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File:Korean war-1 5036.jpg

"I will go to Korea."

Dwight D. Eisenhower, during the 1952 presidential election campaign

Known in America mainly as the war (or "police action", as it was officially known) featured in the various versions of M*A*S*H, the war in the Korean peninsula, 1950-present. The two Koreas still have not signed a peace treaty, however after a long unofficial armistice, these two states have not resumed fighting. Despite the state of war, their relations have been more or less amicable at times, especially after 1998. It's often called "6.25 War" or just "6.25" in South Korea and the "Fatherland Liberation War" in North Korea.

Both Korean states had been harassing each other along the border, and both had aspirations of placing the whole peninsula under their own style of government. On 25 June (6.25) 1950, North Korea took the initiative, crossed the 38th parallel and launched an invasion of South Korea.

The war played out much like a football game in which both teams make it to the one yard line only to fumble. In June 1950, the American forces occupying South Korea was in the process of closing shop, and the remaining soldiers had grown complacent and were unprepared for a war. When the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel, it met ineffective resistance and quickly pushed the American and South Korean forces to the southern part of the peninsula. Even reinforcements flown in from Japan did little to stop the North Korean advance, but the US and SK forces finally established a solid defensive line around Pusan.

In the meantime, the United States appealed to the United Nations for intervention. Normally this would've been a waste of time, as the Soviets would've used their veto power to stop any such resolution. Luckily for the US, the Soviet delegation boycotted the meeting because the new Communist Chinese government hadn't been allowed to take its place on the Security Council.

Douglas MacArthur led coalition forces in a daring invasion at Inchon, on the Western coast of the peninsula. The expedition forced the North Korean army northward, back across the 38th Parallel and all the way to the Yalu River on the Chinese border.

At this point, the Chinese, concerned as much by the American army on their doorstep as the fate of their fellow communists, initiated a massive Zerg Rush which once again sent the UN forces reeling. President Truman (at the behest of MacArthur) seriously considered using nuclear weapons at this point, but other allied nations objected rather strongly. At this point MacArthur started to do a General Ripper imitation (albeit a decade before General Ripper) and Truman had no choice but to fire him.

The new coalition commander, General Ridgeway, managed to stabilize the situation and soon the UN forces were pushing the enemy northwards again. This time they decided to stop at the 38th Parallel and hold the line until a peace treaty could be signed.

And in a sane world, that's where the war would've ended, after only a single bloody year. But negotiations dragged on for two more years, and men continued to die by the hundreds with no territorial gains for either side (much like World War I a generation earlier). The Soviet Union snuck in some pilots. The UN forces knew they were there, but weren't keen on starting a war with the Reds with Rockets. Finally, in 1953 both sides agreed to a cease-fire that set up a demilitarized zone between the two countries, and remains in effect today.[1]

Although the US and her allies technically won the war — their main goal, maintaining South Korean independence, was achieved — the long bloody stalemate has ensured that the war is remembered as a draw. Another, much more paradoxical, but, ironically, official point of view was that the war didn't technically happen at all. Y'see, both halves of Korea consider themselves the only legitimate government, with their jurisdiction covering the entire peninsula[2], and the other contender as rebels and bandits. Thus, in their books, the whole war only counted as a police operation to bring the rebel provinces back, and Southern representatives weren't even present at the signing of the armistice.

The war saw the real start of jet-based air combat (jets had been used in World War Two, but only in the very late stages of the war and in no case did jet fight jet). On the plus side, this war took advantage of major advances in medicine and helicopter transportation to create very effective care for the wounded. For instance, if you were a UN soldier wounded in combat and arrived at a MASH unit alive in that war, your chances of survival there jumped to 97%.

It's somewhat of a forgotten war in the United States despite seeing just over half as many American deaths as The Vietnam War (36,516 vs. 58,209 respectively, and over a far shorter period of time), 1,109 British deaths and a total body count that must be heading towards 3 million. In North Korea, however, the war has been used ever since as an excuse to villainize the United States and its "puppet government" in South Korea. Most of the population is led from birth to believe that the US is just waiting for the right moment to come in and "finish the job". Technically, the war is still ongoing as both sides have only ever agreed to a ceasefire, not an armistice nor any peace treaty. "Restarting" the war is a fairly common plot.

