With the current budget issues and the extension of our forces around the world, it’s easy to wonder why we don’t pull forces from Germany and South Korea. After all, those wars were fought more than half a century ago.
It’s also easy to look at the Korean War from the rear view mirror, with Vietnam in between. The Korean War can be seen as the start of a questionable pursuit of the domino theory…American forces can’t fight every war.
However, it’s useful to look at the American context in June 1950, when the North Korean forces launched their attack to forcibly reunite the countries.
The last American forces had pulled out of South Korea a few months before, having been there since WWII. In fact, the artificial boundary of the 38th parallel had been determined the delineation for the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea. Those south would surrender to the U.S., those north to the U.S.S.R.
Only 9 months before, China had fallen to the Communists. The month before that had been the revelation that the Soviet Union now had nukes. Stalin’s blockade of Berlin had ended in May 1949, due to the success of the airlift. So the Soviets were clearly pushing the cause of Communism anywhere they could.
The fear of Communism was exacerbated by domestic politics. In February of 1950, Sen. Joseph McArthy began waving his supposed list of 205 Communists in the State Department.
So in light of all of that, it’s not surprising that American response to the North Korean invasion was swift and determined. Given the 1950 invasion was initiated by Kim Il Sung, the father of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong Il, it’s not a huge surprise we still have soldiers there.
(Related anecdote…while deployed in West Germany in 1990 during my stint in the Army, I came across a sergeant who had recently returned from duty along the DMZ. He had pictures of dead North Korean soldiers from a firefight along the border. Apparently, it was not unheard of for firefights to break out between patrols on opposing sides. I’m not sure if that’s still the case, but it’s possible. I don’t have similar stories from serving on the East-West German border, but there certainly were tensions between patrols on both sides.)