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Talk:Korean War

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 Definition A modern conflict (1950-1953) fought on the Korean peninsula between the US-led UN forces, and the Communist coalition of North Korea and China. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup categories History and Military [Editors asked to check categories]
 Subgroup categories:  Korea and American politics since 1945
 Talk Archive none  English language variant Not specified

I am sorry if this sounds childish. Professer Jensen may go stark raving mad if he reads this. But it's a start, right?Jeffrey Scott Bernstein 20:57, 9 October 2007 (CDT)

Okay, now don't forget to add your checklist to let the History and Military workgroups know that this article is here. They will find you, or you can ask them to take a look when you are ready. Matt Innis (Talk) 21:04, 9 October 2007 (CDT)

cold war

well I went raving mad some time ago. I revised the Cold War section because the domino model was not in use at the time (it was used for the Vietnam war later). Just containment.

NO! Do whatever you like! I am aware that my article sounded like a High School essay, haha. It may be rewritten totally someday . . . not by me . . . Be my guest!Jeffrey Scott Bernstein 01:34, 12 November 2007 (CST)

Adding and revising

Increasingly, I find that sane editing is done in the manner of eating an elephant: one bite at a time. Since I think elephants are very nice people, I can speak to editing, but not pachydermophagy, from personal experience. Incidentally, I'm doing this under my hat as a Military Workgroup editor, but can someone tell me how I might ask to be added as a History editor when I already have a CZ account?

I had a reasonable amount of information on hand regarding the intelligence, and to some extent special operations, activity leading up to the outbreak of the war, and the combination of MacArthur's supreme confidence and the hesitancy of the nascent intelligence community that led him to discount the possibility of Chinese intervention.

Perhaps the interested parties can split up the work to improve the overall article. Unfortunately, most of my library is in storage for a while, so I'm more dependent on online things that need detailed sourcing. On the other hand, I have a good deal of material, and the general source, in my head.

As far as books, I do recommend T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War as an outstanding source. James Brady's The Coldest War is especially good for the retreat from the Changjin Reservoir. My feelings are mixed about S.L.A. Marshall's The River and the Gauntlet; I'd make sure to verify anything that seemed controversial.

There is a fair bit of decent official military history online.

In general, we need people to work on:

  • The immediate response: TF Smith, the Bugout, capture of MG Dean, and the early air war (more about that later)
  • Diplomacy and the UN resolution. US-ROK relations and command structures.
  • Walker's tactical improvisations, Effects of the death of Walker and his replacement by Ridgway; Stabilization at the Pusan Perimeter. Walker sometimes doesn't get credit.
  • Inchon (probably a whole sub-article) and the pursuit north
  • the air war
  • Chinese intervention and both the Marine retreat from Changjin Reservoir, and the destruction of TF Faith and other Army units, which many forget protected a Marine flank. Definitely cover Marine MG O.P. Smith's caution in preparing for a possible retrograde move; Smith may have been the only one to have been ready for the Chinese.

... and so forth.

Somewhere, there is probably a need for an article on war crimes. A relative was a young Navy fighter pilot during the Bugout; no one recognized the PTSD caused by his being in an impossible situation: the NKPA was using refugee columns for cover, attacking out of them, and the aviators were eventually ordered to strafe columns, regardless of apparent composition, from which they took fire. This was one of those situations where the pilots saw the effects. That situation had no good answers.

I can help out technically on the biological warfare accusations, especially since the U.S. capability at the time has been declassified in all relevant details. Howard C. Berkowitz 23:07, 12 May 2008 (CDT)

Some structural references

There's an interesting presentation at, which suggests that Rees' classic structure of the war:

  • " of the war from World War II to the end of June 1950, when the United States committed ground forces to repulse the North Korean military offensive across the 38th parallel.
  • ...Fall of 1950 and the decision of the United States to alter its objective from the containment of North Korea to its liberation from Communist rule, the subsequent decision by the People's Republic of China to intervene, and the resulting development of "an entirely new war" by the end of November.
  • winter of 1950-51 through to the early summer of 1951, during which time the conflict shifted from a dangerous struggle that at any moment could have expanded into a regional or even a global war to a relatively static struggle characterized at the top level on both sides by a willingness to end the fighting short of clear-cut victory.
  • armistice negotiations, from their beginning in July 1951 through to their stalemate over the prisoner-of-war issue in the spring of 1952 and their suspension by the United States in the following autumn.
  • factors leading up to the resumption of negotiations in April 1953 through to the actual signing of an armistice three months later."