Tropes used in The Korean War include:
  • Ace Pilot: The first jet aces for North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and possibly the Soviet Union were made in this war.
    • Ivan Kozhedub, the highest-scoring Allied ace of World War II, was a military advisor on the North side, and, despite being officially forbidden to fly combat mission, reportedly had another five victories there, making him one of the rarest double, or even double double ace: in two different wars and both on a prop and a jet fighter.
  • The Alliance: The United Nations forces were an alliance of nations (seventeen of them), large compared to the average war but small compared to the Allies of the recent World War II (who also called themselves the United Nations) which numbered more than forty-seven countries by the war's end.
  • America Saves the Day: American films do this often. Which is justified; 88 % of the foreign task force came from the US.
    • South Korean films often takes this approach regarding their own servicemen in action.
  • Blatant Lies: Chinese casualty reports. Apparently, allied forces lost twice as much soldiers as the Chinese did in the war. Who would have guessed?
  • Chinese With Chopper Support: Subverted in that the Chinese leadership had to label the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, tanks, and planes they sent to Korea as "The Chinese People's Volunteer Army" to mask Chinese help for North Korea. It didn't work out completely.
    • The way this worked in practice led to this wry observation from some wags:

It is a very well dressed volunteer indeed who shows up wearing a Mi G fighter.

