Korean War overview | The 20th century | World history | Khan Academy
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Korean War overview | The 20th century | World history | Khan Academy


Before we go into the actual
conflict of the Korean War, let’s try to get a sense of the
historical environment going into the Korean War. So if you go all the way
back to the late 1800s, early 1900s, the
Korean peninsula– what we now consider both
North and South Korea– they were occupied by the
Japanese military. And then in 1910,
the Korean peninsula is formally annexed into
the Japanese empire. So the Japanese are
essentially this colonial, this imperialist power here. And they stay in power in the
Korean peninsula all the way until the end of World War II. And it’s probably
worth saying here– and it’s probably worth making
and doing a bunch of videos here– that the Japanese
occupation was not a pleasant occupation
for the Korean people. They subjugated the Korean
people in multiple ways. Forced labor,
forced prostitution. They tried to eradicate
the Korean language and the Korean culture. So this was not in any
way a pleasant occupation. They weren’t pleasant
imperialists. But you fast forward
all the way to 1945, we know that Japan
loses World War II. And the major two victors
on the Allied side, that are kind of acting
in this part of the world, are the United States
and the Soviet Union. And so in 1945, you have the
Soviets coming from above. That’s the Soviets,
coming from above. And eventually, you have the
Americans coming from below. They occupy Japan first. So this is the USA. And they essentially,
remember at this point, even though this is kind of
the beginning of the Cold War, at this point in World
War II, the United States and the Soviet Union are allies. And so United States
tells us the Soviet Union, hey, why don’t we just
stop at the 38th parallel? The United States
actually didn’t even think that the Soviets
would stop there, but they actually did. And from the Soviet’s
point of view, it’s believed that
they stopped there, because the United States didn’t
get there at the same time. So there was no one to stop
them from going further South. But it’s believed that
the Soviets wanted to uphold their side
of the agreement so that they would be a
trusted party to negotiations in Europe, and maybe get
more in Europe, which is what the Soviets
maybe cared about more. So what happens
after World War II is that the North, what is
now North Korea essentially, becomes under the
influence of the Soviets. Everything below
the 38th parallel becomes under the influence
of the United States. The Soviets essentially install
this gentleman right over here to lead North Korea– Kim Il
Sung– or the part of Korea that is north of
the 38th parallel. At this point, this
was just kind of viewed as a point where the
Soviets and the United States should meet up. Where they would have to stop. It wasn’t meant to be an actual
partition of the country. But as we’ll see,
it actually becomes a partition of the country. But the Soviets
install Kim Il Sung. He sets up a
communist, essentially a communist dictatorship
in the North. And this is the current
leader of North Korea’s dad. This is Kim Jong Il’s dad. So he gets installed
in the North. And in the South, if you fast
forward a little bit to 1948, there’s an attempt at elections. But those elections
are seriously rigged. And this gentleman, Syngman
Rhee, comes to power. And although he might look
like a nice, pleasant man, he was actually fairly ruthless. And he is unanimously
considered a strong man. And on both sides–
and so once again, this is one of those
situations where you really can’t call either of these guys
good guys because both of them have done some pretty nasty,
nasty things to each other, to soldiers on either side,
and to innocent civilians. But Syngman Rhee comes to power
in the south, and his, I guess, most attractive feature
to the Americans is that he is not a communist. And so you have this
situation setting up communist North
above 38th parallel. Non-communist South,
controlled by Syngman Rhee, supported by the United States. The other thing that
happens is that the Soviets help build up the
North Korean military. The United States is
not as encouraging of a strong South
Korean military. So you start having an
imbalance between the military of the North and the South. And obviously, either one of
these parties, Kim Il Sung wants to unite Korea under his
rule, under his communist rule. Syngman Rhee wants
to unite Korea under his authoritarian rule. So they’re both setting up
the troops along the border. And this whole time you
have skirmishes going on across the border. And just to give you a context,
you’re probably saying, wait, Korea is right next to China. What was going on there? And if you go to China, in 1949,
the Communists come to power. There was a civil war
leading up to that between the Communists
led by Mao Zedong, and the Nationalists
led by Chiang Kai-shek. Mao Zedong comes to power. He wants to support the
communists in North Korea, especially because some of
those communists in North Korea actually helped fight
on the communist side during the Chinese Civil War. So this is an important
factor right here. Mao Zedong is interested
in spreading Communism. He doesn’t like the
Americans in South Korea, and he feels some
