The pause button was hit on the Korean War in 1953. Its legacy of destruction lives on.
In just three years, the war claimed the lives of millions of people and forever changed the Korean Peninsula.
“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too,” said former US Air Force commander Gen. Curtis LeMay in 1988, during an interview for an Air Force military history volume.
By the time the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, North Korea — which began the war with a population of 9.6 million — had suffered an estimated 1.3 million civilian and military casualties, according to figures cited by the US Air Force. South Korea, meanwhile, suffered up to 3 million civilian and 225,000 military casualties, from a total population of around 20.2 million in 1950.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a legendary figure in the US military who went on to become the commander-in-chief of the United Nations Command at the onset of the war, said during a congressional hearing in 1951 that he had never seen such devastation.
“I shrink with horror that I cannot express in words — at this continuous slaughter of men in Korea,” MacArthur said. “I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there.”
The war was one that many were reluctant to join, coming as it did just five years after the end of World War II.
More than 33,000 Americans were killed in the fighting and 600,000 from the Chinese military — who joined to protect their fellow communist neighbors — were left dead or missing.
The Chinese and the Americans went home after the fighting, but North Koreans stayed amid the ruins of the battle — their entire infrastructure decimated, their towns and cities completely obliterated.
Though the armistice date holds some significance in the United States — the US will start the process of banning Americans from travel to North Korea Thursday — the legacy of destruction was and remains a key piece of propaganda for Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il and his grandson Kim Jong Un, who now rules the country.
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