan support for the war

President Harry S. Truman wrote in his memoirs that the decision to wage war in Korea was one of the toughest of his presidency and that he felt he could not replicate the mistakes of the generation that had appeased Hitler, referencing the so-called Munich paradigm (the failure of America’s allies to stand up to Hitler after he invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938).  This historical analogy dominated policy thinking in the early Cold War.  Based on this reading of history, Truman believed he had to act quickly and forcefully to block communist aggression in Korea.  On the other hand, he wanted to avoid a third world war, which seemed quite possible at the time.  As the Soviets had successfully developed a nuclear bomb in 1949, this could mean a nuclear war.
U.S. military leaders were concerned as well.  Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson and Army Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Omar Bradley worried about committing ground troops to a far-away conflict of limited strategic significance.  Even Gen. Douglas MacArthur had told aides in Tokyo that “anyone who engages the U.S. army on the mainland of Asia should have his reason examined.”[57]  (Once in the war, however, MacArthur was intent on using all means to achieve victory.).
President Truman established the principle of U.S. intervention against "communist aggression" in March 1947 (Truman Doctrine); the U.S. sent aid but not troops to anti-communist factions in Greece and China

President Truman established the principle of U.S. intervention against “communist aggression” in March 1947 (Truman Doctrine); the U.S. sent aid and military advisers to anti-communist factions in Greece and China

To sell the war to the public, Truman evoked fears of global communist domination and relied on UN Security Council support to legitimate the U.S.-led “police action” in Korea.  The “scare” campaign proved highly effective as 81 percent of Americans initially backed the intervention, according to a Gallup poll taken during the first week of the war.[58]  Time Magazine acknowledged that “it was a rare U.S. citizen that could pass a detailed quiz on the little piece of Asiatic peninsula he had just guaranteed with troops, planes and ships.”  For most Americans, the threat came from the Soviet Union rather than from North Korea.  The magazine quoted Evar Malin, 37, of Sycamore, Illinois: “I’ll tell ya, I think we done the right thing.  We had to take some kind of action against the Russians.”[59]  The magazine’s editors similarly identified the Russians as the real enemy.  “Russia’s latest aggression had united the U.S. — and the U.N. — as nothing else could,” they wrote.  “By decision of the U.S. and the U.N., the free world would now try to strike back, deal with the limited crises through which Communism was advancing.”

Anti-communist propaganda was directed at both external and internal "threats"

Anti-communist propaganda was directed at both external and internal “threats”

The Red Scare was at its height in the early 1950s.  According to a Gallup poll taken July 30-August 4, 1950, forty percent of Americans advocated placing domestic communists in concentration camps.[60]  Historian Mary S. McAuliffe wrote that the fears and frustrations of the Korean War provided a “psychological climate in which the domestic red scare already well rooted began to flourish.”  Truman had personally denounced Joseph McCarthy’s tactics but his hard-line foreign policy rhetoric and initiation of a domestic loyalty program raised the level of public anxiety about communism and buttressed the right-wing crusade.[61]  Attacking Truman for the “loss of China” following the 1949 Maoist revolution, McCarthy and Congressional Republicans staunchly supported the Korean War, believing in the need for a “seawall of blood and flesh and steel to hold back the communist hordes.”[62]  Disdainful of the decision to withdraw U.S. forces in 1949, the GOP went after “Red” Dean Acheson for alleged communist appeasement.  Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his memoir, Mandate for Change, that Acheson’s speech had “encouraged the communists to attack South Korea.”

Senator Styles Bridges, Republican of New Hampshire, spoke for many of his colleagues on June 26, 1950, in affirming the “need to draw the line against communism here and now.”  Charles Eaton, top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, “We’ve got a rattlesnake by the tail and the sooner we pound its damn head, the better.” Senator William Knowland, a reactionary from California with ties to the China lobby which pushed for an aggressive anticommunist rollback policy, warned that if South Korea falls, “all of Asia is in danger,” an invocation of the domino theory also applied to Vietnam.[63]  Mr. Republican, Robert Taft of Ohio, often deemed an “isolationist,” had felt the Russians were responsible for the war and thus was among the staunch supporters of U.S. intervention.  Taft, however, did criticize Truman’s failure to obtain congressional authorization as mandated in the Constitution.  He told his Senate colleagues that “if the president has unlimited power to involve us in war, war is more likely [as] history shows that when the people have the opportunity to speak, as a rule the people speak for peace.”[64]
Taft’s view of Constitutional requirements was opposed by liberal historians Henry Steele Commager (of Columbia University) and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., key figures in Americans for Democratic Action (ADA).  The two defended a strong executive and argued that the president had every-right to deploy troops on his own authority.  Schlesinger, a Harvard university historian and later aide to John F. Kennedy, was the author of the 1949 book, The Vital Center, a blueprint for centrist-liberal domestic policies and aggressive anticommunist foreign policies.  The theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, an ADA co-founder, justified the war as a necessary response to the evils of totalitarianism.  Niebuhr’s conservative, pessimistic outlook resonated with practitioners of real-politick such as Hans Morgenthau and George F. Kennan.  These utilitarian nationalists promoted a foreign policy guided not by idealism but by strict national and power interests, which was applied in support of the Korean War.[65]  Kennan actually expressed his delight that despite being a democracy the U.S. could “stand up in a time of crisis,” though he later questioned the decision to cross the 38th parallel.[66]
Liberal Democrats in Congress almost universally rallied behind Truman’s decision to go to war.  Senators Paul Douglas of Illinois and Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, who had sponsored a bill criminalizing membership in the Communist Party, argued forcefully that Congress should not delay the executive branch’s action by debate.  Douglas cited many instances in U.S. history where the President had waged war by executive decree.  Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, the 1952 vice presidential nominee, said if the President had “done any less, we would have forfeited the position of leadership of the United States in the free world today.”  Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut brought up the Munich paradigm, asking rhetorically, “What difference is there in the action of North Korea today and the actions which led to the Second World War?  Talk about parallels!”[67]
Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, the future president who Americanized the war in Vietnam, wrote to Truman the day after he had acted commending his “inspired act of leadership,” which he said “gives a new and noble meaning to freedom.”  According to Johnson, who sponsored a bill lowering the draft age and advocating for universal military training, the war in Korea was triggered by Soviet Russia and was “the first battle of a greater struggle between Communism and the West.”  Johnson gave a speech in Dallas threatening nuclear attacks on Korea and Russia, stating that the “police action” had “served a purpose by giving the U.S. time to triple its armies and double its air force and combat ships.”  Failing to fight back in “calculated cowardice” would have only won “defeat, dishonor and destruction.”[68]
Progressive-minded critics of the Cold War had grown quieter in the wake of Henry A. Wallace’s overwhelming defeat in his bid for the presidency in 1948.  Wallace served as the nation’s vice president under Franklin Roosevelt from 1941 to 1945, then as Commerce Secretary in the Truman administration.  He was forced to resign the latter position after making a speech at Madison Square Garden in September 1946 in which he warned that Truman’s foreign policies could lead to a third world war.  Two years later, as presidential candidate on the Progressive Party ticket, Wallace advocated for universal health care, racial integration, and a new “people’s century” devoid of war and imperialism.  He supported peaceful cooperation with the Russians who he did not consider a military threat.  Wallace was smeared during the campaign as pro-communist.  Presidential adviser Clark Clifford advised Truman that “every effort must be made to….identify and isolate [Wallace] in the public mind with the communists.”[69]
When the Korean War broke out, the remnants of the Progressive Party objected to the UN Security Council’s call to aid South Korea.  Wallace himself, however, supported the UN Security Council’s action and U.S. involvement, stating that when his country goes to war and that war is sanctioned by the UN, he had to support his country and the UN.  This position prompted Wallace’s resignation from the Progressive Party which declined thereafter.[70]
Senator Claude Pepper, Democrat of Florida, a onetime Wallace supporter who had criticized the Truman doctrine along with U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey, stressed the prevailing view that China’s involvement in the war (in late November 1950) was “not brought on by American troops crossing the 38th parallel,” but was rather part of “Moscow’s aggressive campaign for conquest of the whole of the Far East,” which the U.S. had to oppose.  Democratic Senator Joseph C.O. Mahoney of Wyoming agreed that “the Chinese are the puppets” to their “red masters” in the Kremlin, while Dennis Chavez, the first Democratic Party Hispanic Senator from New Mexico underlined the concept of a Soviet controlled world communism stating: “a communist is a communist whether he is a Russian, a Chinese, an American or a Frenchman.”[71]
This position was strikingly similar to that of the Republican Party.  In the November 1950 midterm elections, the GOP picked up 28 seats in the House of Representatives and won 18 contested seats in the Senate.  Republican leaders thus felt they had a mandate to aggressively push the rollback doctrine over Truman’s policy of limited war and containment of communism.[72]  The Republican platform of 1952 decried the “negative, futile and immoral policy of ‘containment’ which abandons countless human beings to a despotism and godless terrorism.”[73]  A real fear of nuclear war nonetheless deterred Republicans and Democrats alike from calling for an invasion of China and Eastern Europe, where communist governments reigned.
Liberals were not entirely or permanently snowed by Truman’s justifications for the war.  Many initially supported the war because it signified the successful application of the principle of “collective security” upon which the United Nations is founded.  As it became clearer during the war that the U.S. was manipulating the UN to serve its Cold War interests, and that the horrific U.S. bombing of Korea lay outside the boundaries of civilized warfare, criticism of the war became more common, albeit without any recommendation to withdraw.
Vito Marcantonio

Vito Marcantonio

Vito Marcantonio of the American Labor Party was the sole member of Congress to disavow U.S. intervention in Korea on the grounds of Korea’s right to self-determination.  Calling the Rhee government corrupt and fascistic, he told war supporters that “you can keep on making impassioned pleas for the destruction of communism but I tell you, the issue in China, in Asia, in Korea, and in Vietnam, is the right of these people for self-determination, to a government of their own, to independence and national unity.”  Earning the ire of the China lobby, Marcantonio lost his seat in the fall election of 1950.[74]

Potential allies of progressives – labor, minority, and religious groups – generally followed mainstream opinion on the war.  With workers benefiting from war-related contracts, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) supported U.S. intervention in Korea.  The CIO executive board called for “complete and unhesitating cooperation of every individual in America.”[75]  In the conformist climate of the time, mainstream civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) supported the war.  A Philip Randolph issued a statement on behalf of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters that “Negroes and other minorities and labor have a stake in the victory of the policy of President Truman…. The ruthless and vicious attack of the Russian satellite, North Korea, upon her sister nation is a violent breech of good faith by the Kremlin [and] shows that Russia is bent on world conquest.”[76]  These comments attest to the pervasive Cold War mentality underlying broad-scale public support for the Korean War.
The Catholic Church and ascendant Protestant Christian right were major supporters of the Korean War and the Cold War crusade in general, which helped shape Middle American backing of the war.  Evangelical preacher Billy Graham called the Truman administration “cowardly” for pursuing a “half-hearted war” rather than following the advice of General Douglas MacArthur and employing the full powers of the American military.  Cardinal Francis Spellman, another influential religious leader, visited the troops in Korea, advocated universal military training, and linked U.S. actions in Korea to the will of God.
After General Matthew Ridgeway was quoted in the New York Herald Tribune saying that “our aim is to kill Chinese rather than to capture ground in the current action,” Cardinal Spellman preached that he “dare[d] hope that all at home, inspired by our boys’ heroic giving of themselves for us, may better understand the true meaning of Christmas and more strongly unite to keep God’s peace and the freedom’s he bequeathed to us.”  He went on to refer to the “sublime sacrifice of mothers’ sons in emulation of that first Mother’s son who suffered and died,” rendering comparison between the suffering on the cross of Jesus with those sent to Korea to kill the evil, godless communists.[77]

III. Military history of the war

General Douglas MacArthur and Syngman Rhee

General Douglas MacArthur and Syngman Rhee

General Fred C. Weyand, who later became a top assistant to Vietnam Commander William C. Westmoreland, noted that the “American way of war is particularly violent, deadly and dreadful.  We believe in using ‘things’ – artillery, bombs, massive firepower – in order to conserve our soldiers’ lives.”[78]  This strategy of enemy annihilation through superior firepower is rooted in the racial dehumanization of American enemies and a society that sees all progress through the lens of technological advance, in which a cult of technical rationality has corroded human solidarity and empathy.  Together with the Vietnam War, the Korean War exemplifies the horrors bred by U.S. style techno-war and its limitations in confronting enemies in distant locales whose motivations the Americans barely understood.

American confidence of victory in the war was heightened by the huge government investment in cutting edge weapons systems.  Building on the legacy of World War II, which had seen “the greatest mobilization of scientific power in the history of the world,” in the opinion of Dr. Karl T. Compton, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. employed a variety of lethal technological innovations in Korea:  three-and-a half inch rocket launchers, super-bazookas, Sikorsky and Bell helicopters, the M-26 Pershing and M-46 Patton tank equipped with a 90 mm gun, portable flamethrowers, amphibious tractors, white phosphorus grenades (“willie peter”), shells with radio controlled detonators, M20 75mm recoilless rifles, and radar-equipped jet fighter planes that were less vulnerable to ground attack.  In addition, the U.S. employed aerial refueling that allowed for long range bombing missions, used naval carriers as launch pads for aircraft, missiles guided by electronic computers, and television controlled planes serving as pilotless flying bombs.[79]  There was also the wonder weapon of napalm, jellied gasoline that burns the flesh, which was employed as an anti-tank weapon and whose flaming liquid could incinerate anything in its path over a radius thirty yards wide and ninety long, burning people’s skin to a crisp like “fried potato chips,” as one Marine witness described it.[80]
Tens of thousands were killed and countless villages were destroyed as a consequence of what journalist Reginald Thompson characterized as “machine warfare” in which “the slightest resistance brought down a deluge of destruction [by] dive bombers, tanks and artillery… blotting out the area.”[81] The country was left a wreck.  Yet despite the unprecedented firepower, the U.S. could not secure total victory against an enemy that had no Navy, virtually no Air Force, and scarcely any armor or artillery.

North Korean blitzkrieg and occupation of Seoul

Truong Giap, a Vietnamese revolutionary stated with much accuracy that “the Korean War was the most barbarous war in history.”  At the beginning, it looked as if the North would easily occupy the South and win.  Kim Il-Sung believed the southerners would rise up against their government and align with the North.  Yet he underestimated the effectiveness of Syngman Rhee’s repression of resistance movements prior to the war, and he overestimated popular support in the South for the northern government.  Furthermore, in the first days of the northern blitzkrieg, South Korean officers ordered the execution of thousands of political opponents, including those imprisoned, in order to deprive the North of fighters who could assist their cause.[82]

The North Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, routed the South Korean Army (ROKA), and then advanced down the peninsula with tanks, taking control of Seoul on June 28.  Rhee and his inner-circle fled.  The following morning, South Korean forces attempted to halt the KPA’s advance by destroying a bridge across the Han River, leaving hundreds of refugees to drown.  Many of the South Korea’s finest junior officers died in the fighting in the first days, with Gen. Paik Sun-Yup organizing anti-tank suicide teams equipped with hand grenades.[83]  Until the deployment of super-bazookas developed by scientists at Carnegie Tech, which shot off jet-driven shells traveling the speed of a slow meteor, American anti-tank weapons were often too light to effectively pierce tank armor. North Koreans were also able to disguise their tanks in mounds of dirt.[84]
The KPA was a motivated and disciplined force consisting of many veterans of the Chinese civil war.  On July 21, the KPA captured Taejon, 90 miles south of Seoul, routing American forces in what one historian described as “one of the most thoroughgoing defeats in American military history.”  The U.S. Eighth Army withdrew to Pusan in the south and formed a defensive perimeter defended by 85,000 U.S. troops.  The defensive perimeter held.

Some 1,800 South Korean political prisoners were executed by the South Korean military at Taejon, South Korea, in July 1950 (AP Photo/National Archives, once classified as “top secret”)

During their occupation of South Korea, North Korean forces linked up with local leftists in reactivating people’s committees driven underground by Rhee.  Schooled in Maoist principles, the KPA promoted agrarian reform and other principles of the revolution, attempting to win “hearts and minds,” especially among the working class, students, and women.  Many in Seoul reportedly shouted and waved red flags when the northern soldiers arrived.  An Air Force survey found that a majority of factory workers, students and women supported the KPA and that strict control over the media and political education helped keep the rest of the public in-line.[85]

The KPA also engaged in violent retribution against Rhee supporters in Seoul, killing an estimated 25,000 civilians.  Special “base red” units killed the entire families of police and military officers, and liberal intellectuals were publicly humiliated.  A police detective asserted that in the first few days, the citizens of Seoul welcomed the People’s Army and cooperated with it, but they became disappointed when promised rice supplies did not materialize, inflation spread, and they were forced to give their jewelry to the People’s Army.[86]

Some 400 Korean civilians in Taejon were killed by retreating communist forces in late Sept. 1950. Looking on at left is Gordon Gammack, war correspondent of the Des Moines Register and Tribune. (AP Photo/James Pringle)

American morale went through a drastic shift in the first weeks of war.  Prior to the fighting, Brigadier General George Barth of the 24th Infantry thought his troops displayed an “unfounded overconfidence bordering on arrogance,” an attitude replicated by headquarters, which had ordered officers to pack their summer uniforms in anticipation of a victory parade through Seoul.  With their tanks ill-suited for Korea’s mountainous terrain and radios malfunctioning, hundreds of young soldiers were cut to pieces on hillsides and riverbanks and in rice paddies during the retreat south.  Over four hundred were killed or taken prisoner in Chinju on July 26th.[87]  Despite America’s enormous firepower, military historians have suggested that cuts to the basic training regimen combined with a high turnover in personnel and stagnant army doctrine based on World War II practices resulted in a lack of preparedness and poor combat results.[88]

Cooperation between U.S. and South Korean soldiers also proved difficult.  American soldiers often distrusted their South Korean counterparts, considering them to be infiltrated by communist “gooks.”  A South Korean military officer interviewed for an army study pointed to a lack of patience and empathy by American military advisers, and “ignorance of each-others’ minds and liability to misunderstanding on account of differences in custom.”[89]  E. J. Kahn reported in The New Yorker that American soldiers felt that “North Korean soldiers, all things considered, fought more skillfully and aggressively than South Korean soldiers…. because they had been more thoroughly instilled with the will to fight.”

The incompetence, corruption, and venality of the ROK government were displayed when South Korean troops were left to freeze to death in the winter of 1951.  Their lack of proper equipment can be traced to the embezzlement of funds in the Defense Department.  Yi Yong-hui, an interpretation officer with the 9th regiment testified that he had witnessed a scene right out of Dante’s hell in which soldiers “clothed in rags” walked “barefoot in snow and ice” and were forced to “spend the night in a freezing school playground.  Those that never got up after lying down were dragged without even straw-matting to cover their stiff corpses…. How could they abuse and treat so harshly these men who were not prisoners of war but their own brothers?  It was the cruelest of all crimes committed during the Korean War.”[90]

“So terrible a liberation:” Pusan, Inchon, Seoul, and Operation Rat Killer

U.S.-UN forces managed to reverse the KPA blitzkrieg at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, which lasted from August 4 to September 16, 1950.  It was a great victory for U.S.-UN forces – and utterly brutal for both soldiers and civilians. Lt. Charles Payne of the U.S. 1st battalion, 34th infantry told an interviewer that “time and again, the gooks [slur for communist Koreans] rushed us.  Each time, we’d lose a man, the gooks would lose many.”[91] The town of Pusan was described by one soldier as a “filthy hole, diseased, [and] crammed with refugees.”[92]

Inchon landing

In mid-September Gen. MacArthur engineered an amphibious landing behind enemy lines at Inchon.  The 230-ship invasion force was backed by helicopter spotters and ten Corsair and three Sky-raider air squadrons that carried out nearly 3,000 bombing sorties in a great display of combined air-sea power.  Over 13,000 Marines took advantage of a 31-foot tide and climbed over high seawalls before fighting off North Korean defenders, sustaining 3,500 casualties compared to over 20,000 North Koreans. “Operation Chromite,” as it was called, was enabled by the seizure of Wolmi-do Island, after it was showered with rockets, bombs and napalm, and by a joint CIA-military operation on Yonghung-do, a small island ten miles from Inchon, where Navy Lt. Eugene Clark obtained vital information for the assault.  When the KPA returned to Yonghung-do a few days later for a brief period, KPA soldiers allegedly shot more than 50 villagers, including “men and women, boys and girls, to demonstrate what happens to those who aid the Americans,” according to Col. Robert Heinl, Jr.[93]

Business district of Seoul, Sept. 28, 1950 (AP Photo/Max Desfor)

American weaponry proved more lethal.  Following their victory at Inchon, the 1st Marines commanded by the famously aggressive “Chesty” Puller marched on Yongdongpo, an industrial suburb of Seoul, and turned it into a “sea of fire,” according to U.S. intelligence, with as many as 2,000 killed.  An AP reporter flying overhead described Yongdongpo as looking “like Nagasaki after the atomic bomb, it has been here 4,000 years and no long exists as a city.”[94]  Puller’s men then retook Seoul on September 27 in brutal house-to-house fighting, breaking through enemy barricades of felled trees.

In a testament to the destruction bred by American weapons technology, a private described the newly “liberated” Seoul as being filled with “great gaping skeletons of blackened buildings with their windows blown out…telephone wires hanging down loosely from their poles; glass and bricks everywhere, literally a town shot to hell.” Reginald Thompson noted that few people in history “could have suffered so terrible a liberation.”[95]

Liberated Taejon, South Korea, Sept. 30, 1950 (AP photo/Jim Pringle)

By September 30, all of South Korea was under the control of ROKA, U.S., and UN forces.  American and South Korean counterinsurgency teams then began operations to snuff out partisan guerrillas across South Korea.  Under “Operation Houseburner” U.S. units sprayed flame-throwers and threw incendiary grenades from helicopters on the roofs of village huts in order to deprive communists of support.  When the structure of some homes remained allowing guerrillas to hide in the cellars, napalm mixture was added to ensure the mud walls came crumbling down.[96]

In the southern Chiri-san region, ROKA units rounded up some 1,000 villagers in Sinwon-myon following a guerrilla attack that killed a large number of policemen.  After releasing family members of army, police, and government officials, the remaining 719 people were accused of aiding the communists and executed on February 10 and 11, 1951, with 75 percent being children or elderly.  The counter-guerrilla effort was systematized in December 1951 under “Operation Rat Killer,” led by General James Van Fleet, who had experience fighting leftists in Greece.  Van Fleet believed that “in guerrilla war, the government which is being undermined should be under no obligation to protect the rights of person suspected of aiding the enemy.”[97]  Operation Rat Killer resulted in 19,779 reported guerrilla deaths and wide-scale forced displacement.[98]

MacArthur heads to the Yalu River

To lay the groundwork for the U.S.-UN invasion of the North, irregular warfare specialists from secret bases organized espionage and commando operations behind enemy lines.  The raids were led by southern refugees and defectors, and Christian militias trained in seaborne infiltration, demolition and assassination.  Equipped with camouflaged weapons, explosives, miniaturized cameras that could display color pictures for the first time, and electronic surveillance gear, the units were molded after Col. Frank Merrill’s Marauders which fought the Japanese in Burma.  CIA operatives such as Anthony Poshepny and Garland Williams allegedly urged their patrols to prove victory by turning in the enemy’s ear.[99]
Clandestine flights in support of the operations were undertaken by Civil Air Transport, a CIA-subsidized airline founded by General Clare Chennault during China’s civil war, and an air intelligence wing headed by Harry “Heine Aderholt, a key figure later in the secret war in Laos.  The raids bombed weapons caches and KPA army barracks and ships.[100] Francesca Rhee, wife of Syngman Rhee and a patron of the arts, recruited young actresses to seduce high ranking North Korean and Chinese military officers in order to secure future battle plans.[101] 
Some clandestine missions were run out of the CIA’s Tokyo office, headed by Danish resistance hero Hans V. Tofte and Lt. Col. Jack Y. Canon, who provided financing through clandestine smuggling missions and the procurement of gold bars from the Chinese GMD in Taiwan.  Japanese imperial army officers were recruited under the direction of Charles Willoughby.  Many commando units were infiltrated by double agents and killed, although Seoul CIA Station Chief Albert Haney doctored the intelligence reports to cover up their fate.  Historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki has detailed how the Z Unit in Tokyo led by Colonel Jack Y. Canon engaged in activities that foreshadowed the process of “extraordinary rendition” used in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is evidence that American intelligence operatives kidnapped suspected North Korean agents and prisoners and sent them to Japan where they “turned” as defectors after undergoing enhanced interrogation and torture.[102]

U.S. camp

The U.S. hoped to incite an anticommunist rebellion in North Korea but this proved untenable, as much of the population detested the Rhee regime and some were genuinely grateful to the Kim II-Sung regime for land allotted to them under the North Korean land reform program.  The CIA had cautioned the White House against invading North Korea because of the “risk of a general war,” and the unpopularity of the Rhee regime among “many if not a majority of non-communist Koreans.”[103]  The advice was ignored, however.

Washington also ignored two warnings from China.  On September 22, 1950, the Chinese Foreign Office announced that China would defend North Korea if Americans invaded.  Again, on October 1, Chinese foreign minister Zhou Enlai warned against “foreign aggression,” declaring that China would not allow the “imperialists” to occupy North Korea.  That same day, MacArthur issued orders for U.S. troops to move into North Korea.[104]   According to the U.S. Army military historian John S. Brown, “Convincing himself and his Far Eastern Command staff that the Chinese would not intervene in force, General MacArthur was determined to reunify Korea and change the balance of power in Asia.”[105]
As U.S. and South Korean forces moved into North Korea, they carried out what one contemporary termed a “nauseating reign of terror,” hanging captured KPA soldiers on ground-posts or tying up POWs and throwing them off a bridge into the Sok Dang River to drown.  These atrocities were carried out, in part, in retaliation for North Korean atrocities, such as the shooting of 30 Koreans hiding in a basement in Miryok-tang, and the Sinchon tunnel massacre, in which at least 68 American POWs who had been marched north were summarily executed and others were left to starve.
Francis Hill, a Colonel in the civil assistance office reported in November 1950 that ROKA soldiers would periodically go “commie hunting” and “drag former communists (or suspects) and their families from their villages” against official stipulations.  Interfering in some cases with the function of local authorities, the ROKA also stripped towns of their food stocks, took North Korean women, and in one instance shot thirty-four alleged communist prisoners in what Hill reported was a “verifiable incident.”[106]

Painting of American brutality at the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities

At Sinchon, North Korea, thousands of civilians were hunted in caves, burned alive or shot by ROKA and police equipped with flamethrowers and incendiaries under the command of Kim San Ju (whom Rhee later executed for insubordination).  At least 15,000 civilians were also killed in Pyongyang which was made to resemble “an empty citadel where death is king,” according to the New York Times.  “It seems no longer to be a city at all. It is more like a blackened community of the dead, a charred ghost town from which all the living have fled before a sudden plague.”[107]

Army CIC attached to the 10th corps were ordered to liquidate the North Korean labor party (which constituted as much as 14 percent of the population) and to forbid any political organization that might constitute a security threat.  Army intelligence suggested that Americans could organize “assassination squads” to kill guerrilla leaders, carrying out death sentences passed by the ROK government in absentia trials.  This became a model for the American Phoenix Operation during the Vietnam War.  Guerrilla-held areas were to be cleared and the population was to be turned against the guerrillas by every propaganda device possible.  If enemies were in civilian clothing, “we cannot execute them but they can be shot before they become prisoners” or otherwise “turned over to the ROK who will take care of them.”[108]
North Korean forces reorganized to fight in the hills during winter.  Citing a Maoist dictum, one of Kim’s guerrillas noted: “you fight when it profits you, watch and wait when it does not….Fight only when you know the situation…this is how a small army beats a big army.”  The U.S.-UN occupation of North Korea lasted less than two months.

Chinese counterattack and American retreat

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was intent on resisting MacArthur’s invasion of North Korea, in part to pay back North Korea for supporting its revolution and in part because it wanted to ensure a strategic buffer to its south.  Jiang Jieshi’s Guomindang on the island of Formosa, with CIA assistance, was launching raids into China from northern Burma.  Mao also wanted to stand up to the West and reassert China’s stature on the global stage, according to the historian Shu Guang Zhang.[109]  Hence, as U.S.-UN forces approached the Yalu River, some 300,000 Chinese soldiers slipped across the river and attacked them on October 25, 1950.  When the Chinese momentarily retreated after ten days, MacArthur continued on to the Yalu River.  The Chinese struck again on November 25, attacking in the dark in order to negate the U.S. advantage in air power.

The Chinese infantrymen were effective in camouflaging themselves by crawling along stream beds, ravines, and thick trees.  Adopting a tactic known as niupitang, in which infantry used stealth and tunneling to approach a platoon, they ambushed U.S.-UN forces after feigning withdrawal. Commanding Chinese General Peng Dehuai believed that the Americans were over-dependent on firepower, afraid of heavy casualties, and lacked the depth of reserves the Chinese could amass.[110]  The Americans were also unable to march like the North Koreans and Chinese, who had better knowledge of the terrain and could cover 30 miles of mountain in a winter night, subsisting on a diet of cold boiled rice.[111]  Playing on these weaknesses, the Chinese forced MacArthur’s retreat at the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir plateau in what one Marine called “the most violent small unit fighting in American history.”  Some 40,000 Chinese soldiers died as compared to 561 Marines.[112]

U.S. Marines in North Korea, Dec. 1950

U.S. Marines in North Korea, Dec. 1950

Many of the American soldiers suffered from frostbite owing to the lack of proper equipment.  A Filipino commander, Mariano Azurin, was removed for exposing the discrimination of Filipinos soldiers who were left to freeze when the American troops got all the warm clothes.[113]  One veteran said he could never figure out why a soldier of the richest country on earth had “to steal boots from soldiers’ of the poorest country on earth.”  In the unusually cold winter, vehicles once stopped would hardly run again, guns froze solid, and many automatic weapons would fire but one shot at a time.  Terrified of fighting the Chinese, many ROK units broke ranks and disappeared.  In a desperate attempt to break enemy morale and create hardship for the population, the U.S. army chemical corps initiated a program that used incendiary bombs filled with napalm to destroy North Korean cereal crops ready for harvesting.[114]

In a subsequent attack on the Naktong River “Battle of the Bulge” troops with the U.S. 34th Infantry drove the enemy from their foxholes with white phosphorus (known as “willie peter”) and then cut them to pieces with high explosives, killing six hundred North Koreans with zero casualties taken.  First Lieutenant Hubert D. Deatherage, with the Heavy Mortar Company 5th Infantry reported taking a hill at Kunchon at 200 hours on September 24, 1950 after firing 6,000 rounds mixing Willie Peter and high explosives.  The firepower knocked out two enemy tanks and killed “300 gooks.”  These reports epitomize the dehumanization of the enemy and disproportionate level of the killing because of the use of advanced military technologies that had been perfected since they were first used in World War I.  An internal army study on atomic weapons conveyed the American belief that the “soldier with the stronger weapons has the advantage on his side.”[115]

However, beginning on December 2, the American Eighth Army began a full-scale retreat, marching down frozen roads where they endured sniper fire. Pyongyang and other North Korean towns were plundered and put to the torch along the way, as orders were given to “shoot anything that moves.”  A Navy underwater demolition team turned Hungnam Port into a wasteland, while the roads became littered with dead animals and corpses.  The retreating U.S.-UN forces continued past the 38th parallel and abandoned Seoul to the advancing North Korean and Chinese armies in early January 1951.  Seeking scapegoats, some in the military claimed the North Koreans and Chinese had military advantage because of their “cheap evaluation of human life.”[116]

Bodies of U.S., British, and ROK soldiers before a mass burial at Koto-ri on Dec. 8, 1950 (Photo by Sgt. F. C. Kerr)

U.S. military intelligence director Charles Willoughby, notorious for supplying MacArthur with information he wanted to hear, had underestimated Chinese manpower and fighting capability.  American soldiers learned that the “best they had in the way of equipment” was “not good enough to halt a foe willing and determined to drive forward, taking any amount of losses to reach his objective.”[117]  Colonel Paul Freeman, who fought with Jiang Jieshi’s armies in World War II, said that “these are not the same Chinese.”[118]

The American retreat did not play well at home.  According to Look Magazine, it amounted to the military’s most “shameful disgrace” since northern troops had “cut and run at the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861.”[119]  Two former army intelligence officers writing in the same magazine criticized the military for its “obsession with” high-tech weaponry and for building its entire strategy around “these dazzling and lethal new weapons” while failing to properly “scout the rival team thoroughly as any football coach could have told them.”  We intended to “rely on superior weapons and quantities of them, not surprise, skillful strategies or wily traps to offset the numerical superiority of red manpower; bigger bombs and wonder weapons, rather than new ways of fighting or superior spirit…. The only flaw in these plans was that… our leaders failed to ask the enemy if he would play the role assigned to him”[120]  These comments encapsulate the technological hubris driving military commanders and limits of U.S. technology in confronting a motivated enemy capable of adopting guerrilla methods.  The unlearned lesson would be repeated in Vietnam.
In April 1951, the Americans regained the initiative and retook Seoul; and by June they had fought their way back to the 38th parallel.  For the remainder of the war, neither side gained significant territory.  The conflict settled into a pattern of trench warfare reminiscent of World War I. T. R. Fehrenbach wrote that “on the frontier, there is rarely gallantry or glamor to wars, whether they are against red Indians or Red Chinese.  There is only killing.”[121]  Indeed, Chinese soldiers endured nearly one million casualties, including Mao Zedong’s son, Anying.
It took more than two years to agree on a truce on July 26, 1953

It took more than two years to agree on a truce on July 26, 1953

Negotiations to end the war began on July 10, 1951, and dragged on for two years before the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.  The two sides divided over the demarcation line between north and south, the presence of U.S. airfields and troop levels, and terms of the repatriation of POWs.  Truman accused the communists of delaying the end of the war and proposed a demilitarized zone (DMZ) almost entirely in the DPRK.  The communist delegation accused the UN of repeatedly bombing near their headquarters for intimidation purposes and violating provisions of a temporary cease-fire agreement, which Gen. Matthew Ridgway acknowledged.  Ridgway, the chief negotiator, worried that an armistice would allow the Chinese, “freed from this embarrassing entanglement,” to expand their aggression in Indochina and elsewhere in East Asia.  As historian James I. Matray points out, the U.S. delegation also felt pressured by Syngman Rhee’s firm opposition to anything less than reunification under his rule as a major war aim (in contrast to Kim Il-Sung’s acceptance of the 38th parallel line) and by his orchestration of huge demonstrations demanding a new offensive north.[122]

After a delay, negotiations resumed on October 25, 1951, in Panmunjon.  The Truman administration hedged further over the issue of POW repatriation, seeking to maximize the number of defectors in order to score a public relations victory in the Cold War, as historian Charles S. Young has detailed.  The POW issue was thus exploited to prolong the war in a slightly different but not totally dissimilar way to Vietnam two decades later.[123]

High noon: The Truman-MacArthur stand-off

In the wake of the Chinese and North Korean counteroffensive, there was talk in Washington of extending the war to China.  General MacArthur was intent on this option, but President Truman feared a quagmire.  In January 1951 Gen. Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that a war with China would be the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  He also suggested that America’s Cold War enemy, the Russians, were only peripherally involved in Korea, and that American forces needed to be concentrated in Western Europe.
President Truman relieves General MacArthur of his command

On April 11, 1951, President Truman relieved General MacArthur of his command in Korea

In early April 1951, President Truman recalled and fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, fearing that MacArthur’s aggressive policies would ignite a world war involving China and Russia.  MacArthur, with support from leading Republicans, wanted to take the war into China, despite U.S. setbacks in North Korea, and to use every means at America’s disposal, including nuclear weapons, to win the war.  He proposed a naval blockade off the Chinese coast; the bombing of China’s industrial centers, supply bases and communications networks; taking up exiled Chinese Guomindang leader Jieng Jieshi’s offer of using Chinese nationalist troops in Korea; and using Jieng’s forces for an invasion of the Chinese mainland.[124]  Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, MacArthur’s replacement, compared MacArthur to “Custer at the Little Bighorn [who] had neither eyes nor ears for information that might deter him from the swift attainment of his objective.”[125]

On April 25, 1951, Gen. MacArthur addressed an audience of 50,000 in Chicago

On April 25, 1951, Gen. MacArthur addressed an audience of 50,000 in Chicago

While Truman reasserted his control over the war, MacArthur became an icon to right-wing movements.  MacArthur gave a famous speech before Congress on April 19, 1951, in which he stated that “appeasement begets new and bloodier war” and that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  He also told an interviewer that if he had not been fired, he had planned to drop between thirty to fifty atom bombs across the neck of Manchuria and “spread radio-active cobalt capable of wiping out animal life for at least 60 years.”[126]

The mainstream media sided with Truman in the dispute, but a Gallup found that 69 percent of the citizenry backed MacArthur.  The White House mail room was swamped with letters of protest, which outnumbered letters of support for Truman’s decision by 20-1.  In Ponca City, Oklahoma, a dummy of Secretary of State Dean Acheson was soaked in kerosene and set ablaze.  After MacArthur’s farewell speech, irate Americans phoned their newspapers denouncing the “traitorous State Department” which planned to “sell us down the river to… the Communists.”  The Republican Party policy committee accused the “Truman-Acheson-Marshall triumvirate” of planning a “super-Munich” in Asia and abandoning “China to the communists.”[127]

California’s freshman Republican Senator Richard M. Nixon shrewdly capitalized on MacArthur’s downfall, giving stump speeches asserting that the “happiest group in the country will be the communists and their stooges…. The president has given them what they always wanted, MacArthur’s scalp.”  MacArthur, said Nixon, had been fired simply because “he had the good sense and patriotism to ask that the hands of our fighting men in Korea be untied.”[128]  This right-wing theme was later applied to scapegoat peace activists and liberal politicians for America’s defeat in Vietnam.  After sponsoring a Senate resolution condemning Truman’s action, Nixon received 600 hundred telegrams in less than 24 hours, all commending him, the largest spontaneous reaction he’d ever seen, which in turn helped catapult him towards the White House.  The whole episode provides a revealing window into the intensely conservative political culture in the United States and hawkish impulses which later drove the U.S. to war in Vietnam.

Bombing ‘em back to the Stone Age:  Aerial techno-war over North Korea

U.S. bombs fell on South Korea as well as on North Korea. Salvo of 500-pound bombs dropped from a U.S. B-29 on communist-controlled territory west of the Naktong River, Aug. 16, 1950 (AP photo)

The American Caesar, General Douglas MacArthur, was a boyhood friend of air power prophet Billy Mitchell, who had served under his father, Arthur, in the Philippines.  Like Mitchell, Douglas MacArthur’s worldview had been shaped by the horror of the trenches of World War I and he had adopted the view that since war was so horrible, whoever unleashed it should be obliterated; and that, in a righteous cause, there was no substitute for victory.[129]

In the latter spirit, MacArthur had warned that if the Chinese intervened, “our air power will turn the Yalu River into the bloodiest stream in all of history,” which is not far removed from what happened.[130]  From air bases in Okinawa and naval aircraft carriers, the U.S. Air Force launched over 698,000 tons of bombs (compared to 500,000 in the entire Pacific theater in World War II), making use of innovations like in-flight refueling systems, faster and more nimble engine-driven machines, and ground-radar controlled missions allowing for night bombing which Lt. Gen. Edwin M. Almond of X Corps called “an epic in our warfare.”[131]

US Air Force bombers destroy warehouses and dock facilities in Wonsan, North Korea, 1951 (US Dept of Defense-USIA)

Much of North Korea was left, in Maj. Gen. Emmett O’Donnell Jr.’s words, a “terrible mess,” with thousands of Chinese slaughtered, an estimated one million civilian casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees.  Some of those refugees were napalmed by U.S. pilots under orders to “hit anything that moved.”  Eighteen out of 22 cities were obliterated, including 75 percent of Pyongyang and 100 percent of Sinuiju.  Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, later told an interviewer:

We slipped a note kind of under the door into the Pentagon and said, “Look, let us go up there…and burn down five of the biggest towns in North Korea – and they’re not very big – and that ought to stop it.”  Well, the answer to that was four or five screams – “You’ll kill a lot of non-combatants,” and “It’s too horrible.”  Yet over a period three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too… Now, over a period of three years this is palatable, but to kill a few people to stop this from happening – a lot of people can’t stomach it.[132]

Lending popular support to the air war was the fact that the strategic bomber had become iconic in popular culture at this time, with Hollywood films romanticizing World War II bombers and air power pioneer Billy Mitchell, who was played by the dashing Gary Cooper.[133]  In a vivid reflection of the political climate, Republicans and Democrats alike went on a reading spree of books by or about Mitchell, clearing out the Congressional library and Washington’s three second hand book stores.  Aviation Week reported in April 1951 that after an “awful rush,” bookstores were completely sold out of anything that even mentioned Mitchell.[134]
With North Korean air defenses almost non-existent, Soviet MIGs, flown by Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean pilots, appeared at the end of 1950.  They were sometimes effective as counterweights to the U.S. Air Force, although under Stalin’s orders, the Soviet warplanes were limited in number and the range they were allowed to fly, lest U.S.-Soviet air battles lead to a larger war.  Mission reports mention occasional ground fire by North Korean soldiers though the American bombers were usually able to operate unimpeded.[135]

F86 Sabre jet fighter, Jan. 31, 1951

The U.S. Air Force had pioneered airborne-radar early warning systems, some set up on naval blimps and night-functioning electronic interceptors, which contributed to air power supremacy.  Added to these innovations were computing gun-sights conceived by MIT’s Dr. Charles S. Draper and designed by Sperry Gyroscope Company, and range radar systems that automatically determined the distance to a target.[136]

In a 1945 essay entitled “Science-the Key to Air Supremacy,” Theodore Von Karman, chairman of the Air Force’s Scientific Advisory Group, confidently predicted a future built around supersonic piloted and pilotless aircraft and missiles, perfected navigation and communication, aerial transport of entire armies, and the ability to attack in all-weather conditions, which began to be fulfilled in Korea.[137]
The Korean War saw use of pilotless drone missiles (called Matadors) operated by radio and TV guidance via a Douglas Skyraider control plane.  The missiles prompted cryptic comments by the president and members of Congress about “a fantastic new weapon beyond imagination.”  Pilotless planes “loaded with death” were first invented by Elmer Sperry in World War I and were championed by Billy Mitchell as a “weapon of tremendous value.”  They became operational in World War II.  At the end of the conflict, Hap Arnold predicted that “the next war may be fought with airplanes with no men in them at all.”  Derived from the German V-2, made by Martin Company from old Grumman hellcats, and tested by the Naval Air Development Unit in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, the drones in Korea were launched from the U.S.S. Boxer as part of missions in Wonsan, Chosin, and Hungnam that helped cut off enemy supply lines.[138]  Air Force pilots told a New York Times reporter about how one drone they helped launch followed a group of Koreans pumping a railroad handcar into a tunnel.  When the Koreans saw the drone, they ran for cover in the tunnel which the drone followed them in, killing them and destroying the train.[139]

Village of Agok in northern region of North Korea hit with missiles, August 1950

Bombing accuracy had improved considerably from World War II as a result of the development of remote control and precision-guided systems designed by General Electric and Fairchild and modeled after German Luftwaffe innovations by Nazi scientists recruited under the CIA’s Operation Paperclip.[140]  This was, in addition to photographic mapping, carried out by reconnaissance planes equipped with radar scopes and pictorial computers, and Tactical Air Control Parties that used aeronautical charts and computer calculators.  The U.S. invested $120 million per year at this time in guided missiles overseen by the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology.  The thousand pound Razon bombs were equipped with radio receivers and electronic circuits in their tails.  The bombs could be remotely controlled by the bombardier, allowing for changes in range and deflection.  The twelve hundred pound Tarzons also had electronically controlled tail surfaces permitting greater control and elevation after release as well as “avionic brains” that kept it locked onto a target magnified by radar and light beams.[141]

U.S. fighter aircraft loaded with rockets

Push-button warfare was directed predominantly at major industrial plants in North Korea as well as railroads, bridges, communications centers and the electrical grid.  Schools and hospitals were also badly damaged or destroyed along with Kim Il Sung University, archeological sites, and treasured historical monuments such as the Kwangbop Buddhist temple dating to 392 A.D, the Potang City gate, the Sungryong Hall temple dating to 1429, and the Yang Myong temple dating to the 14th century.[142]  DPRK leaders hid in deep bunkers, while villagers were forced to live in holes dug in the rubble of cities and sides of hills and caves where disease proliferated.

North Korean and Chinese fighters, like the Vietnamese, became adept at kneeling or squatting to evade detection.  They wore camouflage uniforms in the summer and white jackets in winter to blend in with the snow.[143] They also built dummy airfields filled with dummy aircrafts and petroleum dumps, camouflaged buildings and gun positions, and built shelters for trucks to hide in during the day.[144]  To protect civilians, North Koreans dug 776 miles of tunnels and 3,427 trenches, shifting 78 million cubic yards of rock and earth.  Entire factories were moved underground, along with schools, hospitals, bridges and government offices.  These practices enabled North Koreans to survive the massive bombing onslaught, though agriculture was devastated, as farmers could only tend to their fields at night.  The Nodong Sinmun newspaper referred to 1951 as “the year of unbearable trials.”[145]
Battle-weary Korean civilians crowd a Korean road in late January 1951, seeking safety from the continuous fighting (UN Photo Archive).

Battle-weary Korean civilians crowd a Korean road in late January 1951, seeking safety from the continuous fighting (UN Photo Archive).

Racial dehumanization was a pivotal factor accounting for the lack of American restraint in targeting civilians.  MacArthur believed that “the Oriental dies stoically because he thinks of death as the beginning of life.”  American bombers dropped thousands of leaflets warning civilians to stay off roads and away from facilities that might be bombed, but independent observers noted that American ground forces were much too “quick to call in overwhelming close air support to overcome any resistance in flammable Korean villages.”[146]  Pilots were often under orders not to return with any bombs.  According to Australian journalist Harry Gordon, who rode along in a B-26 Intruder, they would attack anything that moved, including ox-carts, resulting in “needless slaughter.”[147]

Mission reports at the U.S. National Archives provide a window into the detachment of the pilots and destructive effects of their operations.  These records detail in terse professional language the number of buildings, industrial facilities or trucks damaged or destroyed by rocket, napalm, dive bombing and strafing attacks and note the killing of enemy troops and pack animals and starting of large fires which were left burning.[148]

Thatched huts go up in flames after B-26 bombers unload napalm bombs on a village near Hanchon, North Korea, on May 10, 1951 (AP photo)

British journalist Reginald Thompson described “holocausts of death and jellied petroleum bombs spreading an abysmal desolation over whole communities. . . . In such warfare, the slayer merely touches a button and death is in the wings, blotting out the remote, the unknown people below.” The American investigative journalist I.F. Stone stated that sanitized reports of the air raids reflected a “gay moral imbecility utterly devoid of imagination – as if the flyers were playing in a bowling alley, with villages for pins.”[149]  These comments presaged Herbert Marcuse’s 1964 book, One Dimensional Man, which warned that a cult of technical efficiency coupled with the quest for military-technological supremacy and antipathy towards foreign cultures had severed human connections and empathy in industrial capitalist societies, resulting in the kind of barbaric “machine” warfare seen in Korea and later, Vietnam.[150]

Pyongyang after U.S. bombing, 1953

Pyongyang after U.S. bombing, 1953

Freda Kirchway, in an essay in The Nation, argued that American indifference to the destruction in Korea stemmed from the population having become “hardened by the methods of mass slaughter practiced first by Germans and Japanese and then, in self-defense, adopted and developed to the pitch of perfection at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. . . . We became accustomed to ‘area bombing,’ ‘saturation’ bombing, all the hideous forms of strategic air war aimed at wiping out not only military and industrial installations but whole populations.”[151]

As peace talks stalled in 1952, the Air Force destroyed the hydroelectric plant in Suiho that provided 90 percent of North Korea’s power supply.  In blatant violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, Article 56, U.S. bombers subsequently struck three irrigation dams in Toksan, Chasan, and Kuwonga, then attacked two more in Namsi and Taechon.  The effect was to unleash flooding and to disrupt the rice supply.  An Air Force study concluded that “the Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple commodity has for the Asian – starvation and slow death.”  After the war it took 200,000 man days of labor to reconstruct the reservoir in Toksan alone.  “Only the very fine print of the New York Times war reports mentioned the dam hits,” the historian Bruce Cumings notes, “with no commentary.”[152]

In his book War Stars, H. Bruce Franklin details the American infatuation with developing a super-weapon capable of saving humanity from peril and ostensibly making war more humane by quickly and decisively eradicating the enemy.[153]  The reality in Korea was far different, however, as the North Korean government, like the Vietnamese a decade and a half later, was able to mobilize the population to fight on amidst the bombing and to rebuild roads and bridges that were destroyed.  General Ridgeway noted in a 1956 interview that he had “seen whole sections of railroad bombed into scrap iron by aircraft and yet the enemy rebuilt the tracks in a single night and the trains ran the next day.”  While inflicting serious damage on Chinese forces supporting the North Koreans, bombing did not “halt their offensive, nor materially diminish their strength.  Like the Vietnamese, the Chinese traveled light, with each man carrying his arms, his food and his weapon on his back. In a striking admission, Ridgeway added that “there is nothing in the present situation or in our code that requires us to bomb a small Asian nation back to the ‘stone age.’. . . There must be some moral limit to the means we use to achieve victory.”[154]
These comments epitomize the destructive and ultimately futile character of machine warfare.  The American population was ill-attuned to the situation, however, owing in large part to the political climate which attributed all atrocities to the communists.  Two journalists were removed from Korea for allegedly making the army “look bad.”  In 1953, polls showed that two thirds of Americans actually favored a greater application of military force, with many probably supporting the use of nuclear weapons.[155]  Although Truman had fired the rambunctious General MacArthur, the president had not discarded the idea of using nuclear weapons.  The proposition was discussed at a National Security Council meeting on May 13, 1953.  According to the meeting minutes, Generals J. S. Bradley and John Hull expressed support for the use of atomic bombs, especially for operations outside of Korea.  Truman “thought it might be cheaper, dollar-wise, to use atomic weapons in Korea than to continue to use conventional weapons against the dugouts which honeycombed the hills along which the enemy forces were presently deployed.  This, the President felt, was particularly true if one took into account the logistic costs of getting conventional ammunition from this country to the front lines.”  No decision was made to use nuclear weapons.[156]
In Congress, meanwhile, Oklahoma Senator Robert Kerr expressed pride in the fact that while “thousands of America’s noblest sons have died, in doing so they have inflicted terrible losses of at least ten for one upon the enemies of their homeland.”  A frontier mentality that had once led to slaughter of the “savage” natives was now applied with greater force to “gooks” and “reds.”[157]

