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Morton: North invades South, starts Korean War

Published: Monday, June 25, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

On this day (June 25) in 1950, the Communist North Korean army crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea.

Upon learning of this unexpected invasion, President Harry S. Truman, who at the time was in his hometown of Independence, Mo., hurried back to Washington, where he scheduled a dinner meeting at the Blair House (his temporary residence while the White House was undergoing extensive renovation) of his top military and diplomatic advisors.

On that Sunday, the United Nations Security Council had been able, because of absence of the Soviet representative, to order an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of all North Korean forces.

Late Monday, June 26, the president ordered U.S. air and naval forces to give immediate support to the retreating, outmanned South Korean army. He specifically authorized military action south of the 38th parallel and ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to Formosa (Taiwan) to prevent a Chinese Communist attack on that Nationalist stronghold.

On June 27, the U.N. Security Council called on U.N. member nations to “furnish such assistance as may be necessary to the Republic of Korea to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.”

By Wednesday, June 28, the news from Korea grew worse as the capital city of Seoul fell to the rapidly advancing North Korean army. Finally, on June 30, Truman ordered U.S. ground troops to Korea to help check the Communist onslaught and authorized U.S. military action north of the 38th parallel.

On July 7, Truman announced that the draft would be used to enlarge the army for what was called “the century’s nastiest little war” (i.e., the Korean War), and urged Congress to enact a $10 billion rearmament program.

Meanwhile, the U.N. voted to establish a unified U.N. command in Korea under a U.S. commander. Truman, on July 8, appointed “The American Caesar,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur, to command the U.N. forces. Interestingly, with the return on Aug. 1 of the Soviet representative to the Security Council, further U.N. action was at a standstill because of the real threat of a Soviet veto.

As a result of World War II, the former Japanese colony of Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel. The northern portion was to be “temporarily” occupied by the Soviet Union, and the south by the U.S.

After several unsuccessful attempts to hold elections that would have hopefully led to a reunited democratic Korea, and after Syngman Rhee was installed as president of the Republic of Korea, the U.S., in June 1949, pulled its troops out of the country, leaving only a 500-man American military advisory group.

In a Jan. 12, 1949, speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Secretary of State Dean Acheson probably inadvertently implied that Korea was not part of the U.S.’s Asian defense perimeter. Russia interpreted that to mean the U.S. most likely would not intervene in any conflict on the Korean peninsula and therefore seemingly gave the green light for North Korea to attack South Korea.

Eventually, MacArthur’s U.N. forces were able to slowly repel the invaders and push into North Korea all the way to the Yalu River. This frightened the Chinese into massively intervening.

After three years of hard fighting, an armistice was finally signed on July 27, 1953, that divided the peninsula essentially along the 38th parallel.

In May 1951, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley famously commented on MacArthur’s proposal to invade Communist China across the Yalu River by stating that attacking mainland China would be, “The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and author of “The American Revolution” and “Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” He is available for tutoring, talks, and workshops on American history. Email him at

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