  • Cold War: The war is arguably one of the few continuing legacies of the Cold War.
  • Cold Sniper: Literally. The Chinese had used sniper(technically marksman) warfare extensively and for many times hold their lines by using snipers. But those sniper units are not supported well and many suffered limbs lost due to frostbite.
    • The Chinese word for a surprise shot is 冷槍 (leng4 qiang1), literally "cold shot".
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The Chinese were known to treat the non-Korean UN POW's reasonably well, especially in comparison to the North Koreans. However they did require all enlisted POW's to attend daily lectures for several hours on the virtues of communism and the evils of capitalism.
    • Then again, "Brainwashing" was a direct translation of a Chinese word.
  • Cool Plane: There were quite a few.
  • Civil War: Until the UN and China involved themselves.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: Being war, more than a few options here.
    • For the Chinese, after almost a century of humiliation at the hands of the west starting with the Opium War, and the unequal treaties, and after the disastrous Sino-Japanese War, and the Chinese Civil War, the fact the the Chinese were able to force back to Westerners back to the 38th parallel and hold them off, is a CMOA for the whole country.
    • For General MacArthur, the Inchon landings, breaking the supply lines for the siege battering on the Pusan Perimeter, threatening to shove UN forces completely off the Korean peninsula.
    • "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." — Major General Oliver P. Smith, CO 1st Marine Division, during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.
      • To explain; though his quote later became a stock quote for military doublespeak, he was being completely serious. When you are completely surrounded by enemies, any movement is an advance. In his case, a particularly dangerous advance.
    • Even the "bit players" get their own. Battle of Yultong Bridge. 900 Filipino troops versus several thousand of Chinese soldiers. End result: 50 Filipino casualties (wounded and KIA/MIA), heavy Chinese casualties. The position held.
    • Ironically, both sides claimed the Battle of Chosin Reservoir as a victory and consider it among their finest hours. For the Chinese, it was the first major battle involving thousands of soldiers in which they were able to defeat a Western power. From the American point of view, given that the Chinese outnumbered them two to three yet they were able to inflict a twenty to one kill ratio against them, and that they were surrounded but managed to successfully break out of the encirclement and withdraw in good order, it was quite a success given the circumstances. Most would more or less call it a pyrrhic Chinese victory.
    • The Battle of the Imjin River was one for the British Gloucestershire Regiment, who held out for two days on Hill 235 against vastly more numerous Chinese troops. The hill was renamed Gloster Hill after the war.
    • The Battle of Kapyong, where two battalions of mainly Canadian and Australian soldiers fought against the vastly superior Chinese division. At one point, the Canadians were so overwhelmed by the Chinese forces that they had to call down artillery fire on their own position to stop the attacking Chinese. And an Australian major managed to call a US general for backup, who incredulously believed that the unit was wiped out. The major simply replied that "I've got news for you, we are still here and we are staying here!" The end result was: 31 Australians killed, 10 Canadians killed and over 1000 Chinese killed.
  • The Determinator: The First Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir, which was outnumbered by three to one and divided into several detachments, each of which were cut off from each other and surrounded by the Chinese. Not only did they cut their way out, but they took their wounded and heavy equipment with them.
  • Did Not Do the Research: During the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific, the Marines became famous for their successful beach invasions, which involved meticulously planned assaults. They were horrified by the invasion of North Korea, which not only had more leaks than a sieve, but lacked ever so much information. They still succeeded.
  • Forever War: The Korean War technically hasn't ended; all that both sides could agree upon is a ceasefire.
  • Idiot Ball: The Chinese repeatedly warned that they weren't happy. Chinese troops could be heard discharging weaponry as the UN forces approached the Yalu. The Chinese said they didn't want people near the Yalu. Then the Chinese swarmed over the Yalu.
  • Insult Backfire: In a strange way; the meeting between General MacArthur and President Truman. Truman got off the plane and met a man dressed in dirty clothes and a greasy cap. He was thoroughly insulted and, whereas MacArthur (treated as an emperor in Japan) intended to show his superiority, Truman was so offended that MacArthur was fired (it didn't help that the war wasn't going well at that time and MacArthur was seriously planning dropping nuclear bombs on Red China).
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In the United Nations, the USSR, who supported the North Koreans held a veto power in the Security Council (along with the US, UK, France and China) and could have prevented official UN participation in the war, but they were boycotting the body because at the time China's seat was held by the Republic of China (aka Taiwan) instead of The People's Republic of China.
  • No One Could Survive That: The US General initially believed that the Canadian and Australian forces in the Battle of Kapyong were all wiped out. He was wrong.
  • North Koreans With Nodongs: the war was their first true baptism of fire as an official military force.
  • Not So Different: South Korea was just as authoritarian as North Korea during the war, minus the obsessive personality cult and Communist political system. When the war ended, South Korea gradually became more democratic (sort of anyway), while North Korea — to date — has not.
  • Nuke'Em: Douglas MacArthur was sacked for advocating nuking China as well as acting insubordinate to President Truman.
    • Historians tend to disagree as to the exact reasons behind Truman's dismissal of MacArthur. Certainly, the general's stated desire to drive all the way to the Yalu River was a consideration, as was his desire to use nuclear weapons in a world still reeling from the first uses. However, prior to US intervention, MacArthur had stated that if put in command he would push all the way to the Yalu, and that he would consider any and all weapons for possible use. When he flew home to meet Truman, they both knew he wouldn't be returning to his command of the UN forces. But, to throw another wrench in the works, MacArthur simply felt that he could not resign while the war was still ongoing and refused to be removed from command. Truman, for his part, felt that he could not ask for the resignation of a hero of World War II, but could not allow him to resume his command. In the end, he was forced to fire MacArthur, which the general accepted without resistance.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: For China, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
    • The entire war could be considered this for China. They did technically fulfill their goals (stop the US from occupying North Korea), but at the cost of 200,000 to 400,000 soldiers. Saving North Korea might not have turned out to be a very good move for them either.
  • Reds with Rockets: They were there in the form of hundreds of trained jet pilots. Who were flying jets that were provided to China by the Soviets.
  • Semper Fi: The US Marines are rather proud of their showing at the landings at Inchon and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
  • South Koreans With Marines: their debut conflict, like those of the North.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: A British force on the brink of being overrun failed to receive reinforcements from the Americans because the American commander failed to take account of this — the British commander described it as "A bit of a sticky situation".
  • The Strategist: MacArthur, for his brilliant stroke at Inchon. Soon to be brutally subverted (see General Failure above).
  • We Have Reserves: The Chinese lost a ridiculous number of troops, but they could afford those losses.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The No Gun Ri Massacre.
  • Yanks With Tanks
  • You Are in Command Now: Matthew Ridgeway replaced World War II hero Douglas MacArthur as Commander of forces in Korea by President Truman
  • Zerg Rush: Many battles with the Chinese military involved tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers versus some hundreds or a few thousand of UN troops.
    • Unsophisticated Zerg Rush tactics actually reduced the combat effectiveness of the Chinese. The author of Breakout, a book about the Chosin Reservoir campaign, notes that if the Chinese had simply blocked the only road available to the Marines for withdrawal they would have captured or annihilated the entire 1st Marine Division. Instead they dispersed their strength by physically surrounding the Marines and then wasted that strength in horrifically costly Zerg Rushes, facilitating the escape of the Marines.
    • The PVA tactics themselves were actually of the light infantry infiltration type. They were used with success in the battles of Onjong and Unsan, but general success was stifled by lack of effective communication and political rigidity.
      • These tactics worked very well in the early stages of the war, as much of the initial resistance was from mechanized forces that were largely confined to the roads, particularly in the most mountainous eastern side of the Korean Peninsula. Because they had difficulty operating away from roads, there was lots of space for the PVA light infantry to flank them (which they did repeatedly). This stopped working once the Pusan Perimeter was established, as the defending forces were pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder along the whole length. You can't flank a force that doesn't have any.

