Here’s how it all started:
Seventy-one years ago Kim Il Sung led North Korea. Kim had spent World War II outside his country in the Soviet army. Following the war, and with the sponsorship of his Russian masters, he returned to Korea with the rank of major in the Red Army, eventually taking charge of North Korea, that is, all of the Korean Peninsula north of the 38th parallel.
In South Korea the government was led by Syngman Rhee, a man who, in a parallel story to Kim’s, had lived much of his life in the United States. He was autocratic and had been uncooperative with UN efforts to promote democratic reforms.
The Korea-wide free elections that the World War II allies hoped would lead to unification were never held, with the result that the two Koreas – North and South – Russian-influenced and US-leaning – followed ever-more divergent paths.
In the spring of 1950 the North had a population of nine million, contrasted to the South’s 21 million. North Korea, however, had a clear preponderance of military forces. Their army outnumbered that of the South and included thousands of veterans of the Red Army and the Red Chinese Army. In addition they featured modern tanks, aircraft, and weapons provided by the Soviets.
Guerrilla warfare raged in the south, with irregular communist fighters taking on the beleaguered Republic of Korea troops. The US’s 500-man KMAG—Korean Military Assistance Group—were probably more concerned about the upcoming baseball season back home than they were with keeping an eye on the north.
The stage was set for a surprise. Kim mustered his troops for a bid to amalgamate North and South by force.