Who started the Korean War?
- I have many written many articles on this issue. I will post them
when I have time. Let us start with the story you will never hear
June 4, 1950written (2000.7.22) webpaged (20013.7.17)
Apparently there still is the question of who started the Korean war, and many people still ask me what my opinion is on this question. This question should not exist because there were about 50,000 Korean troops stationed along the 38th parallel on 25th day of June 1950. Many died on that day, but many survived and told their horror stories, and they are still telling the story.
- Lee Sang-Jo was a high-ranking officer in the North Korean Army and was
one of the Northern delegates during the Panmunjom cease-fire negotiations
which lasted for two years (1952-53). Later, he had a quarrel with Kim
Il-Sung and exiled himself to Minsk (Belarus). When he visited Korea
about ten years ago, Korean reporters asked him who started the war.
His reply was "Why are you asking me this question? You already know.
If you still do not know, ask those Koreans who were at the front line
on the 6.25 day."
- About one month ago (June 2000), I attended a dinner hosted by the
of the SNU Alumni Association, and the keynote speaker was an SNU man
working at the Korean Embassy in Washington. He was invited to speak
about the government's plan for reunification. Before explaining the
plan, he said he has done some research on who started the Korean War
and spent 20 minutes to explain his research result.
He said he was born in 1950 and the information he has is based on publications. He said the outbreak of the war shocked the entire world, and he presented an impressive list of the newspaper and broadcast reports during the period 6.25-29. He was bragging about the his research on Soviet news reports. His conclusion was that the question is still at large, and will never be settled. This is precisely what we expect from SNU people. They never know how to learn things from fellow Koreans. If he is so interested in this question, why did he not ask Koreans who were at the front line on the 25th day of June 1950?
- As for myself, I was on the 38th parallel just north of Seoul on the
fourth day of June (three weeks before the 6.25 day). I accompanied my
father who went there. He was a high-ranking supply officer at Korea's
Ministry of Defense, and was a member of the inspection team headed by
Col. Chang Do-Young who was the chief intelligence officer.
The team's mission was to find out what was going on at the 38th parallel. I listened carefully what field officers were telling to the inspection team. The soldiers there do not have enough ammunition for their rifles even for target practices.
- Col. Chang asked field commanders what was going on in the North?
They were constructing a road toward the boundary. What was the purpose
of the road? They had no idea. This was the end of the conversation about
The Korean army, including its intelligence chief, did not have enough military professionalism to analyze this crucial information. They did not know the purpose was to move their tanks rapidly from their hidden points in the North. Tanks were far beyond their imagination.
The only thing they knew about the Northern army was that they were equipped with hand-operated Mosin-Nagant rifles designed by Russians in 1891. Their conclusion was that they were safe as long as they had enough supply of ammunition for their semi-automatic M1 refiles. They did not know rifles (automatic or otherwise) are irrelevant against the tanks.
- When I tell this story to young Koreans, their answer is that they were
not born in 1950, and they cannot agree with me. I sometimes meet
Koreans from the North when I go to Russia. They become scared if I
tell them I look like Kim Il-Sung. On the other hand, they become very
friendly as soon as I speak with Pyongyang accent (my mother was Pyongyang).
Then we get into the argument on who started
the Korean war. When I tell them I was at the tank-crossing point three
weeks before the 6.25 day, they ask me how old I was. They are at least
willing to listen.
- A similar situation exists on the question of who wrote the first Korean
version of the Bible. This question is not restricted to Christianity
in Korea. The Bible played an important role in teaching Koreans how to
use Hangeul. On this question also, Korean scholars always rely on
foreign publications, and they will never find the answer.
Click here for a story.
Koreans do not know how to ask questions and listen to fellow Koreans. This is the most serious tragedy for Korea. Unless we solve this problem, we will never earn respects from other people in the world. If we do not respect ourselves, how can we expect them to respect us?
- Let us reconstruct where those tanks were when Chang's inspection
team went to the 38th parallel on June 4, 1950.
- Before 1944, there was an elite Japanese combat unit called
the 77th Regiment, called "Chilsip-Chil Yondae" in Korean. This
word in quite familiar among those who lived in Pyongyang or had relatives
there. Here is a photo of its military
base. This place was used by Soviet troops after 1945, but
became the No. 1 military base for the North Korean army after
Soviets left in 1948.
- On February 8, 1848, the North
Korean army (called Chosun Inmin-Goon) was inaugurated with Kim Il-Sung
as the commander in Chief. But the training program for their
tank operators and air force pilots began much earlier.
- In June of 1950, those tanks were assembled on the ground of
the 77th Regiment. I met several people who saw those tanks
there. They are among those Korans who came to the South during
the 1.4 retreat of 1951.
- I also met one person who came from Sariwon. He saw the
tanks being transported to south on railroad cars. It was done
during daytimes. Sariwon is a major railroad crossing point
south of Pyonyang. It now serves as the capital city of North
- Before 1944, there was an elite Japanese combat unit called the 77th Regiment, called "Chilsip-Chil Yondae" in Korean. This word in quite familiar among those who lived in Pyongyang or had relatives there. Here is a photo of its military base. This place was used by Soviet troops after 1945, but became the No. 1 military base for the North Korean army after Soviets left in 1948.
Two Infantry Divisions of the U.S. Army
written (2000.2.29) webpaged (2013.7.20)
- By June 29, 1950, four days after the North Korean army crossed the
38th parallel, the (south) Korean
Army completely lost its combat capability. It is not difficult to
understand how this happened if you see the
photos of the tanks the North Korean Army had.