I don't think this is a bad outline. Where William Stueck, in the analysis at the link I gave, seems to suggest problems with Rees' analysis is not so much the timing of the phases of the war, but the significant insights that declassifications in the 1993-1998 period gave into the different thinking of Kim, Stalin, and Mao. Stueck also feels that most histoies give insufficient coverage to the U.S. side in the development of policy, especially the 1947-1950 battles between State and Defense.

Nevertheless, I'm going to try to see how well these five phases will work,and I think they do work well in describing the battlefield, if not the governmental thinking.Howard C. Berkowitz 22:14, 13 May 2008 (CDT)

conceptual problems

An encyclopedia article has to about things that happened (not things that did not happen), and all has to be closely related to the war itself. There is no doubt that the Pentagon did not plan on a war in Korea, and that can be stated in one sentence. The issue of military intellegence is wholly irrelevant since he had no responsibility for the matter--and the emphasis on Pentagon ignores the CIA and state depasrtments which DID have responsibility. (it can go into a MacArthur article). The article will be endless, especially if it never gets to june 1950. Richard Jensen 03:29, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

OK, I've created Intelligence on the Korean War. "Military intelligence", however, is ambiguous here. While MacArthur's FEAF G-2 under Willoughby had no responsibility, KMAG regularly reported to Army Intelligence in Washington.
As far as ignoring CIA and State, I've quoted extensively from CIA documents and journal articles about the subject, including CIA historical analysis of where they went wrong. As far as State, I'm not sure there's much specific intelligence reporting in FRUS; INR didn't exist yet, just the offices, of different names, that had inherited the OSS Research and Analysis folk. Unfortunately, I'm no longer living in the DC area, and I'm afraid that finding actual State reporting might need time at the National Archives, or at least a library with the hard copies of FRUS for the period. Howard C. Berkowitz 08:05, 14 May 2008 (CDT)
OK, we're making progress. I dislike the Rose CIA article, poorly reasoned and bad on US politics and based on old popular books, and missing the recent literature. Instead I have been adding CWHIP copies of Communist documents. Richard Jensen 10:46, 14 May 2008 (CDT)
Rose may be more valuable on not what absolute truth was in the Soviet bloc, but more in terms of the attitudes held in the CIA and the U.S. national security policy in general. Thinking of it, I may update my article, cognitive traps for intelligence analysis, because I believe Rose does show a number of examples of how analysts and policymakers projected their own mindset onto foreign leaders with very different assumptions. "Mirror-imaging" your thinking onto another culture is one of the worst mistakes in analysis. Howard C. Berkowitz 11:08, 14 May 2008 (CDT)
Rose, in my opinion, did little research. For example he cites journalistic rehashes that mention Congressional testimony: he did not look at any testimony! He does not use any of the modern literature on MacArthur, Truman, Acheson etc.... in all a poor job, in my opinion. Richard Jensen 11:22, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

Decisions and predictions

Being new to CZ, I'm a bit surprised to see a substantial deletion, without first discussing it on the talk page. I had been making structural suggestions for this article on that page, and I had hoped to get some consensus there on how to proceed. Nevertheless, nothing is irrevocably lost, and there may be material that belongs in a sub-article, but I find it hard to believe that the decisions can be made without considering both the information available, the lack of information available, and probably the politics and political personalities of the decisionmakers.

I believe there are several reasons to keep the intelligence background associated with the article, perhaps in a sub-article, but not simply to delete it. In the public eye and politics, as well as in more reflective contexts, when a surprise attack occurs, there invariably are questions as to why better decisions were not made. Certainly, this happened immediately after Pearl Harbor -- was it 10 or 12 major official investigations during the war? There were much more thoughtful retrospectives such as Wohlstetter's, as one example routinely studied in staff and war colleges.

It is especially relevant to examine all background for decisionmaking especially in 1950, but significantly for the 1947-1950 period, as well as political factors during the 1952 Presidential campaign. As far as 1950, remember that Joe McCarthy started his crusade in February, and there certainly was sensitivity not to be seen as "soft on communism" once he started moving. Even earlier, while there were certainly political factors, there was arguably more infighting within government, as a consequence of resistance to service unification under the National Security Act of 1947 and the Reorganization Act of 1949. Truman could make bold decisions when faced with crisis, as with the Berlin Airlift and Korean invasion, but he was, for varying reasons, reactive at times when someone else would be proactive.

