In 1945, the unified Korean country was split along the 38th parallel, creating North Korea and South Korea. The communist north was backed by the Soviet Union and the democratic south by the United States. Though the split allowed these two countries to be formed, neither the north or south felt that the division was accurate, and each side believed the other part of Korea was rightfully theirs.
To rectify this, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, with China’s help and the Soviet Union. This started the Korean War, though the U.S. involvement didn’t officially happen until later.
In the U.S., it’s often called the Forgotten War, since WWII and the Vietnam War largely overshadowed the conflict. As the country tried to heal from WWII, our involvement in the Korean conflict was largely ignored by the media. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which began in 1955, also overpowered the conflict in Korea.
What’s in a name?
North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War, and South Korea calls it Six-Two-Five. This numerical reference indicates the date the war started, June 25, 1950. China calls it the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea. Names aside, here are four more forgotten facts you need to know about the Korean War:
A Never-Ending War
Six decades later, we’re still no closer to a peaceful conclusion. The Korean Armistice Agreement put an end to the “acts of armed violence” but didn’t actually declare an end to the war. The agreement is technically just a ceasefire that was written to hold the countries over until they could come to a more lasting peaceful solution. As time went on and neither side was willing to budge on their terms, no official end was ever declared. Now, the two countries are still technically at war.
Speaking of “war”
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, following approval and a pledge of support from the Soviet Union. In 1950, the US was actively pulling out of South Korea, and there were few service members left in the country. But just two days later, President Truman made the decision for air, and naval action as the North Korean Army approached Seoul.
However, the Korean War was only ever considered a “conflict,” and Congress never officially declared war. As the conflict unfolded, the United Nations publicly demanded that North Korea stop attacking South Korea and retreat back to the 38th parallel. Of course, the order was ignored, so the UN called on the rest of the world to help support South Korea. The call was answered by over 15 countries, including France, Ethiopia, Canada, and Australia.
The 38th Parallel has always been hotly debated
The idea of a North Korea and South Korea isn’t something new. In fact, in the late 1890s, Japan wanted to separate Korea and split the landmass with Russia. Japan wanted to use the 38th Parallel to slip the country, giving Russia control of the North and keeping the South for itself. The peninsula wasn’t officially split apart until 1945 after WWII.
On either side of the 38th Parallel is the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which houses meeting spaces for the two countries to meet in a neutral location for talks. The DMZ was created in 1953, and the zone is about 5 km wide. Ideally, this buffer is supposed to be the place where no military action can occur, but there have been instances of violence, directed to both the military and civilians.
The North Koreans captured an American General
A month after the war broke out, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces while he attempted to help wounded service members. He was out looking for water when he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. During the next 26 days, Dean was isolated in the mountains and lost 80 pounds. He also suffered a broken shoulder and a head wound from the fall. Two South Koreans found him and told him they were leading him to safety. In reality, they took him to a North Korean ambush site. Dean tried to fight his captors, but couldn’t resist for long. Officially, he was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained a POW until the end of the war.
Though the Korean War might not have had much time in the media spotlight, it’s still fiercely remembered by the service members who were called to serve as well as the families who lost loved ones during the war.