Useful Notes: The Korean War

"In war there is no substitute for victory."

Known in America mainly as the war (or "police action", as it was officially known) featured in 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, either. 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" (referring to the date the war started, June 25th) 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 were 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. At this point MacArthur started to become an even worse General Ripper (a decade before the movie version) and President Truman had no choice but to fire himnote .

The new coalition commander, General Matthew Ridgway, 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 One 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.note 

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 peninsulanote , 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. Even stranger, in this perspective, is that no official "country" participated in this war. US and its allies participated as the UN force, not as armed forces of the respective countries. The Chinese were all technically and legally "volunteers.". The Soviet pilots were officially never in Korea. And both Koreas denied that the other was a legitimate "country" at all.

The war saw the real start of jet-based air combat (jets had been used in World War II, 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 any peace treaty. "Restarting" the war is a fairly common plotnote .

Tropes include:

  • Ace Pilot: The first jet aces for the United States, the Soviet Union, China and probably North Korea were made in this war. Although South Korea's air force didn't receive jet fighters until after the war and none of their pilots had the chance to achieve "ace" status in the technical sense (five air-to-air victories), their fleet of propeller-driven combat aircraft played a very active role in providing air support for UN ground troops, alongside flyers from Britain, Australia, South Africa and Canada.
    • 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 missions, 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 17 nations. Not as large as the Allies of World War II, but the most important player was there.
  • America Saves the Day: Justified by the vast majority of UN forces being comprised of American infantry, artillery, and air support.
    • South Korean films often take this approach regarding their own servicemen in action.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Faced with well-entrenched, well-supplied, and constantly reinforced UN troops, the North Koreans continued to assault the well-fortified Pusan Perimeter. Their losses here sapped them of their strength, and the badly mauled North Koreans were shattered by MacArthur's subsequent counterattack.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Faced with the military intelligence equivalent of a giant glowing neon sign saying, “Here be Chinese,” MacArthur insisted on continuing the advance on the Yalu River.
  • Blatant Lies: Chinese casualty reports claimed that allied forces lost twice as many soldiers as the Chinese. They also claimed every single allied tracked vehicle destroyed as a "tank", regardless if it... was a tank. Also, South Korean units under American command are sometimes regarded as American or even British.
    • North Korea told an immense whopper early in the war, one they still hold to to this day — the DPRK's Korean People's Army Navy claimed the sinking, in 1950, of the cruiser USS Baltimore during a PT boat action off the coast of Korea. This would be quite a feat, as at the time of her "sinking", Baltimore was 6,000 miles away, in mothballs. She would be reactivated in 1953, but was sent to the Mediterranean. She was scrapped for recycling in Portland, Oregon, in 1972. There was an incident at that location at that time, but it instead ended with three Allied ships destroying an attacking squadron of PT boats, then proceeding to completely dismantle a North Korean supply convoy. Even so, the PT boat that "sank" Baltimore is still on display at North Korea's Korean War museum until 2013.
    • North Korea significantly whitewashed their history of the war, discreetly (or sometimes, blatantly) discarding any mention of the massive Chinese and Russian aid that kept the DPRK from becoming a historical footnote.
    • North Korea also claims that they were invaded first by the Americans, and the initial invasion of South Korea was a counterattack.
  • Blood Knight: This trope also got mixed with a helping of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, as part of the reason that the Korean People's Army was able to steamroll South Korea at the beginning of the war was that the US had refused to equip Syngman Rhee's South Korean army with equipment beyond basic rifles after Rhee indicated he was determined to take a stab at conquering North Korea — the last headache the US needed at that time.
  • Brits with Battleships: After South Korea and the United States, Britain was the third-largest contributor to the UN military forces in Korea.
  • Canucks with Chinooks: The Canadian Army played a large role in the Korean War,note  and the Royal Canadian Navy's "Tribal" class destroyers were very active in the Naval Blockade of North Korea and providing gunfire support to troops on the ground. The Royal Canadian Air Force didn't commit any combat units, but their North Star transports played a large role in the UN forces' airlift operations and two dozen Canadian fighter pilots fought in Korea as exchange officers with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.
  • 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.
    • 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 MiG fighter.
  • Cold War
  • Cold Sniper: Literally. The Chinese had used sniper (technically marksman) warfare extensively, and on many occasions held their lines by using snipers. But those sniper units were not supported well and many lost limbs due to frostbite.
    • The Chinese word for a surprise shot is 冷槍 (leng3 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.
    • Chinese POWs in South Korean/Allied Camps are tattooed with anti-communism slogans (sometimes in the form of a "Blind Idiot" Translation) to prevent them from escaping. Extremely riotous ones are reported to have blood taken out beyond safe volumes.
  • 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 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.