type of allegiance to the communists
in North Korea. So now you fast forward
to June 25, 1950. And in the North, you
have a major event. The North Korean
army– and it’s not called North Korea at this
point– they both consider themselves Korea, competing,
I guess, governments of Korea. The army in the North
is disproportionately stronger than the South,
and so they invade. They view this as their chance
at unifying the peninsula. And essentially, they’re
able to almost just storm through the Korean peninsula. Immediately, when that
happens, the UN, and especially the United States– and this
is because at this point, the Soviet Union was boycotting
the Security Council, so they couldn’t even veto
it– the UN immediately starts supplying naval and air
support for the South Koreans. But the disparity is so
big that the North Koreans are able to just keep
marching forward. Within a few days,
literally by July 1, the United States decides
to commit ground forces, because we had
substantial ground forces in Japan, which
isn’t that far away. Just to give you a
global perspective, this is the Korean
peninsula right here. And this is Japan. I know I could have probably
found a bigger picture of that. But America had military forces
in Japan that they could send, and so the Americans enter
the battle in a major way, very early on. But that doesn’t stop the
North Koreans for some time. So the North Koreans
get all the way, they’re able to occupy all
of the Korean peninsula, except for the
northeastern corner. So they get around this far. Over here, you have
the city of Pusan. And this is called
the Pusan Perimeter. And it’s at the Pusan
Perimeter that you have a little bit of a, the
United States and Korean forces combined are able to
halt the North Koreans. And you have a slight stalemate
for a couple of months here. But while that
stalemate is happening, the United States is able
to– and especially the UN, but it’s mainly
the United States– is able to build up significant
troops within the Pusan Perimeter. But even more, and at this
point, the United States and the UN forces, go under the
control of Douglas MacArthur, General Douglas
MacArthur, who’s a bit of an interesting character. Until this point, he was able
to rule Japan with an iron fist. He’s a hugely popular
war hero in America, and the current
president, Truman, kind of has a little trouble controlling
MacArthur, especially during the Korean War. And we’ll see that MacArthur
really oversteps his bounds during the course of this war. Now, at this point, you have the
South Koreans and the Americans kind of cornered down here
inside of the Pusan Perimeter. It looks like North Korea’s
on the verge of victory. But the US is able
to build forces. And the Korean War
really just starts becoming into a game of Risk. I don’t know if you’ve ever
played the game of Risk, but whenever it’s
somebody’s turn, they’re able to
spread their forces. But then they get spread thin,
and then the other side’s able to come back. And what we’ll see is the
rest of the Korean War is essentially a back and
forth between the Communists in the North– supported
by the Chinese, although the Chinese aren’t in
the war officially just yet– and then the Americans
in the South. And the first really smart
thing that MacArthur does is he says, look,
instead of trying to fight our way through
the Korean forces that are over here, why don’t
we just kind of outflank them? And why don’t we
use our navy to do an amphibious landing
of an army at Incheon? So on September 15, while you
have the stalemate over here, the United States, they
have an amphibious landing. So they send troops from
all of these places. They have an amphibious
landing at Incheon, which is near Seoul. So they land right
over, they land at Incheon, which is
roughly over there. I’m not super accurate here. And what’s
interesting about that is, in any battle, all of
these Korean troops right here, they have supply chains. They have to get food and
supplies and fresh troops from up here. And so the further in you
go into enemy territory, the more spread out
your troops get. And the strategy here is instead
of fighting through this, what if we outflank them
and are able to land a significant force right
here, and immediately disrupt the supply lines
of the North Koreans. And that’s essentially
what the Americans did. And it was successful. So MacArthur looks like
a genius over here, and he’s able to retake Seoul. He’s able to take what’s kind
of the North Korean capital at this point,
Pyongyang, and you have the Americans
marching north. So all of a sudden, it started
off with the North Koreans being able to roll
down, and now all of a sudden the Americans
and the South Koreans are able to roll up. And they’re feeling pretty
good about themselves. And the whole time,
Truman’s trying to keep MacArthur under check. MacArthur is excited. He’s ultra confident. He thinks that the troops are
going to be home by Christmas. He doesn’t think China is
serious about supporting the North Koreans, and even
more, he almost, it seems, like wants to pick
a fight with China because he wants to maybe
eliminate communism in China as well. He viewed it as
he’s on this mission to eliminate communism
from all of Asia. So Truman is saying limited war. Don’t cross the Yalu
River, and be careful. Don’t start attacking Chinese
up here and enrage them, and you’re going to
