Who started the Korean War?

June 4, 1950

written (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.

Two Infantry Divisions of the U.S. Army

American Wheels and Korean Legs

    written (1997.8.5) webpaged (2013.7.20)

    I lived long enough to meet many interesting people. Among them are two US four-star generals. In December of 1953, I shook hands with General Maxwell Taylor who was the commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea at that time. I still have a photograph of the hand-shaking scene. I was in my high-school uniform and Taylor was in his combat fatigue.

    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.

    Gen. John Tilelli was the commanding general of the U.S. Forces in Korea (1996-99). In 1997, he came to the University of Maryland to give a speech. The tall on on his right was James Lilley (1928-2009) who was Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Korea (1986-89). Lilley was on the faculty of the University of Maryland when Tilleli came in 1997. Tilleli was wearing the following insignia (First Cavalry Division) on his right arm.
    The following story is equally unbelievable, but is a true story. I shook hands with another U.S. general last month. General John Tilelli is the present commander of the U.S. forces in Korea. He visited the University of Maryland on June 26 (1997). I am now old and high enough to exchange jokes with this four-star general, and I felt like "kihapping" his staff members consisting of colonels and majors.

  • 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?


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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