CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

10 Facts About the Korean War

Getty Images
Getty Images

Over six decades later, we are no closer to a peaceful ending of the conflict.

1. The North Koreans captured an American general.

A month after the Korean War broke out, Major General William F. Dean, commander of 24th Infantry Division, was separated from his forces in Taejon while trying to help wounded soldiers. While out seeking water for a particularly injured G.I., he fell down a cliff and was knocked unconscious. He would be isolated in the mountains for the next 36 days, losing 80 pounds in addition to the broken shoulder and head wound he had sustained. When two South Koreans found him, they pretended to lead him to safety, but in fact brought him to a North Korean ambush site. Though Dean tried to fight his captors, he was down to 130 pounds and too weak to resist for long. He was taken prisoner on August 25, 1950, and remained prisoner until the end of the war. (This would have been like the Iraqi insurgency capturing David Petraeus when he was commanding the 101st Airborne in Mosul.)

2. The Army built an impromptu special operations unit.

The United States lacked a guerrilla warfare capability at the start of the Korean War, and had to put one together, and fast. The result was the 8240th Army Unit, comprised of Rangers and other soldiers with unconventional warfare experience from World War II. They advised indigenous “partisan forces” in Korea on how to fight behind enemy lines to undermine the North Korean Army. In 1952, soldiers with the new designation of “Special Forces” graduated from the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Center and School, and supplemented the 8240th. At its height, the unit advised 38,000 partisan fighters.

3. The Korean War combined old tactics and new ones on land, sea, and air.

The paratroopers of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (known as the “Rakkasans”) conducted all of the airborne operations of the Korean War. They jumped into Sunch'ŏn, North Korea in 1950, and Munsan-ni, South Korea in 1952. The Rakkasans fought in a total of six campaigns in Korea. Today, the unit’s heirs are part of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

The Battle of Inchon (1950) was an amphibious invasion of Incheon from the Yellow Sea. It was a major victory for United Nations forces, and turned around what was then a losing war. The U.S. Marine-led force was commanded by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

Meanwhile, the Korean War is the first war fought with jet airplanes. Propeller-driven aircraft gave way to P-80 Shooting Stars and Soviet MiG-15s.

4. The 38th parallel is a recurring theme before, during, and after the war.

In 1896, the Japanese government proposed to the Russian government that Korea should be split in half along the 38th parallel, with Russia taking control of the north. This probably would have saved everyone a lot of trouble down the line, but the Russians balked and Japan consolidated its hold of Korea in 1910. After World War II, Japan relinquished control, and the U.S. State Department again looked to the 38th parallel to establish two separate countries. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War. Today, the demilitarized zone dividing the two countries intersects—you guessed it—the 38th parallel.

5. The Korean War goes by many names.

In the United States, we call it the Korean War (and sometimes the Forgotten War). North Korea calls it the Fatherland Liberation War. In South Korea, it’s called Six-Two-Five, after the day it started. China’s subtle name for the conflict is the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.

6. CIA on NKA: Nothing to see here!

Months before the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel, the CIA noted the southward movement of NKA forces, but called it a defensive measure, and called the possibility of an invasion “unlikely.” On June 24, 1950, Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, had to telephone President Truman. “Mr. President,” he said, “I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.”

7. The American occupying force in Japan provided manpower for the Korean War.

At the war’s start, it was pretty clear that Republic of Korean forces were outmatched by the North Korean Army. General MacArthur personally went to the front lines to get a look at the situation. He quickly requested ground troops to help save the situation. President Truman eventually authorized the movement of two full divisions from Japan to Korea. The divisions, coming from the relatively peaceful job of occupying Japan following World War II, were something less than battle-ready—especially when compared with the North Korean veterans. It was during the successful two-month defense of Busan, South Korea, that American forces were finally hardened for war.

8. The Korean War provided an early victory for a secret American signals intelligence agency.

As I describe in my book, the American intelligence community faced its worst fears on Friday, October 29, 1948, when the Soviet Union disappeared. While post-war America dismantled its signals intelligence and cryptanalysis capabilities, the Russians were doubling down. On “Black Friday,” as it was called, the Soviets activated a new communications grid and encryption methodology. Signals began transmitting by cable, cutting off most radio interceptions; what little remained was indecipherable. In response, the Secretary of Defense ordered the creation of a Top Secret organization known as the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA).

Though AFSA suffered from institutional dysfunction and wasn’t particularly effective against the Soviets, it had good fortune during the Korean War, intercepting high-level North Korean broadcasts. To the astonishment of the agency’s signals-intelligence specialists, North Korea was broadcasting the details of its most sensitive military operations in plaintext, with no encryption at all. When the North Koreans finally got wise to America’s interception prowess, AFSA made short work of the new ciphers. AFSA would eventually be reorganized as the National Security Agency.

9. The United States had dropped the Bomb only five years earlier, and was ready to do it again.

In 1950, the Bomb was only five years old and the wonder of the atomic age promised a bright nuclear future. It was just assumed that atomic weapons would be part of any future conflict—like the Korean War, for example. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the employment of the atomic bomb against China if it sent troops or bombers into Korea. China ignored the threat. Likewise, there were plans to drop the Bomb on the Soviet Union if it got involved, but European leaders objected to such an escalation, fearing the Soviets would us it as a justification for the conquest of Europe. Accordingly, the United States promised to use atomic weapons in Korea only to prevent a “major military disaster.”

10. The Korean War never ended.

On July 27, 1953, American Lieutenant General William Harrison, Jr. and North Korean General Nam Il signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, ending “all acts of armed force” in Korea, until both sides were able to find a “final peaceful settlement.” The agreement was notably not a peace treaty, but rather, a ceasefire. Over 60 years later, it seems we are no closer to a peaceful ending of the conflict.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
iStock
iStock

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
iStock

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
iStock

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
iStock

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
iStock

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
iStock

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
iStock

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
iStock

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
iStock

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
iStock

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios