The Moment China Saved North Korea From Extinction

Daniel L. Davis

Key Point: Without China's intervention, Douglas MacArthur would have conquered the Korean peninsula and saved the United States from two years of war.

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) under Marshal Kim Il-sung launched a no-notice invasion of South Korea. Many are familiar with the failings of “Task Force Smith” in the first week of the war and MacArthur’s brilliant landings at Inchon that September. Few, however, realize the decisive moment of the war came three months after Inchon, amidst the most brutal cold wave imaginable, at a place called the Chosin Reservoir. American arrogance and bigotry forfeited what could have been a spectacular strategic victory.

Our current nuclear standoff with Kim Jong-un is, in large measure, the bitter fruit of that failure.

For the United States, the war started off disastrously. After their surprise attack, Kim’s forces blew past the badly outgunned and outmatched South Korean military forces north of Seoul, and continued the march south. Near the city of Osan, about twenty-five miles south of Seoul, America’s first combat unit, 120 men of Task Force Smith, set up a defensive position to block the NKPA’s drive south.

American leaders expected that when the North Koreans saw U.S. troops, they would stop their advance or even run away. But in a classic example of unpreparedness resulting from years of neglected training and equipping with modern weapons, the T-34 tanks of the North’s lead elements virtually destroyed Task Force Smith and continued the attack. The United States and allied nations rushed to get more combat power into South Korea before the North could capture the southern port of Pusan.

The North’s drive started to stall by September, and on September 21, Gen. Douglas MacArthur executed a surprise landing on the coast west of Seoul at Inchon, sending the NKPA into a full retreat. The allied forces then began a devastating counterattack to the north that within two months had conquered almost all of North Korea.

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