Ballpark Estimate: $67 Billion (1953 dollars); $535 billion (2008 dollars)
It was December 1945. With the surrender of Japan some four months earlier World War II was finally over and, as with all wars, the victors assembled to negotiate the rules for divvying up their winnings. One such agreement, reached at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers, called for dividing Korea in half at the 38th parallel. Furthermore, the United States and the Soviet Union would jointly occupy the country for four years, the Russians to the North, the Americans to the South.
Post WWII Occupation
During the course of those four years, however, the Soviet and American occupational forces, without the advice and consent of the Korean people, mandated new laws and policies designed to establish their own political philosophies – Communism to the North, Democracy to the South. With these policies in force, the two occupying countries unwittingly set the stage for the war that was sure to follow.
The new government edicts were rejected by the Koreans in both regions and only instigated tremendous unrest and resistance. With their protests left unchecked, this unrestrained disorder soon turned into even more violent insurrections, more deaths, and more rioting. Soon, massive strikes were called which only added fuel to the growing hostility and before long, rioting became routine and killings more commonplace.
In 1948, elections were held and with the obvious internal manipulations exerted by the Russian and American governments, a pro-communist leader was elected in the North and a anti-communist politician elected in the South, both determined to reunite the two countries, but under there own political ideology. The following year the Soviet Union and the United States ended their occupation and the two Korean countries were left to their own devices.
North Invades South
On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans became the first to carry out their threat. Equipped with Soviet tanks, their Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the South. Outnumbered in manpower and all other military resources, the South Korean Army was unable to repel their new enemy and was forced to retreat. With North Korea on the verge of success, the United Nations approved a plan to assist South Korea in preventing a communist takeover of their country. Ironically, the approval of this resolution was made possible only because the Soviet Union was temporarily absent from the Security Council and therefore was unable to apply its veto. Responding to the U.N. resolution, within days, President Harry S. Truman ordered the transfer of thousands of American troops stationed in Japan to South Korea. Also arriving on their shores were troops from a coalition of 15 other countries all under the auspices of the United Nations. The American troops were under the command of General Douglas McArthur.
Initial American Engagements
The initial engagements by coalition forces proved to be disastrous. Before long, the onrushing fanaticism of the enemy forced them to continually retreat as determined and brutal North Korean fighters drove the U.S. and coalition forces to the southern tip of the Korean peninsular. However, a massive ground counterattack, including heavy bombardment by U.S. B-29’s and a risky amphibious landing far behind enemy lines turned the tide. With their supply lines cut off from the bombardment and their armies nearly surrounded by the troops of the amphibious landing, North Korean forces had little choice but to retreat back across the 38th parallel with the coalition pushing them deeper through the North toward the Chinese border.
Fearful that invading American forces were threatening the security of their homeland, in November 1950, China entered the war hoping to create a buffer zone to prevent any incursion into their country via the Yalu River. With troops numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the Chinese army swarmed into North Korea. Unable to withstand the onslaught and facing the distinct possibility of surrender and defeat, the U.S. forces retreated to a nearby coastal port where some 200 shiploads of American and coalition troops and supplies were evacuated to a safer haven farther south. The advance of the Chinese army, however, was limited. Since all their supplies and ammunition had to be transported from China by foot or bicycle, it was impossible for them to extend their supply line if they followed the American forces southward.
With this information, the coalition, now reenergized for a counterattack, renewed their drive against the Chinese and North Korean armies. At this point in the war, even the use of atomic bombs was seriously considered. By May 1951, the steadily advancing coalition troops were again on the offensive and had pushed northward back across the 38th parallel. At this point, the American and coalition forces halted and a quasi-stalemate resulted between the two adversaries.
In July of that year, negotiations between the warring factions began and after 158 meetings, an Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. Since the main battle lines were located at the 38th parallel, where they originally started, a buffer zone or a so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ) was established on each side of this line. The North Koreans would defend the northern side, while the South Koreans, along with U.N. and U.S. troops, would defend the southern side.
For the United States, the cost for her involvement in the Korean War was an estimated $67 Billion (1953 dollars) or $535 billion (2008 dollars).
33,600 American lives lost in this conflict.
To this very day, the two and a half mile wide, 155 miles long DMZ remains exactly as it was in 1953 with American troops still helping to prevent incursions by the North Koreans across the DMZ. In fact, between 1953 and 1999, over 50 American servicemen have been killed from various skirmishes along this border. Since the two sides never actually agreed to a peace treaty, North and South Korea are still technically at war.