My recent research on Asian SOF based units has taken me back in time for another look at the Korean War, often referred to as America’s Forgotten War due to it taking place in the aftermath of World War Two, being much shorter than that war (1950-1953), and Americans turning a blind eye to a conflict in what was then a small obscure country in East Asia.
Prior to the conclusion of World War Two, Korea had been a Japanese colony. The Korean people were subjected to oppression and humiliation at the hands of their colonial masters, including the widespread use of so-called “comfort women”; Korean women and girls who were forced into providing sexual services to the Japanese military. After President Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and the Imperial Army surrendered, the United States military was caught off guard. Unaware of the highly classified Manhattan project, they were surprised by how quickly Japan surrendered, having expected a years long campaign to capture the island.
Now, the US military was faced with surrendering Japanese including on the Korean Peninsula. Officers who were trained as Allied Military Government (AMG) units who would oversee the transitional period in Japan (and learned Japanese in school) were suddenly en route to Korea to assume control from the Imperial Army. The American AMG units did they best they could under hurried circumstances, but they further offended the Korean people by leaving any Japanese bureaucrats in charge during the transition.
With Japan suddenly out of the picture, there was a power vacuum in Korea, and really throughout East Asia. America knew it needed allies in the region to fight back the USSR, allies like Japan and Korea. A temporary line of control was established at the 38th parallel, cutting east to west across the Korean peninsula which divided it in two, much the same way that we divided up Germany after the Nazis were defeated. Soviet military units were soon showing up in North Korea and a line which was only supposed to exist until Korea could be stabilized and elections could be held suddenly became permanent.
China fell to communism in 1949, and by 1950 both North and South Korea were declaring themselves as independent nations. Both sides dreamed of reunification, but under their own terms. The United States presence in the South was minuscule at the time, consisting of an organization called Military Advisory Assistance Group-Korea (KMAG). At this stage, it was clear that North Korea had superior military capabilities and could quickly overrun the South any time they wanted.
Since 1945, KMAG had been establishing a Korean constabulary and began arming them with rifles left behind by the Japanese. Endeavors were started to help the Americans learn Korean and for Korean troops to begin learning some English. These early efforts were a great start, but not substantial enough considering the threat growing in the North.
Kim Il-Sung’s forces pushed across the 38th parallel in June of 1950, quickly capturing Seoul. President Truman authorized the defense of South Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur was soon back into the fray.
Next up: the Pusan perimeter and Special Operations missions during the Korean war.
(Featured image courtesy of the US Army)