Media featuring the war:


  • Fixed Bayonets!, 1951 American film
  • The Steel Helmet, 1951 American film
  • Retreat, Hell!, 1952 American film
  • Battle Circus, a 1953 American film starring Humphrey Bogart and set at a MASH hospital in Korea
  • Men of the Fighting Lady, 1954 American film
  • Men in War, 1957 American film
  • Sayonara, 1957 American film
  • Pork Chop Hill, 1959 American film
  • The opening scene of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) takes place in Korea, and most of the film deals with the aftereffects of one infantry unit's capture and subsequent brainwashing by Communists there.
  • Welcome to Dongmakgol, 2005 South Korean film
  • Taegukgi (AKA: Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo, Brotherhood: Taegukgi and Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War), a 2007 South Korean film. "Taegukgi" is a name for the flag of South Korea. The movie is about two brothers who get caught up in the war: the older brother does everything he can to get medals so he can request for his younger brother to be sent home; when he believes his brother has died in a fire he does a Face Heel Turn to North Korea out of despair.
  • Assembly, 2007 Chinese film which also takes place during the Chinese Civil War
  • Silmido is about the Second Korean War, a period of tension and armed skirmishes between 1966 and 1976.
  • Inchon a 1981 American film
  • MacArthur, a 1977 film, made in much the same vein as Patton, (shows us the titular General's story from the man's own perspective) shows the glorious career of General Douglas MacArthur during World War II up until the Korean War. The film showcases MacArthur's brilliant successes in Korea and his unexpected failures, but the story maintains that MacArthur's tactics are working and that he is quite capable of winning if President Truman will only allow him to utilize the full military might of the United States. The President refuses and MacArthur becomes disgusted at the politics game that Truman is playing, namely not wanting to go on an all-out war with Communist China and their ally Russia and to avoid possible nuclear war, and states very blatantly that there is no substitute for victory in a war and either you fight with everything you have or you don't fight at all. MacArthur is relieved of his command over the war and fades into obscurity until his eventual retirement from the Army and in his last moments as a General and as a soldier he addresses many young and aspiring soldiers/cadets at West Point about what his career in the Military has meant to him.


  • James Salter's The Hunters is a novel set in the Korean air war which features an Officer and a Gentleman and a particularly nasty Glory Hound.
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a James Michener novel subsequently made into a film
  • M*A*S*H, a novel (1968), film (1970), and TV series (1972-83)
  • This Kind of War, by T. R. Fehrenbach (1960). This is considered by many historians to be THE definitive history of the Korean War, and an excellent read on its own literary merits. It is also required reading for all US officer candidate cadets at West Point and all candidates for promotion to the rank of General or Admiral in the US military.

Live Action TV

  • In Mad Men, Dick Whitman is a soldier in Korea when his commanding officer--in a two-man camp!--is killed. As Whitman isn't doing too well for himself, he takes the dead man's identity- Don Draper.
  • Basil Fawlty appearently served in the Catering Corps. He also claims to have a shrapnel wound on his leg when he needs an excuse.
  • Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files fought in Korea.
  • In Seinfeld, George's father, Frank was a cook in the Korean War, and has traumatic flashbacks about the time he sickened his fellow troops by using bad meat.

Video Games

  • The aptly named 2003 title Korea : Forgotten Conflict. Its style of gameplay is very similar to that of the Commandos series.
  • The Steel Panthers series has traditionally included a number of campaigns and scenarios focusing on the conflict. The third game in particular included a scenario based on the ill-fated delaying action of Task Force Smith.

Restarting the war



  • The Dale Brown novel Battle Born
  • Larry Bond's Red Phoenix.

Video Games

  1. Technically, though, as there never was an actual peace treaty between the two sides, the two nations are still at war with one another. There's even been a few incidents along the DMZ as well as attacks on vessels in waters both nations claim as theirs.
  2. North officially considered Seoul its capital till 1972, and South still appoints governors for the northern provinces