IV. Public opinion and antiwar dissent in the United States

Newspapers and popular media played an important role in shaping public opinion in support of the Korean War.  Taking a pro-war editorial line, they referred to the North Koreans as “reds” and “invaders,” failed to question American motives, and neglected or underplayed the horrendous human costs of the war.  In the wake of the American retreat in January 1951, Gen. MacArthur issued a set of guidelines for correspondents that went well beyond security concerns, forbidding any information that “injured the morale of UN forces or caused embarrassment to the United States and its allies.”  Among the stories quashed was a dispatch that detailed the burning of three Korean villages by U.S. troops.[158]

Manufacturing consent:  Media coverage of the war


Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in a landmark 1989 study, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, examine the influence of corporate control of the mass media and the subtle rhetorical manipulations used to inculcate consent for existing U.S. policies in foreign affairs.  They adopt a “propaganda model,” refuting the notion of a free press.  The media, they argue, draw too heavily on government sources for information, generally accept official proclamations about the nobility of the U.S. role in the world, and focus attention on atrocities committed by enemies rather than allies who kill only “worthy victims.”[159]

The Korean War provides an excellent case study in validating Chomsky and Herman’s thesis.  Many people who lived through the war would be flabbergasted to learn the extent of U.S. atrocities in the war.  Communist forces were depicted in the media as the principal aggressors and perpetrators of atrocities.  Unpleasant facts unearthed later by historians were mainly suppressed or under-reported.  A story on the “liberation” of North Korea in Life Magazine in November 1950, for example, “When the Red Shadow Fell, North Korea’s Liberated Capital Shows Signs of Russian Rule,” made no mention of the atrocities that evoked Picasso’s painting but instead focused on Marxist banners and portraits of Stalin hanging in the capital.  One story profiled a former shoe factory owner and Christian leader, Lee Yong Ha, who had become destitute after his factory was nationalized by what Life referred to as the “[Soviet] puppet government.”[160]
Harold H. Martin wrote a fawning piece in the Saturday Evening Post, “How Our Air Raiders Plastered Korea,” which described how U.S. pilots drew cartoon characters on their roaring B-29s and “bombed magnificently on days where the weather was clear” (though not when it was cloudy).  He concluded that the men would always remember with pride the part they played.[161]  The story recalled puff pieces during World War II which John Steinbeck admitted had “crossed the line between journalism and advocacy.”  “We were all part of the war effort,” Steinbeck wrote, “correspondents were not liars but it is in the things not mentioned that the untruth lies.”[162]
The U.S. News and World Report was typical in attributing the war to an offensive by the “Kremlin.”[163]  Joseph and Stewart Alsop wrote an article in the September 2, 1950, issue of Saturday Evening Post, “The Lessons of Korea,” suggesting that the U.S. had not done enough to deter Soviet aggression or contain Soviet imperialism.  “The armed strength of the United States,” the Alsops wrote, “was too slight to instill in the masters of the Kremlin any healthy fear of reprisals. Hence Korea was attacked.”  The story was buttressed by a photo of a bound American soldier who had been machine gunned.  The columnists, who had close ties to U.S. intelligence, went on to warn that Korea was but the “first episode of an attempt to bring all Asia and all Europe within the Soviet empire.”  The real Soviet “goal was not just to seize South Korea, but “make the living death of the slave society the universal condition of mankind, from the shores of the Atlantic to the islands of Japan, from the icy cliffs of Spitsbergen to the bright sands of cape common.”[164]  Refuted by Soviet scholars who emphasize Stalin’s cautious and pragmatic approach to foreign policy, such analyses helped engender public support not only for the Korean War but also for the massive military buildup that accompanied it, keeping the U.S. public in a state of omnipresent fear.[165]
Marquerite Higgins was the first female war correspondent to win a Pulitzer Prize

Marguerite Higgins was the first female war correspondent to win a Pulitzer Prize

The best war correspondents like Marguerite Higgins, a Pulitzer Prize winner who had been with the U.S. army when they liberated Dachau, captured the disillusionment of U.S. soldiers and brutality of the war.  Writing in the Saturday Evening Post on August 19, 1950, Higgins said in the first weeks of the American retreat, she had “seen war harden many of our young soldiers into savagely bitter men,” noting that some had thrown down their arms or bolted in the thick of battle, “cursing their government for what they thought was embroilment in a hopeless cause.”  One GI told her to tell the American people the truth that it is an “utterly useless war,” stating that “the commies cared little for life” and were “willing to die when our boys are not.”[166]  Higgins, however, never cared to explore precisely why the North Koreans were willing to die in such great numbers and never seems to have understood the revolutionary social consciousness that pervaded much of Asia and Africa as the old imperial world order dissipated in the aftermath of World War II.  Instead she referred to the North Koreans as “red invaders” and claimed in a book endorsed by Syngman Rhee that “Korea had served as a “kind of international alarm clock to wake up the world [about communist perfidy],” and about how “we needed to arm and produce tough, hard fighting soldiers….before it was too late.”[167]  She was, as these comments imply, a major supporter of U.S. policy in the Cold War.

Hanson Baldwin, the New York Times’ chief military correspondent, reflected prevailing racial prejudices in reporting that the United States was “facing an army of barbarians in Korea . . . as relentless, as reckless of life, and as skilled in the tactics of the kind of war they fight as the hordes of Genghis Khan. . . .They have taken a leaf from the Nazi book of blitzkrieg and are employing all the weapons of fear and terror.”  Elsewhere, Baldwin referred to the North Koreans as “invading locusts,” echoing General MacArthur’s comment about Koreans:  “life is cheap: behind him stand the hordes of Asia.”[168]
The New York Times endorsed the war when it broke out, adopting a World War II analogy in its editorial on June 26, 1950, “Warning to the West.”  The editors argued that “the open invasion of South Korea by the Soviet puppet regime of the North sheds a new light on the whole international scene. . . . Like Hitler, the Soviet Union may not want a big war, now or never, but Korea is proof they do not shrink from a little war.”  The piece went to suggest that failure to intervene on the part of the U.S. would portend the demise of the United Nations.  Philip Knightly in his book, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker, points out that every major daily newspaper in the United States supported the war.  Even among the left-wing journalists, the National Guardian was almost alone in its antiwar stance. The New York Times adopted a World War II analogy in its pro-war editorial on June 26, 1950, “Warning to the West.”[169]
America’s “newspaper of record” refused to publish a subsequent letter by Professor Arthur Davis, Chairman of the Sociology department at Union College.  Davis suggested that Eurasian peasant societies were undergoing social revolutions and that Asian nationalism was dedicated to freeing itself from Western domination; hence the Russian were not responsible for the war.  A similar act of censorship by CBS silenced legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, who had sent a radio report to New York after visiting the Naktong front, which stated that the U.S. military was creating “dead valleys” in South Korea.  Murrow wondered whether the South Koreans would ever forgive America.[170]
Walter Sullivan was the most thoughtful reporter working for the New York Times. His July 26, 1950, article, “GI View of Koreans as ‘Gooks’ Believed Doing Political Damage,” reflected the outer limit of dissent permissible in the mainstream media. Sullivan acknowledged that “nationalism has been one of the prime forces harnessed by the Korean reds” and expressed concern about the reference to the Koreans as “gooks.”  This term led to an underestimation of enemy capability and bred hostility towards U.S. forces.  Still, Sullivan failed to link American soldiers’ attitudes to wide-scale atrocities.  He hoped that “U.S. soldiers could be better educated to understand Korea and its problems,” leaving out the critical question of what the U.S. government was wanting to achieve in Korea and whether the U.S. troops should be there at all. [171]
time-magazing-man-of-the-year-1950Henry Luce’s Time Magazine, was among the staunchest supporters of the war, championing Syngman Rhee in the same vein as Chiang Kai-Shek (Jiang Jieshi).  Born to missionary parents in China and a key member of the China lobby, Luce used Time as a “secular pulpit” to promote what he considered America’s “God ordained global mission” to spread Western capitalist and democratic ideals and rollback the spread of communism in Asia.  Journalists like Theodore White, who did not share Luce’s view and were sympathetic to communist ideology, left the magazine or were fired.[172]
Time was typical in its October 23, 1950, issue in featuring the story of Han Jun Mylung, a Minister of the Jesus Church in Wonash, who was taken prisoner and thrown in a cave where most of his counterparts were shot.  Parallel atrocities by U.S.-ROK forces in caves were never reported, however, leaving readers with a distorted view of the war.
Time’s “Man of the Year” for 1950 was the “American Occupation Fighting Man,” who stood up against the attempt by the communists to “turn the worldwide forces set free by U.S. progress back into the old channels of slavery.”  The article said the U.S. army battling in Korea was the “nearest approach to a professional army the U.S. had ever sent into war.”  It profiled Robert Ward, a Cherokee whose mother had asked for his return home because two of his brothers had been killed in World War II and he was the only surviving son. Ward demurred, however, saying that he was no hero but “if these people [communists] aren’t stopped here on their own ground, we will have to share the thing which so many have died to prevent their loved ones from sharing – the sight of death in their own backyards, of women and children being victims of these people.”  Another GI admitted to shooting an elderly women who allegedly had ammunition in her backpack, stating that “none of the other fellows in his squadron liked this business of shooting civilians” but “I figured if we had to kill ten civilians to kill one soldier who might shoot at us we were justified.”[173]  These comments suggest that the careful reader could discern the brutal underpinnings of the war, although the media framed atrocities when they were reported at all as being morally justifiable in a righteous cause.

Wilfred Burchett: Reporting the Other Side

Australian correspondent Wilfred G. Burchett

Australian War correspondent Wilfred Burchett was an exception in reporting the war from the North Korean and Chinese side.  Starting his career in the mold of the “heroic explorer type who had secured the empire’s greatness” as his biographer Tom Heenan put it, Burchett had covered the Sino-Japanese and Pacific War where he marveled at the scale of the U.S. air raids, still “too blinkered by the pyrotechnics to notice the victims.”  Burchett’s politics shifted, however, when he broke through the military censors and reported on the dropping of the atomic bomb.  His article for the London Daily Express was titled “The Atomic Plague,” and said that the attacks had made a “blitzed Pacific island seem like Eden.”  Arriving in Korea to cover the peace talks at Kaesong and Panmunjom in July 1951, he and his British colleague Alan Winnington, who wrote for The Daily Worker, criticized the American negotiators for needlessly prolonging the war and napalming and bombing the residence of the North Korean delegation chief, General Nam-Il.  They also reported on ROK police killings in Taejon and the mistreatment of Communist POWs at Koje-do Island, including in the adoption of unethical medical experiments, torture and illegal recruitment of the prisoners for covert operations, and accused the U.S. Air Force of conducting bacteriological warfare raids.

U.S. military intelligence undertook a campaign to try and discredit Burchett and Winnington, alleging that the two journalists had been official spokesmen for the North Korean and Chinese governments, participated in the brainwashing of POWs, concocted the bacteriological warfare story and forcibly extracted confessions from captured American airmen to legitimate it.  The Australian government considered Burchett a traitor and renounced his passport, marking him as one of the country’s few political refugees.  He was also accused of being a KGB agent, though the only foreign intelligence agency that actually recruited him was the CIA.
In a 1983 article “Australia’s Dreyfuss,” Professor Gavan McCormack showed how the brainwashing allegations against Burchett were made in 1955 and refuted by POWs who met Burchett in the camps and said he had been sympathetic to them. A pilot who had testified against him in the 1970s, Walker M. Mahurin, made no mention of Burchett’s alleged role in extracting any confession in his memoir, published in 1962. Heenan points out that the British government privately shared many of Burchett and Winnington’s criticisms about the American handling of the peace negotiations and their administration of the Koje-do prison, and that there were “solid grounds for suspecting that the U.S. Air Force conducted germ warfare raids,” as the allegation was corroborated by an independent scientific investigation. Heenan concludes that Burchett was “merely reporting the truth as he saw it, and so was not a communist propagandist.”
During the Vietnam War, Burchett exposed the use of Agent Orange and became a hero to the antiwar movement for continuing to report on the enemy side.  In a letter to a graduate student, Burchett said that he was a journalist who needs “causes” which he “could take and press on with,” and that “the USA was clearly in the wrong.”  His role was to provide “absolute accurate ammunition for those who are fighting against the Vietnam War.”  This explains his approach to Korea as well.  Gavan McCormack wrote that Burchett was “a journalist inspired by an uncommon passion [who] was almost alone in seeing the [Korean] war primarily from the viewpoint and suffering of the Korean people rather than that of the great powers or his own or any other government.”  This is a great tribute to Burchett and his sensitivity as a man which was lacking among too many of his compatriots.[174]

The responsibility of intellectuals: “Crackpot Realists” and the New Mandarins

In a classic essay during the Vietnam War, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky criticized public intellectuals for betraying their responsibility to speak “truth to power.” Craving access to power, they instead provided ideological rationalizations that justified imperial wars and promoted as an article of faith that American motives in the world were pure.  Chomsky singled out for criticism his former colleague Walt W. Rostow, who justified U.S. military intervention by claiming that Stalin had perpetrated aggression in Indochina in 1946, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the ADA standard-bearer.[175]
Historian and presidential adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Historian and presidential adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Schlesinger, as it turns out, wrote an important book on Douglas MacArthur and the Korean War with liberal journalist Richard Rovere, The General and the President (1951), which provided a strong defense of Truman administration policies.  Supporting Korea as a just war, Schlesinger and Rovere wrote:

if the insolent aggression of the North Koreans had gone unchallenged, millions of people throughout the free world, including this important part of it, would have found rich confirmation of their fear that Russian power was in fact invincible, that American big talk was shameless bluff, and that the United Nations was a snare and delusion…. This is why President Truman determined to make at least a limited challenge to Soviet power.  He did it not because he thought that the fall of Los Angeles would follow inexorably the fall of Seoul, but because he wished to show both the Communist world and the non-Communist world that the United States was not a flour-flusher and that the United Nations – or collective security – could be made to work.[176]

In making these claims, the authors presented little evidence the Russians actually instigated the war, and they failed to discuss in any depth the impact of Japanese colonialism or Korean politics.  They also said little about the biblical-level devastation bred by the war.  At one point the authors acknowledged that Syngman Rhee was “not one of the people’s favorite,” then went on to praise U.S. foreign aid efforts.[177]  The authors also praised Truman’s decision to fire Gen. MacArthur, thus reaffirming the virtues of George F. Kennan’s containment strategy as opposed to MacArthur’s victory-at-all-costs strategy.  The containment objective, they argued, “is not to destroy communism everywhere, a goal which would involve an unlimited ideological crusade,” or even to destroy the Soviet Union, “a goal which could not be briefly attained without an atomic holocaust,” but to “punish aggression by lowering the boom on individual experiments in aggression, while at the same time refusing to generalize from the individual case to total war.”[178]
Cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin has pointed out that the American imperial eagle always frames its interventions as self-defense, which is exemplified in Schlesinger and Rovere’s analysis.  The latter argued that, while the U.S. should try to “avert war,” it should “be prepared for war if necessary because the greatest threat of all is totalitarian victory, and the United States has unique obligations to the free world, as the largest and richest of free nations.”[179]  These views reflect how the Korean War and the U.S. military buildup and large military presence around the world were justified at the time.  Previous empires like the British claimed similar “obligations.”  American motives are depicted as pure:  the United States only responds to aggression and is devoid of imperialist pretensions such as the acquisition of foreign military bases and desire to control economic resources in Southeast Asia, which were in reality pursued.
Intellectuals like Schlesinger and Rovere were pivotal progenitors of what Tom Engelhardt called the post-World War II Victory culture.  They expressed strong belief in the virtues of regulatory capitalism and Western civilization (glossing over the history of colonialism) and the American mission to export its ideals abroad.  Communism was considered to be a disease in the transition from tradition to modernity that needed to be contained or suppressed, through war if necessary.  The real abuses of Stalinism helped foster pessimism about human nature and the prospects for radical social change, fostering a negative view of the socio-economic revolutions in North Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere, which were considered to have been manipulated by evil forces in Beijing and the Kremlin.[180]
Those who opted out of the “propaganda model,” such as journalist Edgar Snow and China scholar Owen Lattimore, were considered naïve dupes of communist propaganda and publicly discriminated against and marginalized.  These perceptive authors explained the historical circumstances shaping the Chinese revolution and its progressive dimensions, stressing its nationalistic character and popularity in comparison to the hated American-backed regime of Jiang Jieshi.
Foreign Affairs, the main journal of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), reflected prevailing currents in running an article in its October 1950 issue that provided a defense of French colonialism in Indochina and considered Indochina and Korea to be part of the same vital “strategic front.”  Unrest in these Asian lands was said to result “from the expansion of Soviet power towards the sea” and its efforts to gain satellites by “exploiting against the West the nationalist, even xenophobia of the Asiatic masses.”  The author, Jacques Soustelle, acknowledged that “the government of Syngman Rhee could “no more withstand the assault without external aid than can the government of emperor Bao Dai,” adding that U.S. aid to these regimes (Western satellites) was a great moral undertaking.[181]
Henry Kissinger, 1957, author of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Photo by Bettmann-Corbis)

Henry Kissinger, 1957, author of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Photo by Bettmann-Corbis)

Henry Kissinger, an influential defense intellectual at Harvard University and proponent of a ruthless brand of real-politick appealing to power-brokers in Washington, fit the norm in considering Truman’s decision to intervene in Korea to be “courageous.”  However, in his 1957 CFR book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, he sided with the MacArthur faction, advocating the utility of restricted nuclear war.  Kissinger criticized the doctrine of limited war, believing that the U.S. should have taken advantage of its military superiority.  Fashioning himself as a modern-day Metternich (Austrian practitioner of real-politick) Kissinger raised the question of whether the U.S.S.R. “did not have more to lose from an all-out war than we did.”  Be that as it may, he said, “our announced reluctance to engage in all out war gave the Soviet bloc a psychological advantage.”  Kissinger went on to speculate that if the U.S. had “pushed back the Chinese armies even to the narrow neck of the Korean peninsula, we would have administered a setback to Communist power in its first trial at arms with the free world.“[182]

This conclusion gravely underestimated North Korean and Chinese military capabilities and the massive firepower that had already been deployed.  The human costs of war were completely absent from Kissinger’s discussion furthermore, which is not surprising given the horrors he later presided over in Indochina and Chile among other places.
Kissinger was a prototype not only for Chomsky’s new mandarin but also for sociologist C. Wright Mills’ caricature of a “crackpot realist” who knew of “no solutions to the paradoxes of the Middle East and Cuba [and] Far East except the landing of Marines. They prefer the bright clear problems of war for they still believe that ‘winning’ means something, although they never tell us what.”[183]
Kissinger and Schlesinger represented opposite poles of a debate within elite circles between rollback and containment advocates, respectively, later replicated in Vietnam.  Neither party challenged the fundamentals of U.S. global power or righteousness of the anticommunist crusade in Asia and desirability of a U.S. victory. The debate was simply over a matter of tactics, with Kissinger adopting a rather extreme position.  Principled antiwar dissent existed but on the margins of Washington political and intellectual life.  Writers who questioned the right of the United States to intervene in the political affairs of Third world nations and respected the Koreans’ right to self-determination were deprived of access to leading newspapers and journals and were ignored by policy-makers.  The dovish extreme on Korea within the framework of “responsible opinion” was expressed by Justice William O. Douglas in a Look Magazine essay “We Can’t Save Asia by War Alone” (January 16, 1951).  His analysis subscribed to the imperialist trope that Asia needed saving by the West, though he favored political propaganda and economic aid programs.[184]
Walter Lippmann was among the most distinguished intellectuals who approved of Truman’s decision to intervene in Korea and dispatch the 7th fleet to Formosa.  A syndicated columnist whose career dated to the First World War, Lippmann distrusted mass popular action and movements.  He considered the North Korean attack a “naked act of aggression,” warning of “international anarchy” if a “wretched little satellite government in northern Korea can thumb its nose at the UN.”  Lippmann, however, favored the deployment of sea and air intervention, questioning the sending of ground troops when the Soviets had not committed their own forces.
The crucial question for Lippmann was the defense of Japan, which he did not see as being imperiled by the communist advance.  He proposed a “cardinal rule” in which the U.S. should avoid deploying American power in theaters “not of our choosing.”  He pointed out that Truman and Acheson appeared to write off South Korea and then decided to fight for it, which gave the impression that “the right hand seemed not to know what the left hand was doing.”  They intended a limited military action in support of a general principle, but “lost control of the situation” and “sucked the United States” into a “big war they did not know how to manage” or conclude.  Lippmann considered the decision to cross the 38th parallel and occupy Korea to the Yalu River as “one of the greatest mistakes in our history.”  It threatened a larger war with China and Russia and was a diversion from the main theater in the Cold War, Europe, where he advocated for a territorial settlement with the Soviets whom he said were guided by military realities and not revolutionary fantasies.[185]
Lippmann’s views in these latter respects were quite sensible.  Yet his views still fit with Chomsky’s critique, as he did not really challenge U.S. motives underlying the Korean intervention nor the ends pursued in Southeast Asia, but only the means in advocating for a lighter military footprint.  Non-intervention was out of the question and he did not consider Korean perspectives.  Within the establishment, though, Lippmann was one of the wiser heads.

Grassroots antiwar activism and dissent

A coordinated antiwar movement never developed during the Korean War, due in large part to the repressive climate of McCarthyism.  Americans nevertheless expressed their doubts about the war in letters, petitions, and occasional antiwar rallies.  In late July 1950, one month after the war began, the New York Labor Conference for Peace applied for permission to hold a peace rally in Union Square Park.  Permission was denied by local authorities.  Judge Eugene L. Brisach upheld the decision under the assumption that the demonstration “would provoke incidents.”  A crowd of some 15,000 people gathered in defiance of the ban on August 2.  They were met by 1,000 policemen, batons in hand.  When the demonstrators failed to disperse as ordered, the police attacked.  According to the New York Times, several protesters were “severely beaten” and mounted police “rode onto crowded sidewalks.”
The following week, the newly formed American Women for Peace organized a demonstration of 700 people in front of the White House, after which delegations of lobbyists visited members of Congress and held a press conference.  Dr. Clementina J. Palone described her group as “good loyal American women that shout for peace,” while reporters peppered her with questions about communist ties.
Public dissatisfaction increased after China entered the war in late November 1950.  “Down at the grassroots, what people want is peace, if they can get it,” announced US News & World Report (December 15, 1950).  Many “are quite willing to give up in Korea, permanently.”  In May 1951, Senator Edwin Johnson, Democrat of Colorado, introduced a cease-fire resolution in the Senate, claiming to speak for a majority of his constituents.  He denounced the war as a “hopeless conflict” of attrition that was “slaughtering additional millions of human beings.”  Peace groups such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the American Friends Service Committee organized petition drives.  Between June and July 1952, President Truman received 850 peace petitions with 72,750 signatures.  Republicans, meanwhile, singled out Democratic leadership as the problem.  At the 1952 Republican Convention, Senator Everett Dirksen declared that the Democrats “have given us an undeclared, unconstitutional one-man war in Korea, now in its third year.”[186]

Principled humanitarian opposition to the war was voiced by black anti-colonial activists such as W.E.B. DuBois, who was purged from the NAACP, dissident Hollywood writers like Dalton Trumbo and John Lawson, and pacifist individuals and organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and War Resister’s League (WRL).

