On June 25, 1950, troops from Communist-ruled North Korea invaded South Korea, and started a 3-year war that was to become not only one of the bloodiest, but also one of the most misunderstood wars in America's history.
Why the U.S. Fought the Korean War
Ostensibly a battle between North Korea (communist) and South Korea (democratic), it soon drew in China, the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain, France, Canada, and more than a dozen other nations. It began with isolated military strikes by North Korea's Kim Il-Sun, and South Korea's Syngman Rhee, but soon escalated into a multinational conflict.
America's involvement was due, in great part, to the fear that a communist Korea would give that idealogy a critical foothold in Asia. But what began as a support of South Korean troops soon grew to monumental proportions, as the two sides' allies added to the number of soldiers and materiel they contributed.
How the "Forgotten War" Got It's Name
Unlike World War II (which preceded the Korean War by only 4 years), the Korean War was arguably the first that the United States fought for an ideal: communism vs. democracy. Whereas World War II provided a face to rally against (Adolph Hitler, Emperoro Hiroto, Mussolini), the enemy in the Korean War was more nebulous.
Witness the end of both wars: the end of World War II spawned tickertape parades nationwide; the "end" of the Korean War went unnoticed by most Americans. The reasons for that are several.
"The '50s was such a golden age in America, that having a conflict, or war, during that period interferes with that illusion," explains The Forgotten writer/director, Vincente Stasolla.
Film producer Henry Simonds concurs: " . . . we talked to one veteran, who had seen the victory parades when people came home from World War II. When he got back from the Korean War, there was very little fanfare at all. One of his friends said 'Hey Jim, where you been?' He said 'I've been in Korea.' "
Before and after the Korean War were two wars that became major parts of the American historical lexicon. World War II included an indentifiable enemy who posed a real threat to America's homeland; the Vietnam War was forced into the consciousness of most Americans via the media.
"Vietnam was so long, and so televised -- it became part of the mainstream media. You couldn't avoid having to look at the stories coming out of that. Especially because it was a product of the '60s," says Stasolla.
Sandwiched between was the Korean War. Not covered in depth by a nascent television media, yet without the critical theme of World War II, it forever hovered beneath the threshhold of public awareness.
The Cost of the Korean War
One of the bloodiest wars in history, the Korean War accounted for unprecedented casualties.
About a million South Korean civilians were killed, and several million were made homeless. More than 560,000 United Nations and South Korean troops and about 1,600,000 communist troops were killed or wounded or were reported missing.
-- The World Book Encyclopedia, 2008 Edition
In addition to the casualties, was the blow to American pride. It was the first war that the United States had not won, and forever changed the view of Americans toward foreign policy.
The Korean War's Legacy
For all that was lost in the Korean War, the costs did not, in the end, outweigh the gains.
All wars bring human suffering, but seldom have so many suffered to gain so little. At the end of the war, the border between North and South Korea was reestablished, along roughly the same line where it had been in June 1950. The communist leader Kim Il Sung remained in power in North Korea, the anticommunist leader Syngman Rhee remained in power in South Korea.
-- The Korean War, by Maurice Isserman
And in the United States, it remains the "forgotten war," a badly misunderstood conflict of which most people have vague if any awareness. That legacy continues to this day, as exemplified by The Korean War Veterans Memorial -- a monument in Washington, D.C., that honors Americans who served in the Korean War (1950-1953).
The monument was dedicated in 1995.