Wrong Turns In Korea

Miscalculations and blunders by world leaders precipitated the Korean War 60 years ago

On its 60th anniversary, the Korean War looks much like Vietnam, a pointless conflict that gained nothing for those who began it: North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and South Korea’s Syngman Rhee, with the consent of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong. Yet it was far worse than that: The bloodletting in that corner of northeast Asia was an exercise in human folly that cost all sides in the fighting nearly 4 million lives lost, missing, and wounded, not to mention the devastation of the peninsula from Pusan in the south to the Yalu River in the north. Not a single northern or southern Korean city escaped the ravages wrought by modern warfare. Public buildings and private homes were turned into piles of rubble, while thousands of refugees fled from the scenes of battle.

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How To Remember The Forgotten War

The Korean conflict erupted fifty years ago this June. Many Americans still believe that it began in debacle (which is true) and ended in a humiliating compromise that changed nothing (which is not).

Only by coincidence does the fragment of a map of Korea along the fateful thirty-eighth parallel that is part of the jacket art for my book MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero include the town of Chunchon. That was as far north as I got during the war. My commission as an Army second lieutenant had come on April 18, 1951, exactly one week after President Truman dismissed Douglas MacArthur as commander in chief in the Far East.

 
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