Mural commemorating A. J. Must on the War Resisters League building in New York

Mural commemorating A. J. Muste on the War Resisters League building in New York

Abraham J. Muste, a proponent of Gandhian non-violent revolutionary pacifism and a Presbyterian minister affiliated with the FOR, considered Dresden and Hiroshima to be symbols of the nation’s lack of moral and humanitarian scruples that carried over into the Korean War.  In his 1950 FOR pamphlet, Korea: Spark to Set a World on Fire?  Muste wrote that the U.S. was intervening in a civil war on behalf of a corrupt and repressive puppet regime associated with a “white nation” that many identified with Western conquest, all of which was sure to invite Korean resistance.  The war was thus a futile undertaking, and a danger to the world as well, as it threatened to ignite World War III.  Muste called for nonviolent disobedience directed against it.[187]

David McReynolds and Vern Davidson, both in their early 20s, applied to their local draft boards for conscientious objector (CO) status based on their political and moral opposition to the war.  The Selective Service Act of 1948, however, granted CO status only to religious objectors and thus their applications were denied.  The government prosecuted the two men.  Davidson received a three-year prison sentence, of which he served two.  The government dropped its case against McReynolds after the court requested the FBI to release its secret dossier on him.  Residing in Los Angeles, McReynolds organized small protests throughout the war.  He championed a Third Camp socialist-pacifist position, repudiating both the Soviet and U.S. military blocs and militarism in general.  Other young men who challenged the war and the draft were aided by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, founded in Philadelphia in 1948.[188]
David Dellinger, who along with A. J. Muste came to represent a bridge between the old and new lefts, recounts in his memoir losing vision in his left eye after being severely beaten during a protest in New York City by a vigilante who had lost his son in the war.  When four workers in the Linden, New Jersey plant of General Motors attempted to distribute antiwar leaflets among their fellow employees, they were similarly beaten up, and then fired from their jobs and expelled from the United Auto Workers (UAW).[189] 
In perhaps the most dramatic protest, in July 1950 the International Longshoreman’s Union refused to load ships carrying arms and material to Korea.  Union leader Harry Bridges, a Trotskyist known for having led the famous 1934 General strike in San Francisco, was among those jailed.[190]  The U.S. prosecutor said that Bridges was a “dangerous enemy to our society and a threat to our national security.  He is a source of comfort to our enemy.  He is the enemy.”  The judge revoked bail, stating that as “probably one of the most potent figures in the Communist Party in America today his allegiance cannot be to the United States of America.”[191]
The American left, the traditional critic of imperialism and capitalism, was ridden by sectarianism and factionalism at this time, and severely weakened by revelations about the abuses of Stalinism.[192]  The American Communist Party considered the Korean War to have been driven by Wall Street financial interests.  It responded to news of the invasion by asserting that, contrary to official reports, South Korea had precipitated the war by invading the North as part of a large-scale U.S. plot to gain control over East Asia and establish in Korea “powerful bases from which to make war upon the New China and the United Soviet Socialist Republic.”  The rival Socialist Party, in contrast, issued a press statement just after the war began, declaring its support for the UN Security Council and Truman’s actions, although this did not represent the gamut of socialist opinion.[193]
Novelist Howard Fast ran on the labor party ticket in New York in 1952 after it had come under the Communist Party’s control on an antiwar platform.  He was author of a series of poignant antiwar poems including “Korean War Lullaby,” which called on Korean children to close their eyes and forget the “burning gasoline, the gentle, jellied gasoline that burns with a flame so pure and serene,” to “hear no sound of bursting bombs that fall around, and tear the flesh and rend the ground, and hear no sound of screaming pain, from the guts of a man gone half insane.”  Korea, he went on acerbically had been “rescued from oppression, and the ‘free world’ from depression, and all the bits of brain and bone, the wail of pain, the anguished moan, the stink of burning human flesh, lacerations bleeding fresh, are nothing, you see, since they make you free.”[194]
Radical journalist I.F. Stone argued in The Hidden History of the Korean War (1952) that Syngman Rhee “deliberately provoked“ an attack by the North with secret support from Jiang Jieshi and some elements of the U.S. government, most likely, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and John Foster Dulles.  Stone was among the few who accurately sensed Stalin’s nervousness about fighting and emphasized that the North Korean attack was not a surprise, citing advanced CIA warnings of a North Korean military buildup along the 38th parallel that MacArthur had ignored.[195]  Stone had trouble finding a publisher for his book and was hounded by the FBI thereafter.
Singer Paul Robeson

Singer Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson, the great singer and civil rights leader called the Korean War “the most shameful war in which our country has ever been engaged”:

A hundred thousand American dead, wounded and missing have been listed in this war … and more than that we have killed, maimed and rendered homeless a million Koreans, all in the name of preserving Western civilization.  U.S. troops have acted like beasts, as do all aggressive, invading, imperialist armies.  North and South of the 38th parallel, they have looked upon the Korean people with contempt, calling them filthy names, raped their women, lorded it over old women and children, and shot prisoners in the back.[196]

Scott Nearing, a former economist at the University of Pennsylvania who had been fired for opposing World War I, was another fierce and prescient critic of government policy.  Nearing emphasized that Truman and Acheson’s big idea that peace could be secured through concentrated power had been previously attempted by Julius Caesar.  Pointing to the grand imperial designs of MacArthur, including the desire to convert Taiwan into an imperial Pacific center for the purpose of dominating all Asiatic ports, Nearing characterized the Cold War as a “mad adventure” that would “deplete natural resources, squander capital, divert human ingenuity and enterprise into destructive channels and deluge the human race with blood and tears,” as Korea exemplified.   Nearing further lamented how science and technology had been mobilized for the purpose of increasing the destructive potential of explosives, incendiaries, chemical agencies and bacteriological forces, and that industrial organizations and academic institutions had placed their facilities at the disposal of a government which aims to destroy and kill with maximum effectiveness, using its military apparatus to effect “organized destruction” and “wholesale murder.”[197]

Nearing’s critique was echoed by Columbia University sociologist C. Wright Mills, author of The Causes of World War III (1958).  Mills blamed the United States more than the Russians for perpetrating the Cold War, pointing to the growth of corporate power and permanent war economy as a key root cause of imperialism.  Though more radical in their political sensibilities, Nearing and Mills prefigured the warning of President Dwight Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address regarding the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
Mills was aghast by the mechanized-depersonalized slaughter perpetrated by U.S. fighter-pilots in the Korean War, with their “petroleum-jelly broiling of children and women and men.”  Like with the dropping of the atomic bombs, these atrocities that “nobody protests” were split from the consciousness of men, he noted, in an uncanny even schizophrenic manner, as the perpetrators were possessed by an abstracted view that “hides from them the human beings who are their victims and as well their own humanity.”  The acts were not sadistic but “merely businesslike; they are not aggressive but merely efficient; they are not emotional at all but technically clean cut,” which was true of the Nazi killing machine as well.[198]
Hit songs of the era such as Jimmie Osborne’s “God Please Protect Americans,” which rose to number nine on the billboard charts, and Gene Autry’s tribute to Douglas MacArthur “Old Soldiers Never Die,” promoted pro-war and patriotic themes mixed with religious sentiments.[199]  The great folk singer Woody Guthrie, by contrast, wrote over a dozen antiwar songs.  Uneasy about the Cold War and nuclear arms race, Woody expressed horror at the use of jellied bombs (napalm), firebombs and germ warfare, which gave him the “bad Korean blues” and made him question, further, what it means to be human.
Folk singer Woodie Guthrie

Folk singer Woodie Guthrie

In an ode to “Mr. Sickyman Ree,” Woody adopted subtle political commentary mixed with sarcasm in proclaiming, “Mister Sickiman Ree, Dizzy Old Sigman Ree, you can’t fool pore me!”  “Korean Bad Weather” and “Han River Woman” conveyed Woody’s desire for the “GI Joes from Wall Street” as he referred to U.S. soldiers in several songs, to “lay down their killing irons and walk home.”  In Han River Mud,” he sang that I “told you not to come here Joe with your Wall Street jeep all stuck in the land.  What did you drive here for Joe, try to steal my land from me.”

In the song “Korean Quicksands” Woody lamented “floods of blood of these millions that died;” saying he wanted to “throw down my guns; lay down alla my bombs and they’ll be no more quicksands of blood.”  “Korean War Tank” describes the horrible sounds of the tank, “blang,” “booomm,” which reflect a primeval resort to violence.  On March 19, 1951, Woody said he would “never march across the 38th parallel” and “would drop his gun,” though “he’d step across to shake his enemy’s hand.”[200]
In perhaps his most eloquent ballad against the war, “Talking Korean Blues,” Woody said the “whole war looks to me like a game, just like a funny little game that the kids all play.”  The war game overall, he said, is “just not worth one single human life, to try to keep a bee off his flower and his hive,” and we were the ones “getting stung.”  Woody ended by saying that he knew well and good them “GI boys don’t like it over there,” as it was so far from their home, and that even if they shipped “ten million GI guys like myself over to Korea” it wouldn’t keep the mass of Koreans from “lining up with that Korean red army.”[201]  It was time for “MacArthur to fold up his puppy tent and come back on home.”
Guthrie’s songs, which are found in his personal papers at the Woody Guthrie Archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were never published and it is not known to what extent he sang them publicly.  Unlike Pete Seeger, Woody was never threatened by the House of Un-American Activities Committee and he appears to have felt free to express his viewpoint.  Removed from his days as a columnist with the Daily Worker, the communist party newspaper, Guthrie’s writings nevertheless convey sympathy for the circumstances that led many Koreans to support the communist movement, the strength of which was overlooked by most of his contemporaries.  In hindsight, Woody appears prescient in pointing to the futility of the U.S.-UN military efforts and undue influence of Wall Street interests which profited from and supported the war.  And he was rightly horrified by the hideous weapons that were deployed and rightly questioned the maturity and sanity of the men who used them.  Woody’s music served as an inspiration to many folk singers of the 1960s and his critique of the Korean War was eerily similar to their songs about the Vietnam War.
Critics of the Korean War such as Muste, Fast, Stone, Robeson, Nearing, Mills, Guthrie, and others were voices in the wilderness during their time.  They kept the flame of resistance alive during a highly conservative and oppressive period in American history.

American soldiers’ experience and disillusionment

Much like World War I and Vietnam, the Korean War produced a memoir and fiction literature that eloquently expressed profound misgivings and disillusionment with the war.  In Robert Bowen’s “A Matter of Price,” the narrator, Captain Carson philosophizes on the difference between World War II and Korea which he has soured on. “The Commies,” he felt, were a legitimate enemy, though they weren’t “Nazi-bad” and he had no deep faith in the rightness of fighting them.  At the same time, the captain “located nothing he could stretch into decency in Rhee’s mob.”  They questioned prisoners “with rifle butts too and left them often in communist peace, dead.”  Carson thus feels lost in the war, “killing and dying purposelessly, evilly.”[202]
Wounded GI

Wounded GI

In a critical autobiographical war-story called “The Secret,” author James Drought, a Korean War veteran, tells the story of Frank Nolan, a working class kid from Chicago he knew who enlisted in the army to see the world and escape working for Ford Motor Company.  Trained as an infantryman, Nolan was sent out on a dangerous mission to reclaim a nondescript hill the “gooks” had occupied, largely as a means of impressing a visiting Congressional delegation.  The North Korean forces had learned of the attack in advance and slaughtered his unit; Nolan lost his leg.  After being awarded a bronze star and Purple Heart while lying in hospice, Nolan told the Congressman and General sent to congratulate him that “they could cram all the goddam medals up their ass.”  Nolan told Drought as he recounts it:  “You know what they did?  They smiled at me.  They said they understood.”  “Understood what?” Drought then asked him.  “I don’t know,” Nolan responded.  “The dirty cocksuckers just patted me on the shoulder and said they understood.”[203]

This exchange points to an underlying cynicism and perception of betrayal of America’s fighting men by Washington.  Drought said he had read about the North Korean invasion of South Korea in the papers but “didn’t “give a shit. I sure as hell didn’t think this invasion was a threat to me, my family or even the whole goddam world.  But Harry Truman did.”  Along with “other suckers his age” he was consequently sent to basic training in Ft. Campbell where he “learned how to make war and how to murder and how to hate and how to obey orders no matter what.”

Film star Marilyn Monroe helped boost morale in Korea

The class dimension in Drought’s story is epitomized in an earlier passage where he laments how he had discovered while working “like a slob” for a finance company that the “fat cats are not content to exploit us, bleed us, work us for the rest of our lives at their benefit, but they want us to win them some glory too. . . . This is why every once in a while they start a war for us to fight in.”  The experts had predicted a depression if it hadn’t been for the Korean War and the “shot in the arm [the war] gave to production, business, and even to religion – since right away everybody returned to church to pray for their brave sons overseas – was something the ‘fat cats’ had to have to prevent going under and becoming poor folks like the rest of us.”  Ernest Hemingway and others had said that war provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to test men’s manhood and courage, though it was not mentioned “what those would discover who lay ripped open after the battle, bleeding, dying, dead from monstrous wounds.”[204]

“The Secret” and “A Matter of Price” captured a disheartened sentiment among veterans and anti-establishment feeling later replicated more emphatically among Vietnam counterparts.  The Korean War, however, had been fought in the climate of McCarthyism, before the emergence of the 1960s counter-culture, when questioning foreign policy was not commonplace and a Cold War patriotic mentality was inculcated.  Hence the message of the stories did not gain a wide enough audience and history was sadly doomed to repeat itself, though Drought’s story became something of a cult classic in the 1960s.

U.S. soldiers learn of the armistice

One platoon sergeant tellingly titled his memoir, Korea: A Freezing Hell on Earth (1998).  As in Vietnam, the morale of American soldiers declined with the discovery that “superiority in weapons was no guarantee of victory,” and more broadly, because most GIs did not “have the slightest idea why they were fighting in these far off hills.”  Desertion rates reached 22.5 out of 1000 by 1952, causing concern within the military.  After returning from the funeral of slain comrades, one Marine stated that the “saddest thing was that not one of them knew why they were dying.”  Black GI’s were most prone to question “why they should fight when “we have organizations like the Klu Klux Klan running certain people out of places [back home] because of their color…. Have the communists ever enslaved our people? Have they ever raped our women? Have they ever castrated our fathers, grandfathers, uncles or cousins?”[205]

Not all veterans who became critical of the war were progressive in their outlook, to be sure.  A good number believed with the political right that liberal government leaders were politicizing the war and hamstringing the Generals to the detriment of U.S. troops.  Many also considered the Koreans pejoratively as “gooks,” a term used by Drought in dialogues in “The Secret,” and characterized Korea as a primitive country and hence not worth sacrificing themselves for or “saving.”  Few understood the Korea’s colonial history or the North Korean revolution, as historian Bruce Cumings has noted, and there was little understanding of the United States role as an heir to the colonial empires.

Letter exchange between a questioning Marine, his father and Dean Acheson

The letter between a rebellious soldier and his father which was shared with Secretary of State Dean Acheson and published in the New York Times provides further evidence that the war was not particularly popular among soldiers and low-level officers.
In January 1951, John B. Moullette, a Marine soldier from Camden, New Jersey who had served in China at the end of World War II, wrote to his father, Clarence, an assistant to the mayor, about the “needless waste of human life in Korea on both sides.”  Stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, John regarded the war as “shameful to the human race.” He pointed to the outrageous sums spent by the Truman administration and the fact that Congress had not issued a war declaration.  Moullette also questioned the refusal of the U.S. government to allow “red” China entry into the UN and to “voice her opinions about what is to take place in the Far East.”  Moullette suggested that the “problem of red China versus the world should be settled at the round-table through bargaining and that fighting wouldn’t settle anything.”  The morale of the fighting man in Korea,  Moullette noted, was very low because they “had no cause [for which] to fight.”  At the beer-hall the last night, he reported, the majority of the men were complaining about the way we were “tricked into this.”  After the loss of life and property from the last war, he reflected, everyone should want only peace in his view, but this could only be brought about if men “our age throughout the world feel the same way and will state so to their leaders.  By rebellion or other ways…. The leaders (including Truman) are afraid to admit they are wrong and are ashamed to admit it for fear they will lose face.”[206]
Clarence Moullette forwarded the letter to Dean Acheson, who composed an eloquently worded reply expressing sympathy for the generational conflict between Mr. Moullette and his son, which he said had existed in his family when his son served in the Pacific.  Acheson conveyed his concern about the difficult conditions experienced by American soldiers in Korea, which he blamed on “distant and shadowy figures in the Kremlin controlling millions of people far from them.” In his view, Soviet leaders constituted a “monstrous evil in a world based on infinite mercy and justice.”  Looking back in history, Acheson wrote that “our forebearers on this continent had it cruelly impressed upon them that the liberty we enjoy is not won and preserved without unremitting effort, sacrifice or ‘eternal vigilance.’”  It had now fallen on this generation to “take up again the defense of freedom against tyranny.  By standing firm against aggression in Korea, we are doing our best to prevent the world from following the road which led us, twice in recent times, to world war.”[207]
Clarence shared the letter with his son.  According to the New York Times on March 4, 1951, Corporal Moullette changed his mind after reading Acheson’s letter, being impressed that such a high-level official would acknowledge him.  Moullette told a Times reporter that Acheson’s letter had convinced him that “maybe we could have avoided World War II if we had gone into Ethiopia.  And I definitely think we ought to be in Korea.”  In a later letter to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, however, Moullette revealed that he had faced trouble in the Marine Corps after the publication of his letter to his father, and had endured “indescribable mental hardship socially” and “abuse” from his buddies and the public.  He had withstood “criticism and intimidation,” he said, because of his “convictions” and his belief that “every American boy who gave his life in Korea died in vain.”[208]
This interesting exchange epitomized deep fissures in American society bred by the war and a growing distrust for executive branch leaders in the armed services and among the young, prefiguring the broader generational dissent that emerged during the Vietnam War.  Acheson’s remarks exemplify how out of touch the “wise men” in Washington were with the human consequences of the war.  Although the Voice of America used Acheson’s response to make its case to the wider world about Korea, at home the State Department received a flood of letters that lambasted Acheson’s justification for the war, complaining that it failed to state “what we are going to do in Korea, how long we are going to fight there, are we going to continue to furnish about 90 percent of the troops, etc.”  Of those letters received, according to historian Steven Casey, only a tiny minority endorsed Acheson’s stance.  Most either approved of Moullette’s questioning attitude and endorsed his right to “rebel” or criticized Acheson’s response “in bitter tones” and said the United States had no right to be in Korea.[209]

V. The war’s costs, dirty secrets, and legacies

The Korean War was replete with atrocities undertaken in violation of the Geneva Convention and international laws of war, which the U.S. ironically had been instrumental in establishing (four Geneva conventions of 1949).  Because of the climate of the Cold War and continued North-South division, a proper accounting and reckoning never took place, and many Koreans never were able to obtain justice for unlawful killings of their loved ones.  With the opening of new archival records, new scholarship, and establishment of South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we can begin to discern the full truth about the human horrors that occurred and also examine some of the war’s most controversial aspects such as the treatment of POWs and allegations about chemical and biological warfare.

South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and atrocities in the war

Whereas in the United States, most of the war atrocities were little discussed or attributed to the communists, under the South Korean military dictatorship, all sympathetic discourse designed to raise awareness of massacres was subject to prosecution. The bereaved families suffered severe discrimination as authorities marginalized them from civil society and politics and placed them under surveillance by the Korean National Police (KNP) and the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.[210]
Cover of the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, 2010

Cover of the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, 2010

In the early 2000s, however, following the country’s democratic revolution, Prime Minister Kim Dae-Jung, a leader of the Kwangju uprising in 1980, established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “to investigate incidents regarding human rights abuses, violence, and massacres” that occurred from the era of Japanese colonization through the end of authoritarian rule, focusing especially on the years of the Korean War.  Staffed by 240 people with an annual budget of $19 million, the commission conducted its investigations from December 2005 to December 2010.  The investigators literally unearthed suppressed details of massacres, digging up unmarked graves.  Of the thousands of petitions it received for investigation of wartime massacres, 82% identified the perpetrators as South Korean government agents “the police, the armed forces, or groups associated with the state,” as compared to 18 percent focusing on “enemies of the state,” meaning North Korean soldiers and communist agents.

“In one 1950 atrocity,” reported the New York Times, “according to evidence presented to the commission, South Korean police officers intent on ferreting out Communists disguised themselves as a North Korean unit before entering villages around Naju, near Hampyong.  When people welcomed them with Communist flags, they killed 97, the commission said.”  One former South Korean soldier, admitted to being “in charge of executing 170 people at Hoengsong and Wonju around June 28, 1950.  He said some of those killed, the ‘Class A’ group of active Communists, were ‘enemies’ who had attacked police stations. ‘But those categorized as Class B and C were innocent peasants who were lured by the Communists’ promise to give them free land,’ he said.  ‘Till today, I feel guilty for killing them,’ he said. ‘I bow my head in contrition.’[211]
Some of the worst atrocities occurred in the summer of 1950 when South Korean KNP and ROKA units emptied the prisons and shot detainees, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches, abandoned mines, or the sea.[212]  British journalist James Cameron had encountered prisoners on their way to execution only yards from U.S. Army headquarters and five minutes from the UN Commission building in Pusan.  “They were skeletons and they cringed like dogs,” he wrote.  “They were manacled with chains and… compelled to crouch in the classical Oriental attitude of subjection.  Sometimes they moved enough to scoop a handful of water from the black puddles around them. . . . Any deviation from [the Oriental attitude] brought a gun to their heads.”[213]
Kim Chong-Won of the KNP, known as the “Paektu mountain tiger,” gained notoriety for decapitating suspected guerrilla collaborators with a Japanese-style sword during the suppression of the Yeosu rebellion in 1948.  During guerilla suppression campaigns in the Chiri Mountains in February 1951, his soldiers arrested civilians after propaganda leaflets were found at a nearby school.  They shot the men in front of villagers, then opened fire on women and children who ran from the scene. Over 500 were killed in the Kochang massacre, for which Kim was sentenced to three years in prison but amnestied by Rhee.[214]  “Tiger Kim” directed yet more massacres while overseeing the ROKA military police during the 40-day U.S.-UN occupation of Pyongyang.
The most concentrated killing of the war occurred in Taejon, where the KNP slaughtered thousands of leftists under American oversight.  According to the historian Bruce Cumings, in July 1950, as “the North Korean People’s Army bore down upon the city of Taejon, south of Seoul,” South Korean police “authorities removed political prisoners from local jails, men and boys along with some women, massacred them, threw them into open pits, and dumped the earth back on them.   Somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 died . . . American officers stood idly by while this slaughter went on, photographing it for their records, but doing nothing to stop it.  In September 1950 the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to keep these photos classified; they were not released until 1999, after a determined effort by a psychologist in New York, Do-Young Lee, whose father had been murdered by southern authorities in August 1950.”[215]  The U.S. embassy had denounced an exposé written by two British communists at the time, though the London Daily Worker’s account was eventually corroborated by a U.S. military report and classified photographs.
Slaughter of South Korean prisoners at Taejon by North Koreans

Slaughter of South Korean prisoners at Taejon by North Koreans

North Korean soldiers subsequently massacred rightist prisoners in the same city (Taejon), in retribution, committing “bestial atrocities” according to a U.S. investigative report.[216]  The North Koreans committed some of their worst atrocities while fleeing north following the Inchon landing and U.S.-UN “liberation” of Seoul.  On September 26, according to a U.S. Army investigation, KPA soldiers drove South Korean sympathizers into the horizontal shaft of a gold mine in the Haegu area and dropped them down a vertical shaft where they were left to die.  Hundreds of others were buried alive at the airport or lined up in a railroad train station and shot.  U.S. POWs were taken on a two week “horror hike” up to Pyongyang where prisoners who could not keep up were summarily executed.[217]

When American and South Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel in early October 1950, they turned into a brutal invading army, torching and looting homes, shooting political prisoners without trial, raping women, stealing food supplies and artifacts from the Pyongyang museum, and pillaging and destroying other cultural monuments.  Father Chi Hak-sun testified that “the barbaric actions of South Korean soldiers should be condemned for generations to come.  Everyone was appalled by the soldiers’ brutality.”[218]  Dean Rusk “regrettably” admitted to “many cases of atrocities” in the occupation of North Korea, including truckloads of men and women shot by ROK military police. Japanese sources estimate that 150,000 people were executed or kidnapped.[219]  These atrocities coincided with wide-scale rocket, napalm, and strafing attacks by U.S. fighter-bombers detailed in U.S. Air Force mission reports.[220] Journalist Keyes Beech noted that “it is not a good time to be a Korean, for Yankees are shooting them all.”[221]
The Commission of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, headed by a team of European, Latin American, and Chinese jurists, issued a report on March 31, 1952, that detailed additional atrocities, including revenge killings, mutilating women, and the dropping of gas bombs by American B29 bombers on Nampo City, resulting in the death of 480 people and the destruction of thousands of homes.[222]
The Sinchon Museum of United States War Atrocities, located in North Korea, claims that U.S., UN, and South Korean troops were responsible for the deaths of over 35,000 North Koreans during the period they occupied North Korea, from October 17 to December 7, 1950.  Many were tortured and killed in the most gruesome ways, according to the museum, including burning women and children alive.[223]  Lest one think this is just communist propaganda, photographs from the museum have been verified as authentic by independent scholars.  The massacre captured the attention of Pablo Picasso, famous for his depiction of the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war by the fascists, whose barbarism, he suggested, had been replicated in Korea.
No Gun Ri Peace Park Memorial

No Gun Ri Peace Park Memorial

American soldiers in both the North and South took body parts as trophies and, in at least one documented case, affixed Chinese skulls to spikes on the forward sponsors of their tanks, as T.R. Ferhrenbach reported in his book This Kind of War.  Ambassador John Muccio, via Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk, gave the order to use lethal force against refugees who blocked U.S. tanks or had the potential of fomenting insurrections in UN controlled zones.  This resulted in numerous killings, including a massacre at No Gun Ri in late July 1950, where up to three hundred refugees, including women and children, were strafed and killed by U.S. planes and shot by members of the Seventh Cavalry, George Custer’s old outfit, after being forced into an eighty foot long underpass.  Norm Tinkler, a nineteen year old machine gunner who participated in the massacre, said, “we just annihilated them, it was like an Indian raid back in the old days.”[224]

Fifty-four cases of attacks similar to No Gun Ri were logged with South Korean authorities, though never investigated.  Among them was an incident where refugees were bombed and shot by U.S. troops after taking shelter in the Gokgye Cave in Dayang County; and an incident where Gen. Hobart Gay ordered the Tuksong-dong bridge blown up despite a steady flow of refugees, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.[225]
British journalist Andrew Salmon interviewed veterans who spoke about passing through ruined villages littered with dead bodies burnt to cinders and about the cold blooded killing and humiliation of POWs, including one instance where American GIs poked a badly wounded North Korean soldier on a stretcher and took bets about when he would die.  In another incident, a sniper shot an old man simply because he wanted the chance to fire his gun.  A British soldier stated that his unit rushed through villages “firing into bunkers but half the time we didn’t know until later that they were probably civilians.  In those days, nobody worried too much.”[226]
Much like in Vietnam, the “atrocity producing” environment in Korea was the result of a number of factors:  racial dehumanization of the “gooks,” superior U.S. firepower, U.S. intercession in a revolutionary situation, and the brutalizing effects of boot camp training which extolled a warrior ethic, celebrated violent aggressiveness and toughness, and demanded absolute submission to authority.  The lack of proper language or cultural training and the problem of alcoholism compounded the situation, as did the desensitization towards human suffering that is an inevitable consequence of war.[227]  Many of the U.S. soldiers sent to Korea were World War II veterans or draftees with little knowledge of the country.
A Korean War veteran who served as an embedded reporter in Vietnam tellingly wrote that he “still suffered from Parris Island [army boot-camp] brainwashing.  Often it’s hard for me to think of a yellow person as anything but a gook. After all, the Marines have only fought Orientals in the past twenty five years – Japanese, North Korean, Chinese and now Vietnamese.  To a Marine, they are all one, the collective gook.”[228]
Americans were often shielded from the violence and desensitized from the killing, as Picasso pictured it, because of the kinds of weapons they deployed.  Frederic Champlin, a pilot from Eggertsville New York who flew 85 bombing missions, said after his first napalm strike that he “had an empty feeling, thinking that maybe those people I set fire to were innocent civilians.  But you get conditioned, especially after you’ve hit what looks like a civilian and the A-frame on his back lights up like a Roman candle – a sure enough sign that he’s been carrying ammo. . . . And one thing about napalm is that when you’ve hit a village and have seen it go up in flames, you know that you’ve accomplished something.”[229]
These comments resonate with the critique of writer-naturalist Henry Beston, who in a 1950 article entitled “Soliloquy on the Airplane,” considered the barbarities of aerial warfare symptomatic of the “loss of power to feel in the modern machine age, to see fellow men as fellow creatures and citizens.”  One could simply “drop something from the sky,” he wrote, “and that was all.  If one saw things running, they were nothingness; too far away to be considered as human.”[230]

Dirty little secrets:  Mistreatment of prisoners of war

During the war and shortly after, Hollywood films fixated on the experience of American prisoners of war (POWs) and the torture and alleged brainwashing they experienced at the hands of their North Korean and Chinese captors.  In the 1956 movie, The Rack, Captain Edward Hall (played by Paul Newman) is accused of numerous violations of the military code of conduct during his captivity, such as giving propaganda lectures, distribution of leaflets, aligning false testimonies and ill-treatment of his fellow prisoners.  The film suggests that it was not so much American bodies, but American minds that had been destroyed by the cunning Orientals, a theme reinforced in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which an American officer brainwashed by the Chinese in captivity returns to the United States as a communist agent.[231]
The Manchurian Candidate and The Rack had some semblance of truth in that the Chinese developed a close surveillance system in POW camps in North Korea while providing political lectures and holding self-denunciation sessions that were designed to convert the American captives to their ideological worldview.  However, these efforts were never as comprehensive or effective as Hollywood led the public to believe.  An Army report in 1956 stated that “the exhaustive efforts of several government agencies failed to reveal even one conclusively documented case of the actual ‘brainwashing’ of an American prisoner of war in Korea.”[232]

North Korean prisoners of war

Albert D. Biderman, a social scientist who reviewed interviews with 235 Air Force P.O.W.’s, wrote that the Communists’ techniques were designed to “extort false confessions.”  And that the methods used were similar to that that “inquisitors had employed for centuries.”  They did nothing that “was not common practice to police and intelligence interrogators of other times and nations.”  The CIA helped fuel the flames of public passion on the issue by subsidizing the publication of Edward Hunter’s Brainwashing in Red China (1951).  The agency also began mind-control experiments of its own.  As former CIA director Richard Helms explained to journalist David Frost 25 years after the war, “We felt that it was our responsibility not to lag behind the Russians or the Chinese in this field, and the only way to find out what the risks were was to test things such as L.S.D. and other drugs that could be used to control human behavior.  These experiments went on for many years.”

