Friday, April 8, 2016

HIstory of the Cold War #8

For hundreds of years, Korea had lived peacefully under their own rule. In the early twentieth century, Japan invaded and occupied Korea. When the war ended badly for Japan, Korea saw their chance to be independent again: the USSR saw it as an opportunity to further communism; the United States saw it as their obligation to stop the spread of communism. The Russians rolled in through Manchuria to chase out the Japanese with intentions of overtaking the entire country. With the abrupt end of fighting with Japan, America woke up to the USSR's intentions; they suggested a division of the country: USSR in the north, and the US in the south--divided at the 38th parallel. The USSR agreed, and the trouble began.

USSR established Kim Il Sung as the leader in North Korea,--Sung had been groomed for this position since spending WWII in Russia. At first the US relied on Japanese collaborators to run the south which did not go well at all. Several different factions were ready to take over, but America wanted someone they could work with: Syngman Rhee--educated at Princeton and Harvard. Rhee however was not interested in the democratic conversion of his country, but instead was interested in gaining power and influence for his small clique. His personal desires and consequent corruption, weakened the newly established South Korea.

In the meantime, Sung makes a trip to Stalin's lair and pleads his desires for uniting North and South Korea under communism. Stalin is embedded in the conflict in Germany (more on that later), and tells Sung he must wait.

In the meantime, Mao and his communists, after fighting the Kuomintang since 1927, finally achieves victory over Chaing Kai Shek (after 2 billion dollars beginning in 1945, is spent by the US in helping Shek). The Kuomintang board boats and head over to Taiwan, but not without taking an abundance of precious Chinese art preserved from each dynasty, some of it a thousand years old.

When I was in Taipei visiting the National Museum, I saw the treasures saved from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) destruction. There was so much art work saved, that it takes years for the museum to display the whole collection.

China, a young communist nation is ready to prove itself and its loyalty to communism; they are more than ready to join the North Koreans.

On June 25, 1950, with the Kremlin's blessing, North Korea begins the invasion of South Korea.

 Stalin had counted on the US's unwillingness to help a small country so far from home, and so soon after WWII. He had erroneously discounted America's fear of communism interrupting the free world, and that the American military presence was just a hop away on the islands of Japan, helping to reestablish and strengthen it. Yet, the US military was hardly prepared for the Korean conflict and were beaten badly in the first rounds of battle. The North Koreans moved swiftly into Seoul and pushed South Korea to the end of the peninsula.

Defeat seemed imminent, but Supreme Commander over Japan, General Marshall, against US advisement, swung around to Inchon, just 20 miles from Seoul and started advancing toward the invaders. He got them good and felt so confident that US troops along with 16 other nations approved by the United Nations, began a northward march to regain lost territory and take over the whole peninsula. Marshall even demands that the US bomb China, but fortunately someone was thinking besides himself. The fatal US mistake was to believe that China hadn't and wouldn't enter the war, but when they reached the top of Korea, they found out differently. Captured troops were confused by the new language of their enemies. It was Chinese! China had entered the war. With their unending wave of soldiers, the Americans retreated. Marshall was sacked for his failures and overconfidence--America sought for a peace treaty and after intense, long deliberations, 1953 brought a ceasefire. North Korea, backed by the USSR and China, retreats to its designated place above the 38th parallel.

Eisenhower is convinced  America's nuclear threat is what kept the communists at bay, and the US now feels a commitment to fight communism around the world.

When we discuss Korea in class, a student raises his hand and informs us that the conflict has never ended. His father, part of the US military, visits South Korea every few months. The bridges connecting the north from the south are still wired with explosives in case the North Koreans invade again.

My cute neighbor's husband has been serving in Korea for one long year. When she speaks of her family's sacrifice, it is always accompanied by tears.

The fight against communism, though greatly reduced, hasn't ended.