Then the United States re-assembled its 24th Division stationed in Japan and sent it to Korea in hurry. The troops of the 24th Div. brought with them six 2.36-in bazooka launchers and 40 rounds of ammunition. I saw those troops. Their calculation was that those North Korean invaders would become scared and would run away to the North.
- When they met the North Korean tanks in Osan on July 5 (1950), they
sent the first shots to the tanks, but nothing happened. To make things
worse, those tanks did not even reciprocate the courtesy of returning
the fire. You really have to see those unruly tanks by visiting
this webpage. In the battle of Daejon, the
24th Div. lost one third of its troop strength including its division
The division commander was Major General William Dean. He was captured by North Koreans and stayed at their POW camp until the POW exchange process following the cease-fire agreement of July 27, 1953.
- In the meantime, the First Cavalry Division was on the Pacific Ocean
on its way from Texas. The troops finally landed in Pohang on July
16. They then replaced the wounded 24th Division. Later, the First
Cav. got combined with the 24th Div. and the First Div. of the
Korean army into the First Corps of the U.N. Army.
You will then be interested in how Koreans got along with their American counterparts. I wrote an article about this problem in 1997, but decided to rewrite it in order to emphasize what I really want to say in these articles: Koreans have enough wisdom and strength to deal with discriminations if they exist. Please continue reading.
American Wheels and Korean Legs
written (1997.8.5) webpaged (2013.7.20)
- On one of his side arms, General Tilelli was wearing an insignia for
the U.S. First Cavalry Division (black horse on yellow background).
This unit is now stationed in Fort Hood (Texas). If you are attending
the Univ. of Texas in Austin, you should be able to spot the soldiers
wearing the black-yellow insignia. In order to impress Tilelli, I
told him that he should not be in Korea but should be in Texas.
He then said I am only half-smart about the U.S. Army. If a general carries enough stars, he can wear the unit insignia most meaningful to him. In his case, he was the commander of the First Cavalry when the unit was sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf-war period, and he was proud of the mission he carried out. Yes, the First Cavalry and the 24th Division formed the main muscle of the U.S. Army in the Gulf region in 1990 and 1991.
- In October of 1950, the UN (US and Korean) forces were ready to march
toward north to liberate Pyongyang, and the UN Command initially
positioned the First Cav. and the 24th Division in the left flank and
the right flank respectively, while leaving the first Korean Army
Division as a reserve in the rear. This meant that Pyongyang was
going to be occupied by American troops first. This was going to be
a disaster to Koreans, and had to be prevented at all costs.
Pyongyang map of 1946 Major General Frank Milburn was the commander of the First UN Corps consisting of three army divisions in charge of occupying Pyongyang in October of 1950.
Brig. General Paik Sun-Yup was the commander of the Korean Army First Division. Paik is talking to Milburn in Pyongyang (October 1950).
Under a strong protest from Koreans, the 24th Div. was replaced by the First
Korean Army Division, but it was beyond Americans' imagination for
Koreans to reach Pyongyang before their Cav. Division. This Cav.
Division was initially created as a fast-moving unit during the horse
era, and maintained its mobility during the post-horse era. In Korea,
the Division was equipped with more than 1,000 motor vehicles including
state-of-the-art troop carriers. In contrast, the Korean Division
had only 50 Nissan trucks (junk cars at that time).
The race was very simple. Americans are on the wheels and Koreans had to walk. This was how the six-day race began. I would not tell this story if the result had been consistent with what young Koreans could expect these days. Yes, Koreans at that time were creative enough to produce miracles. It was a torturous to walk and run without sleep for six days, but they reached Pyongyang before Americans did. Remember that hard work is an integral part of creativity.
The commander of the Korean Division was Paik Sun-Yup with one star at that time. Two years later, in 1952, he became the Army Chief of Staff. He then became Korea's first four-star general. In 1950, he explained to his troops why Koreans had to get to Pyongyang before Americans, and said loudly "I will walk and you will follow me."
- Gen. Paik, who was initially trained as an officer in the Japanese army,
never understood why soldiers had to wear neckties. Thus, he always
came to ceremonies in his combat fatigue without necktie. He did not
carry his pistol, but he always had his water canteen hanging on his
belt. Koreans were then quick to produce a joke that Paik was not
carrying water in his canteen, but wine or whisky. They nicknamed
the canteen as "Paik Su-Yup's Sool-tong." These days, it's official
name is "Soo-tong," but our young soldiers do not know the history.
In 1985, I met a Korean army officer. In order to kihap him, I asked him why the canteen is called "Soo-tong" instead of a more natural word "Mool-tong." To my surprise, he had a clear understanding of its history. He told me he can tell the alcoholic content of the liquid inside by looking at the canteen. I asked him how. He was quite scientific in his explanation, but I do not know whether his theory works in the real world. He said he definitely can tell, and I had to trust him. Who says Koreans lack imagination?
Taylor later served as the Army Chief of Staff, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Ambassador to Vietnam during the Vietnam build-up period (before 1965). I was thus able to show off my photo with Taylor to American friends. When the friends asked me what the occasion was, I used to tell a lie that I destroyed one Soviet-built NK tank with a gasoline bottle. This was a joke, but some Americans believed my made-up story.
copyright@2013 by Y. S. Kim.
Unless otherwise specified, all photos are from the public domain, the Wikipedia fair-use domain, the North Korean propaganda literature, or from my personal collection.
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