have them enter the war. MacArthur doesn’t take
that too seriously. And he also says, look, I
have to start bombing bombs across the Yalu River so
that the Chinese won’t be able to send troops and
supplies to aid the North Koreans. So he’s marching
up, all confident, going up against the Yalu River. And this whole time, the
Chinese, under Mao Zedong, are sending a pretty
substantial army. And they’re able
to do it secretly. They’re able to march
at night, and they even have these policies where if
any surveillance planes go overhead, all of the Chinese
soldiers have to freeze. And if they don’t
freeze, someone else is allowed to shoot them. So everyone wants to freeze
so that no one can really see them from above. So it’s this really
secret buildup of troops across the Yalu River,
and this whole time MacArthur is just ultra, ultra
confident about what’s happening over here. But then you fast forward
until the end of October, the Americans think that
they’re on the verge of winning the Korean War. And all of a sudden,
you have the Chinese cross the Yalu River. And the Americans
didn’t even know that the Chinese had major
forces ready to cross. And once again, it’s
just like a game of Risk. Now you have the Chinese cross. They catch the
Americans unsuspected. They engage a few times. The Americans weren’t sure
if the Chinese were serious. So they keep re-engaging
them, but it becomes clear, yes the Chinese are serious. And essentially the Chinese
are able to push back the Americans and the
South Koreans all the way back so that they are
able to recapture Seoul. But once again, like
any game of Risk, now the Chinese are spread thin. The Americans and
the South Koreans, and all the other UN forces–
although the UN forces are mainly the Americans–
are able to regroup. And then, in March– so
Seoul has changed hands four times– so
in March, they’re able to retake Seoul again. And at this point, MacArthur
is ultra confident. He’s telling the Chinese,
you’ve essentially lost. He’s even trying
to get permissions to use nuclear weapons
against the Chinese. To some degree, he
doesn’t even think he needs the permission
of Truman to stop. It sounds like he’s eager to
push the Chinese further back, even though they surprised
him the first go around. So Truman has enough
of this wild card guy, who thinks that
he can call the shots and use nuclear weapons if
he wants to, willy nilly. And so Truman finally dismisses
MacArthur in April of 1951. And at this point,
you start having a stalemate near
the 38th parallel. So that you start having a
stalemate across this border right over there. And both sides think the
end of the war is imminent. They’re like, OK, we’re
back to where we both began. We should both stop here. But the negotiations,
unfortunately, took over two years. And there was a lot
of back and forth about what to do with prisoners
of war and all of the rest. But it finally took two years
so that on July 27, 1953, you have an armistice signed
between the two parties. And I want to make it clear,
an armistice agreement, it is not a peace treaty. It is not saying
that we both agree that this is the border
of our two new countries and that we are now at
peace with each other. All an armistice means is that
we’re going to stop fighting. It is not a formal
end to the war. So in theory, North and South
Korea, even to this day, are in a state of war. And to this day, I’m
recording this video in 2011. Maybe if you view
this in the future, hopefully they won’t be in
an official state of war. But they’re in an official
state of war under an armistice. They’ve just agreed
to stop fighting. So all in all, you have
this hugely bloody battle with all of these atrocities
going on on both sides. Syngman Rhee when he was,
the first time when the North Korean troops were rolling in
to South Korea, he essentially, beforehand, he was
imprisoning a bunch of people who he suspected
to be communists. We’re not talking
about people, I’m talking about whole
families sometimes. And when he was
retreating, he essentially allowed the massacre of a huge
number of people who were just suspected of being communists. These weren’t just military men. These were women. These were children. These were entire families,
so he is guilty of that. And Kim Il Sung just as guilty
when the North Korean soldiers infiltrated South
Korea in Seoul, they committed atrocities
killing civil servants, killing any of the established
intellectuals in the area. So on both sides. This hugely horrific war. And just to get a sense
of what was happening. Korea isn’t a huge
country, but you have within Korea,
the civilian deaths, 1.5 to 3 million civilian
deaths and the consensus is at 2 million. And this tells you how ugly
war is that you can’t even estimate how many people died
to the nearest 500,000 people. You just don’t
know what happened. Two million people died in a
country that’s not too big. All in all, you have about
40,000 American soldiers dying. China loses on the order of,
depending on the estimates, 400,000 soldiers. I mean the estimates
are all over the place. North Korea loses, on the order,
same magnitude of soldiers. South Korea loses several
hundred thousand soldiers. So you have this hugely bloody
battle, this hugely bloody war, I should say, that really
ends with an outcome that wasn’t so different
from where it started.

