“By nine, Truman was ready for bed. It had been a long day. The time difference between Independence and Washington was two hours, since western Missouri was not on daylight saving time. At about 9:20, the telephone rang in the hall. Dean Acheson was calling from his country house in Maryland.
‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.’ ”
It was in this way that President Harry S. Truman learned of the invasion of South Korea by her communist neighbors to the north late on the evening of this date, June 25 in 1950, as recorded by author David Mc Cullough in his 1992 biography of our nation’s 33rd president, “Truman”.
North Korea Smashes Across the 38th Parallel
(Photos: Clockwise, from top: UN forces reach the 38th parallel; F-86 Sabre fighter aeroplane in Korean combat; Inchon harbor, starting point of the Battle of Inchon; Chinese soldiers welcomed home; 1st. Lt. Baldomero Lopez, USMC, over the top of the Incheon seawall.)
There had been tensions along the 38th parallel ever since Korea had been partitioned into North and South. This division along that point of longitude had been settled upon rather hastily during the final week of World War II as a temporary measure to facilitate the surrender of Japanese troops – those North of the line would surrender to the Soviets, those to the south to the Americans. But the incursion into the South had taken everyone outside of North Korea quite by surprise. Under the excuse of counter-attacking a South Korean provocation raid, the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel, behind heavy artillery fire, at dawn of that Sunday in June. The North Koreans said that Republic of Korea Army troops, under command of the “bandit traitor Syngman Rhee” (the president of South Korea), had crossed the border first, and that they would go all the way to Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, arrest and then execute Rhee. Both Korean armies had continually harassed each other with skirmishes and each continually staged raids across the 38th parallel border.
Truman Worries About a Possible Third World War
The president and all of his advisors worried that this was the start of World War III, since they assumed that this was an incursion personally directed by Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator using the North Koreans as a thinly veiled proxy. But they felt that they had to stand up to this aggression, lest they appease themselves into a far bigger war as the idiot Neville Chamberlain had done for England in 1939. The president considered all of this during his flight back to Washington to meet with his top advisers:
“I remembered how each time the democracies failed to act it encouraged the aggressors to keep going ahead…. If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threats by stronger Communist neighbors. If this was allowed to go unchallenged, it would mean a third world war, just as smaller incidents had brought on the second world war.”
The U.N. Security Council Votes for Armed Intervention
Hours after the North Korean incursion, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council unanimously condemned their invasion of the Republic of South Korea, with UNSC Resolution 82. The Soviet Union, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council had a veto-wielding power, but had boycotted the Council meetings since January 1950, protesting that the fact that the Republic of China (Taiwan), not the People’s Republic of China, held a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. After debating the matter, the Security Council, would on June 27, 1950, publish Resolution 83 which recommended member state military assistance to the Republic of Korea. This would eventually lead to armed forces from well over a dozen United Nations member states other than the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK) being sent to take part in combat operations against the communist forces which were supported militarily by the U.S.S.R.
Truman Sends in Advisers
But the armed intervention by the U.S. was not initially a forgone conclusion. At a meeting at Blair House (then being used as a residence by Truman while the White House underwent renovation)on the evening of June 25, Truman met with his top military advisers. Amongst those present were Dean Acheson (above), who was Truman’s Secretary of State along with Phillip Johnson, Dean Rusk, as well as the secretaries of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, and the three Chiefs of Staff of those services, including General Omar Bradley (below). Bradley was very ill, but felt that he needed to be present. He recalled that the meeting was dominated by Acheson, but that the President was very firm in his resolve to support the ROK. And everyone present agreed:
“Underlying these discussions was an intense sense of moral outrage, even more than we had felt at the Czechoslovakia coup of 1948. We had experienced coups, subversion, the Berlin blockade and a dozen other steps short of steps short of outright hostilities in the Cold War; but Korea was raw naked aggression, a communist state invading a peaceful nation — given and guaranteed its free status by the U.N. — with blazing tanks and artillery. It was an affront not only to us but to the U.N. itself, an arrogant challenge to all that the U.N. stood for.”
While Truman would order only air and naval support at first, this on the recommendation of Bradley and the other military men to wait and see if the ROK forces could handle the job, it soon became apparent that only the commitment of the two full divisions asked for by General Mac Arthur who was eventually made the commander of the U.N. forces would do the job. The North Koreans nearly took the whole peninsula, pushing US and ROK forces back to the infamous Pusan perimeter. But Mac Arthur’s brilliant landing at Inchon in September pushed the North Koreans back. The war would continue for three long years and encompass the relief of General Mac Arthur by President Truman for insubordination, the armed intervention by Mainland China on the side of the North and the change over to the Eisenhower administration. And it would end with what was viewed as a very dissatisfactory political settlement dividing Korea at roughly the same place as when the War began. But all of this was in the future back on this date in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded the South.
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“Truman” by David Mc Cullough, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992.
“A General’s Life” by Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1983.