He had an understandable concern not, as he put it, to form an "American Gestapo" in the form of the CIA, but I would argue that U.S. clandestine and covert activities were more out of control between 1945 and 1952 than perhaps at any other time. We don't give, I think, enough credit to Walter Bedell Smith, as Director of Central Intelligence, for bringing the free-running Office of Policy Coordination (covert action), and to a much lesser extent Offfice of Special Operations (clandestine human-source intelligence), under much more clear oversight by both the DCI and appropriate White House level organizations, this being the Operations Coordinating Board.

MacArthur was a study in magnificent insight, but also in childish petulance. I am less concerned with his refusal to allow OSS to operate in SWPA, than his tendency to have a court of personal favorites, and here I'm especially concerned with Charles Willoughby, not the brightest bulb of the strategic intelligence chandelier, and certainly not one who would question MacArthur. Again, MacArthur did magnificent things. While I am quite sympathetic to his situation in the Phillipines, where he apparently gave considerable consideration to resigning his commission and fighting on in the ranks, both for political and resource reasons, he was right to follow FDR's order to be evacuated.

One of the things where I find his decisions most inexplicable is Clark Field, a surprise attack under circumstances when no one should have been surprised. Kenney, heading Far Eastern Air Force, did seem to have the right instincts, but appeared to get very conflicting orders about maintaining an air cover over a critical base. I'm not suggesting that the air doctrine or technology of the time was up to what it was asked to do; the proposed long-range bombing strike against the Japanese probably would have been wiped out, but no one, at the time, understood strategic bombing. I'm not sure that a combat air patrol, without good early warning, would have protected Clark Field, but, again, it should have been obvious that an attack was coming.

The Phillipines in 1941 and Korea in 1950 share the issue, at the highest level of government, to live with the consequences of decision. If the U.S. was not going to keep an adequate force in the Phillipines, a great many soldiers, Filipino and American, were sacrificed to no real point. Perhaps American hubris caused the Japanese to be underestimated.

A similar situation existed in Korea in 1949, but, in this case, with much more specific intelligence than in 1941. It is quite ironic that given Truman's dislike of the Marines, had the Marine "fire brigade" not reinforced the Pusan Perimeter, there might have been a replay of Dunkirk, but without the rescue fleet. Flash forward to recent wars, and examine both Korea 1950 and Iraq 2003 under the lenses of the Weinberger and Powell doctrines, imperfect instruments to be sure.

While my historical interest tends to be focused on intelligence and decisionmaking, I don't think the intelligence history here should simply be removed. Perhaps it should go into a sub-article, and perhaps that sub-article should reflect more of the top-level decisionmaking at the time. Quite literally, there are lessons to be learned in 1947-1950 that are relevant for today. Howard C. Berkowitz 04:16, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

there was no surprise attack on the US and there was no political issue on that point. Dec 1941 needs its own articles and should not be discussed under Korea. (There was a surprise issue about Chinese intervention later.) US military intelligence did not have responsibility for Korea and so it's irrelevant. The CIA, NSC and State department did have responsibility, and one sentence is enough to say they were caught by surprise. An entitrely different article on intelligence in the Cold War would be a good idea.

The other problem is that this article is about the entire war and the actual war plans of North Korea, China and USSR are much more important than US guesses about those plans.

Finally we can't have CZ articles about the zillions of things that did not happen, or "what if ....") It's hard enough to explain what actually did happen. In this case it was not ignorance by US but action by North Korea that has to be explained. (Why South Korea was ignorant is an interesting question, and I have read the official SK history and still don't know.) Richard Jensen 05:52, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

Let's try to agree about the scope of the article before writing and deleting

I'm not opposed to an article on intelligence failures regarding the 1950 attack, although, given the conflict between Washington and Tokyo, I think it's slightly more complex than saying "military intelligence" did not have responsibility, while it is correct to say FEAF G-2 did not have responsibility -- that, perhaps, is the level appropriate for an article, along with saying there was intelligence, actually rather bad intelligence, in Washington, and MacArthur was under JCS orders not to provide a serious defense of Korea. That specific point, I believe, belongs in origins.

Let me make a proposal, of possibly three articles. The main one focuses on the battlefield, and mentions intelligence only to the extent that some actions (the original invasion, Inchon, Chinese involvement, perhaps Soviet air assistance in November 1950) were surprises to the theater. The second either covers intelligence responsibility in the West, or is broad enough to consider national-level decisionmaking on both sides. If that can't be done in one article -- there may not be enough on Communist intelligence -- than I certainly believe one on American decisionmaking is appropriate, perhaps as a sub-article. I'm not trying to attack Truman et al, but bring out that there were very competing interests in Washington, and the lack of preparation is not as simple as some histories have it.

