Remember When North Korea Defeated the U.S. Army?

Remember When North Korea Defeated the U.S. Army?

Michael Peck

Security, Asia

The moment in 1950 the generals would like to forget.

Key Point: Small defeats can still sting.

In July 1950, North Korea defeated the United States Army.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. In the summer of 1950, America was still savoring the glow of absolute victory in World War II. There was the Soviet threat, to be sure, and a Communist bloc swelled by the massive addition of China in 1949. But the United States still had the bomb, and the B-29s to carry the bomb, and the world’s most powerful navy besides. There was great certainty that the next war would be an atomic conflict waged by the Air Force and Navy, with the Army reduced to a clean-up crew for occupying the rubble.

Eager for normality after four years of exhausting total war, the American public also wasn’t in the mood for a large, expensive conventional army. So the Army of the late 1940s saw its budget trimmed, live-fire training restricted and basic training cut to as little as eight weeks (compared to ten or more weeks today). This was especially of the U.S. Army occupation forces in Japan, who had a soft job overseeing a remarkably docile Japanese population.

Unfortunately, there was nothing soft about the seventy-five thousand North Korean soldiers who crossed the thirty-eighth parallel on June 25, 1950. Many of its soldiers were veterans who had fought with Mao in the Chinese civil war, and they were well equipped with Soviet-made tanks, artillery and even fighters and bombers that initially gave North Korea control of the skies. Much like the Iraqi army faced by ISIS or the Afghan army fighting the Taliban, the U.S.-trained South Korean army disintegrated.

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