On June 24, 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. A few days later, Truman ordered U.S. troops to the aid of South Korea and convinced the United Nations (UN) to send military aid as well, in what was referred to in diplomatic circles as a “police action.”
The UN troops, which were mostly American, were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Because the North Korean attack was such a surprise, the U.S. and South Korean forces were pushed into the far southern corner of the Korean peninsula by September.
But MacArthur pulled off a risky but brilliant amphibious landing behind the North Koreans. By November, he had driven the enemy deep into North Korea and was poised to push them into China.
Then the Chinese army poured troops into the fight and forced the UN troops back into South Korea. But the UN forces reorganized and counterattacked, forcing the Chinese back behind the 38th parallel of latitude, where the war had started in the first place.
For the next 18 months, an uneasy truce, sporadically interrupted by skirmishing, was in place. Finally, in July 1953, an agreement to call the whole mess a draw was reached.
The Korean War cost more than $50 billion and 33,000 U.S. lives, plus another 110,000 or so were wounded. It also cost Truman politically. When MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman over Truman’s decision not to invade China, the general was fired. MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome in America, and Truman was pilloried as being soft on communism.