Clearly, actual plans of one side are important. Not tremendously less important, however, are the perception the other side has of those plans, and when there was a failure to assess. This could be a whole series of articles on many wars. Reality, I'm afraid, is rather like that Peter Sellers movie in which the American ambassador tells Sellers (Turkish PM?) "We know", at a diplomatic reception. He wanders to the Soviet Ambassador, says "they know", and the Russian grins and says "We know they know". Back to the U.S. Ambassador: "They know you know." "AHA! Yes, but we know they know we know..." and so forth.

You see, I don't regard historical events in isolation, although they need to be studied in detail. Santayana's comment "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it" remains apt. To confuse things further, let me not mention 1941, but 1964-1972. We have learned that MacNamara's "signaling strategy" was so nuanced that the Lao Dong Party (North Vietnames) leadership did not ignore it; they were unaware it existed. See HR McMaster's Dereliction of Duty, and perhaps some of Harry Summers' later works.

Shall we try to come up with an outline, and plans for related article, before further write-and-revert cycles? I'm perfectly willing to start some topics in a sandbox, but it seems less efficient to have back-and-forth when there seems not to be a consensus of the scope of this article, which certainly lives in a broader context. Howard C. Berkowitz 06:11, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

I agree that multiple articles are called for and I propose to take responsibility for this one on the Korean war itself. A separate article can deal with intelligence issues keeping in mind that the US military was not responsible for Korea. It opposed Truman's decisions to send US ground forces. On the other hand, it obeyed orders and withing 90 days had destroyed the invading army, a remarkable achievement that far overshadows the numerous little hitches along the way. Encyclopedias have to take one thing at a time. We have articles on Truman and Cold War that deal with political & diplomatic issues, so we can stick to what actually happened in the Korean war in this article. I added estimates from Russian intelligence. (Military intelligence of course is not in the business of predicting the diplomatic behavior of other countries.) Richard Jensen 06:33, 14 May 2008 (CDT)
I'll move the intelligence details to (tentatively) "Intelligence preparation for Korea", although I'm not wedded to that title. It's more than military intelligence alone; CIA was still in very early formative stages and OSO/OPC were loose cannons. Quite separately, I am doing some major rewrite of the CIA articles from which I extracted tinfoil hats at Wikipedia, so, among other things, the early history is clear. By early history, I don't mean only CIA proper, but the NSC-and-below oversight of clandestine HUMINT (OSO) and covert action (OPC).
It's awkward to work in the tradeoffs as a result of political and structural issues in DC; I don't know if that should be in the same article. Probably in the main article, it should be made very clear that MacArthur was not ordered to defend Korea, even though he's blamed for a lot more than TF Smith. Was there a more complex general in U.S. military history?
In that case, may I mention, as I did below, that the initial stages are too condensed? I'd suggest that we start with some subheadings, as a means of structuring. For example, the early phases include the invasion, the initial Bugout, the initial air support, Walton's effort to turn a rout into a retreat, and the buildup within the Pusan Perimeter under both Walton and Ridgway.
Inchon really ends that phase, logically enough with the breakout from Pusan, the linkup, and the liberation of Seoul. That comes to a key decision point, and I'd argue that the decision to pursue across the 38th parallel, up to the Chinese intervention, is a new phase.
This isn't quite Rees' taxonomy, but I think it works. Howard C. Berkowitz 06:48, 14 May 2008 (CDT)
Makes sense. I'll be adding detailed military narrative (actually it's from a book I started but never finished and never published). Richard Jensen 07:23, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

Scope of "Early movements"

Separable from the intelligence background are significant parts of the actual fighting. A great deal happened between the Northern invasion and the Inchon invasion. Some may not be pleasant, such as the way the early American ground units were underprepared and overwhelmed, with no real results. Some are too little known, including epic stands by ROKs, and their terrible moral choices to blow bridges with refugees, but also enemy troops, still on them. We now know of atrocities on both sides.

