The Korean War was the first act of lunacy committed by the USA after the Second World War. If the USA had not got involved in the Korean Peninsula, China would not have intervened, and the two halves of the Korean peninsula would have settled their dispute on their own, resulting in Korea becoming a united country in the 1950s. A united Korea would not have remained communist for long. Like Vietnam, it would have within a decade or two developed into a free market society, a possible counterweight to China in South Asia.
In the early 1950s, the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung met Stalin and asked his permission to unify the Korean Peninsula. At first, Stalin was not willing to grant his permission. When Kim insisted, Stalin told him that if he was starting a war, then he should keep in mind that when the Americans gave him a bloody nose, Russia would not come to his rescue. Kim insisted that he could unify Korea with his own troops.
The North Korean offensive against South Korea, which was then being led by Syngman Rhee, began on 25 June 1950. The South Korean troops were on the verge of defeat, when the USA sent an army under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. The American troops managed to repel the North Korean attack. But MacArthur, an egoist five star general who harbored political ambitions, was not going to be satisfied by rescuing South Korea. He wanted to expand the area of the war and inflict a decisive blow on China.
On 1 October 1950, MacArthur’s forces crossed the 38th parallel (the original boundary between North and South Korea) and moved towards China. Nineteen days later, two hundred thousand Chinese troops poured into North Korea to stop the American troops. The first confrontation between the Chinese and American troops happened on 1 November 1950. In the series of confrontations that followed, both sides lost thousands of soldiers, and the American troops had to surrender the gains that they had made in North Korea.
This setback made MacArthur consider the use of nuclear weapons in North Korea and China. Had he used nuclear weapons in the Korean Peninsula, it is certain that Stalin would have used such weapons in Europe. President Truman disagreed with MacArthur on the aims of the war. On April 11, 1951, Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination.
With MacArthur gone, the Chinese side became ready to negotiate a ceasefire. But now Stalin was not ready to allow the North Korean and the Chinese sides to accept a ceasefire. He had realized that with hundreds of thousands of their troops bogged down in South Korea, the Americans were not in a position to counter the Soviet Union in Europe. Therefore, he was satisfied with letting the war drag on for another two years, with heavy casualties on both sides, and no advantage to be gained by either.
The deadlock in the Korean Peninsula could be broken only after Stalin’s death in March 1953. In the new settlement, the ceasefire line was the 38th parallel, the original border between North and South Korea. In the three years of warfare, 40,000 American soldiers had died and 100,000 were injured, and, according American estimates, the Chinese and North Koreans had suffered 1.42 to 1.5 million casualties—all this for exactly nothing.