      • Making this better was that the landings were a case of Crazy Enough to Work. The KPA hadn't even considered a landing at Inchon possible due to the tide and the mud flats that would almost certainly trap any ships launching landing craft. However, using Japanese tidal charts and knowing when high tide would peak, the ships would move in an hour before or two hours after high tide hit its peak, launch landing craft, and then pull out into more open seas. The result was an overwhelming victory.
      • Even better, Mao had specifically pointed to Inchon as a potential invasion point when discussing strategy with Kim. Kim had ignored him
    • "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.
    • 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 take to the field against the Western Allies for the entire war is one for the entire country.
    • 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.
    • Outpost Harry. 500 American and 100 Greek soldiers versus an entire Chinese division of 13,000 troops. The Chinese launched attack after attack for eight days straight, but were continually repulsed. By the end, 4,500 Chinese soldiers were dead. American and Greek losses totaled in at 114 killed.
    • 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 Allied 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.
      • To elaborate on this, the British ended up surrounded and out of ammo. So they threw their ration tins at the enemy. The true extent of the massive Chinese casualties around Hill 235 may never be known, but estimates are very high, generally thought to be at least fifteen times higher, than British losses (remember that the British were almost out of ammo and food). A small rivalry still continues to this day between the British and the American armies, as the British had in fact radioed for assistance, telling the US commander that things were "a bit sticky". The American, however, did not speak Stiff Upper Lip, and failed to realize that "a bit sticky" was what an American might call "fucking catastrophic". The Glosters later became known as the "Glorious Glosters".
    Andrew Marr: At Gloster Hill the world's most political army faced its least political one...and got a good kicking in return.
    • The Battle of Kapyong, where two battalions of mainly Canadian and Australian soldiers, backed by a New Zealand artillery regiment, repulsed a 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 Battle of Ch'ongch'on River which was probably the most important battle of the war. The Chinese army, outnumbered by the UN forces which had 3 and half times the firepower, decisively defeats them using surprise attacks and infiltration tactics. Making it even more impressive, the typical PVA soldier only had 5 days worth of supplies and could only resupply by scavenging from the battlefield. The US army was expecting to be home by Christmas and instead was forced into the longest retreat in US military history. This was the battle that ended hopes of a united Korea.
  • 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.
    • The Chinese 45th Division at the Battle of Triangle Hill. In the initial UN attack, when troops ran short on ammo, they threw rocks down the hill instead. In the counterattack, even when flares broke the cover of darkness so important to Chinese infiltration tactics, soldiers advanced through relentless artillery fire to reach UN positions, causing some American observers to believe they were hopped up on drugs. This grim determination virtually annihilated the 45th Division in the course of the battle.
  • Elite Army: Both the Chinese People’s Volunteers and North Korean army probably started out as this, having gained combat experience in twenty-three years of war against the Nationalist Chinese and the Imperial Japanese. However, as time went on and in spite of a triumphant effort, they turned out to be outpaced by a different side.
    • The Chinese People's Volunteers were infiltration-focused, and complacent UN troops were greatly demoralized by their first engagements. On the other hand, due to being strictly light infantry, the Chinese suffered heavy casualties from UN firepower. Also, they didn't have many radios and suffered severe quality decline as the war went on.
    • The North Koreans began the war with a battle-hardened army trained in maneuver warfare by action in the Chinese Civil War, equipped with Soviet materiel, and accompanied by Chinese advisors. They routed the South Korean army in days and badly mauled the American 24th Infantry before the UN secured the Pusan Perimeter. However, they mauled themselves doing so even against inadequately equipped and generally newly-raised units, and when the Western Allies finally managed to bring fully-equipped forces into the fray the KPA all but suffered Critical Existence Failure and was effectively destroyed by 1951, leaving the war to be fought primarily by the Chinese.
    • Of all of these, the combined UN Command started out the worst but came to dominate the war. Initially suffering from lack of equipment and inexperienced soldiers and always operating under a limited capacity to prevent the outbreak of World War III, the Western Allies were still very much the same force that had won World War II and World War One. On top of this, they were also joined by the South Koreans and UN Contingents from across the globe. Within the first year of war the UN all but destroyed the North Korean military even while struggling with said inexperienced troops, poor equipment, and debilitating arguments between and within the GHQs and domestic governments. This was stopped by the Chinese taking advantage of their reckless over-extension to wrongfoot and smash them back, but the following year they reorganized again under Ridgway and from then on held all the cards in the war.
    • The Battle Of The Chosin was about one thing, annihilating the First Marine Division. The 1st Marines fought their way out of the Chosin and five of the ten Chinese divisions— the 124th, 79th, 58th, 59th and 60th were destroyed and never saw combat again in the conflict. When General Song (PLA 9th Army Group commander) sent his first battle plan to Mao, Mao responded:
      Mao "The American Marine First Division has the highest combat effectiveness in the American armed forces. It seems not enough for our four divisions to surround and annihilate its two regiments. [You] should have one to two more divisions as a reserve force."
