33¢ Korean War
Celebrate the Century – 1950s
Issue Date: May 26, 1999
City: Springfield, MA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
The Korean War was the first war in which a world organization, the United Nations, played a military role. The conflict presented a challenge to the U.N., which had come into existence just five years before the war began.
After World War II, Korea was divided into two countries, with the 38th parallel serving as the boundary line. Soviet troops occupied North Korea, and American forces, South Korea. In 1947, the U.N. declared that a vote should be held to elect one government for all of Korea, but Russia refused to allow elections. In 1948, North and South Korea established governments, each claiming the entire country under their rule. By 1949, U.S. troops had withdrawn from South Korea. The Communists believed the time was right for military action, and on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and attacked South Korea.
More than three years of fierce fighting raged back and forth. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, changed hands four times. In June of 1951, the Soviet delegate to the U.N. proposed a cease-fire. Truce talks began the next month, and the fighting ended on July 27, 1953. The U.N. had achieved all its objectives in Korea, and to many the Korean War proved that Communist aggression could be contained without using atomic weapons.
Korean Armistice Agreement Signed
On July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, bringing about the end of fighting in the Korean War.
The war had begun on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. The US and the UN quickly joined in to support South Korea and eventually the Chinese would join the north.
The US had hoped to start peace talks to bring an end to the war. The US asked the UN to establish a military armistice commission to oversee all agreements. US officials proposed the creation of a 20-mile wide demilitarized zone, the cessation of hostilities, and the one-for-one exchange of prisoners of war.
One issue with this was that South Korea’s President Syngman Rhee opposed the peace talks. He wanted his army to march up the Yalu Rive and unite the Koreas. While the UN didn’t support Rhee’s plan, his government did and they passed a resolution that supported the fighting for an “independent and unified country.” However, his government quickly changed course and supported the peace talks, though Rhee continued to oppose them.
In North Korea, leader Kim Il-sung also wanted to unite the country. Initially, he and his government had the slogan “drive the enemy into the sea.” But by the time the first armistice talks were held the following year, they changed their slogan to “drive the enemy to the 38th parallel.”
The first armistice talks were held on July 10, 1951, in Kaesong, North Korea, close to the border with South Korea. The talks would move very slowly after that. In August, North Korea claimed that the conference site had been bombed and ordered an investigation. The talks didn’t resume until October. The US also requested that the talks be moved to Panmunjom, closer to the border.
One of the biggest issues of the talks was prisoners of war. The Communists had 10,000 POWs and the UN had 150,000. They struggled to agree on terms because many North Korean soldiers didn’t want to return to the North, which North Korea found unacceptable. The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission would later settle the issue. Another issue of contention was the location of the demilitarized zone.
By July 19, 1953, all of the delegates finally reached an agreement on all of the issues for the armistice. At 10 a.m. on July 27, delegates from the UN, North Korea, and China signed the document agreeing to cease the fighting. South Korea’s president didn’t sign the armistice because he refused to accept Korea’s division, but he did agree to cease fighting. The exchange of prisoners followed after about 60 days and those who didn’t want to return to their home countries weren’t forced to.
In the 1990s and 2000s, North Korea announced several times that it would no longer abide by the armistice. In recent years, North and South Korea have entered into talks to denuclearize and bring a formal end to the war.