On 25th June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea at several points along the two countries’ joint border. Today the state of war still exists as South Korea has still not signed the Armistice.

Korea had been divided since the end of the Second World War and both sides had engaged in sabre rattling since then. Despite that the invasion took the international community by surprise, even though the American Economic Co-operation Administration had about 2,000 staff in South Korea.

The Korean War was just an early episode in the developing Cold War between the USA and the USSR – a war that continued into the 1980s and which finally died out due to the courage and tenacity of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Regan. The Korean War wasn’t about conflict between North and South – the superpowers were just using it as a front to fight each other without actually going into a ‘hot war’ which – as both sides had the atomic bomb – would have resulted in “Mutually Assured Destruction”: MAD for short.
The USA went to war in Korea for three reasons.

The first of these was what over was known as the ‘Domino theory’.  Eastern Europe was not the only place where Communists were gaining power.  In the Far East China had turned Communist in 1949 and US President Harry Truman believed that as one country fell to Communism, then others would follow, like a row of dominoes. He was worried that if Korea fell, the next ‘domino’ would be Japan, which was very important for American trade and military presence in South East Asia.

The second reason was to undermine Communism. Truman believed that capitalism, freedom and the American way of life were in danger of being overrun by Communism. The Truman Doctrine had been one of ‘containment’ – of stopping the Communists gaining any more territory. In April 1950 the American National Security Council issued a report recommending that America abandon ‘containment’ and start ‘rolling back’ Communism. This led Truman to commit to driving the Communists out of North Korea.

The third reason was that Truman realised the USA was in a competition for world domination with the USSR and by supporting South Korea, America was able to fight Communism without directly attacking Russia and show other “third world” countries in Asia and Africa who they should ally to.

The Longest War (of the 20th Century) 

The Soviets took pretty much the same line, except they wanted to push the dominoes over, and they too became involvd in order to fight the Cold War. Stalin wanted to see Communism expand but knew he could not afford to get involved in a ‘hot war’ with America. In 1949, Kim II Sung had visited Stalin and persuaded him that he could conquer South Korea with Soviet and Chinese assistance, the latter already promised by Mao Tse Tung.
This was the position when with a sudden rush of blood to the head, South Korean leader Syngman Rhee boasted that he was going to attack North Korea. This gave the North Koreans the excuse they needed (self-defence) and although Rhee never looked like carrying out his boast on the 15th June North Korea crossed the border and invaded the South.

Thus began a war in which the fighting – which involved British and Commonwealth troops as well as Americans – was particularly bloody and lasted until July 1953 at which time the warring factions, apart from Syngman Rhee, signed a cease fire followed later by an Armistice – also never signed by the South Koreans.

So North & South Korea are still in a state of war to this day and whilst the South has developed in an economically successful – albeit protectionist – country, North Korea remains a dedicated communist country where the concept of human rights has no place.

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