  • Forever War: Technically, the war never ended, with North and South held back only by an Armistice and Sino-American intervention.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Syngman Rhee was, to put it mildly, a liability. On the communist side Kim Il-Sun was not much better.
  • Friend or Foe: During the Battle of Hill 282 in 1950, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were under heavy attack by North Korean forces and called for air support. They then set up their white air recognition panels to prevent them from being bombed. Unfortunately, the North Koreans had set up their own white panels. Thus, when American Mustangs reached them, they couldn't properly identify who was who and ended up dropping their payloads right on top of the Argylls. Said payloads were napalm bombs. And then they strafed them. Despite this, the remaining Argylls managed to hold their positions long enough to evacuate all of their wounded.
  • Game Breaker: The United States Air Force and Naval Aviation. The former carpet-bombed North Korea back to the stone age before establishing and enjoying complete air superiority over all of the Korean Peninsula for virtually the entire conflict. The latter bombed the crap out of anything red that moved. For both the North Koreans and the Chinese, the most dangerous profession wasn’t the front line infantryman, but the truck driver. As a result, the North Koreans crumbled around Pusan from lack of supplies, and the Chinese suffered horrendous casualties from airstrikes, airstrikes, and frostbite.
  • Glory Hound: One of MacArthur's worst traits as a commander. At his most extreme he verged on being The Star Scream.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A well-known one among the Chinese, at least. It is October 19, 1952. Five days prior, UN forces initiated an attack that has gradually ground down the Chinese defenses on Triangle Hill, dominated by Height 598, and have captured the heights. Chinese units are ordered to counterattack after sundown, to minimize the effectiveness of UN artillery. Among the men participating in the attack is one Trooper Huang Jiguang, whose unit is pinned down by a crossfire of machine-gun positions situated on the height itself. With sunrise fast approaching and threatening to erase the gains made over the night, Huang Jiguang proceeds to go imitate Alexander Matrosov, blocking a gun with his own body; in the slight lull of fire that follows, his fellows assault and capture the hill, however briefly— UN forces would regain the hill over the next few days.
    • Task Force Faith lost over 50% of its strength after being encircled by the PVA and fighting on and off for days, but helped set the stage for the successful Western Allied evacuation of the Chosin Reservoir.
  • Heroic Second Wind: General Matthew “Old Irontits”note  Ridgway, General Walker’s replacement (after Walker was killed in a traffic accident) soundly berated 8th Army staff until they sucked it up and stopped running from the Chinese. Due to Ridgway’s abrasive and aggressive command, the 8th Army revived itself and pushed the Chinese back to the 38th Parallel. One should not have expected any less of the man who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Very much adhered to by the US 8th Army during their pursuit of the shattered North Koreans. The American GI, believing the war to be over, refused to step out of his truck to advance on foot, provide flank security, or even scout ahead for ambushes.
  • 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.
    • Shortly after the Chinese attacked, General Edward Almond visited 1st Marine Division HQ, where he informed them that; 'The enemy who is delaying you for the moment is nothing more than remnants of Chinese divisions fleeing north.' He then proceeded to order the Marines to continue to attack north.
  • Moral Dissonance: The No Gun Ri Massacre, amongst other atrocities committed by both sides.
  • More Dakka: The iconic PPSh-41 was widely issued to the Chinese and North Koreans. Used in conjunction with Chinese infiltration tactics, they were very effective.
    • The Chinese also deployed some surplus Shanxi-pattern Thompson submachineguns, and jury rigged captured Thompsons to fire 7.62x25mm rounds which performed better at long ranges.
    • On a larger scale, this nicely sums up the American way of war, causing grievous casualties to the North Koreans and Chinese through the profligate expenditure of copious amounts of high explosives.
  • Multinational Team: UN forces in Korea came from 17 different countries.
  • Naval Blockade: The Blockade of Wonsan, the successful denial of a strategic port to the North Korean navy.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain and/or Nice Job Breaking It, Hero depending on your Point of View: 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.
    • Apparently even if the USSR vetoed it, the US would take the issue to the general assembly which would have voted for the US at that time.
    • Syngman Rhee had stated his intentions to invade North Korea. The United States, already dealing with the Cold War, really did not see the need to light the powder keg of Korea at a time when there was already a serious concern that the Soviets might launch World War III over Berlin. Their solution was to not equip the South Koreans with much more than rifles to prevent Rhee from crossing the 38th Parallel. Unfortunately, Kim il-Sung likewise was chomping at the bit to invade South Korea. And he had been equipped to the hilt by the USSR and 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.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The People's Volunteer Army, whose ground forces were almost completely made up of conscripts.
  • North Koreans with Nodongs: The war was their first true baptism of fire as an official military force. Also very nearly their last.
  • Not So Different: South Korea was almost 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.
      • Truman was not re-elected for President as a consequence of MacArthur's dismissal.note  Apparently, that decision did not sit well with the American publicnote .
  • Oh Crap!: The first notion that anyone got of the Chinese taking an active role in the war was when the South Korean 1st and 6th Divisions, quickly followed by the US 8th Cavalry, vanished from the maps in the span of a day.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Even by the standards of the time, MacArthur was especially bad in his opinion of the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and anyone else who wasn't caucasian. Some of his most serious miscalculation were a direct result of his racial prejudices.
