Korea: The Hot Proxy War

Michael G. Stroud

The Korean War of 1950-1953 was very much a proxy war of ideologies between those of Democracies in the West and Communism in the East.

The Korean War and other proxy wars that followed should more appropriately be called the Wars of Ideology as there were significant casualties incurred by civilians and military personnel of both the key belligerents as well as their direct benefactors. These proxy wars would more appropriately account for the enormous impact that both the Soviet Union and China played in the Korean War and others conflicts in the Wars of Ideology. The Korean War was in all actuality a Korean Civil War, that through the military and political needs of both the North and the South in the conflict, truly became a proxy war between U.S. and the West and that of China and the Soviet Union. The moniker of Cold War does not appropriately fit the Korean War and the period following it with the hindsight of history, due to several factors. First, the U.S. as the lead superpower in the world and the unofficial leader of the ideologies of freedom and democracy in the world, supplied over 90 percent of the men, material, and financial backing in the conducting of the Korean War. This overt action, far from covert or a proxy for that matter and seen by some as a ‘bloody skirmish in the middle of the post—World War II age’ quickly evolved into a struggle between the virtues of Democracy and the evils of Communism. The U.S. and the West quickly backed the protection of South Korean as it was deemed essential to stemming the spread of the Communism and the Korean peninsula became its flashpoint.
Korea: The Hot Proxy War
U.S. military personnel such as this USAF forward air controller and Army M46 Patton tank commander seen here, bore the brunt of the fighting for the UN

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Korea: The Hot Proxy War
The war both then and now, was used as propaganda such as this mural of the Korean War in Pyongyang.
The Soviet Union at the time provided officer training for the North Korean Communists, as well as pilot training, embedded military advisors in the North Korean army, as well as provided weapons and ammunition, albeit cautiously. The Soviet Union, upon seeing the rapid response by the U.S. and the fast escalation of the conflict, made every effort at the time to work through their agents, such as in supplying weapons to the Chinese (which they would charge them for) and providing the industrial backing for the active Communist participants of China and North Korea. The Soviet strategy became more of one of subterfuge, infiltrations, and insurgency where at all possible, to spread its ideology. Communist China entered on behalf of the North Koreans when they felt that their border integrity was in jeopardy. Their near limitless manpower was their trump card in the game of ideologies, and she would pay the price in nearly a million dead, with her economy shattered, and the Chinese Communists holding a precarious position on political control of its country. The Chinese, unlike the Soviets, were overtly engaged in Korea and paid for it accordingly in blood and lives. Their reward for their involvement, which actually saved North Korea from defeat and prolonged the war for years, was in the prestige it garnered in both Asia and in Communist circles for halting the tide of the U.S. and the UN.
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The roles of the Communist benefactors in the Korea War have absolutely been minimized which contradicts the harsh reality of their involvement. The North Koreans, without the training and equipment from the Soviets would never have been able to have launched their assault on the South, let alone gotten so close to have taken over the entire peninsula. The entrance of the Chinese into the conflict, bringing hundreds of thousands of troops, was the saving grace for the North Koreans who were on the verge of imminent defeat and would in turn prolong the war. Both the Soviet and Chinese involvement in the Korean War made the war possible from the beginning as well as its second phase with the influx of waves of Chinese troops which saved the Communist North. The Soviets approached the conflict as an opportunity to spread Communism indirectly through materials, equipment, and training, while the Chinese entered the fight in an overt role, seeking to secure its borders from Democratic encroachment and therefore protect their newly won Communist state. The term ‘Cold War’ has been obsolete and inappropriate nearly from the beginning as Communism fought head-to-head against Democracy in Korea in 1950. Far from a Cold War, what should have been a civil war on what was largely considered an insignificant Asian country at the time, soon spiraled into a full-blown, yet contained war that drew in other countries with the real potential of unleashing a third world war. The Korean War and other subsequent ‘Cold War’ conflicts such as the Congo Crisis (1960-1965), Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) and the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) were all wars, at least in part, of ideology. Therefore, the moniker ‘Cold War’ should be dropped in favor of the collective phrase Wars of Ideology that broadly and correctly encompassed the breadth of these conflicts, while recognizing the impact that both the West led by the U.S. and East led by the Soviet Union, contributed at the time. In the end, no nation can win a war with one hand tied behind its back.
Korea: The Hot Proxy War
U.S. and North Korean representatives during the Panmunjom cease fire talks. Hostilities would end with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement on 27 July 1953
Korea: The Hot Proxy War

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from American Military University with a bachelor’s degree in Military History and is currently finishing up a master’s degree in Military History with a concentration on the American Civil War with the same university. Michael has been an invited guest on many history themed podcasts from the UK and the US and maintains a strong presence on LinkedIn where he can be followed at www.linkedin.com/in/michaelgstroud as well as on X (formerly Twitter) @StroudMichaelG.
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