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A Short Synopsis of the 38th Parallel and the Korean War

Satellite image of Korea showing the location of the division between North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. Photo courtesy of NASA.

As the tensions escalate with North Korea, it seems like a good time to look back at the history of the 38th parallel division and explore how we got to where we are now. The division of North Korea and South Korea at the 38th parallel was established in August 1945. According to Wikipedia, "At the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Soviet Union promised to join its allies in the Pacific War in two to three months after victory in Europe. The two conferences had been major meetings between the three major allied leaders: President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Soviet leader Stalin. On August 8, 1945, three months to the day after the end of hostilities in Europe, and two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 14th Soviet troops began amphibious landings on Korean shores and Soviet troops advanced rapidly into Korea. The US government became anxious that the Soviets would occupy the whole of Korea." The US intervened quickly and "On August 10, 1945 two young officers, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, were assigned to define an American occupation zone. Working on extremely short notice and completely unprepared, they used a National Geographic map to decide on the 38th parallel. They chose it because it divided the country approximately in half but would place the capital Seoul under American control. No experts on Korea were consulted. The division placed sixteen million Koreans in the American zone and nine million in the Soviet zone. The Americans did not think Stalin would accept the division but to the surprise of the Americans, the Soviet Union immediately accepted the division." The Soviets had quickly established itself in Korea but Stalin maintained "his war time policy of co-operation, and on August 16th the Red Army halted at the 38th parallel for three weeks to await of the arrival of the U.S. forces in the South." The agreement was incorporated into the surrender of Japan. On September 8, 1945 the U.S. Lt. Gen John R Hodge arrived in Incheon, Korea, which is below the 38th parallel, to accept the Japanese surrender.

Between 1945 and 1949 Korea remained a divided country. However on June 25, 1950 the Korean War began when the Soviet-backed North Korean People's Army with 75,000 soldiers poured across the 38th parallel and by the time the U.S. soldiers arrived, North Korea had overrun a large portion of South Korea. Truman initially described it as a "police action" under the auspices of the UN. It is also known as the "Forgotten War" or the "Unknown War" because of the lack of public attention. The U.S. Congress never declared war and a peace treaty was never signed. In South Korea the war is usually referred to as the "625" reflecting the date of the commencement. In North Korea the war is officially referred to as the "Fatherland Liberation War" and the Chinese refer to it as the "War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea."

The timing of the conflict was in the thick of the Cold War and President Truman was adamant that Communism could not be allowed to spread across all the countries of the Pacific. Defending South Korea was of utmost importance. When the North Koreans invaded across the 38th parallel they made rapid progress and it was a series of hard fought battles to push them back across the parallel. One of the most interesting stories of the war is the story of General Douglas MacArthur who believed in winning the war and pushing the North Koreans off the peninsula. This was easier said than done when the Chinese army brought their troops to the border of Korea and there was logical concern that the world was on the brink of another World War. The story of MacArthur and Truman demanding his resignation is a story for another day.

After a stalemate of almost 2 years, where skirmishes were fought around the 38th parallel, President Truman was replaced by President Eisenhower who made it a top priority to stop the conflict and bring our soldiers home. Unfortunately Stalin did not want to stop but he died in March of 1953 and the war was over in July of 1953. However, as we know from the headlines of today this is still an unresolve conflict. To learn more, the following is a short but interesting video about the engagement.

USMA Cadet Makes History

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Fly the United States flag at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Monday, September 11th in memory of the 2,977 people who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Wear a PINK Cord and Show You Care!

Glendale Parade Store is proud to support breast cancer awareness and encourage others to do the same. We now carry:

Use the cancer awareness cords for fund raising and to reward your cadets for their community service in the fight against breast cancer. Glendale Parade Store will do its part as well by donating a portion of the proceeds for the sale of the pink cord to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

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