  • Properly Paranoid: Deconstructed. American forces had been ambushed numerous times by North Korean soldiers disguised as refugees, and so established a shoot on sight policy for refugees heading for American battle lines. This resulted in the No Gun Ri massacre.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: For China, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. They suffered horrendous casualties against some of their best soldiers, were forced to disband two divisions, and had to keep their best army group out of most of the war.
    • 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.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Initially, Chinese forces had few good snipers, but this changed when they managed to press old-school rural bandits into service. Banditry, which demanded individual initiative and wilderness survival skills in addition to marksmanship, translated well to sniper warfare.
  • Reds with Rockets: They were there in the form of hundreds of trained jet pilots flying Chinese jets with Soviet serial numbers.
  • Semper Fi: The US Marines are rather proud of their showing at the landings at Inchon and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Three years of warfare resulted in a return to the same conditions as before (North and South Korea separated by the 38th parallel), with numerous dead, a renewed hatred of each other, and lots of pissed off allies for both of them. Ultimately, both sets of allies got what they wanted (return to status quo), both sides failed in their objectives (a unified Korea), and everyone was bloodier for it.
  • South Koreans with Marines: Their debut conflict, like those of the North. Due to being underarmed and organized primarily to oppress Syngman Rhee's political enemies, they did not acquit themselves well on land at first. However, they also stopped and destroyed the North's amphibious attempt to seize Pusan during the initial offensives.
  • 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 subverted (see General Failure above).
  • Tank Goodness: Especially by the Allies; North Korean armor was fundamentally outmatched by heavier and better armed Allied vehicles, especially the M-26 Pershings using HVAP rounds; on more than one occasion, 90mm HVAP rounds managed to not only penetrate KPA T34/85s' frontal armor but keep going and punch straight out the back. It's howitzer equipped brother, the M45, also counts.
  • Tempting Fate: In the grand tradition of prideful armies, US troops were told that they would be home by Christmas just before their final push to drive the North Koreans into the Yalu River.
    • Elements of X Corps, including its commander, General Almond (MacArthur’s chief of staff) actually got to the banks of the Yalu in the east. Their first action was to piss in it.
    • From an operational standpoint, organizing X Corps completely separately from 8th Army, on the far side of a massive mountain range from any other friendly units.
    • US troops in the 8th Army, a fresh crop of draftees whose sergeants were the only ones with World War II experience, tended to advance into abandoned North Korean territory by riding in the back of their trucks without flank security or reconnaissance patrols.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Allied Command developed this after the wildly successful Inchon landings and the equally successful breakout of the Pusan Perimeter. This led directly to The Bug Out when the Chinese made their presence known by exploiting every mistake the Americans made.
    • More literally by the Communists failing to adapt to a different kind of war after 1951, and the South Korean refusal to negotiate leading to the Battle of Kumsong, the only major Communist victory in the second half of the war and the only one where the Chinese had the advantage in firepower.
  • We Have Reserves: The Chinese found some success in this. The North Koreans before them also tried, but bled themselves dry of manpower through constant assaults on the Pusan Perimeter, existing only on paper after late 1950.
  • We Win Because You Didn't: The only real loser of the war was North Korea, as they failed in their objective of annexing the South. The Chinese forces lost far more soldiers than the American-led UN forces, but they succeeded in their goal of keeping North Korea as a buffer zone, and in the end everything turned back the way it was before the war.
  • Written by the Winners: Zig-zagged. Since this war didn't have winners per se, every side rewrote it to make themselves look better. Obviously, the most extreme example of this is North Korea itself, probably the closest the conflict had to a loser, but China did so as well. According to them: The United States and their puppet states started the war instead of the Chinese ally of North Korea, the Chinese won the war rather than stalemating it after suffering incredibly disproportionate losses, and it was bravery and tactical brilliance that let the poorly-equipped Chinese forces win battles, not incredibly costly and pointless Zerg Rushes and the fact that the UN was always fighting a limited war. Also, they were never in the war; just the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, a brave all-volunteer force separate from the normal Chinese military, and their air force totally wasn't mostly made up of Soviet "volunteer" pilots flying jets provided to them by the Soviet Union in the first place.
  • Yanks with Tanks: By far the most significant player in this drama, hindered only by their commitment of their best troops to defending along the Iron Curtain.
  • You Are in Command Now: Happened twice to Matthew Ridgway, first when 8th Army General Walton Walker died in a traffic accident, and second when President Truman sacked Commander of Forces in Korea General Douglas MacArthur
  • Zerg Rush: Initially averted. Chinese tactics involved night-time infiltration, flanking, and extreme surprise and violence, as demonstrated at Onjong and Unsan. The sheer shock of these attacks against complacent UN troops led many to exaggerate Chinese numbers to justify their panicked flight during the "bug out." When the UN troops found their courage and fought back with superior firepower, the Chinese fared much, much worse - their lack of radios meant they couldn't change plans on the fly, and as battles wore on, Chinese tactics often devolved into waves of men attempting to "infiltrate" into the teeth of prepared UN forces because they couldn't be called back.

