North and South Korea on June 25 marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War with largely subdued commemorations amid the coronavirus pandemic, a day after the North abruptly halted a pressure campaign against the South.
As well as pitting North against South, the Korean War embroiled each side’s communist and Western allies — with the Soviet Union and China backing Pyongyang, and a US-led coalition under a UN banner supporting Seoul.
The conflict broke out on June 25, 1950, caused the deaths of up to three million Koreans (the vast majority of them civilians) and ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war
Photo: AFP 照片：法新社
Two Koreas created
The Soviet Union declared war on Japan, Korea’s colonial ruler, between the US nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and sent troops pouring into the peninsula.
Washington and Moscow agreed to divide it into two occupied zones along the 38th parallel, a line of latitude that splits the territory roughly across the middle.
Photo: Reuters 照片：路透
Two rival states emerged in 1948. In Seoul, the capital of the South, the Harvard — and Princeton — educated Syngman Rhee led a US-oriented regime. Moscow appointed Kim Il Sung, who had led a Korean contingent in the Soviet army, as head of the North. His son and grandson have since retained an absolute grip on power in Pyongyang.
Both the communist North and the capitalist South claimed to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula.
Invasion and counter-attack
Photo: AFP 照片：法新社
On June 25, 1950, the North invaded the South as Kim Il Sung attempted to reunify Korea by force. The UN Security Council authorized armed intervention in support of the South — Moscow did not veto the resolution as it was boycotting the body. But the South’s forces crumbled before the Northern advance, and Pyongyang’s army seized Seoul just three days after crossing the 38th parallel.
Multinational UN forces, led by the US, arrived in the South to help. But they were pushed back to the Pusan Perimeter, a pocket on the peninsula’s southeastern tip, around the city now known as Busan.
The Incheon Landing — a bold counter-offensive launched in the city to the west of Seoul — recaptured the capital, split the North’s forces and turned the tide. UN units swept north, seized Pyongyang on Oct. 19 and advanced almost to the Chinese border.
Photo: EPA-EFE 照片：歐新社
But Pyongyang’s allies reversed the war’s course again as Beijing sent hundreds of thousands of troops to help. Seoul fell to them again in January 1951, only for the UN coalition to recapture it once more two months later — the fourth time the city had changed hands.
By June the front line had stabilized roughly where the Demilitarized Zone runs today — not far from the pre-war division along the 38th parallel. Another two years of attrition — accompanied by large-scale US bombing of the North, despite Moscow providing air power — followed as the fighting wore its way to a stalemate.
After more than two years of truce talks and 158 meetings, an armistice was finally signed in July 1953 by North Korea, China and the UN Command. But Rhee, who still wanted to defeat the North, refused to sign.
The longest ceasefire
The ceasefire was supposed to be replaced with a final peace settlement, but that has never happened.
Washington still stations 28,500 troops in the South, while the North — which has the world’s largest standing army — has spent decades developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, saying it needs them to deter a US invasion.
It has been isolated internationally as a result, and subject to multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions. Both Pyongyang and Seoul continue to claim sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.
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Did you know?
The Korean War might seem geographically distant from Taiwan, however it made the US reverse its hands-off policy toward the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on Taiwan. Washington sent the US Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to put the island under US protection.
US support deterred the Chinese Communist Party from launching an invasion of Taiwan, which it had drawn up plans for prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.
(Lin Lee-kai, Taipei Times)
1. peace treaty phr.
(he2 ping2 tiao2 yue1)
2. peninsula n.
3. regime n.
4. legitimate government phr.
(he2 fa3 zheng4 fu3)
5. to unify…by force phr.
(yi2 wu3 li4 tong3 yi1 [mou3 di4])
6. armistice n.
(ting2 zhan4 xie2 yi4)
7. sanction n.
(zhi4 cai2, jin4 yun4)
8. to claim sovereignty over phr.
(sheng1 cheng1 dui4 [mou3 di4] yong2 you2 zhu3 quan2)
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