On This Day

Korean War Begins

Max Desfor's photograph of refugees fleeing across a destroyed bridge over the Taedong River a few months after the invasion
Max Desfor's photograph of refugees fleeing across a destroyed bridge over the Taedong River a few months after the invasion

Historical Context

Prior to World War II, Korea was under Japanese colonial administration. After the Japanese surrender, the peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel and the Soviet Union took administration of the northern half and the Americans took control of the south. As the Cold War developed, the two areas eventually became two separate countries: the North a socialist dictatorship under Kim Il-sung and the South a capitalist dictatorship under Syngman Rhee.

Continuing tensions (and neither country accepting the division and claiming to be the government of all Korea) led to preparations for war. North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung required the patronage of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, so he began in March 1949 attempting to persuade him to support an invasion of the South. Stalin agreed in April 1950, on the condition that Chinese leader Mao Zedong would intervene if needed; Mao agreed in May 1950.

Soviet and Chinese support secured, Kim launched his invasion at dawn on Sunday, June 25, 1950. Within two months the South was on the verge of defeat. The United Nations intervened with an amphibious attack at Incheon (commanded by Douglas MacArthur) and invaded North Korea, precipitating a Chinese invasion, which again pushed the UN forces back.

For the next three years the war settled into a deadly stalemate where the lines of control changed little. Two years of tit-for-tat negotiations led to an armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, which divided Korea along the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Today, the Korea remain sharply divided in every aspect - economic, political and social - and technically still at war, since the war did not end with a peace treaty.

Photo Info

Photographer: Max Desfor
Date taken: December 4, 1950
Location taken: Taedong River, Korea

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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