Few people, these days, know much of Walton Walker, and how, working with almost nothing before his Pattonesque death in a automobile accident, staved off catastrophe as reinforcements came to Pusan. Under Ridgway, more troops moved into Pusan, and, prior to Inchon, the forces started getting adequate equipment, but especially experience under increasingly competent leadership. Had there not been the Pusan experience, there would have been no pincer to link with the Inchon invasion force, and the NKPA would have been under less pressure to withdraw to avoid encirclement.

The "Bugout" is not a pretty thing, but it is useful background to know that ill-prepared forces, no matter how strong their countries, can be routed. The saga of MG William Dean, unable to affect the issue as a division commander, last seen going out with a bazooka and pistol to hunt tanks, might not have invited scorn from Horatius Cocles. Dean's acts before capture and his lengthy resistance to attempts to use him for propaganda, I believe, made his repatriation a welcome event, and his Medal of Honor a reminder of how leaders can set examples, even facing impossible odds.

Howard C. Berkowitz 05:19, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

A note on the biological warfare

In the past, I knew, and I also know it has been declassified except for the very critical engineering details, what the U.S. actually had as a weaponized biological agent during the time of the Korean War. Among other things, it had a quite distinctive air-dropped dispenser.

When looking over the North Korean "evidence" of BW, it seems like that there is everything there, including a kitchen sink or two, but not anything that looked like the dispenser bomblet.

There are, however, a lot of ceramic shards, things like cotton balls, and reports of fleas and lice. This gets interesting, because the Japanese BW at Unit 731 in Pingfan, China, did make weapons that dispensed fleas and lice, from ceramic containers that shattered. The US approach of the time was completely different, using aerosol sprays.

This is speculative on my part, but we know that some of the Unit 731 were captured, tried, and imprisoned by the Soviets. Perhaps the North Koreans had access to them, or to reports on their work, and produced evidence that would be consistent with a Japanese BW attack. It may simply not have occurred to them (cognitive traps for intelligence analysis again) that a US biological weapon was totally different than a Japanese one.

Of course, at the time, no one could answer the charges by pulling out our classified weapons and saying nahhh...this is what ours look like.

Howard C. Berkowitz 12:27, 14 May 2008 (CDT)

Personal naming conventions

Is there a CZ standard, especially for Asian names? In several articles, I've used Mao Zedong, although I freely admit I think of him as Mao Tse-Tung. Here, I note that Mao Tse Tung is used, and I also understand there are arguments whether or not to hyphenate between the personal names.

Any advice? Should there be a biographical index page?

Howard C. Berkowitz 20:39, 15 May 2008 (CDT)

This is a real can of worms that is even now being discussed at:,1717.15/topicseen.html I don't think that there's ever gonna be any answer set in concrete. Hayford Peirce 20:57, 15 May 2008 (CDT)

human rights violations

See this NY Times article. (Chunbum Park 18:44, 2 August 2008 (CDT))

", leading to the greatest loss of life in the shortest period of time of any war in history. "

This needs a lot more context than just a reference. Loss of life over time, mathematically, is a rate. It also needs to be defined in terms of the number of people killed. Perhaps the fastest large killing was at Hiroshima, but there certainly have been incredibly costly battles, of relatively short duration, in other wars. Ed, are you thinking, perhaps, of Seoul? How does that compare to Berlin in 1945? As a rate, what about Antietam or Gettysburg or the Somme or Tannenberg? Nanking? Howard C. Berkowitz 21:34, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

I was about to say that some of those WWI bloodbaths have gotta be right up there. Hayford Peirce 21:51, 12 April 2010 (UTC)
Earlier battles didn't last long but had high loss of life. Without looking up numbers, I think of the Battle of Islawanda, Battle of Cannae and Battle of Blood River. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was unusual in spreading over several days. Are we talking battles or wars? For that matter, killed in action, or died of wounds? An intestinal wound in 1700 was just deferred death. Howard C. Berkowitz 22:08, 12 April 2010 (UTC)
I was listening to a documentary on my friend's computer, but I didn't get the DVD title or anything. So it might need to be deleted as unreferenced. --Ed Poor 22:31, 12 April 2010 (UTC)
I seriously doubt that it is a fact. I'm a guy who has accumulated useless trivia "facts" all his life and I've never run into this before. And obviously Howard hasn't either. Unless you can find a *real* source for this statement, I really think that it ought to be removed from the article. Hayford Peirce 23:07, 12 April 2010 (UTC)
I agree and I thank you. In the cool light of reason, I don't even think XYZ Documentary is a good enough source: I'd want to know where the documentary makers had gotten that statistic. --Ed Poor 18:53, 15 April 2010 (UTC)