Monday, September 12, 2011

VOA Presents: American History: In the 1950s, Conflict in Korea

American troops land at Pohang on the east coast of Korea in July 1950
Photo: AP
American troops land at Pohang on the east coast of Korea in July 1950

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember. 

Today, we tell about the Korean War. The biggest problem facing Dwight Eisenhower when he became president of the United States was the continuing conflict in Korea.

Eisenhower was elected in November nineteen fifty-two. At the time, the United States had been helping South Korea fight North Korea for more than two years. About twenty other members of the United Nations were also helping the South. The UN members provided troops, equipment, and medical aid.

EISENHOWER: “I shall go to Korea.”

During the American presidential election campaign, Eisenhower announced that he would go to Korea. He thought such a trip would help end the war. Eisenhower kept his promise. He went to Korea after he won the election, but before he was sworn-in as president. Yet the fighting did not stop in Korea until July of the next year, nineteen fifty-three.


The war started when North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Both sides believed they should control all of the country.

The dream of a united Korea was a powerful one. From nineteen-ten until World War Two, Korea had been under Japanese rule. In an agreement at the end of the war, troops from the Soviet Union occupied the North. They accepted the surrender of Japanese troops and set up a military government. American troops did the same in the South. The border dividing north and south was the geographic line known as the thirty-eighth parallel.

A few years later, the United Nations General Assembly ordered free elections for all of Korea. With UN help, the South established the Republic of Korea. Syngman Rhee was elected the first president.

On the other side of the thirty-eighth parallel, however, Soviet troops refused to let UN election officials enter the North. The Soviet Union supported creation of a communist government there, called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Kim Il-sung was named premier.
Five years after the end of World War Two, the United States had withdrawn almost all its troops from South Korea. It was not clear if America would defend the South from attack. South Korea had an army. But it was smaller and less powerful than the North Korean army.
North Korea decided the time was right to invade. On June twenty-fifth, nineteen-fifty, North Korean soldiers crossed the thirty-eighth parallel. The UN Security Council demanded that they go back. Two days later, the Council approved military support for South Korea. The Soviet delegate boycotted the meeting that day. If he had been present, the resolution would have been defeated.


The UN demand did not stop the North Korean troops. They continued to push south. In a week, they were on the edge of the capital, Seoul.

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