American POWs suffered at the hands of their captors.  They endured long marches in freezing temperature, including the infamous Seoul to Pyongyang “horror hike” in late September 1950, which left 80 dead.  Some had water forced into their throats, were beaten with bamboo spears, were kept in solitary confinement for long periods, and were fed diets which gave them diarrhea and dysentery.  In some cases, they were starved.  It is estimated that 2,701 Americans died in captivity and that 21 defected to North Korea.  Thousands of ROKA soldiers were also executed in North Korea.  Some were held in forced labor camps into the 1990s.[233]

To relieve stress, some American POWs smoked marijuana and even cultivated marijuana gardens while in captivity.  With time, conditions may have eased in some camps and recreational sport was allowed.  Robert Olaf Erricker, a British POW who had served with the Royal Irish Hussars, recalled playing sports and having camp Olympics and smoking marijuana that was found up in the hills.  Edward George Beckerley, a World War II veteran and socialist found some of the lectures interesting and said that he and his comrades did not feel much animosity towards the Chinese or the same hate as towards the Germans. His feeling was that “this was a war we shouldn’t have been in.”  Twenty one Americans and one Briton remained in North Korea or China after the war.  They included Clarence Adams, an African American from Tennessee who went on to make propaganda broadcasts for Radio Hanoi and was subpoenaed by the House of un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) upon his return, and James Veneris, who took the communist name “Lao Wen” worked in a steel mill and participated in the Great Leap Forward.  The Briton, Andrew Condon, proclaimed later that he had “made [his] gesture because he was “against war.  I have spent my years in China learning a lot.”

The existence of defectors added to suspicions in the U.S. that American POWs were being brainwashed or giving up the fight.  In spite of their ordeal in the POW camps, and despite following army instructions to cooperate with their captors, returning American POWs were shabbily treated upon their return to the U.S., as compared to their World War II counterparts, and even accused of being traitors. Joseph McCarthy called them “communists in olive drab,” charging that an overly permissive society had raised a generation of weaklings.[234]
Chinese and North Korean POWs at a UN Command prison

Chinese and North Korean POWs at a UN Command prison

As horribly as American POWs were treated in captivity, General Matthew Ridgeway’s office acknowledged that more prisoners died in U.S.-UN camps than in the North Korean-Chinese camps.  An estimated 6,600 enemy prisoners died in U.S.-UN camps by the end of 1951.  Britain’s chief of the defense staff, Lord Carver, stated that “the UN prisoners in Chinese hands … were certainly much better off in every way than any held by the Americans.”  Kim Sung Tae, a KPA fighter captured by the United States after the Inchon landing, told a reporter that “our life [in captivity] was nothing but misery and torture from the first days of our capture. We were beaten, starved, tortured and made to work like slaves [with many killed for acts of defiance]. We were treated worse than beasts.”[235]

The Koje-do POW camp, twenty miles southwest of Pusan, operated five times over-capacity. It was the site of atrocities reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib prison, decades later, during the American occupation of Iraq.  In August 1951, the Red Cross was called in to investigate after two North Korean Colonels, Lee Hak Ku and Hong Chol, wrote a letter detailing abuses at U.S.-UN POW camps.  The letter alleged that American and South Korean guards, along with POWs appointed as special police (trusties), had carried out “unauthorized physical punishment,” including routine beatings and torture (such as the water method) at Koje-do and another POW camp in Pusan, in violation of the Geneva conventions of 1949.
The North Koreans decried that the POWs were being treated as “playthings and slaves to the detaining power… whose rights and dignity had fallen to the ground.”  Their letter charged that prisoners were ill-fed, deprived of proper medical attention, and forced into hard labor on an insufficient ration of 700 calories per day while being threatened with whippings or thrown off a wharf if they slacked or rebelled.  The prisoners lived “day after day under unbearable fear and horror.”  The writers cited one sadistic guard, Private Isaac V. Davis, who had inmates perform oral sex on him and sodomized them.  Davis was later court-martialed but given only nine months in the stockade.[236]  There were other cases of sexual abuse as well.
The Army Inspector General, Colonel Darwin D. Martin, confirmed many of the allegations laid out in the letter, including the charge that POWs were stabbed in their faces and abdomens after resisting “enticement for immoral purposes,” and that the guards had even disrupted a theatrical play the prisoners tried to put on and beat up many of the actors.  Col Martin’s report emphasized that the caliber of guards had at times been low, that one of the men court-martialed had previous treatment as a psychoneurotic patient, and that ROK non-commissioned officers were poorly paid, overworked, and had been taught for years that immediate corrective action in the form of a blow with a fist or stick is the best way to keep a soldier in line.  A major mistake, indicating the ignorance of U.S. officials, was made in designing a prison uniform that was dyed red, the same color Japanese authorities had dressed criminals during the colonial era.  Many inmates refused to wear the uniforms and blocked the sewer lines with discarded items.  The Inspector General found many consequently walking around in G-strings or towels.
On June 18th, 1951, inmates in POW compounds 1 and 2 in Koje-do began a hunger strike to protest abhorrent conditions and began singing revolutionary songs and pounding on water cans.  According to the Inspector General report, the next morning some stones were thrown at guards and the North Korean mob screamed banzai and began rushing the gate behind which the guards stood.  Fearing rebellion, the guards began firing shots into the air and ground.  When that did not deter the crowd, the shots continued, including from ROK guards equipped with rifles and machine guns.  Seven POWs were killed and four badly wounded.[237]
This brutality set the stage for a wider scale uprising on May 8, 1952, when inmates seized the American camp commandant, Brigadier General Francis T. Dodd, after it was announced that POWs would not be repatriated to China.  General Van Fleet called in British and Canadian soldiers and approved the use of tear gas, mounted machine guns, Patton tanks, and flamethrowers to quell the revolt.  General Haydon “Bull” Boatner issued orders to bayonet prisoners and to shoot to kill.  Canadian soldier Tom McKay said that Boatner, a Louisianan who served under General Stilwell in Burma during World War II, was “one tough sonfagun…. He told us what he expected from us: ‘If you see somebody escaping and you’re going to shoot, then make goddamned sure you kill him because the hospital’s full right now.’”  Forty prisoners were killed and dozens were injured.  Four were allegedly decapitated and their heads hung on trees to intimidate the rest into submission.[238]
Two other prison massacres occurred that year.  One took place at the Cheju Island prison on October 1, 1952.  merican soldiers reportedly attacked Chinese prisoners dancing and singing in celebration of the 3rd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.  Fifty-six Chinese, who allegedly threw rocks and bricks and were armed with make-shift spears, were killed and 118 were wounded; two Americans were wounded as well.  Less than three months later, on December 14, 1952, in Pong-am-do island prison camp, U.S. troops killed 87 North Korean POWs and civilian internees, and injured 262, including 111 seriously, after they had refused to stop singing revolutionary songs and allegedly threw stones at the prison staff.  A subsequent UN investigation blamed the inmates for defying an edict prohibiting the singing of political songs, and reiterated that failure to suppress a mutiny was a capital offense.[239]
The treatment of POWs became part of a propaganda war, with each side trying to show the world that it was more humane than the other.  The historian Monica Kim, in The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (2019), details how the United States sought to convey the superiority of liberal democratic ideals in the Korean War by promoting “voluntary repatriation” in which POWs were given a choice about where to live after the war, in contrast to the Chinese and North Korean communists who allegedly tried to “brainwash” U.S. POWs.  The “voluntary repatriation” program was a double propaganda score because the United States could be seen as offering the POWs freedom of choice and could then gloat when they chose to live in the “free world.” Statistics show, however, that only 7,826 North Koreans chose not to return to North Korea compared to 75,823 who chose to return.[240]

Allegations of biological warfare

One of the great controversies of the war centers on the question of whether the United States experimented in bacteriological warfare by unleashing parasitic flies, anthrax and diseases in North Korea and over Northeast China.  In September 1951, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued secret orders to begin “large scale field tests … to determine the effectiveness of specific BW [bacteriological warfare] agents [developed at Fort Dietrich Maryland] under operational conditions.”  Captive POWs testified that they dropped pest-laden bombs, though their confessions were retracted after their release under the threat of court martial.  POW Kenneth Enoch later told Al Jazeera in 2010 that his confession was not coerced.  An international scientific investigation headed by esteemed British biochemist Joseph Needham issued a 700 page report concluding that bacteriological warfare had in fact been deployed.  This same conclusion was reached by the Commission of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers who visited North Korea in March 1951.
The Chinese Ministry of Health asserted in January 1952 that “the enemy has furiously employed continuous bacterial warfare in Korea and in our northeast and Qindao areas, dropping flies, mosquitos, spiders, ants, bedbugs, flees … thirty odd species of bacteria carrying insects… They were dropped in a very wide area…. Examination confirms the pathogenic microorganisms involved are plague baccilus, cholera, meningitis, paratyphoid, salmonella, relapsing fever, spirochaeta bacteria, typhus, rickettsia, etc.”  The Chinese government in turn developed a prevention program involving the extermination of pests and flies, and the protection of water sources that curtailed some of the effects.  Survivor testimonials confirm the presence of flies not native to the region and that people died from disease outbreaks, including of the bubonic plague.[241]
Some historians claim to have unearthed documents proving that the Soviets assisted the North Korean government in creating fake contaminated zones, though others have questioned the authenticity of the documents and noted that they pointed to possible manipulation in only two of 13 sites.[242]  Archival evidence on the American side reveals that the military had developed a capacity for producing and delivering bacteriological weapons through expertise acquired secretly from Japanese scientists such as Gen. Shiro Ishii, commander of the Kwantung army’s Unit 731.  Ishii’s unit practiced biological warfare in China during World War II, resulting in the deaths of 585,000 Chinese.  Rescued from prosecution as a Grade-A war criminal, Ishii allegedly made several visits to South Korea during the Korean War, and collaborated with scientists at the U.S. Army’s biological warfare center at Ft. Dietrich, Maryland.[243]
According to Professor Masataka Mori, who has studied the activities for Unit 731, there are striking similarities between the diseases and weapons used by the Japanese military in China [in World War II] and those said to have been deployed by the United States against targets in northern Korea.  “The bombs found on the Korean Peninsula were made of metal, while those used in China were ceramic,” Mori stated, “but the symptoms reported in North Korea are very similar to those witnessed in China.”[244]

“The Horror, The Horror”:  Korea’s Lieutenant Kurtz

Donald Nichols, a U.S. Air Force officer who worked in military intelligence, was the embodiment of the dark side of American participation in the Korean War.  He issued bounties for the severed body parts and heads of captured communist agents, threw POWs off of helicopters, and recruited defectors for suicidal missions into the North.  He also witnessed the systematic torture and massacre of Korean civilians.  According to biographer Blaine Harden, Nichols was falsely diagnosed as a schizophrenic after the war and subjected to electroshock treatment in order to erase his memory.
In many ways, Nichols was a real-life version of Lieutenant Kurtz, a character in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now, who had formed his own private army which engaged in wide-scale torture and eschewed all civilized norms.  Harden writes in his book, King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea, that much like Kurtz, “Nichols was an uncontrollable commander in a faraway shadow land.  He was a highly decorated U.S. Air Force Intelligence officer who ran his own secret war for more than a decade [in which he] lost touch with propriety, with morality, with legality – even with sanity if military psychiatrists are to be believed.”[245]
Nichols grew up poor in Hackensack, New Jersey, and in Florida during the depression in a broken family.  His mother was promiscuous which led him to speak disparagingly of women, and his father beat him.  As the youngest boy in the family, Donald wore hand-me-down clothes and became known for a violent temper.  Chronic childhood hunger caused a lifelong struggle with obesity and “psychopathic” binging on Coke and chocolate.  At fourteen, Nichols dropped out of school to help support his family through odd jobs.  He found refuge in the Army and was assigned a job policing the docks in Karachi, which earned him promotion to Master Sergeant.

Nichols subsequently won a spot in the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) and became a police adviser in South Korea during the period of U.S. occupation.  He began developing teams of secret agents who would infiltrate the South Korean Labor Party and identify threats of sabotage and “commy cells.”  Through his work, Nichols developed a close friendship with South Korean leader Syngman Rhee and became one of his closest advisers.

Blaine Harden writes that, “in Nichols, Rhee discovered a back door for delivering intelligence that could influence American policy towards Korea.  He referred to the young American as ‘my son Nichols.’”  According to Air Force historian Michael Haas, the personal ties that Nichols maintained for more than a decade with a foreign head of state had no parallel in the history of U.S. military operations.  Incredibly, one had to ask “what the hell is a twenty three year old air force sergeant doing in the role of private confidante to a head of state.”[246]

Nichols met weekly and supplied arms to Kim “Snake” Chang-ryong, a former Japanese military officer who served as Rhee’s right-hand man for anticommunist score-settling and vengeance.  The “snake” was believed to have masterminded the execution of thousands of South Koreans, according to the findings of a later government inquiry.  Nichols sat in on police torture sessions where the water torture method was employed and suspects were burned with lit cigarettes and wired to a wooden-cross and subjected to electroshocks.  The capture and execution of senior communist leaders was often confirmed by cutting off their heads and sending them in gasoline cans to army headquarters in Seoul. A photo of Nichols shows him and several other army officers inspecting the heads;  in another, the head of a guerrilla leader was being pulled out of its box by the hair.

After the North Korean invasion of the South, Nichols witnessed the massacre of hundreds of South Koreans by the ROKA at Taejon.  In his memoirs, he misstated where the massacre took place in order to uphold the official army narrative that blamed the killings on the communists; an allegation reported uncritically in Roy Appleman’s official army history of the Korean War.[247]

Nichols earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal of honor, for helping to reverse the North Korean advance at Pusan and assisting in the Inchon landing by breaking North Korean communications code.  He began running agents into North Korea who provided valuable information on Soviet aircraft jets (MIGs) and information that was used for the massive bombing and napalm attacks.  Most of the South Korean agents, however, were being set up to be killed as their cover was easily blown.  The CIA concluded that clandestine operations into the North were not only ineffective but also “morally reprehensible in that the number of lives lost and the amount of time and treasure expended was enormously disproportionate to attainments there from.”[248]

Some of the agents were POW defectors who had been tattooed with anticommunist slogans and had gone mad from the prolonged torture and agony of life in Koje-do prison camp.  This combined with their ideological indoctrination resulted in a level of “fanaticism in combat,” according to historian Michael Haas, “seldom found in any army.”  They were known to torture captured Communists sometimes in gruesome fashion and formed specialized suicide squads.[249]

A sexual predator later arrested for fondling young boys, Nichols is alleged to have been supplied with South Korean officers for his sexual pleasure.  He killed three of his own agents who tried to assassinate him after they burst into his quarters in an apparent mutiny.  Lee Kun Soon, who was shot by Nichols but survived, said Nichols was “headstrong and had a reputation that terrified many Koreans.  He didn’t care for human rights.”  In his autobiography, Nichols included a description of the methods he used to eliminate dangerous or untrustworthy agents which included throwing them out of an aircraft in a paper-packed parachute and dumping them off the back of a boat, in the nude, at high speed.”  Better yet, he said, “give [them] false information plants – and let the enemy do it for you.”[250]

Nichols’ nephew stated that after he returned home from Korea, he had a huge amount of cash which he kept in his freezer.  The money may have derived from currency manipulation schemes that were widely prevalent among army officers in Korea and the illicit selling of military equipment, though Nichols handled a lot of cash in running secret agents.  In 1957, he was relieved of his command for undisclosed abuse of authority, and put in a straitjacket and admitted for psychiatric treatment.  His nephew states that Donald told him “the government wanted to erase his brain – because he knew too much.”[251]

Nichols’ career embodies the immorality of the Korean War which gave men like him a “legal license to murder.”  An Air Force historian concluded that “Nichols had a dark side.  In wartime, he was the guy you want on your team.  In peacetime, you lock him up.”[252] These comments epitomize why war should almost always be avoided, as it rewards those with psychopathic proclivities and brings out the darkest side of human nature.

Racism and class stratification in the U.S. Army

The Korean War occurred at a time when the Truman administration was in the process of desegregating the armed forces, following an executive order in 1948.  Some units nevertheless had remained all-black and black soldiers continued to face discrimination.  Jesse Ibarra Jr., a private of mixed Mexican and black heritage with the 64th field artillery battalion spoke of being called a “nigger” and “spik” by his sergeants.  Considered socially inferior like the Koreans and Chinese, blacks and others racial minorities were assigned the worst and most dangerous jobs, were refused promotion and blocked from receiving medals.  In mid-January 1951, during a battle around Wonju, a black Captain named Forest Walker successfully led a bayonet and hand grenade charge against some well dug-in North Koreans and was subsequently awarded a Silver Star.  However, when General Ned Almond, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff who had commanded U.S. forces in its disastrous defeat in the Chosin Reservoir, found about the medal, he stopped it and had Walker relieved from his company command.[253]
U.S. soldiers

U.S. soldiers

Clarence Adams, in a posthumously published memoir edited by his daughter, details how his black regiment was sacrificed by the army command to save white troops fleeing ambush by the Chinese.  His all-black unit was ordered to turn their guns around and lay down cover fire, leaving them without protection. In another example of discrimination, Lt. Leon Gilbert of the 24th Infantry regiment, who had won a combat infantry badge in Italy in World War II, was given the death penalty by an army court for failure to obey a command, a grossly unjust sentence unprecedented in army history.  The offense occurred in the Kunchow-Taegu area when Lt. Gilbert had not slept for six days and was suffering from dysentery.  He had been ordered to go beyond a roadblock on a suicide mission of no strategic utility, which he rationally refused to do.[254]  The Gilbert case is another example that reflects on the persecution of black American soldiers at this time.

In winter of 1951, Walter White of the NAACP wrote a letter expressing concern over the great number of criminal convictions of Negro troops.  He sent NAACP legal representative Thurgood Marshall to further investigate.  After interviewing dozens of black GIs, Marshall noted a “lack of understanding and mutual respect between white officers and Negro soldiers” in Korea, and determined that Negro troops were being given disproportionately long sentences for petty violations, while white officers and soldiers were not even tried for similar violations.  One black soldier, Peter J. Paulfrey Jr., was sentenced to 20 years in an army prison for disobeying a lawful order after he refused to be sent to the front because he suffered from headaches and depression that lingered from a motorcycle accident; a white soldier guilty of manslaughter, in contrast, was given only three years.  Deprived of proper legal representation, many black soldiers were given years in jail for offenses they did not even commit.  Some of the trials were rigged and some members of the army court did not even pay attention in the trials, as James Roberts told Marshall, “laughing and talking with one of the witnesses when he said something funny.”
The military’s own investigation dismissed Marshall’s claims about discrimination, suggesting that the integrated 24th infantry division had been rendered ineffective because of unauthorized withdrawals and a straggler problem which had led to the prosecutions.  The report did note, however, that Negro troops constituted only 28 percent of the personnel but had 88 percent of the charges and 97 percent of the convictions under the 75th article of war.  The report concluded that the all-black 159th field artillery battalion and 9th infantry regiment, third battalion performed “highly satisfactorily” and that they compared “favorably with white battalions,” rendering the high incarceration rates clearly discriminatory, not unlike the U.S. criminal justice system at large.[255]
Class was also a factor in the fighting of the Korean War.  A study focused on Detroit that appeared in the December 1955 issue of Social Forces, “Social Stratification and Combat Survival,” found that the number of soldiers who died, were captured, or were reported missing in Korea varied directly with the relative economic or racial standing of the city areas from which the men stemmed.  Casualty rates among non-white groups were “almost 50 per cent greater than white rates,” and the casualty rate in “areas where home values average more than $15,000 was approximately one-fourth the rate in areas where home values average less than $4,000.”[256]

Canada’s and Great Britain’s Korean War

Many of the non-American soldiers who fought under the UN command were “adventurous mercenaries,” according to Canadian Lt. Col. Jim Stone, who were “content to serve as part of an international fighting brigade in Korea as elsewhere,” without attachment to the locals.  The Canadian government sent more than 25,000 troops to fight in Korea and more than 500 never returned.  They were sent despite the fact that Defense Minister Brooke Claxton felt strongly that Canada should not send troops, believing that the United States was “getting Canada into something to which there is really no end.”  He worried that the war would divert American and British attention and military resources from the defense of Europe.  Dean Acheson, however, pleaded with Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson to send troops. Pearson believed that Canada was too committed to NATO, the UN, and the notion of collective security to duck this responsibility, and so he complied with the request, convincing Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent of the same.[257]
After fighting was underway, Claxton expressed objection to General Guy Simonds regarding the way “some operations in Korea have been handled or reported,” including the use of heavy bombers and artillery against “defenseless villages,” and attrition tactics designed to put “the Chinese through the meat-grinder.”  Despite his support for the war, Lester Pearson worried about the effects on public opinion “if we follow the American example of emphasizing brutality, in what may be close to barbarism, in these operations in Korea.”[258]  These comments provide a telling reflection on the manner in which the war was fought, but show a preoccupation with public relations over any concern for the fate of Koreans.
Canadian units received a U.S. Presidential Unit citation for their role in the Battle of Kap’Yong in April 1951, and they played a pivotal role in the suppression of prison riots.  Yvan Ducharme was among the Canadians to speak out against the war after he was wounded in combat.  Speaking at a peace conference in Vienna, Austria, Ducharme said that he was “only twenty” and “had seen things that no human being should ever see – [including most notably] the effects of napalm bombs.”  Ducharme noted that at the Catholic school he attended in Montreal, he had learned “of the struggle of his ancestors for the right to their own language, their own traditions, their own religion.  I have therefore been able to understand why the Koreans fight so ardently for their national independence.”
In the summer of 1951, Canadian Justice Minister Stuart Garson amended the criminal code by restricting the right to strike and picket, and freedom of speech. Anyone who said something that could be seen as helping enemy armed forces, was now subject to five years imprisonment for treason. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at the same time began surveillance and harassment of peace activists like the Reverend James Endicott who considered the Korean War to be a “violent intervention in the internal affairs of a proud, long-suffering and heroic people” who had been “promised the right to run their own affairs after liberation from 40 years of Japanese colonial oppression.” Considering General Douglas MacArthur to be a “dangerous military dictator” who promoted “racist ideas,” Endicott had been exposed to evidence of American germ warfare practices on a visit to the war zone in Shenyang (Mukden), though was unable to get an airing about what he witnessed in Canada where he was denounced by government leaders for “repeating the despicable communist line” and for “being either very ignorant or misled.”[259]
Though a Socialist, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee had a deep distrust of Moscow and felt like his Canadian counterpart that Britain had to stand alongside the United States in facing down what he viewed as ruthless communist expansionism.  Many of the British commanding officers had served the British army in colonial domains like Malaya, Palestine, Burma, and India, where they became experts in counter-guerrilla operations.  This served them well in Korea.
When they came to Pyongyang, many of the British soldiers were actually impressed with the city.  Ted Haywood commented that he couldn’t believe what he was seeing “because you heard about the terrible communists, and they had these marvelous big buildings…. The football stadium made Wembly look second class.”  Some men began to question the war after witnessing ROK soldiers and police beating suspects with batons and taking groups of people into the hills and executing them.  Captain Reggie Jeffers said that after occupying Pyongyang, he remembered how “terribly cruel the South Koreans were to the citizens, I think they had broken into the liquor stores, were quite drunk, and were shooting people in the streets, and marching them off…. It was really an awful business.”[260]
On September 23, 1950, British Argylls (1st Commonwealth Division) of Company B fighting in Song-san had the misfortune of being struck by napalm dropped from American P-36 Mustang bombers in a “friendly fire” attack after the withdrawal of artillery support.  Corporal Richard Peet said years later that the day had never gone out of his mind.  “It was terrible, to see, Argylls running around on fire covered in petroleum jelly, terrible, there were lads, lying everywhere burnt. ‘One officer, skinned alive, took twenty minutes to die.’ Those men who had napalm sticking to them, burning into them, screamed terribly.”[261]  These comments epitomize the horror of U.S. style techno-war from which even U.S. allies were not immune.
George Blake was a British spy in North Korea who decided to work for the KGB because of the “relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous American flying fortresses.  Women and children and old people….  It made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technically superior countries fighting against what seemed to me defenseless people.  I felt I was on the wrong side … that it would be better for humanity if the Communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war.”  Blake was sentenced to forty-two years in prison as a traitor, though his actions makes some sense if we consider the context.[262]

Legacies of the war

For all the human suffering, the 20th century’s “nastiest little war,” as correspondent S.L.A. Marshall termed it, solved very little, ending in stalemate, with the division of the country at the 38th parallel.  Formal peace accords were never signed, only a ceasefire.  The U.S. in 2015 maintained 83 permanent military bases in South Korea. The DMZ remains today among the scariest places in the world, with the constant threat of renewed conflagration, exacerbated by North Korea’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
U.S.-UN delegate Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison (seated left) and KPA-Chinese delegate Gen. Nam Il (seated right) sign the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953

US-UN delegate Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison (seated left) and North Korean-Chinese delegate Gen. Nam Il (seated right) sign the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953

In the 1952 election cycle, public dissatisfaction with the war fell on the Democratic Truman administration, enabling Republicans to win 38 more seats in the House and 36 Senatorial contests as well as the presidency.  After two years of war Americans had grown tired and frustrated, though their feelings did not translate into support for peace or anti-imperialist movements, and they failed to reckon with the wide-scale atrocities committed.  Right-wing generals promoted an early variant of the “stab in the back” myth.  General James Van Fleet wrote in Reader’s Digest in July 1953 that the military could have achieved total victory against the North Koreans and Chinese but was prevented from doing so by civilian policy-makers.[263]  Remembered in this way, the generals used even greater levels of firepower in the next conflict fought under similar circumstances in Vietnam.

