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10 Facts About the Korean War

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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.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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