By Jeremy Ravinsky,
July 27, 2013, marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice
Agreement, which ended the three-year-long Korean War. Although the
conflict claimed some 36,000 American lives, it is sometimes referred
to as the Forgotten War. This year, however, President Obama has
declared Korean War Veterans Armistice Day on Saturday, the
anniversary. While the nation remembers, here are five things you
should know about the conflict and armistice.
1. The truce took two years to negotiate
Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations Jacob Malik first proposed a
cease-fire in 1951, and the first negotiations began in July of that
year at Kaesong. However, talks broke down in 1952 over the issue of
how to deal with prisoners of war. Meanwhile, hostilities continued.
It wasn’t until April of 1953 that the issue was resolved and an
agreement was reached and signed in July. Though South Korea refused
to sign, fighting ended soon after.
2. The Korean War was the first involving the United Nations
When the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea in 1950, the
UN called upon its members to help stymie their advance — the first
time the newly minted organization had ever done so. Sixteen countries
sent troops and 14 sent supplies, though the vast majority of both
came from the U.S. The entry of the U.S. into the war turned the tide
and the North’s forces were pushed back across the 38th parallel, the
temporary border set up between the northern and southern parts of
Korea after Wold War II. However, the entry of Chinese troops and
Soviet military aid forced the conflict into a stalemate.
Approximately 36,000 U.S. soldiers were killed during the war and
about 103,000 were injured, while North Korea and South Korea suffered
millions of casualties, including about 1 million dead on each side.
Almost 8,000 U.S. troops are still officially missing in action from
3. The armistice created the demilitarized zone (DMZ)
The DMZ is a kind of buffer zone between the two Koreas. It spans 1.2
miles of territory on either side of the line of armistice — the de
facto border between the two states that runs along the 38th parallel
line — and is not technically part of either country.
The division of the peninsula along 38th parallel goes back to the end
of World War II. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the
United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide the administration
of Japanese-occupied Korea: the Soviet Union would manage the north
and the U.S. the south. The division was meant to be temporary.
However, two ideologically opposed regimes emerged on either side — a
Western-allied government under Syngman Rhee in the south and Kim
Il-Sung’s Communist regime in the north — and the peninsula was
4. The war was the first to feature battles between jet fighters
Both sides fielded jet fighters in combat, with the UN forces using
F-86s and the Communists deploying MiG-15s. The US and its allies
unquestionably won the battle for the air, with US forces downing over
500 MiGs at a loss of less than 80 of their own jets.
Several times throughout the war, the use of an atomic bomb was
discussed, though never employed. Ultimately, it would not have served
any strategic purpose other than the destruction of civilian
infrastructure. The closest the U.S. came to using the bomb was in
1950, but its allies — particularly Britain — were severely opposed to
5. The armistice is not a peace treaty
Though the armistice agreement ended hostilities, the war — known in
North Korea as “The Great Fatherland Liberation War” — never
technically ended. To this day, the U.S. and South Korea are still
legally at war with North Korea.
Soon after the armistice was declared, the U.S. organized a meeting of
the belligerent parties in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss how to
definitively end the war, but no solution was produced. Since then,
several skirmishes and ambushes have taken place on either side of the
DMZ. A little-known prolonged period of conflict between 1966 and 1969
is sometimes called the Second Korean War, although it is more
commonly referred to as the Korean DMZ Conflict.
Tensions between the North and the South continue to this day.