Bolstered by over $1 billion in American military and police aid, South Korea remained a dictatorship for decades after the war, until grass-roots movements paved the way for democratization.  Syngman Rhee ruled until he was deposed in a coup d’états and fled to Hawaii in 1960, following massive student protests.  His regime and that of his successor, Gen. Park Chung-Hee, a CIA favorite who served as an informant during the Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion of 1948, were marred by martial law rule, rigged elections, and wide-scale arrests of political opponents.  Pacification of the communist underground was only completed in 1956, with police and army units backed by the United States carrying out continuous mass surveillance and raids.  The Korean Central Intelligence Agency was created in the early 1960s, and by mid-decade, employed 350,000 agents out of a population of 30 million.[264]
Fitting with a broader continental pattern, modernization theorists in Washington swept under the rug the tyrannical dimensions of the South Korean government and viewed the country as a spectacular success because of the scale of economic growth, which was ironically contingent in part on manufacturing vital equipment to facilitate the American invasion of South Vietnam.  Conceiving it as a “free world frontier” protecting Japan, the U.S. was further grateful to the ROK under General Park for sending 312,000 soldiers to fight in Vietnam.  Under U.S. direction, they terrorized the population and committed dozens of My-Lai style massacres.  Some veterans returned home to repress the Kwangju pro-democracy uprising in 1980, in South Korea’s version of China’s Tiananmen Square slaughter.[265]
In February 1972, President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong established a new detente, although China remained communist

In February 1972, President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong established a new detente, breaking down Cold War stereotypes

Across the Third World, China’s prestige was heightened by the Korean War because of its role in saving the Northern regime and standing up the United States.  North Korea recovered its prewar levels of agricultural and industrial output by 1957 through the “superhuman efforts” of its population along with $1.6 billion in aid and technical assistance from the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern bloc countries.  Though warped by rigid authoritarianism, including a purging of rivals to the Kim dynasty, the northern economy was more advanced than that of the South until the late 1960s.  Presenting itself as the vanguard of world revolution striving for a fair international economic order, the DPRK provided free schooling and medical services, welfare for war invalids and families of the fallen, and sanctioned women’s rights.  Over the long term, however, North Korea developed into a militarized garrison state, in part because the Korean War never officially ended. [266]  North Korea was in turn used by the United States to broadcast the failings of state socialism, with most media depictions failing to provide any commentary on how its political evolution was impacted by the war.[267]

Even as famine gripped North Korea in the 1990s, elaborate monuments dedicated to the Manchurian partisans and martyrs of the “Fatherland Liberation War” were continuously constructed in order to legitimize the Kim dynasty and its vast military spending.  Author Chris Springer notes that “the DPRK does not like to commemorate its war losses, military or civilian.  Doing so would remind the population of how costly the Korean War was and make them more reluctant to fight another war.  The regime encourages anger at the enemy but not tears for the departed.”[268]
For the United States, the war fostered the quadrupling of defense budgets, from $13 billion in 1949 to $54 billion (more than $500 billion in 2016 dollars) in 1953, and hastened government investment in military scientific research and development.  The need to stockpile strategic raw minerals resulted in intensified exploitation of the mineral resources of Latin America and Africa, and closer alliances with colonial and dictatorial regimes.[269]  The war further consolidated the U.S. position in Southeast Asia, an enormous foreign military base structure, and a powerful military industrial complex to service it. Bechtel Corporation gained lucrative contracts to build and service U.S. military bases and U.S. oil companies profited from a 1955 agreement giving them the contract to supply the U.S. and Korean armies and civilian economy.  Domestically, the steel and copper industries began operating at record levels.  From July 1950 to June 1952, General Motors grossed $5.5 billion in war contracts.  With military aircraft purchases tripling, employment in the aerospace industry increased from 192,000 in 1947 to 600,000 in 1952, prompting the reopening of many idle plants extending to Canada.[270]  Japanese manufacturers were also major winners in the Korean War, as they provided vital equipment to U.S.-UN forces, prompting Premier Yoshida Shigeru to call it a “gift from the gods.”[271]
By the mid-1950s, U.S. defense and aerospace industries accounted directly or indirectly for 55 percent of employment in Los Angeles County and almost as much in San Diego (where nearly 80 percent of all manufacturing was related to national defense).  All the major aircraft manufacturers reported being “out of the red” for the first time since the end of World War II.[272]  Hughes aircraft, an innovator in electronics aviation equipment, helicopters and missiles, was transformed into a $200 million per year corporation.  No longer considered the “merchants of death” of yesteryear – the name of a best-selling exposé in 1935 – McDonnell, Douglas, General Electric, Boeing, Chrysler, and United Aircraft Corporations earned record profits.  Lockheed-Georgia became the largest employer in the Southeast whose economy was modernized around the defense sector.[273]
The economic boom engendered by the war coupled with the domestic climate of McCarthyism served to limit dissent.  Izzy Stone wrote that “people come out to demonstrate against a war when it causes them suffering and when they feel this suffering is not justified.  But except for families of young men, in Korea the war has caused no suffering.  On the contrary, everyone has benefitted by the boom which followed the opening of the Korean War and the secondary boom which began with the Chinese intervention.  Everybody is afraid if the war ends, jobs, orders and money will be scarce again.”[274]
The Korean War was poorly understood in its own time owing in large part to poor media coverage.  It its aftermath, as noted at the beginning, it was quickly forgotten by the American public.  When the Obama administration ordered the construction of a naval base on Cheju-do as part of its “pivot” to Asia, few Americans recognized the significance.  Cheju-do had been designated a peace island after President Roo Moon-Hyun apologized for war-time atrocities.  The U.S., however, strong-armed local politicians into purchasing the land for the base, which was built on a world heritage site.  In August 2011, riot police broke up a nonviolent rally and arrested more than three dozen activists, including the mayor of Gangjeong.  Noam Chomsky wrote that the Obama administration was provoking a renewed arms race and possibly a proxy war against the Chinese, with all the terrible repercussions that this might entail, as the Koreans know too well.[275]

In remarks given in Seoul on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, Obama waxed nostalgic about the gallantry of U.S. soldiers without mentioning the vast suffering of the civilian population including from intensive U.S. bombardment.  Echoing George H.W. Bush a generation before, he said:  “We can say with confidence that war was no tie.  Korea was a victory.  When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom – a vibrant democracy, one of the world’s most dynamic economies, in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North – that’s a victory.”  He went on:  “For generations to come, history will recall how free nations banded together in a long Cold War, and how we won that war, let it be said that Korea was the first battle.”[276]  If Korea was the first battle in the Cold War, it did not herald any great victories, however, since it actually ended in stalemate and divided and skewed the political-economic development of both Koreas.  And most of the free nations were not actually free, including South Korea which was ruled by a dictatorship until a revolution from below in 1987.

Korea overall is a case study for showing the futility of war, as the war perpetuated rather than solved the countries’ problems and divisions.  The horrendous violence and suffering directed against the Korean people was unconscionable, furthermore, and one can hope will never be repeated.

*          *          *


[1] James R. Kerin, “The Korean War and American Memory,” Ph.D. Diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1994.[2] Richard L. Halferty, “The Forgotten War in Korea: Remembrances of Veterans Sacrifices are Glaringly Absent,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2015.

[3] Halferty, “The Forgotten War in Korea.”

[4] Kerin, “The Korean War and American Memory;” Halferty, “The Forgotten War in Korea.”

[5] Paul D. Wolfowitz, “In Korea, a Model for Iraq,” New York Times, August 30, 2010,

[6] George Katsiaficas, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings I: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century (PM Press, 2012). See also Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

[7] John L. Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (New York: Penguin, 2010); David J. Bercuson, Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 229. See also David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter (New York: Hyperion, 2007).

[8] Bruce Cumings, The Korean War (New York: New American Library, 2010).

[9] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, rev ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 117-124, 154-156.

[10] Howard Zinn, Postwar America, 1945-1971 (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973), 53, 54, 55. For larger U.S. geopolitical designs in Asia, see David Vine, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Harm America and the World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2015); America’s Asia: Dissenting Essays on Asian-American Relations, ed. Mark Selden & Edward Friedman (New York: Vintage Books, 1969).

[11] Saint Augustine quoted in Diana Preston, A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of War (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 7.

[12] Marilyn B. Young, “Bombing Civilians: From the 20th to the 21st Centuries,” in Bombing Civilians: A 20th Century History ed. Marilyn B. Young and Yuki Tanaka (New York: The New Press, 2009), 160; Charles K. Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 48.

[13] For a profile of Yo, see Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War I: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947 (Studies of the East Asian Institute). (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981).  “Far Eastern Economic Assistance Act of 1950,”

[14] For astute insights into North Korean society and its evolution as a product of the war, see Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak; Heonik Kwon & Byong Ho-Chung, North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Politics (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012) and Bruce Cumings, North Korea: Another Country ( New York: The Free Press, 2004).

[15] Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston: Little & Brown, 1980), 473. North Korean officials later claimed the U.S. actually bombed their residence as future negotiations were stalled.

[16] For a detailed history, Michael J. Seth, A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010).

[17] Dae-Sook Suh, The Korean Communist Movement, 1918-1948 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967), 132.

[18] Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, I, 36-38; Chong Sik-Lee, Counterinsurgency in Manchuria: The Japanese Experience, 1921-1940 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, January 1967). Kim Sok-Won was thought responsible for the massacre of Chinese citizens in Manchuria.

[19] Mark Caprio, “Neglected Questions on the ‘Forgotten War’: South Korea and the United States on the Eve of the Korean War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, January 31, 2011; Reinhard  Drifte, “Japan’s Involvement in the Korean War,” in The Korean War in History, ed. James Cotton and Ian Neary (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1989), 120-134; Tessa Morris Suzuki, “The U.S., Japan and the Undercover War in Korea,” in The Korean War in Asia: A Hidden History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 175; and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Post-War Warriors: Japanese Combatants in the Korean War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 31, No. 1, July 30, 2012.

[20] Quoted in Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (New York: Authors Choice Press, 1977), 228. For strategic planning after World War II, see also Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York: Pantheon, 1973).

[21] William L. Neumann, America Encounters Japan: From Perry to MacArthur (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), 2; Sentimental Imperialists: The American Experience in Southeast Asia, ed. James C. Thompson, Peter W. Stanley, John Curtis Perry (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).

[22] See Franz Schurman, The Logic of World Power: An Inquiry Into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 197; “Washington Round-Up,” Aviation Week, July 2, 1951; Robert E. Herzstein, Henry R. Luce, Time and the American Crusade in Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[23] James Peck, Washington’s China: The National Security World, the Cold War, and the Origins of Globalism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), 5.

[24] See William Hinton, Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (New York: Vintage Books, 1966) and Mark Selden, China in Revolution: The Yennan Way Revisited (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1995).

[25] Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: Norton, 1997), 210; Thomas J. McCormick, America’s Half Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After 2nd ed. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 116.

[26] Charles K. Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004); Wilfred G. Burchett, This Monstrous War (Melbourne, Joseph Waters, 1952), 43-45; Suzy Kim, Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013); Anna Louise Strong, In North Korea: First Eye-Witness Report (New York: Soviet Russia Today, 1949), 11. For more on Kim’s background, see Dae-Sook Suh, Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

[27] Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 155, 56.

[28] Kim, Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, 77, 86, 87, 88, 89, 98, 175.

[29] Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, ch. 6.

[30] Kim, Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, 221.

[31] Jeremy Kuzmarov, Police Training, “Nation-Building,” and Political Repression in Postcolonial South Korea,” The Asia Pacific Journal, July 1, 2012,

[32] Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, 230, 231.

[33] Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, 233-235.

[34] Brett Reilly, “Cold War Transition: Europe’s Decolonization and Eisenhower’s System of Subordinate Elites,” in Endless Empire: Spain’s Retreat, Europe’s Eclipse, America’s Decline (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 350.

[35] Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 23; Dong-Choon Kim, The Unending Korean War: A Social History, trans. Sung-ok Kim (Larkspur, Calif.: Tamal Vista Publications, 2000), 80; Mark Gayn, Japan Diary (New York: William Sloane, 1948), 352.

[36] Burchett, This Monstrous War, Mitchell, “Control of the Economy during the Korean War: The 1952 Coordination Agreement and its Consequences,” in The Korean War in History, ed. Cotton and Neary, 153; Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War, II: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947-1950 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press ,1990), 137, 151, 470.

[37] Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, ch. 4; Gregory Henderson, Korea; The Politics of the Vortex (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968); Richard D. Robinson, “Betrayal of a Nation,” Unpublished Manuscript, 1960 (courtesy of Harvard Yenching Library),

[38] See my Modernizing Repression, chapter 4; Katsiaficas, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: Vol 1. In Waegwon, rioters cut off the police chief’s eyes and tongue. The Soviet ambassador to North Korea paid some money to rebels through a liaison, though these revolts would have taken place anyways as the conditions were ripe in South Korea for rebellion, and the Soviet involvement was minimal.

[39] Kim, The Unending Korean War.

[40] Walter Sullivan, “Police Brutality in Korea Assailed: Torture, Wholesale Executions of Reds Held Driving People Into Arms of Communists,” New York Times, February 1, 1950, 3.

[41] Gordon Young, Journey From Banna (Xilibris, 2011), 159.

[42] For the historical pattern, see John Tirman, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[43] Margaret Bourke-White, Portrait of Myself (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963), 328-349; Bryan R. Gibby, The Will to Win: American Military Advisors in Korea, 1946-1953 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012); Col. Robert Heinl Jr. Victory at High Tide: The Inchon-Seoul Campaign (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1968), 227. On police training, see Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression. Arms and equipment were valued at over $110 million.

[44] Hun Joon Kim, The Massacres at Mt. Halla: Sixty Years of Truth Seeking in South Korea (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014), 35; Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War II, 2:250–59; John Merrill, The Peninsular Origins of the War (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), 125; Sheila Myoshi Jager, Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014), 53.

[45] Kim, The Massacre at Mt. Halla, 34.

[46] Merill, Korea, 100; Kim, The Massacres at Mt. Halla, 34; Katsiaficas, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings, 100; Carl Mydans, More Than Meets the Eye (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 292; Carl Mydans, “Revolt in Korea: A New Communist Uprising Turns Men Into Butchers,” Life, November 15, 1948, 55-58.

[47] John Foster Dulles, “’To Save Humanity from the Deep Abyss,’” New York Times Magazine, July 30, 1950, reprinted in The Korean War, ed. Lloyd C. Gardner (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1972), 84-85.

[48] Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War II, 285, 286, 402, 472; Bourke-White, Portrait of Myself, 328-349; Gibby, The Will to Win.

[49] Cumings, The Korean War, 10, 11; Stephen L. Endicott, James G. Endicott: Rebel Out of China (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 280; Sir John Pratt, Korea: the Lie That led to War (Britain-China Friendship Association, 1951),; John Gunther, The Riddle of MacArthur: Japan, Korea and the Far East (New York: Praeger, 1975), 165; Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak, 16; and Wilfred G. Burchett, This Monstrous War (Melbourne: Joseph Waters, 1953), 69, 68.  Roberts admitted that he ordered the launching of raids and that attacks were carried out against the North by ROK units on their own volition.  For insightful analysis, see Caprio, “Neglected Questions on the ‘Forgotten War.’”

[50] Report, Major Millard Shaw, Acting Advisor, “Guard of the 38th Parallel by the National Police,” cited in Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, ch. 4; Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, II:129, 195.

[51] Gregory Henderson, “Korea, 1950,” in The Korean War in History, ed. James Cotton and Ian Neary, 179; Donald Nichols, How Many Times Can I Die? (Brooksville, FL: Vanity Press, 1981); and Burchett, This
Monstrous War, 78.  Nichols is considered the founding father of the air force’s human intelligence program.

[52] “On the  20th Anniversary of the Korean War – An Informal Memoir by the Office of Research Estimates Korean Desk Officer, Circa 1948-1950,” RG 263, Records of the CIA, History Source Collection of the DCI History Staff, 1945-1950, box 4, folder Korea, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[53] Jager, Brothers at War, 62; Wada Haruki, The Korean War: An International History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013); Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 and Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak, 10, 14, 16. In March 1949, Kim had visited Stalin in Moscow and told him “we believe that the situation makes it necessary and possible to liberate the whole country through military means,” though Stalin demurred saying it was preferable to wait for a provocation from the South and counter-attack. Scholars who blame Stalin and Mao for the outbreak of war, according to Armstrong, give short shrift to the internal political dynamic while obscuring the aspirations of the North Korean revolution.

[54] James Carroll, House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 192; Stanley Sandler, The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999), 109; Amstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, 230; and Burchett, This Monstrous War, 84, 86, 87, 88.

[55] Michael H. Hunt and Steven I. Levine, Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (New York: Oxford University, 1982), 111, 112; Letter to the editor, Weekly Star, Robert Kerr Papers, U.S. Foreign Relations, clippings, Box 5, Carl Albert Congressional Research Center, Norman, Oklahoma; and Gerard Colby, DuPont Dynasty (Seacaucus, New Jersey: Lyle Stuart Inc., 1984), 400.

[56] John T. McNay, Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Foreign Policy (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001); Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 332; Peck, Washington’s China, 36. Supporting the perpetuation of white minority rule in Africa and cultivating ties with white supremacist leaders in South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (Roy Welensky), Acheson’s worldview was straight out of the 19th century era of great power competition.

[57] MacArthur quoted in Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century, 470.

[58] Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Harry F. Kofksy, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

[59] “The Time in Korea,” Time Magazine July 10, 1950, 9.

[60] Hajimu Masuda, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 60, 61, 167, 201; Constituent letters, Robert S Kerr Collection, legislative, box 5, Carl Albert Congressional Research Center, Norman Oklahoma.

[61] Mary S. McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1978), 84.  Joseph McCarthy inveighed against the Truman administration’s creation of a “Korean death trap,” saying that we can lay it “at the doors of the Kremlin and those who sabotaged rearming, including Acheson and the President.”

[62] Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe and Martha Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), 144.

[63] Ronald J. Caridi, “The GOP and the Korean War,” Pacific Historical Review, 37, 4 (November 1968), 425; Ronald J. Caridi, The Korean War and American Politics: The Republican Party as a Case Study (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968), 31, 34, 35; “The Congress: ‘Time for Unity,’” Time Magazine, July 10, 1950, 8. Party luminaries like Herbert Hoover, advocate for establishing a “Gibraltar of the Western hemisphere” and isolationism towards the rest of the world and Thomas Dewey also voiced their support for a war against “communist aggression.”

[64] Senator Robert Taft, “The President Has No Right to Involve the United States in a Foreign War,” In We Who Dared Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to Now, ed. Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods Jr. (New York: Perseus, 2008), 200-205.

[65] McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left, 72.

[66] Matthew E. Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War: A Study in American Dissent,” Ph.D. Dissertation, NYU, 1973. On Niebuhr, see The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr, ed. Robert M. Brown (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). See also Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (New York: 1949).

[67] McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left, 76; Roger Biles, Liberal Crusader: Paul H. Douglas of Illinois (De Kalb: Northern University Illinois Press, 2002); Robert Sherrill and Harry W. Ernst, The Drugstore Liberal (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1968). Wayne Morse (R-OR, later independent), one of two senators to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing war in Vietnam, joined in a “clear pledge to back up the president in his statement for the defense of America’s security in Asia.” Morse expressed the prevailing liberal relief that “we have at long last…made clear to the freedom loving peoples of the world that the false, lying, vicious communist propaganda which would make it appear they cannot count on the U.S. to defend freedom in the world is really false and lying and vicious.” However after MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel, Morse was more of the dissenter, stating that “when we pull back the veil of the war propaganda of those who are advocating expanding the war in Asia, we are confronted with the ugly proposal on the part of their growing war clique in the U.S. that we commit an act which constitutes for the first time in American history an aggressive act of war against a foreign power.” Caridi, The Korean War and American Politics, 183.

[68] Ronnie Dugger, The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson The Drive For Power From the Frontier to Master of the Senate (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1982) 364-65, 370-71.  

[69] John C. Culver and John Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001); Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, An Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2012), 221; and Culver & Hyde, American Dreamer, 456-457.

[70] McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left, 75.

[71] McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left, 84.

[72] Caridi, “The GOP and the Korean War,” 429, 430.

[73] Republican Party Platforms: “Republican Party Platform of 1952,” July 7, 1952. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

[74] Alan Schaffer, Vito Marcantonio: Radical in Congress (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1966), 204.

[75] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 26.

[76] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 28.

[77] John M. Swomley Jr., The Military Establishment, foreword by Senator George McGovern (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 209. Graham quoted in Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 61. On Spellman’s career, see John Cooney, The American Pope: The Life and Times of Cardinal Spellman (New York: Crown, 1984).

[78] Weyand quoted in Charles Maechling Jr., “Counterinsurgency: The First Ordeal by Fire,” in Low Intensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency and Antiterrorism in the Eighties, ed. Michael T. Klare and Peter Kornbluh (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 43.

[79] Kompton quoted in Vannevar Bush, Endless Horizons (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1946). The use of the latest death technologies is detailed in U.S. Marines in the Korean War, ed. Charles R. Smith (Washington, D.C.: United States Marine Corps History Project, 2007). On the pioneering use of helicopters, see Lynn Montross, Cavalry of the Sky: The Story of U.S. Marine Combat Helicopters (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954). On guided missiles, see David Anderton, “Project Typhoon Aids Missile Designers: New Electronic Computer Can Solve Problem of Entire Defense System,” Aviation Week, December 18, 1950, and on drones, Lindesay Parrott, “Air War Now Main Effort in Korea,” New York Times, September 21, 1952.

[80] E.F. Bullene, “Wonder Weapon: Napalm,” U.S. Army Combat Forces Journal, November 1952; Earle J. Townsend, “They Don’t Like ‘Hell Bombs’” Washington Armed Forces Chemical Association, January 1951; Cumings, The Korean War. See also Robert M. Neer, Napalm: An American Biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). Napalm was developed by Harvard scientists encompassing napthenate and coconut palm added to gasoline at the end of World War II. Experimental missions were carried out on French civilians at the end of the war, including by bombardier Howard Zinn who became a life-long pacifist thereafter. See his You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002).

[81] Reginald Thompson, Cry Korea: The Korean War – A Reporters’ Notebook (Reportage Press, 2010), 94.