Media featuring the historical 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.
  • The Hook, 1963 American film
  • M*A*S*H (1970) Of course
  • Welcome to Dongmakgol, 2005 South Korean film
  • Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (AKA: Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo, Brotherhood: Taegukgi), 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 funded by Sun Myung Moon. Famously considered one of the worst movies of all time, it "won" four Razzies. As a box office failure, it's often mentioned in the same breath as Heaven's Gate. MacArthur was played by Laurence Olivier, who provided the name for Money, Dear Boy when describing why he took the part.
  • 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.
  • Sheriff Will Teasle of the first Rambo film is a Korean War veteran. It is implied on the movie (and explicit on the novel) that his Irrational Hatred for Rambo is because Korea (and his own sacrifices by proxy) has been all but swept under the rug by the American people while Rambo (a Vietnam War vet) is a walking symbol of the "new generation".

  • 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
  • Mash, 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.
  • In Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories, John is a Korean War veteran, though the reader only gets a few hints about what exactly he did in the conflict.
  • Harry Turtledove's upcoming Alternate History series The Hot War has history change due to a more successful PLA counterattack in the winter of 1950-51 nearly wiping out UN forces instead of just defeating them. Harry Truman follows General MacArthur's advice to use atomic weapons in Manchuria to cut off PLA forces; in return, Josef Stalin attacks US allies in Europe, and World War III begins.

