Don't Know Much

TODAY IN HISTORY: 60 Years Later- Don’t Know Much About® the Korean War


It used to be called the “Forgotten War.”  But it is no longer forgotten, as recent headlines continue to prove. And it never really ended. With the sinking of a South Korean navy submarine in March, tensions between the two countries were once again ratcheted higher. And the firing of Gen. MacChrystal by President Obama this week brought back recollections of the Korean wartime firing of General Douglas MacArthur by President Truman. They were more reminders of the so-called “Forgotten War.”

The Korean War started 60 years ago on June 25, 1950.

In the wake of World War II, when Korea had been brutally occupied by the Japanese, the Korean peninsula was divided by the victorious allies between a Soviet-allied North and a western allied South Korea. The Korean people were not consulted on the matter.

On June 25, 1950, more than one hundred thousand troops from Communist-ruled North Korea invaded South Korea. The UN called the invasion a violation of international peace and demanded that the Communists withdraw. In what was called a UN “police action,” sixteen UN countries sent troops to help the South Koreans, and 41 countries sent military equipment and other supplies. But the United States provided about 90 percent of the troops, military equipment, and supplies.Don't Know Much About History

Fighting in the Korean War, one of the bloodiest wars in history, ended on July 27, 1953, when the UN and North Korea signed an armistice. A permanent peace treaty between South Korea and North Korea has never been signed. What else do you know about this Cold War conflict that had the world on brink of World War III? (Answers below)

1. Who first commanded the UN troops in Korea?
2. What nation entered the war on North Korea’s side?
3. What two aviation “firsts” occurred during the war?
4. Why did President Truman fire General MacArthur?
5.  What were American losses in the Korean war?

Although it attracts less attention than the nearby Vietnam War Memorial, there is a Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  A National Parks Service link:

Unlike World War II and the war in Vietnam, the Korean War has also inspired a much smaller list of books. Two recent ones deserve attention:

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. This book was completed just before the acclaimed journalist/historian’s untimely death.

The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea by James Brady is a more personal account of a year spent in Korea as a Marine lieutenant.

James Michener’s The Bridges at Toko Ri (1953) is one of the few notable novels set during the Korean War and is based on Michener’s experience as a war correspondent.  Another is MASH, by the pseudonymous Richard Hooker, published in 1968. Based on the author’s experiences as a surgeon in the Korean conflict, the book inspired the movie and long-running television series of the same name.

You can read more about Korea and the Cold War era in Don’t Know Much About History.


1. On July 8, with the approval of the UN Security Council, Pres. Truman named Douglas MacArthur commander in chief of the United Nations Command.

2. More than 300,000 Communist Chinese troops crossed into North Korea in October 1950 and U.S. and Chinese troops first clashed on October 25. They fought until November 6, when the Chinese suddenly withdrew.

3. The Korean war marked the first battles between jet aircraft and for the first time, helicopters carried troops into combat.

4. One of the controversies of the war occurred in April 1951, when President Truman removed General MacArthur from command, the result of a continuing dispute between MacArthur and defense leaders in Washington.  MacArthur  wanted to bomb bases in a part of China, and use other “all-out measures.”  Truman  feared such actions might lead to a third world war. The decision was very unpopular; MacArthur was viewed as a hero and Truman’s popularity plunged. It was one of the reasons he chose not to run for another term. World War II hero General Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican candidate, won election as President in 1952 on a stunning vow to end the war.

5. The Department of Defense reports that 54,246 Americans service men and women lost their lives during the Korean War. This includes all losses worldwide during that period. As there has been no peace treaty, those Americans who lost their lives in the Demilitarized Zone of Korea since the Armistice are also included.

The quiz above was adapted from Don’t Know Much About Anything.


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