The horrifying situation was born out of the end of World War 2 after the Allies liberated Korea from Imperial Japan. The country was divided into the two zones we see still creating tensions today along the 38th parallel, and three years later two sovereign states were set-up amid the rising tensions from the Cold War. A socialist state was to run 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.
This eventually led to an escalation of conflict when the North Korean military – supported by China and the Soviet Union – crossed the border and advanced into South Korea on June 25, 1950, forcing the United Nations Security Council to authorise the formation of the United Nations Command of 21 counties to repel what was recognised as an attack on democracy.
The advance happened just years after the harrowing atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but YouTube Channel ‘Dark Docs’ revealed why a third similar attack on North Korea almost unfolded.
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.
The US President said atomically bombing North Korea was an option
US forces joined the Korean War
“China was unfazed by the nuclear-armed B-29 waiting by in Guam.
“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, Mr Truman supported the idea of dropping tactical nuclear bombs across North Korea, to force troops into surrender.
READ MORE: World War 2: Why Roosevelt demanded Winston Churchill returned Hong Kong to China
Conflict in the streets of Seoul
But when he told the media his plans, it sent shockwaves across the world.
The documentary added: “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.
“In November of 1950, the President 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.’”
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Harry Truman told reporters the atomic bomb was an option
A bomb dropped by the US B-52
The President later 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, believing he should decide when to make the call.
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.
MacArthur (sitting) wanted to be in control of the bombs
“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, Mr Truman would oust MacArthur, but his replacement would go on to turn the tide of the war, without using any nuclear weapons.
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.
Tensions were eased in 2018 at the DMZ
North Korea blew up the liason building earlier this week
“In October of 1951, the US conducted operation Hudson Harbour, B-29 bombers practised runs from Okinawa to North Korea carrying dummy nukes.
“The actual bombing was considered a last resort until a ceasefire was called in 1953.”
The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
The agreement created the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to separate North and South Korea and allowed the return of prisoners, but no peace treaty was ever signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war.
In April 2018, the leaders of North and South Korea met at the DMZ and agreed to work towards a treaty to formally end the Korean War, but the stark reality of the delicacy of their relationship was exposed once again this week when Kim Jong-Un blew up a joint liaison office near the border.
The site was opened in 2018 to help the Koreas to communicate and the move came just hours after the North renewed threats of military action – thankfully it was empty due to coronavirus restrictions.
In a statement, South Korea warned it would “respond strongly” if the North “continues to worsen the situation”.
The destruction of the office, it said, “abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula”.
“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”