[82] Kim, The Unending Korean War. In May 2008, the U.S. government declassified images of massacres by South Korean forces, including the massacre at Taejon (see AP Photo in essay, once classified as “top secret,” of massacre at Taejon in July 1950.) See “Alleged communists massacred under the eyes of American soldiers,” The Observers, June 13, 2008,

[83] Allan Millett, They Came From the North: The War for Korea 1950-1951 (University Press of Kansas, 2010), 95; Callum MacDonald, Korea: The War before Vietnam (New York: The Free Press, 1987), 42; Sandler, The Korean War, 60. Dong Choon Kim notes that it was like a reenactment of the Hideyoshi invasions of the sixteenth century, rank and file soldiers and the righteous army defended the country with their own body after the King and government troops had fled.

[84] “New Enemy Tactics,” 8th Army War Diaries, July 18-26, 1950, G-2 Staff Section Report, July 18, 1950, U.S. Army, Unit Diaries, History and Reports, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence Missouri, box 6; “The Tank-Killing Shaped Charge,” Life Magazine, October 23, 1950, 67; Andrew Cockburn, The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine (New York: Random House, 1983), 138; Sandler, The Korean War; Kim, The Unending Korean War.

[85] Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II, 667; Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak, 26; Hajimu, Cold War Crucible, 58, 59, 78; John W. Riley Jr. and Wilbur Schramm, The Reds Take a City (NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1951).

[86] “Statement by Detective Who Left Seoul, 20 July 1950,” 31 July 1950 in RG 338, Records of the U.S. Army Operations, Tactical and Support, box 58, National Archives, College Park Maryland; Kim, The Unending Korean War, 134-135; Gavan McCormack and Stewart Lone, Korea Since 1850 (London: St. Martin’s, 1993), 120; Report of the Committee on Government Operations Made Through its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Subcommittee on Korean War Atrocities, Jan. 7, 1954 (U.S. G.P.O., 1954), 4-6.

[87] John Melady, Korea; Canada’s Forgotten War (Toronto: McMillan, 1983), 56; Halberstam, The Coldest Winter; Sandler, The Korean War, 56, 76.

[88] William W. Epley, “America’s First Cold War Army” (Arlington, VA: The Institute of Land Warfare, 1999).

[89] Alfred R. Hausrath, “The KMAG Advisor: Role and Problems of the Military Advisor in Developing an Indigenous Army for Combat Operations in Korea” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Operational Research Office, 1957), 29.

[90] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 130.

[91] In Donald Knox, The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin: An Oral History (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1985), 94.

[92] In Andrew Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War (London: Aurum, 2011), 65.

[93] Heinl Jr. Victory at High Tide, 69, 102. See also Richard P. Hallion, The Naval Air War in Korea (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011); Eugene Clark, The Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Mission of the Korean War (New York: G.P. Putnam, 2002).

[94] Suh Hee-Kyung, “Mass Civilian Killings by South Korean and U.S. Forces: Atrocities Before and During the Korean War,” Critical Asian Studies, 4, 12 (December 2010); Jon T. Hoffman, Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC (New York: Random House, 2002), 354; Heinl Jr., Victory at High Tide, 168. The city, Puller acknowledged, “lay in smoking ruins” after his men passed through it having asked and received MacArthur’s permission to put it to the torch.

[95] U.S. Marines in the Korean War, ed. Smith, 166, 178; Heinl Jr., Victory at High Tide; 237; 242; Thompson, Cry Korea; Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: The Report of a Woman Combat Correspondent (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1951), 171. Reprisal killings were taken against northern collaborators when Seoul was retaken. Thompson, a correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph described Seoul as an “appalling inferno of din and destruction with the tearing noise of Corsair dive bombers blasting right ahead and the livid flashes of tank guns, the harsh, the fierce crackle of blazing wooden buildings, telegraph and high tension poles collapsing in utter chaos of wires. Great palls of smoke lie over us as massive buildings collapse in showers of sparks, puffing masses of smoke and rubble upon us in a terrific heat.”

[96] Lynn Montross, Cavalry of the Sky (New York: Harper, 1954), 173; Captain Walter G. Atkinson Jr., “Use of Portable Flamethrowers in 1st Cavalry Division Sector,” August 30, 1950, RG 338, Records of the U.S Army Operations, Eighth Army Chemical Corps, Historical Files, Box 1433, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[97] Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 163; Mark. J. Reardon, “Chasing a Chameleon: The U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Experience in Korea, 1945-1952,” In The U.S. Army and Irregular Warfare, 1775-2007, ed. Richard G. Davis (U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2008), 226; Paul F. Braim, The Will to Win: The Life of General James A. Van Fleet (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 202.

[98] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 159; “Bandit Activities in South Korea,” in Command Report, Headquarters, Korean Communications Zone, September 1952, RG 554, Records of the General Headquarters, Far East Command, box 1, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[99] Richard S. Ehrlich, “Death of a Dirty Fighter,” Asia Times, July 8, 2003; Stephen C. Mercado, The Shadow Warriors of Nakano: A History of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Intelligence School (Washington: D.C. Brassey’s, 2002), 224; Randall B. Woods, Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 224. Poshepny was the prototype for Lt. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, a rogue CIA agent who embraced the dark side.

[100] William B. Breuer, Shadow Warriors: The Covert War in Korea (New York: John Wiley, 1996); Colonel Ben S. Malcolm, White Tigers: My Secret War in North Korea, with Ron Martz (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1992).

[101] Col. Michael E. Haas, Apollo’s Warriors: U.S. Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War (Maxwell Air Force Base: Air University Press, 1997), 26-27.

[102] Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 56, 57; Mercado, The Shadow Warriors of Nakano, 231; Nichol, How Many Times Can I Die?; Morris-Suzuki, “The U.S., Japan, and the Undercover War,” in The Korean War in Asia, ed. Morris-Suzuki, 180-182; Catherine Churchman, “Victory with Minimum Effort: How Nationalist China ‘Won’ the Korean War,” in The Korean War in Asia, ed. Morris-Suzuki, 82; and Morris-Suzuki, “Post-War Warriors: Japanese Combatants in the Korean War.”  Jack Canon had served with military intelligence in Papua New Guinea during World War II and went on to undercover work in the Mediterranean and Middle East.  In 1958, he was tried in a military court for stealing ammunition and displaying threatening behaviors.  In March 1981, he committed suicide, shooting himself in his garage in Hidalgo Texas.

[103] Hanley, Choe and Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, 170.

[104] Paul M. Edwards, Korean War Almanac (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2006), pp. 103, 110.

[105] John S. Brown (U.S. Army Chief of Military History), “The Korean War: The Chinese Intervention,” online:

[106] Historical Report for Period Ending 31 December 1952, War Crimes Division, Col. Claudius O. Wolfe, Zone Staff Judge Advocate and Major Jack R. Todd, JAGC, RG 554, Records of the General Headquarters, Korea Communications Zone, War Crimes Historical Files, War Crimes, box 20; Francis Hill, CAO, I Corps, November 10, 1950; November 16, 1950, Headquarters, 8th U.S. Army, EUSAK, Civil Assistance Section, 10 November 1950, RG 338, 8th U.S. Army, National Archives College Park Maryland, box 3403; 24th CIC Detachment War Diary, July 1-November 1, 1950, RG 338, Records of U.S. Army Operations, 24th Infantry, box 3483, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[107] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 156; Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak, 38; Callum McDonald, “So Terrible a Liberation’: The UN Occupation of North Korea,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 12, 2 (April-June 1991): 10; Halliday and Cumings, Korea, 163; Katsiaficas, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings; Knox, The Korean War, 413; Dong-choon Kim, “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea: Uncovering the Hidden Korean War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, March 1, 2010; Cumings, The Korean War, 198, 199.

[108] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 157; McCormack and Lone, Korea Since 1850, 150; Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II, 721.

[109] Shu Guang Zhang. Mao’s Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950-1953 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995); Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Jager, Brothers at War, 56.

[110] Gibby, The Will to Win, 218; Bercuson, Blood on the Hills, 65.

[111] Montross, Cavalry of the Sky, 219.

[112] Glenn Garvin, “TV Review – When Hell Froze Over – the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir,” Miami Herald, March 25, 2013,; Fehrenbach, This Kind of War, 375; Fehrenbach, This Kind of War, 375; Eric Hammel, Chosin: Heroic Ordeal of the Korean War (Zenith Press, 2007).

[113] American embassy Manila to Secretary of State, “A New Year Message to the Filipino Army from the HMB,” February 9, 1951, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Philippines, 796.001, National Archives, College Park Maryland, Box 4319.

[114] Andrew Cockburn, “Follow the Money,” in The Pentagon Labyrinth, ed. Winslow T. Wheeler (Washington, D.C.: World Security Institute, 2011), 79; Halberstam, The Coldest Winter; Jerome S. Brower, Harold P. McCormick, “The Use of Incendiary Bombs for Cereal Crop Destruction,” May 29, 1951, RG 338, Records of the U.S Army Operations, Eighth Army Chemical Corps, Historical Files, Box 1433, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[115] 1st Lieutenant Hubert D. Deatherage, Heavy Mortar Company, 5th Infantry Regiment, Platoon Leader, 3rd platoon, Kunchon, September 24, Chemical Staff Section Report, January 21, 1951, RG 338, Records of U.S. Army Operational, Tactical and Support Organization, 1951-1952, 8th U.S. Army, National Archives, College Park Maryland, Box 1433; Dick Coburn, Donald D. Bode, Arnold J. Reinikka, “Introduction to Atomic Weapons,” October 4, 1951, RG 338, Records of the U.S. Army Operational, Tactical and Support Organizations, 1951-1952, Eighth Army, National Archives, College Park Maryland, Box 1434.

[116] T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness (New York: McMillan, 1963), 406; Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow, 307; Montross, Cavalry of the Sky, 219.  For comparison with Vietnam, see Nick Turse, ‘Kill Anything That Moves’: The Real America War in Vietnam (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014).

[117] Richard J.H. Johnston, “Outnumbered GIs Lost Faith in Arms: Morale Hard Hit as the Enemy, Disregarding His Losses, Retained the Initiative,” New York Times, December 10, 1950, 5.

[118] Halberstam, The Coldest Winter, 403, 473.

[119] Roy E. Appleman, Disaster in Korea: The Chinese Confront MacArthur (College Station, TX: Texas A &M Pres, 1989), 360; Garrett Underhill and Ronald Schiller, “The Tragedy of the U.S. Army,” Look Magazine, February 13, 1951, 27.

[120] Garrett Underhill and Ronald Schiller, “The Tragedy of the U.S. Army,” Look Magazine, February 13, 1951, 27-28.

[121] Fehrenbach, This Kind of War, 470.

[122] James I. Matray, “Mixed Message: The Korean Armistice Negotiations at Kaesong,” Pacific Historical Review, 81, 2 (May 2012), 221-244; Brandon K. Gauthier, “Korea: What it was like to Negotiate with North Korea 60 Years Ago,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 26, 2013; Burchett, This Monstrous War, 123-166. Echoing historian Clay Bair, Matray concludes that “it was the UNC that had established the acrimonious tone for the truce negotiations with its insulting opening proposal. It acted on instructions from Ridgway, who seemed more interested in proving his toughness and placating Rhee than in reaching a quick settlement.”

[123] Charles S. Young, Name, Rank and Serial Number: Exploiting Korean War POWs at Home and Abroad (New York: Oxford, 2014).  See also H. Bruce Franklin’s classic, M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993).

[124] Ronald J. Caridi, “The GOP and the Korean War,” Pacific Historical Review, 37, 4 (November 1968), 432.

[125] Michael A. Bellesiles, A People’s History of the United States Military: Ordinary Soldiers Reflect on Their Experience of War, From the American Revolution to Afghanistan (New York: The New Press, 2012), 262 quoting Ridgeway; Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II; Stanley Weintraub, MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

[126] Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II; Schurman, The Logic of World Power.

[127] William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964 (New York: Laurel, 1978), 776; Richard H. Rovere and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The General and the President and the Future of American Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Young, 1951), 12.

[128] Manchester, American Caesar, 780.

[129] Manchester, American Caesar; Fehrenbach, This Kind of War, 427, 428.

[130] Heinl Jr., Victory at High Tide, 76; “”MacArthur on Air Power,” Aviation Week, April 30, 1951, 12; Manchester, American Caesar, 150-151.

[131] Futrell, “Tactical Employment of Strategic Air Power in Korea,” 40. For technological innovations, see also Richard P. Hallion, The Naval Air War in Korea (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011).

[132] Halliday and Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War, 117-118. According to Cumings, a partial table of the destruction shows: Pyongyang – 75%; Chongjin – 65%; Hamhung – 80%; Hungnam – 85%; Sariwon – 95%; Sinaju – 100%; Wonsan– 80%. Napalming of refugees is discussed in Tirman, The Deaths of Others, 104-05.

[133] H. Bruce Franklin, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), 116.

[134] “MacArthur on Air Power,” Aviation Week, April 30, 1951, 12. The industry generally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on public relations. Robert H. Wood, “How a Business Press Can Serve Its Industry,” Aviation Week, February 23, 1953.

[135] Charles K. Armstrong, “The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 – 1960,” The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol. 8, Issue 51 No 2, December 20, 2010; Xiaoming Zhang, Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002); E. Bregeweid, December 27, 1950, RG 342, U.S. Air Force Command, Mission Reports  of Units in Korean War, box 21, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[136] Hanson W. Baldwin “The Whales of the Air Are Flying Again,” New York Times, August 14, 1955; Philip J. Klass, “Avionics New Role in Air Power,” Aviation Week, February 25, 1952, 65; “Avionics Puts Fighter on Target,” Aviation Week, March 2, 1953, 139. Blimps served as platforms for radar sentinels and electronic control systems designed to warn of enemy planes while engaging in antisubmarine warfare.

[137] Theodore Von Karman to Hap Arnold, December 15, 1945, in Prophecy Fulfilled: Towards a ‘New Horizon and Its Legacy’, ed. Michael H. Gorn (Create Space Publishing, 2012); Richard P. Hallion, George. Watson Jr., David Chenoweth, Technology and the Air Force: A Retrospective Assessment (Washington, D.C.: Air Force and Museums Program, 1997).

[138] Hallion, The Naval Air War in Korea; “Matador Opens New Era of Missile Warfare,” Aviation Week, September 24, 1951, 219; Lindesay Parrot, “Air War Now Main Effort in Korea,” New York Times, September 21, 1952; William B. Harwood, Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 252, 252. On origins see also Kenneth P. Werrell, The Evolution of the Cruise Missile (Maxwell, Air Force Base: Air University Press, 1985), 7, 36; Gordon Bruce, “Aerial Torpedo is Guided 100 Miles by Gyroscope,” New York Tribune, October 20, 1915, 1.

[139] “Navy Uses Robot Missiles against Targets in Korea,” New York Times, September 18, 1952; William J. Coughlin, “The Air Lessons of Korea,” Aviation Week, May 25, 1953; Annie Jacobsen, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base (Boston: Little & Brown, 2011), 222. Drones were also used to survey nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946 that resulted in the expulsion of the local population.

[140] See Annie Jacobsen, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (Boston: Little & Brown, 2014); Linda Hunt, Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945-1990 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991).

[141] Paul G. Gillespie, Weapons of Choice: The Development of Precision Guided Munitions (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006), 45-51; “Heavyweights Over Korea: B-29 Employment in the Korean Air-War,” Air University Quarterly Review, 7, 1 (Spring 1954), 102, 103; David Anderton, “Project Typhoon Aids Missile Designers: New Electronic Computer Can Solve Problem of Entire Defense System,” Aviation Week, December 18, 1950; F. Lee Moore, “Flying a Bug Instead of a Beam,” Aviation Week, October 23, 1950, 57; Cabell Phillips, “Why We’re Not Fighting with Push Buttons,” New York Times, July 16, 1950, SM7. On Nazi scientists, see Jacobsen, Operation Paperclip.

[142] Nick Alexandrov, “Carpet Bombing History: Washington’s Anti-Monuments Men,” June 26-28, 2015,; Commission of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea, March 31, 1952, Pyongyang, Korea,

[143] 1st Marine Special Action Report, Wonsan-Hamburg-Chosin, October 8, 1950-December 15, 1950, U.S. National Archives, College Park Maryland, RG 127, UDO40, Korea, G-2 ,Chosin Reservoir.

[144] “Communist Camouflage and Deception,” Air University Quarterly Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1953).

[145] Armstrong, “The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 – 1960.”

[146] Conrad Crane, American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 40, 41, 43; Sahr Conway-Lanz, Collateral Damage: Americans, Noncombatant Immunity, and Atrocity after World War II (New York: Routeledge, 2006), 149. One 60-year-old man, too sick to brush away hundreds of flies that swarmed him, told a New York Times reporter that he “wanted to die – I would rather die than live like this.”

[147] Author’s personal Interview, Korean War Pilots, Boston Commons, Peace demonstration against the Iraq War, fall 2005; Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow, 407.

[148] Eg. Captain Pressly, December 27, 1950, RG 342, U.S. Air Force Command, Mission Reports of Units in Korean War, boxes 21, National Archives, College Park Maryland. In this report, Pressly reported rocketing, napalming and strafing enemy troops on a hill, with an estimated 300 troop casualties. He then reported strafing a village at CT 2416 and starting three fires. 8 rockets and four napalm. There are hundreds of reports like this in 122 boxes in RG 342.

[149] Thompson, Cry Korea; I.F. Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1952), 258; Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II, 706-07.

[150] Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, with a new introduction by Douglas Kellner (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964, reprint 1991).

[151] Quoted in Marilyn B. Young, “Bombing Civilians From the Twentieth to the 21st Centuries,” in Bombing Civilians, 2009, 160.

[152] Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol II, 705; “Attack on the Irrigation Dams in North Korea,” Air University Quarterly Review, 6 (Winter 1953-1954), 41.

[153] Franklin, War Stars.

[154] Quoted in Wilfred G. Burchett, Vietnam North (New York: International Publishers, 1966). The Air Force claimed that air power “executed the dominant role in the achievement of military objectives,” with the threatened devastation of North Korea’s agricultural economy forcing Kim Il-Sung to the bargaining table. Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), 141.

[155] Rick Shenkman, Political Animals: How Our Stone Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 185.

[156] “Memorandum of Discussion at the 144th Meeting of the National Security Council, Wednesday, May 13, 1953,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Korea, Vol. XV, Part 1, Office of the Historian,

[157] Robert F. Kerr, Foreign Policy- Far East, Robert S. Kerr Papers, box 3, foreign policy, Carl Albert Congressional Research Center, Norman, OK.  On the formative influence of the frontier, see Walter Hixson, American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: McMillan, 2013).

[158] Casey, Selling the Korean War, pp. 160, 162, 161.

[159] Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, rev ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002).

[160] “When the Red Shadow Fell, North Korea’s Liberated Capital Shows the Signs of Russian Rule,” Life Magazine, November 27, 1950, 58. A subsequent letter to the editor by a missionary who had known Mr. Ha referred to the brutality of the “red devils.”

[161] Harold H. Martin, “How Our Air Raiders Plastered Korea,” Saturday Evening Post, August 5, 1950, 26, 27.

[162] John Steinbeck, Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team (New York: Penguin Classics, 2009); Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 137.

[163] David Lawrence, “The Kremlin’s Offensive,” U.S. News & World Report, July 7, 1950, 48.

[164] Joseph and Stewart Alsop, “The Lessons of Korea,” Saturday Evening Post, September 2, 1950, 17.

[165] See for example Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

[166] Marguerite Higgins, “The Terrible Days in Korea,” Saturday Evening Post, August 19, 1950, 26.

[167] Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: The Report of a Woman Combat Correspondent, photograph by Carl Mydans and others (Garden City New York: Doubleday, 1951), 15, 16; Antoinette May, Witness to War: A Biography of Marguerite Higgins (New York: Beaufort Books, 1983). The prevailing gender norms of the time were reflected in a profile of Higgins in Life Magazine, which had as a caption that she “still managed to look good” despite being embedded with U.S. troops!

[168] Quoted in Cumings, The Korean War, 14-15.

[169] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 25; “Warning to the West,” New York Times, June 26, 1950; Philip Knightly, The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker (London: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975), 347.  A typical article from the New York Times, September 28, 1950 “The Korean War: UN Forces Clean Up in Seoul, Drive Ahead in South,” begins triumphantly in describing that the 1st Division raised its flag over the US consulate after cleaning out pockets of resistance, and goes on to report air support operations targeting railyards and bridges and the death of 250 “reds” in one operation and 1,900 overall. The bodies of twelve American soldiers were reported found in Chinju after being tied up and shot, with two Americans surviving after playing dead and one North Korean killed because he presumably refused to shoot the “helpless Americans.” “The Korean War: UN Forces Clean Up in Seoul: Drive Ahead in South,” New York Times, September 28, 1950, 2. While there is nothing inaccurate in this reporting, much is left out including the desolation of the city following the UN “liberation” detailed by British journalist Reginald Thompson and voices of Seoul’s people. The enemy is depicted as being brutal, though commensurate or worse atrocities committed by U.S. and ROK forces are whitewashed.

[170] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 85. The letter was later published in the Socialist Monthly Review which editorialized against the war. Hanley, Choe and Mendoza, The Bridge at No-Gun Ri, 162.

[171] Walter Sullivan, “GI View of Koreans as ‘Gooks’ Believed Doing Political Damage,” New York Times, July 26, 1950.

[172] Herzstein, Henry R. Luce, Time and the American Crusade in Asia.

[173] “Men at War,” Time Magazine, January 1, 1951, 23.

[174] See Tom Heenan, From Traveler to Traitor: The Life of Wilfred Burchett (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006), 11, 4; Wilfred G. Burchett, ‘The Atomic Plague’, Daily Express, 6 September 1945; Jamie Miller, “The Forgotten History War: Wilfred Burchett, Australia and the Cold War in the Asia Pacific,” The Asia Pacific Journal (September 2008), 6, 1,; Gavan McCormack, “Korea: Wilfred Burchett’s Thirty Years War,” in Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World: 1939-1983, ed. Ben Kiernan (London, Melbourne, New York: Quartet Books, 1986); Mahurin, Honest John; and Wilfred G. Burchett, Letter to Kathy Rethlake, 15/2/1971, provided to the author by George Burchett of Hanoi, Wilfred’s son.

[175] Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 323-366.

[176] Richard H. Rovere and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The General and the President and the Future of American Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Young, 1951), 102.

[177] Ibid., 109.

[178] Ibid., 238.

[179] Ibid., 250.

[180] See Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Postwar America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007); Michael Latham, Modernization as Ideology (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Walt W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (New York: 1956); Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.”

[181] Jacques Soustelle, “Indochina and Korea: One Front.” Foreign Affairs, 29, 1 (October 1950): 56-66.

[182] Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, foreword by Gordon Dean, published for the Council on Foreign Relations (New York: Harper Brothers, 1957), 43, 47, 49.

[183] C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III (New York: Ballantine Books, 1958, 1960), 95.

[184] See Chomsky, For Reasons of State; and William O. Douglas “We Can’t Save Asia by War Alone,” Look Magazine, January 16, 1951.

[185] Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century, 470-476. Lippmann’s views on the Chinese revolution, which he was hostile to but felt the U.S. could do nothing to halt, are discussed in Peck, Washington’s China, 78.

[186] Mark Philip Bradley and Mary L. Dudziak, eds., Making the Forever War: Marilyn B. Young on the Culture and Politics of American Militarism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), 70-75.  On corporate support for McCarthyism, see Michael Paul Rogin, The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 1969).

[187] Jo Ann Ooiman Robinson, Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), 139, 283. See also, A.J. Muste, “Korea: Spark to Set a World on Fire,” in The Essays of A.J. Muste, ed. Nat Hentoff (New York: The Bobbs-Merill Company, 1967), 331-352.

[188] Scott Bennett, “Conscience, Comrades, & the Cold War: The Korean War Draft Resistance Cases of Socialist Pacifists David McReynolds and Vern Davidson,” Peace & Change 38 (January 2013): 83-120.  The ranks of conscientious objectors included Gordon Carey of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of a pacifist minister who was sentenced to three years in prison.  Later, Carey became a Freedom Rider and participated in the sit-in movement that protested Jim Crow segregation in the South.  Katherine Q. Seelye, “Gordon Carey, 89, Unsung Catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement, Dies,” The New York Times, December 30, 2021, B11.

[189] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War;” Andrew Hunt, David Dellinger: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 97; and Frederick C. Giffin, Six Who Protested: Radical Opposition to the First World War (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1977), 11.

[190] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 87.

[191] “Communists: A Moral Certainty,” Time Magazine, August 14, 1950, 11.

[192] For a good discussion, see Myra MacPherson, ‘All Governments Lie:’ The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone (New York: Scribner, 2006).

[193] McAuliffe, Crisis on the Left, 75; and Bennett, “Conscience, Comrades, & the Cold War,” 85, 109.  The Socialist Party under Norman Thomas offered critical support for the war, producing a press release on June 29, 1950, “Socialists Support Security Council, President Truman, On Korea,” cited in the latter.  For reference on the debate among socialists regarding the war, see Susan Green, “Archive: The Left and Korea” (first published as ‘Summing up the discussion on the Korean Statement,’ in Forum, the internal bulletin of the Independent Socialist League, in 1950),  

[194] “Korean War Lullaby,”

[195] I.F. Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1953); MacPherson, ‘All Governments Lie,’ 264-267.

[196] Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire, ed. John Nichols (New York: Nation Books, 2004), 231; Paul Robeson “Denounce the Korean Intervention,” June 28, 1950 in If We Must Die: African American Voices on War and Peace, ed. Kristen L. Stanford (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 191-192.

