When America Fought The Second Korean War

“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.” —Curtis LeMay

In A Nutshell

While America and the rest of the world focused their attention on the Vietnam War, another conflict along the Korean DMZ began to escalate. Kim Il-sung, the North Korean leader, wanted to launch a full-scale war in order to unify the two Koreas under Communist domination. Over a period of three years, he launched strikes against US and Republic of Korea positions, hoping to initiate a Vietcong-like insurgency, culminating in a North Korean attempt to capture the South Korean palace (pictured above) and assassinate the president.

The Whole Bushel

Most people think of Vietnam when considering the anticommunist struggles of the 1960s. It was the first war broadcast into US homes. Although other conflicts in the past had opposition, it was the first war since the Civil War that divided the nation culturally. The conflict created the greatest antiwar movement, nationally and internationally, that the world has ever seen. Throughout this turmoil, North Korea plotted for reignition of the Korean War.

Declassified documents show that in 1965, Kim Il-sung asked for Chinese support for the invasion of South Korea. The Chinese declined, largely due to inability to recover after the disaster of The Great Leap Forward and commitments to the North Vietnamese. Still, Kim Il-sung desired to cause unrest in South Korea in an attempt to cause a copycat Vietcong movement to sweep the country.

The South Korea of the 1960s was not the South Korea of the present. Neither was the North Korea of that time like the economic wasteland it is today. Actually, the North Korean GDP was higher than the South Korean GDP until the mid-1970s. South Korea had just undergone a military coup in 1961 and was still reeling from the destabilization. In order to receive needed funds, South Korea sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to support the US effort in Vietnam. It was during this time of depleted South Korean troop strength that North Korea decided to strike.

On November 2, 1966, North Korea attacked a UN patrol just south of the DMZ, which resulted in the death of six Americans and one South Korean. Thus began the months of aggression against American and South Korean positions. The North Koreans used military attacks, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and amphibious commando assaults. They even slipped behind South Korean positions and launched attacks on civilian areas in Teagu. The situation was so desperate that the US removed Special Forces stationed in Japan and sent them to fight in the mountains.

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It was in 1968, the high-water mark in Vietnam, that North Korea made its most audacious move. During the Blue House Raid, North Korean commandos entered Seoul and advanced toward the presidential palace until Republic of Korea troops and police stopped them a few blocks short. Around this time, North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship still held by them today. The final major event was the landing of a 120-man commando team on the east coast of South Korea. As with the previous Blue House Raid, the South Koreans captured or killed the majority of the infiltrators, but there were a significant number of Korean civilian casualties as well.

After this incident, there were a number of border skirmishes until the end of 1969, but they resulted in few casualties. North Korea failed in its objective to create a communist uprising in the South. Because of the US commitment to South Korea during the last decades of the 1960s as well as the support South Korea lent in Vietnam, the two countries strengthened their relationship. Following the Vietnam War, the South Korean economy began to grow, and as the economy grew, the South Korean people began making strides toward becoming the democratic country that we know today.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo via Wikipedia
Korean War Project: DMZ War
Wilson Center: The “Second” Korean War
BBC News: Viewpoint: Kim’s death and the North Korean economy
South China Morning Post: North Korea wanted second Korean war in 1965, says Chinese scholar

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