“Funny thing is, I didn’t see any police where I was at.”
– Corporal Morris Kiefer. B Battery 955th Field Artillery Battalion.
My late Grandfather, Morris Kiefer, was a Korean War veteran. He was drafted and sent over to the peninsula to serve in a war that wasn’t declared a war and was instead called a “police action.” He would scoff at that and say, “Funny thing is I didn’t see any police where I was at.”
He didn’t speak much about his experience over there, and what he did share you could tell it troubled him. What stood out to me the most was what he said happened when he came home. He told me when he came back, people acted like he hadn’t been gone that long, (even though he was deployed for a year), and he was told to “get back to work”. This is a stark contrast to the ticker tape parades of the returning veterans of World War Two who returned home just five years prior to the start of the conflict in Korea.
There is an entire generation of veterans who now are disappearing, who’s stories are going to be lost. They are the veterans of a conflict that was stuck between the infamous battles of World War Two and the divisive aspects and implications of the Vietnam War. Go on Netflix or Amazon Prime and you can find a plethora of World War Two and Vietnam War films. Search any book seller and you will find the same. But a conflict that had its own heroics, that affected a generation no different than the war before or after it, is largely forgotten. No generation of veterans should ever be forgotten, but Korea had the moniker of being America’s “Forgotten War”. This should not be a thing, but sadly it is.
Given the ebb and flow of tension with North Korea making headlines recently, many people who will no doubt share their opinion online or on one of the various media outlets probably could not without the aid of Google tell you any of the major battles of the Korean War. They couldn’t tell you the nations involved in that conflict, or the leaders who sent them there. They couldn’t tell you how the nation of Korea came to be divided between a Communist North and Democratic South. More importantly, understanding the conflict and honoring those who served in a war that had global implications is necessary to ensure the veterans of this conflict get the honor and thank you long overdue. That is the plan with my upcoming series.
2020 will mark the 70 year anniversary of the start of the war. With this blog series, I will publish an “on this date” post covering significant events. I urge anyone who reads them to share it, and help spread the word of the conflict. My ultimate goal is to attract as much attention to it as possible, to try and get it on the same footing as World War Two or Vietnam. I need your help in doing so.
In order to get the message right, I must set the stage so to speak with the events that led up to the opening days of the Forgotten War.
Japanese Occupation of Korea
Following the signing of the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Russia had to accept that Japan had vested interest in Korea. On 22 August 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea as a protectorate of the Japanese Empire.
Japanese forces during their occupation of Korea. Picture Credit: HistoryCollection.com
Japanese migrants had moved to Korea to help ease overcrowding in Japan. The Japanese treated the Koreans as second rate citizens. They created a Feudal state in Korea, where Japanese citizens owned the land and the Koreans worked the fields and paid their landlords from these efforts. There were a few attempted uprisings by the Koreans against the Japanese, however these were harshly put down by the Japanese.
Following their manpower shortages during the massive buildup of the military, Japanese authorities first recruited and then conscripted Korean laborers to work in Japanese factories to support the war effort. In addition to working in Japanese factories, Korean civilians were forced to work in abhorrent conditions in Korean mines to support the Japanese war effort. Total Korean forced labor deaths during the occupation is estimated at between 270,000 and 810,000.
The Dividing of Korea
American soldiers disarm Japanese soldiers in Korea following the Japanese surrender. Picture Credit: HistoryCollection.com
Japanese occupation of Korea abruptly ended with the Japanese surrender following the dropping of the atomic bombs on mainland Japan in August 1945. On September 8th 1945 Lieutenant General John Hodge arrived in Korea and accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces there.
Soldiers of the Soviet Union’s 25th Army advancing into Northern Korea during their Manchuria Offensive in October 1945. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.
Following an agreement among the Allies towards the end of the war, the Soviet Union took part in offensive operations against the Japanese. They invaded Korea from Manchuria and headquartered themselves in Pyongyang. US and Soviet leadership settled on a dividing line for their joint occupation of Korea, similar to what they did with Germany. The two sides settled on the 38th parallel as this dividing line.
As the two former allies began to enter what would be called the Cold War, Korea became two separate countries. The North, being aided and supported by the Soviets became a Communist country. The Soviets trained and supplied their military, to include creating an Air Force. In the South, the United States and other Western capitalist allies supported and supplied those Koreans. The peninsula, which had been under harsh Japanese rule, now was divided between two ideologies locked in a struggle to spread their own influence while restricting their opponent’s.
As the Cold War heated up, instead of a strictly administrative division between two allies with the ultimate goal of a reunification of the Korean peninsula, in 1948 each of the now “two Korea’s” declared themselves as seperate nations. In the South, the Republic of Korea (ROK) elects Syngman Rhee, a 70 year old Korean expatriate supported by the United States, as their first president. In the Soviet supported North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is formed with Kim Il Sung at its head. Each of the two sides considered themselves as the head of a unified Korea, and did not recognize the government of the other side. They viewed the 38th parallel as a temporary issue.
Syngman Rhee, president of the newly formed Republic of Korea. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Syngman Rhee’s tenure as the president of the ROK would be tainted by corruption and abuses of power. He would use his fledgling military and police force during the first few years of power to violently put down protests and crack down on those he deemed a threat to South Korea.
Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Kim Il Sung fought against the Japanese in guerilla warfare during their occupation of Korea. This fact would give rise to the belief in North Korea, fueled by propaganda that he alone drove the Japanese from the peninsula. He was trained and cultivated by the Soviet Union who noticed him and his political alliance to the Communist party. He was selected by the Soviets to head the DPRK and he set about a path to reunify the peninsula under Communism.
There are a lot more smaller details during the lead up to the Korean War, but I feel this is a good start in laying the background of the Korean War. Since it is 2019, I will spend the rest of the year covering the events of 1949, the year before the war kicked off. Major changes in the region, most notably in China, would have MAJOR implications in Korea. I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it interesting. From this point forward, it will cover what happened “on this date.” I am excited to work on this and hope you enjoy reading it.