Live-Action TV
  • M*A*S*H, which ran three times longer than the 'hot' part of the war.
  • 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.
  • Red Forman from That '70s Show fought in the war.
  • JAG:
    • Harm and Mac travel to South Korea along with an Army General to investigate an alleged massacre that took place at the time of the war in the fifth season episode "The Bridge at Kang So Ri".
    • Gunnery Sergeant Galindez helps an old Hispanic Marine veteran of the Korean War who fought at the Chosin reservoir in the sixth season episode "Retreat, Hell".
  • Cold Case: "Shore Leave" centres around the murder of a marine preparing to ship out to Korea.
  • In The Greatest American Hero, Bill Maxwell is a veteran of the war.
  • Martin Crane, Frasier's father, served in Korea.
  • George Jefferson on The Jeffersons served in Korea as a cook aboard an aircraft carrier in the Navy.
  • Gy Sgt Carter on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. fought in Korea.
  • Both Blanche's late husband and Dorothy's ex-husband were mentioned to have been Korean War veterans on The Golden Girls.
  • Trevor Ochmonek, the wacky neighbor on Alf, was a Korean War veteran.
  • Jack Arnold, the father in The Wonder Years, was a veteran of the Korean War; a first lieutenant in the USMC to judge from his photographs.
  • Phillip Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes is a Korean War veteran.
  • Dr. Quincy on Quincy, is a Korean War veteran and he served as a Navy doctor.

Video Games
  • The aptly named 2003 title Korea : Forgotten Conflict. Its style of gameplay is very similar to that of the Commandos series.
  • War Thunder includes aircraft that were used in the Korean War. An achievement for advancing up the Soviet tier tree is called "Spain to Korea".
  • 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.
  • The Cold War campaign in the Thrones and Patriots expansion of Rise of Nations allows the player (as the US or Soviet Union) to get involved in the war. The US has the option to decide whether to simply hold on to South Korea's original cities or push into the North - the latter action spurs China into action against you and pushes the worldwide DEFCON level down. The Soviets, in addition to taking on a more active role, can also decide whether to accept Chinese help in exchange for a non-agression pact lasting several campaign turns (that you can break early, also for a DEFCON level fall).

Media that discusses restarting the war



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

Live-Action TV

  • Deadliest Warrior had an episode featuring a squad-on-squad battle between the US Army Rangers and the NKSOF in this context.

Video Games

Alternative Title(s):

Korean War