[197] Scott Nearing, World Events, Winter 1950, Volume III; Winter 1951, Volume IV, Harry S. Truman Library, James B. Moullette Papers, Independence, Missouri, Box 2, folder pamphlets.

[198] Mills, The Causes of World War III, 88, 89.

[199] Ivan M. Tribe, “Purple Hearts, Heartbreak Ridge, and Korean Mud: Pain, Patriotism and Faith in the 1950-1953 ‘Police Action’” in Country Music Goes to War, ed. Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 128, 130.Earl Nunn’s tribute to MacArthur was also a big seller, ending with the line: “though he did the best he could, there were some who thought he should, let the communists take over all creation.”

[200] Woody Guthrie, “Mr. Sickyman Ree,” “Han River Woman,” “Korean Bad Weather,” “Korean Quicksands,” and “Korean War Tank,” excerpted. Words & Music by Woody Guthrie.  © Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Woody Guthrie Archive, Tulsa, Oklahoma. I thank Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie archives for allowing publication of the material.

[201] Woody Guthrie, “Talking Korea Blues,” excerpted. Words & Music by Woody Guthrie.  © Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Woody Guthrie Archive, Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Woody Guthrie Archive, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

[202] Robert O. Bowen, “A Matter of Price,” in Retrieving Bones: Stories and Poems of the Korean War, ed. W.D. Ehrhart and Philip K. Jason (New Bruinswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1993), 143.

[203] James Drought, “The Secret” In Retrieving Bones, 156-157.

[204] Drought, “The Secret,” in Retrieving Bones, 146-147.

[205] Melinda Pash, In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought in the Korean War (New York: NYU Press, 2012), 173; Richard J.H. Johnston, “Outnumbered GIs Lost Faith in Arms: Morale Hard Hit as the Enemy, Disregarded his Losses, Retained the Initiative,” New York Times, December 10, 1950, 5; Martin Russ, The Last Parallel: A Marine’s War Journal (New York: Rhinehart, 1957); Curtis James Morrow, What’s a Commie Ever Done to Black People? A Korean War Memoir of Fighting in the US Army’s Last All Negro Unit (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1977). One symptom of low morale was the smoking of opium. The Pentagon reported that 715 soldiers were arrested for this purpose in 1952. Kathleen Frydl, The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 82 and Lukasz Kamienski, Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 147.

[206] Johnnie letter to Dad, January 16, 1951, Papers of John B. Moullette, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Missouri, Box 1.

[207] Dean Acheson, response letter to Mr. Moullette, February 23, 1951, Papers of John B. Moullette, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri, Box 1.

[208] John B. Moullette, State Teachers College Trenton, New Jersey, letter to Mr. George E. Sokosky, Columnist, c/o Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana. Moullette went on to successful career in the field of education and his father proudly boasted of his accomplishments in a letter to Dean Acheson in 1969.

[209] Moullette to Moullette, January 16, 1951; Moullette to Acheson, January 18, 1951; Acheson to Moullette, February 23, 1951; all in Acheson correspondence folder, box I, Moullette Papers, HSTL; Casey, Selling the Korean War, 224.

[210] Kim, The Unending Korean War; Kim Dong-choon, “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea:  Uncovering the Hidden Korean War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 9-5-10, March 1, 2010. – See more at:

[211] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 157; Cumings, The Korean War, 202; Bellesiles, A People’s History of the United States Military, 261; Sung Yong Park, “Report on U.S. War Crimes in Korea, 1945-2001,” Korea International War Crimes Tribunal, June 23, 2001; “Truth Commission: South Korea 2005,” United States Institute for Peace,; and Choe Sang-hun, “Unearthing War’s Horrors years Later in South Korea, International New York Times, Dec. 3, 2007,

[212] Charles J. Hanley, and Jae-Soon Chang, “Summer of Terror: At least 100,000 said executed by Korean ally of US in 1950,”Japan Focus, July 23, 2008, 2.Available online at

[213] James Cameron, Point of Departure (London: Oriel Press, 1978), 131-2; McDonald, Korea, 42; also Nichols, How Many Times Can I Die?,128. CIC agent Donald Nichol, a confidante of Rhee, said he stood by helplessly in Suwan as “the condemned were hastily pushed into line along the edge of the newly opened grave. They were quickly shot in the head and pushed in the grave…I tried to stop this from happening, however, I gave up when I saw I was wasting my time.”

[214] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 159, 160, 201-2; Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, II, 265.

[215] Bruce Cumings, “The South Korean Massacre at Taejon: New Evidence on US Responsibility and Cover-up,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 6, Issue 7 (July 2, 2008),

[216] Hanley, Choe, and Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, 98.

[217] Colonel Claudius O. Wolfe, JAGC, Zone Staff Judge Advocate, Jack R. Todd, Major, JAGC, Chief War Crimes Division, Historical Report for Period Ending 31 December 1952, RG 554, Records of the General headquarters, Korean Communications Zone, War Crimes Historical Files, box 220, National Archives, College Park Maryland. Once they reached Pyongyang, the U.S. POWs, many of them emaciated, were paraded in the main city street.

[218] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 171; Investigation Conducted by Eugene Wolf and Lt. Col Leon W. Konecki, 26-29 December 1950 with Deputy Chief of Staff Headquarters RG 554, Records of the General Headquarters, Far East Command, Reports of Investigations, 1950-1951, box 16; 24th Infantry War Diary, RG 338, Records of the U.S. Army, Operations, 25th Infantry Division, September 1950-31 October 1950, box 3481, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[219] Cuming and Halliday, Korea’s Unknown War.

[220] Captain Pressly, December 30, 1950, RG 342, U.S. Air Force Command, Mission Reports of Units in Korean War, box 21, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[221] Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II, 686, 707; Marilyn B. Young, “Hard Sell, ” in Selling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in a Media Age ed. Kenneth Osgood and Andrew Frank (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011), 129.

[222] Commission of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea, March 31, 1952, Pyongyang, Korea, In one brutal revenge killing in Sinchon, American soldiers cut off a woman’s breasts and put a wooden club in her vagina before burning her alive in an act reminiscent of atrocities described in Vietnam’s Winter Soldiers investigation. See Winter Soldier (International Newsreel, 1971).

[223] Kim, The Unending Korean War, 157; McCormack and Lone, Korea Since 1850, 150; Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II, 751. North Korean atrocities are detailed in Historical Report for Period Ending 31 December 1952, War Crimes Division, Col. Claudius O. Wolfe, Zone Staff Judge Advocate and Major Jack R. Todd, JAGC, RG 554, Records of the General Headquarters, Korea Communications Zone, War Crimes Historical Files, War Crimes, box 20 which includes vivid photographs.

[224] See Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe, and Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, 134; Conway-Lanz, Collateral Damage, 96-102. In January 1951, the U.S. military command investigated a company of American military police with the motorcycle squad who had fired their weapons indiscriminately from a train. Angry about their buddies being killed, the squadron shot at seven women and children, killed a fourteen year old boy and man carrying a bundle of clothes up a mountain, and injured a railroad signal man. When a transport officer and his aide asked them to stop shooting, the ringleader replied that it was “none of their business” and that “if they were, or liked ‘commies’ they should go north.” Report of Investigation Concerning Alleged Malicious Use of Weapons by Members of X Corps, January 10, 1951; Chief KMAG to Chief of Staff, November 15, 1950, Richard W. Weaver, Assistant Corps Inspector General, RG 554, Records General Headquarters Far East Command, Reports of Investigation 1950-1951, box 17, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[225] Choon, “Forgotten War, Forgotten Massacres – The Korean War (1950-1953) as Licensed Mass Killing,” Hanley, Sung-Hun Choe and Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri.

[226] Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow, 277. Australian soldiers also executed prisoners in cold blood.

[227] Cumings, The Korean War; Robert Jay Lifton, Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans Neither Victims Nor Executioners (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973); Aaron B. O’Connell, Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 192. O’Connell in a book published by Harvard University Press no less, lays out the brutalizing effect of boot camp training but then extols the Marines professionalism in Korea, saying that excessive violence and aggressive behavior was linked more to home-front problems like high rates of domestic violence and murder. The latter is no doubt true but one wonders if he or his editors have ever read the key literature on the war.

[228] Martin Russ, Happy Hunting Ground (New York: Atheneum, 1968), 73.

[229] Kahn Jr.The Peculiar War, 131.

[230] Henry Beston, “Soliloquy On the Airplane,” Human Events, 7, 42 (October 18, 1950), 1-4.

[231] Kamienski, Shooting Up, 155, 156.

[232] Tim Weiner, “Remember Brainwashing,” International New York Times, July 6, 2008, See Annie Jacobson, The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency (Boston: Little & Brown, 2015) and KAMIEŃSKI, Shooting Up, 155, 156. Edward Hunter, Brainwashing in Red China (New York: Vanguard, 1951).

[233] Historical Report for Period Ending 31 December 1952, War Crimes Division, Col. Claudius O. Wolfe, Zone Staff Judge Advocate and Major Jack R. Todd, JAGC, RG 554, Records of the General Headquarters, Korea Communications Zone, War Crimes Historical Files, War Crimes, box 20, National Archives, College Park Maryland; American POW’s in Korea: Sixteen Personal Accounts (North Carolina: McFarland, 1998); Gavan McCormack, “Korea,” in Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983,ed. Ben Kiernan (London: Quartet Books, 1987), 168; William Shadish, with Lewis Carlson, When Hell Froze Over: The Memoir of a Korean War Combat Physician Who Spent 1010 Days in a Communist Prison Camp (New York: I Universe, 2007).

[234] Interview with Robert Olaf Erricker, 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, Great Britain, 1950; interview with Edward George Beckerley, British Imperial War Museum, historical archive.  Erricker came to the belief that the Chinese and North Koreans were “infinitely better off under communism than under [the previous] feudal system.”  Clarence Adams, An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007); “Briton Swaps Sides,” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 9, 1962,,2775376&hl=en; Bellesiles, A People’s History of the United States Military, 273; Pash, In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation.

[235] Young, Name, Rank and Serial Number, 32; Richard Peters and Xiaobing Li, Voices From the Korean War: Personal Stories of American, Korean and Chinese Soldiers (The University Press of Kentucky, 2004), 246-247; Callum A, MacDonald, “’Heroes Behind Barbed Wire’ – The United States, Britain and the POW Issue During the Korean War,” in The Korean War in History, ed. Cotton and Neary, 153; Bertil Lintner, Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2002), 248; Cumings, Origins of the Korean War II, 202.

[236] Report of Investigation into Allegations Contained in Letter to International Red Cross from the Two Senior POWs per July 28 to August 11, 1951, RG 554, General Headquarters, Far East Command, Office of the Inspector General, Box 18, National Archives, College Park Maryland; Lee Hak Ku and Hong Chol, Sr. Prisoner Camp, Pusan to International Red Cross, June 8, 1951 Ibid; From Results of Trial. Richard R. Anderson, June 21, 1951; From the Results of the Trial, Isaac V. Davis, 25 June 1951.

[237] Report of Investigation into Allegations Contained in Letter to International Red Cross from the Two Senior POWs per July 28 to August 11, 1951, RG 554, General Headquarters, Far East Command, Office of the Inspector General, National Archives, College Park Maryland, Box 18

[238] Young, Name, Rank and Serial Number, 40; Peter Kalischer, “The Koje Snafu,” Colliers, September 6, 1952, 15-19; Melady, Korea, 157; Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, Koje Unscreened  (Peking, 1953). One American MP was killed in the melee either from a spear wounded inflicted by a rebellious prisoner or by his own concussion grenade according to conflicting accounts.  Survivors later smuggled a letter signed by 6,223 prisoners to the media.  It said, “Not a day, not a night but the sacrifice of some of our comrades occurs.  The American guards, armed to the teeth, are repeatedly committing acts of violence and barbarity against our comrades.  They drag them out and kill them either in public or in secret with machine-guns and carbines.  They drive our comrades by the thousand into… torture rooms.  Many patriots are loaded into iron barred cages of police cars and taken to the seashore where they are shot and their corpses cast into the sea.”

[239] Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 121-125; Sandler, The Korean War, 215. Reference for incidents at the POW camp at Pong-am do: Col. Claudius O. Wolfe, UN Zone Staff Judge Advocate and Major Donald C. Young to Commander General, “Review of Report of Proceedings of a Board of Officers Appointed Pursuant to Article 121 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of POWs, August 12, 1949,” National Archives, College Park, MD, RG 338, Records of the U.S. Army Commands, 1942-, “Korean Communist Zone, 1951-1952,” Box 509. On March 7, 1953, POWs on the island of Yonchondo mounted another rebellion which was put down at a cost of 27 POWs killed and 60 wounded.

[240] Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 357.  Of the North Korean prisoners who returned to North Korea, many had been physically intimidated and branded with anticommunist tattoos while in South Korean prisons, which made it impossible for them to return to their communities.  According to prisoners interviewed by journalists Wilfred G. Burchett and Alan Winnington, sadistic guards would slash those who said they wanted to go home with a dagger, rub ground pepper in the wound, and then ask: “Do you still want to go back to the communists?” Others who resisted “voluntary” repatriation could be sent to a compound known as the “graveyard,” where they were scalded with hot water, beaten, had flesh and arms cut off, or were shot or hung on gibbets.  See Wilfred G. Burchett and Alan Winnington, Koje Unscreened (British-China Friendship Association, 1952), available at; and Burchett, This Monstrous War, 202, 203.

[241] See Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Indiana University Press, 1989); “United States Biological Warfare During the Korean War: Rhetoric and Reality;” Tom Buchanen, “The Courage of Galileo: Joseph Needham and the Germ Warfare Allegations in the Korean War,” The Historical Association, 2011,; Lone and McCormack, Korea Since 1850, 115-18; Diarmuid Jeffreys, “Dirty Little Secrets: Al Jazeera Investigates the Claim that the US Used Germ Warfare During the Korean War,” Al Jazeera, April 4, 2010; Jacobsen, The Pentagon’s Brain. Needham was red-baited and barred from travel to the U.S. until the 1970s.  See also, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett, ed. George Burchett and Nick Shimmin (Australia: University of New South Wales Press, 2005), 403, 406.  Burchett interviewed peasants in Chukdong on the border of the neutral zone who discovered clumps of flies and mosquitoes that were unnatural to the area and found mosquitoes when the area was still under heavy snow. Burchett also claimed to have seen flies that were identified by Chinese laboratories as belonging to the hylemia species infected with anthrax while traveling to POW camps near the Yalu River, and said that one was accidentally swallowed by a black GI whose symptoms he later recognized to have resembled descriptions in a Ft. Detrick study cited by Seymour Hersh in his book, Chemical and Biological Warfare.

[242] Historian Sheila Miyoshi Jager claims Needham relied too heavily on Chinese scientists intimidated by the repression that existed under Mao, and that Soviet documents reveal a cover-up in which the Chinese created false plague regions and injected persons sentenced to execution with the plague bacilli. (Jager, Brothers at War, 256).  Endicott and Hagerman produced Chinese archival documents which show that Mao and his subordinates ordered investigation and debated the scale of the operations which they would not have done if it was all a hoax.  The incriminating Soviet documents may have been fabricated as part of an effort by secret Police Chief Lavrenti Beria to discredit rivals.   They have never actually been seen by Western scholars who rely on the word of a journalist working for a Japanese newspaper that has sought to deny Japanese atrocities in World War II and is bitterly anticommunist.  See Endicott and Hagerman, “Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era Documents and Allegations of U. S. germ warfare during the Korean War,” H-Diplo, July 5, 1999.  Jager misleads her readers by confidently concluding it was all hoax when she does not cite or weigh the evidence presented by Endicott and Hagerman or discuss the findings of Al Jazeera’s investigation.  She also dismisses knowledge of CIA psy-war operations and fact that the U.S. was later accused of germ warfare by Cuba and Vietnam, with some substance it appears.

[243] Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as a Weapon of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 126, 172.  Lockwood provides an informative discussion of the controversy far better than Jager, with excellent historical background on Ishii and his rescue by the United States after World War II.  Dave Chaddock, This Must be the Place: How the U.S. Waged Germ Warfare in the Korean War and Denied it Ever Since (Seattle: Bennett & Hastings Publishing, 2013).

[244] Endicott and Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare; Julian Royall, “Did the US Wage Germ Warfare in Korea?” The Telegraph, June 10, 2010. Years after issuing his report, Joseph Needham said he was “97 percent convinced the charges were true.” Hugh Deane, The Korean War, 1945-1953 (San Francisco: China Book, 1999), 155.

[245] Blaine Harden, King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea (New York: Viking, 2017), 8. See also, Blaine Harden, “How One Man Helped Burn Down North Korea,” Politico Magazine, October 2, 2017,

[246] Harden, King of Spies, 32, 35.

[247] Roy Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1992).

[248] Harden, King of Spies, 9.

[249] Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened,; Young, Name, Rank and Serial Number, 42; Haas, In the Devil’s Shadow, 55, 56.

[250] Harden, King of Spies, 108.

[251] Harden, King of Spies, 165. In Vietnam, CIA agent Anthony Poe was considered the real life Kurtz as he promoted brutal methods, including bounties for enemy ears and heads while training Montagnards and helping to run the CIAs Hmong army in Laos.

[252] Harden, King of Spies, 9.

[253] Halberstam, The Coldest Winter, 547; Private Jesse Ibarra, Interview by Colonel Jesse H. Bishop, 25 June 1951 in Report of Investigation RE Alleged Irregularities in the Administration of Military Justice in the 25th Infantry Division, 28 December 1950 to 8 March, 1951, RG 554, Records General Headquarters, Far East Command, Reports of Investigation 1950-1951, box 9, National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

[254] “Jim Crow Justice in Korea: The Case of Lt. Leon Gilbert,” Trade Union Youth Committee for the Freedom of Lt. Gilbert, New York; American Left Ephemera Collection, 1894-2008, University of Pittsburgh Archive,; and Clarence Adams, An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China, edited by Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), pp. 34-37. Adams stayed in China for twelve years after being well treated in captivity. After witnessing napalm bombs hit a Korean hut and kill a woman and her baby, he came to the realization “we should not be here in Korea.”

[255] Report of Investigation RE Alleged Irregularities in the Administration of Military Justice in the 25th Infantry Division, 28 December 1950 to 8 March, 1951, RG 554, Records General Headquarters, Far East Command, Reports of Investigation 1950-1951, box 9, National Archives, College Park Maryland.

[256] Cited in Swomley Jr., The Military Establishment, 232.

[257] Bercuson, Blood on the Hills, 97, 31, 32.  On Canadian involvement, see also Melady, Korea.

[258] Bercuson, Blood on the Hills, 84.  For a critical view of Pearson, see Yves Engler, Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt (Vancouver: Fenwood Publishing, 2012).

[259] Stephen L. Endicott, James G. Endicott: Rebel Out of China (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 302, 283, 291.  James Endicott was born to a missionary family in China and came to empathize with the Chinese revolution and developed socialist views based on his experiences during China’s civil war. Friendly with Zhou Enlai, the RCMP forged documents linking him to the Canadian Communist Party which were false.

[260] Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow, 44, 87, 198.

[261] Salmon, Scorched Earth, Black Snow, 122-23.  Corporal Peet mentioned another soldier who when he removed the cigarette he was smoking, had the flesh of his lips come away with it.

[262] Ian Irvine, “George Blake: I Spy a British Traitor,” The Independent, October 1, 2006.  Blake had served with the Dutch section of MI-6 during World War II.  While working as a double agent after the Korean War, he allegedly betrayed the identity of 40 MI-6 agents, helped uncover a CIA mole in the Russian intelligence directorate (Popov who was executed in 1960) and revealed to the KGB Operation Gold in which the US and British spy services built a tunnel into East Berlin which was used to tap telephone lines used by the Soviet military.  Blake escaped from prison in 1966 and went on to live for the next half century in Moscow where he was feted as a national hero.  He told reporter Ian Irvine in 2006 that he had no regrets:  “The Communist ideal is too high to achieve … and there can only be nominal adherents to it in the end.  But I am optimistic, that in time, and it may take thousands of years, that humanity will come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a Communist society where people were really equal.”  See George Blake, No Other Choice (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).

[263] Mantell,” Opposition to the Korean War,” 66; James Van Fleet, “The Truth About Korea,” The Readers Digest, July 1953, 1; Braim, The Will to Win, 328. See for example, Mr. D.A. Greenhill, U. Alexis Johnson and Kenneth T. Young, “Korean Internal Situation: The So Minh Case,” July 2, 1952; “Korean Internal Political Situation,” June 21, 1952, Harry S. Truman Papers, Korea, HST Library, Box 11; Suh Sung, Unbroken Spirits: Twenty-Five Years in South Korea’s Gulag (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).

[264] Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

[265] Katsiaficas, Asia’s Unknown Uprisings; Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

[266] Cumings, North Korea; Armstrong, Tyranny of the Weak; Balasz Szalontai, Kim Il Sung in the Khrushchev Era: Soviet-DPRK Relations and the Roots of North Korean Despotism, 1953-1964 (Woodrow Wilson Center for International History, 2005), 40; Benjamin R. Young, “Juche in the United States: The Black Panther Party’s Relations with North Korea, 1969-1971,”The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 12, No. 2, March 30, 2015. In 1964, Cambridge economist Joan Robinson wrote a report entitled “Korean miracle” praising the “intense concentration of the Koreans on national pride” in North Korea’s social and economic development, led by the country’s leader Kim Il Sung who was a “messiah rather than a dictator.” Kim enjoyed prestige within non-aligned circles, promoting North Korea as a vanguard state in resisting integration into the global capitalist economy and in forging its political independence, training two thousand guerrilla fighters from 25 countries and providing significant development aid. Noam Chomsky has noted that capitalist encirclement is sure to bring about the most autocratic qualities in socialist regimes.

[267] For excellent analysis, see Cumings, North Korea.

[268] Kwon& Ho-Chung, North Korea, 106; Chris Springer, Pyongyang: The Hidden History of the North Korean Capital (Gold River, CA: Saranda Books, 2003). This is similar to Vietnam where most war commemoration honors revolutionary heroes, rather than war victims and dead.

[269] See Larry J. Butler, Copper Empire: Mining and the Colonial State in Northern Rhodesia, c. 1930-1964 (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007). The Paley commission in 1951 constructed a national policy on resources and suggested that the U.S. should look to Latin America and Africa. The American government provided loans to the Central African Federation, headed by white supremacist Roy Welensky, to increase copper production. On the general drive for resources as a feature of U.S. foreign policy, see Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969).

[270] Cumings, The Korean War, 217; Laton McCartney, Friends in High Places: The Bechtel Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988); Roger Hilsman to Mr. Johnson, “Requirements for Petroleum Agreement,” January 3, 1964, RG 59, General Records Department of State, Office of Legal Affairs, Far Eastern Affairs, box 2, folder petroleum, National Archives, College Park Maryland; and Colby, DuPont Dynasty, 409.

[271] Democracy in Occupied Japan: The U.S. Occupation and Japanese Politics and Society, ed. Mark Caprio and Yoneyuki Sugita (New York: Routledge, 2007), 17; Roger Dingeman, “The Dagger and the Gift: The Impact of the Korean War on Japan,” Journal of American-East Asia Relations (Spring 1993), 42.

[272] Bruce Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 340-41; A.H. Raskin, “U.S. Arms Being Produced at 7 Times Pre-Korean Rate,” New York Times, June 25, 1952; “Production Step-Up Faces Rocky Road,” Aviation Week, January 8, 1951

[273] “McDonnell Backlog Climbs Steeply,” Aviation Week, October 16, 1950; “Missiles Super-Agency Fast Taking Shape,” Aviation Week, October 30, 1950; “Industry Poised for All-Out Mobilization,” Aviation Week, December 11, 1950, 13-14; Irving Stone, “New High Thrust Turbojet Seen for GE,” Aviation Week, December 4, 1950; Philip Klass, “Hughes Takes Wraps Off Avionics Giant: Fir is Major Producer of Air Defense Weapons,” Aviation Week, May 25, 1953, 14, 15; William D. Hartung, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (New York: The Nation Books, 2011); Charles Higham, Howard Hughes: The Secret Life(New York: St. Martin’s 1993); Kai Frderickson, Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013); David L. Carlton, “The American South and the U.S. Defense Economy: A Historical View,” in The South, The Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development, ed. David Carlton and Peter A. Coclanis (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003), 160. A large Douglas Aircraft plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma was among those to reopen and prosper in the war years.

[274] Mantell, “Opposition to the Korean War,” 199.

[275] Noam Chomsky, “The Threat of Warships on an Island of World Peace,” in Making the Future: Occupation, Intervention, Empire and Resistance (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2012), 297-300; Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (New York: Picador, 2012); Joseph P. Gerson, “Countering Washington’s Pivot and the New Asia-Pacific Arms Race,” Z Magazine, February 2013.

[276] The White House, “Remarks by the President at 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice,” July 27, 2013.

About the author

Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs (UMass Press, 2009); Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (UMass Press, 2012); and Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Clarity Press, 2019).  He is the co-author, with John Marciano, of The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018).  He has been active in the Historians for Peace and Democracy, and the Tulsa Peace fellowship, and is currently the managing editor of CovertAction Magazine.
The author thanks Roger Peace for his excellent editing and guidance, and also Mark Selden and Alfred W. McCoy.  Special acknowledgment is also given to the late Dr. Jack Tobin and the late Fred Branfman.  Archives visited: National Archives, College Park, Maryland; Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri; Carl Albert Research Center, Norman, Oklahoma; and Woody Guthrie Archive, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Cite this article:

Bibliography:  Kuzmarov, Jeremy. “The Korean War: Barbarism Unleashed.”  United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,
Endnotes or footnotes:  Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Korean War: Barbarism Unleashed,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,

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