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June 27: Jews and the Korean War

June 27, 2013

korean-war-international-womens-dayThe United States government made the decision to go to war on the Korean Peninsula on this date in 1950, after receiving a communiqué from the USSR indicating that an American intervention would not result in war between the superpowers. Two days earlier, North Korea had invaded the South in an attempt to reunify Korea under communist rule. Backed by China, North Korea was opposed by a United Nations force backed by 16 countries, with 88 percent of the soldiers American. According to various sources, some 150,000 American Jews served during this complex and never-concluded war, out of more than 1.5 million men who were drafted and 1.3 million who volunteered. Israel took a distinct turn away from Cold War neutrality when it backed America within a week of the war’s outbreak and sent $100,000 in foodstuffs to South Korea. (Israel today also holds an annual ceremony to honor Jewish veterans of the Korean War.) Between 1.2 and 4 million people (depending on who’s counting) died on all sides during the conflict.

“Air Force General Curtis LeMay later boasted that ‘we burned down every town in North Korea,’ and that he grounded his bombers only when there were no more targets to hit anywhere north of the 38th parallel. Pyongyang was an ashen moonscape. It was Year Zero. Kim Il Sung could create a laboratory, with controlled conditions, where he alone would be the engineer of the human soul.” ― Christopher Hitchens