About James Carlton

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100 thoughts on “Korean War overview | The 20th century | World history | Khan Academy

  1. Hey Khan, I'm hoping that you can tackle the following subjects eventually;
    Frontier/Wild West Era
    Crusades
    Spanish Inquisition
    Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
    Sino-Soviet Split
    Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
    Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    Space Race
    Fall of Communism
    No one ever explained these things to me growing up and they're important, I wish these had been around.

  2. It's probably why there's barely any mention of it and all the history classes focus on WW2. WW2: Clear good(ish) guys and bad guys, epic gains and losses of territory, names of white guys we can pronounce. Good guys won, bad guys put on trial, fade out, roll credits.

    Korean war: Far away country we never heard of, guy we backed not that nice, horribly bloody and pointless. South Korea only really took off after they tossed out the US-backed puppet ruler. Doesn't make for a good story.

  3. I'm so happy you covered this, Khan. I recall reading that some major US electoral candidates who shall remain nameless didn't know the difference between North and South Korea. How can you decide major policy when you don't know basic world history and the names of your allies/enemies?

  4. He already is a teacher, he teachs tousands of people all over the world! If he where in a classroom his awesomness and knowledge could only be seen by a few.

  5. 6:30 yeah u could have found a bigger picture…..right at the bottom of the screen looks like a good one if put in full lololol

  6. Love this pretty informative and will serve me well in my college History classes I plan to take once I'm done with High school which is about in 5 months! Thanks!

  7. The Korean war was a joke, the japanese and the koreans were really good friends and the americans just wanted to exterminate them so they could dig up all the dinosaur fossils in the area to reacreate them. watch out everybody in june 1 2013 dinosaurs will be roaming the earth again!

  8. no i rather him staying on youtube… better than a teacher!!!! he gives the best teaching that i cant even describe it, whenever something confuses me, go to khanacademy and look it up, it would be all clear… stay on youtube !!! 🙂

  9. My grandfather was in the Chosin Reservoir battle. Horrendous stuff. He is still alive and has told us about his experiences.

  10. My father was sent there around July 4th, through the Pusan perimeter out to the front line, (Taejon?). They retreated to around Namwon where a 2nd line was formed? Then later retreated again back to Naktong River. He was one of them that spear headed through( Punched through N, Korean Line) the U.S. pushed the N. Koreans until they retreated in which time, the group that spear headed had gotten captured by retreating N. Koreans and was a MIA, KIA, POW until around end of October. See 2nd part.

  11. 2nd Part – He was in what was knowin as the Nam Won Barefoot Death March and was marched up passed Seoul (Seen the burning of Seoul) into N. Korea up passed the Capital. They would get stoned, beat, gun butted, interogated etc. There food consisted of fish heads and rice patties. He also always said the Chinese soldiers were a lot nicer to them then N. Koreans were as they would give them actual food, cigarettes, coffee etc. He always said he wished there was more of that, but there wasn't.

  12. He said one of there punishments after the Inchon landing was they had to stand on sharp rocks barefoot all day. Kicked in the Gonads, knees, hit in the face with gun stocks after interrogation for lying. Right before his liberation, he was due in 5 days to be executed for lying about knowing about the Inchon landing. Witnesses a school getting bombed and was forced to stand and watch the kids dye and then later beaten for knowing about it and not warning them. Ya, unfinished business in my eyes

  13. Wasn't China a security council member? Why didn't China veto UN's decision to send troops into Korea if Russia was absent. Or is it because China wasn't in the UNSC at that time?

  14. China has been on the UNSC since the beginning. However, the initial Chinese seat was occupied by the Republic of China which kinda got defeated in 1949 and retreated to Taiwan where they still are to this day. Meanwhile, the People's Republic of China, although encompassing 97% of the Chinese population was not recognised by the UN as a legal nation until 1971. Thus, in 1950, it was the ROC that had the Chinese seat, not the current day PRC and the ROC is on the side US side.

  15. Japan declared that it would surrender on August 15 1945 and signed the official instrument of surrender on September 2 that same year.

    In War, an act of surrender is considered an act of defeat. So yes, Japan did lose the War.

  16. I am glad that someone actually cares about the Korean War and its facts. Thank you for taking the time to post this video.

  17. Japan surrendered and so did the Germans.
    "Peaceful Agreement"? Japan got hit with two atom bombs and that lead to their surrender and the Germans were being fucked by the Americans, Soviets, British, etc and Berlin was like 80% destroyed…

  18. Excuse me but how come the communist ruler is a dictator and Mc Arthur who was ruling japan with an "iron fist" is a war hero?

  19. Hey sir, i really respect you much, however, serious error has occured. Hey, why the east sea is called "SEA OF JAPAN??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????" Why are you lying to the people inside here. Kahn academy is perfect, but you may notice that south Koreans were really sensitive to Dokdo problem. Please notice that thing. Always thanks about your lecture.

  20. to seyyah ahmet macarthur saved japan. he kept the Russians out,gave japan its constitution got women the vote andbrought japan out of feudal militarism into the modern world.

  21. to goat seamen …quit while you are ahead                  1   you are too stupid to live   2weknow who slept thru school  3still stupid

  22. @denis kim because we call it Sea of Japan. The East China sea is below Korea but there is no 'east sea' in that region.

  23. In the picture, the area of sea between korean peninsula and japan is not sea of japan. Fix it to East Sea please.

  24. Kim Jong-il 's dad was Kim Il-sung, but Kim Jong-il died in 2011.
    The current ruler is Kim Jong-un ( Kim Il-sung's grandson).

    <edit>I now see the video was made shortly before Jong-Il he died.

  25. I have a hard time listening to you because you repeat your sentences, repeat your sentences, repeat your sentences, way too much…the Chineses are serious, the Chinese are serious. It sounds like you are distracted as you talk, as you talk, as you talk.

  26. There is no such thing as pleasant Imperialism Imperialism is based on the idea of coercion and subjugation.

  27. A lot of people are politely asking for the Sea of Japan to be changed to the East Sea and are getting yelled at. It's just what they're taught, people. That's what they learn and that's the way they see it. Maybe if it could be changed to say "Sea of Japan/East Sea", then we would all be happy.

  28. In fact, north-Korea army, south-Korea army, us army all killed many thousands of common people, according to Wikipedia.

  29. 6:53 Just a little correction there; the southeast region, not northeast, Busan is:)
    Thanks for a thorough overview except for the 'pleasant Imperialism' part like the other comment mentions, still, great job!

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