At the end of World War 2, the Soviet Union and the United States liberated Korea from Imperial Japanese control and the country was divided along the 38th parallel into two zones of occupation still seen today in North and South Korea. But, three years later, the two sovereign states were established among the increased geopolitical tensions arising from the Cold War – a socialist state in the north under the communist leadership of Kim Il-sung and a capitalist state in the south under the democratic leadership of Syngman Rhee, but both sides claimed to be the only legitimate government of Korea. The conflict escalated into warfare when the North Korean military – supported by the Soviet Union and China – crossed the border and advanced into South Korea on June 25, 1950, leading to the United Nations Security Council authorising the formation of the United Nations Command of 21 counties to repel what was recognised as a North Korean invasion.
The advance happened just years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but YouTube Channel “Dark Docs” revealed why a third similar attack on North Korea was deemed an ineffective solution.
The series detailed in February: “Heeding calls to action from the Soviet Union in the scattered North Korean forces, China moved to intervene in the conflict, sending troops in late November from Manchuria.
“The Chinese support forces were well-trained and countered with seasoned military strategists and quickly began reclaiming North Korean territory.
“China was unfazed by the nuclear-armed B-29 waiting by in Guam.
The US had nine nuclear bombers sent to Japan
Korea was split along the 38th Parallel
“Certain worries about involving nuclear weapons had held the United States back from fully launching such an attack and no fully-armed atomic bomb had left the US up to that point since World War 2 due to limited understanding of repercussions from their use.
“The military worried that nuking North Korea might still not lead China to surrender their support – since the threat of nuclear warfare wasn’t enough of a deterrent, actual nuclear attacks wouldn’t be either.
“There were also worries in the intelligence community that if the Soviets got directly involved their recent nuclear developments might turn the Korean War into a full-blown nuclear world war.”
Instead, US President Harry Truman had supported the idea of dropping tactical nuclear bombs across North Korea, to force troops into surrender.
The documentary added: “But, what these considerations did accomplish was the drawing of strategic plans for battling North Korea through nuclear warfare, putting aside the far less premeditated attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was the first time the US involved itself in strategising nuclear warfare.
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B-29 bombers were sent over North Korea
“In November of 1950, President Truman spoke to the press, expressing to reporters that atomically bombing Korea was a possibility.
“He said ‘we will take whatever steps are necessary to meet the military situation, just as we always have – that includes every weapon that we have, there’s always active consideration of the use of atomic bombs’.
“Some members of the press were scandalised when Truman seemed to imply that military commanders in charge of the nuclear bombs – if they were sent – would have discretionary power to launch them.
“The White House had to release a statement later that day saying ‘it should be emphasised that by law only the President can authorise the use of the atom bomb.’”
The President gave the green light for nine fully-armed fission bombs to be sent to Japan, ready to be used, but UN General Douglas MacArthur was strongly against the idea.
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The Korean War was born out of the Cold War
Harry Truman authorised the use of nuclear weapons
The series explained: “The following April, the President followed through on his words – he allowed nine fission bombs, fully armed with their plutonium cores, to be transported by the Air Force to Japan.
“Even more nuclear-capable B-29’s were sent to Japan with the Strategic Air Command setting up a control team in the Japanese capital.
“The pilots in Japan and Guam only needed an order and they would obliterate North Korea.
“Then General of the UN Command, Douglas MacArthur was strongly considering the nuclear option as China continued to make a significant gain.
“Around that time, the commander of the Eighth Army led Operation Thunderbolt to reclaim the south bank of the Han River, General MacArthur, on the other hand, was increasingly at odds with the President, believing he should have the power to unilaterally decide on nuclear use.”
Eventually, Truman would oust MacArthur, but his replacement would go on to turn the tide of the war, without dropping any nuclear weapons.
Douglas MacArthur with General Matthew Ridgway meeting
The series continued: “Furthermore, he directed the war effort entirely from Tokyo, not spending a single full day in Korea, believing a full-conquering victory was the only path forward, while Truman wanted a ceasefire and diplomatic withdrawal from the Asian continent.
“Truman replaced Douglas MacArthur with General Matthew Ridgway as commander of the UN forces and he was given discretionary authority over the use of nuclear bombs by the President.
“If there is someone to thank for stopping the Korean War from becoming a nuclear conflict, it was Ridgway, his arrival lifted troops’ spirits and his strategy started changing the landscape of the conflict once more – driving it into a stalemate.
“In October of 1951, the US conducted operation Hudson Harbour, B-29 bombers practiced runs from Okinawa to North Korea carrying dummy nukes.
“The actual bombing was considered a last resort until a ceasefire was called in 1953.”