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1950 - Korean War

Korean War first military action of the Cold War begins when North Korean soldiers invade South Korea. Shortly after the conflict escalated as a US-led coalition intervened on behalf of the Republic of Korea, exacerbated further still when China sent troops in support of North Korea

At the end of the Second World War, Korea – which had formerly been occupied by the Japanese – was divided along the 38th Parallel. This was an internal border between North and South Korea based on a circle of latitude.

The North soon fell under the influence of the Soviet Union whilst the South relied on the support of the Americans. The Korean People's Army (KPA) was established in North Korea in February 1948, from Korean communist guerrillas who had previously served with the Chinese People's Liberation Army, but were 'advised' by Soviet personnel. By mid-1950 the KPA was composed of ten infantry divisions plus other units totalling some 223,000 men.

After several years of increasingly bloody frontier incidents along the 38th parallel, On 25 June 1950 the KPA invaded South Korea and rapidly advanced southwards.  Despite earlier indications, the Pentagon was caught off-guard. As the North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the US called on the Security Council to invoke the United Nations Charter and brand the North Koreans as aggressors. This was done and member states were called on to send in military assistance. The first American troops were then sent in to stiffen resistance against the invader. The British government responded at once and elements of the Far East Fleet were soon in action along the Korean coast, together with ships of Commonwealth navies.

However, the North Koreans still advanced rapidly south, aiming to take the vital port of Pusan. The American troops hurriedly sent from occupation duties in Japan fared badly against superior North Korean troops, but managed to hold the Pusan bridgehead as reinforcements began to arrive.

In mid-September, General MacArthur brought off a masterstroke by landing two divisions 240km (150 miles) in the enemy rear at the port of Inchon. Their communications cut, and under heavy aerial bombardment, the North Koreans broke and fled back north; MacArthur ordered a hot pursuit which led across the 38th parallel and deep into North Korea. As the victorious UN forces drew near to the Manchurian border, there were ominous signals from Peking that communist China would intervene to defend its territory. In mid-October, MacArthur met President Harry Truman on Wake Island in their first encounter to assure him that a massive UN offensive was about to conclude the war victoriously by Christmas.


No sooner had this been launched in November than the Chinese unleashed their armies. The UN forces recoiled in disorder and, by the new year, were defending a line well to the south of Seoul, the capital of South Korea.


Further Reading


Time - How the Korean War Started - Audio + Oral History of Berlin Airlift

NY Times - Korean War, a ‘Forgotten’ Conflict That Shaped the Modern World

The AtlanticRemembering the Korean War

1950 - Puerto Rico Uprising

Utuado Uprising - nationalist rebels rise up in Puerto Rico seeking independence from the USA. Martial law was declared and the uprising crushed with widespread arrests. In response an assassination attempt was made on President Truman.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century a Puerto Rican nationalist movement had existed . However, in the early twentieth century American interests on the island were growing, and an increasingly colonial relationship began to emerge. American sugar interests began to dominate the Puerto Rican economy, while ports, utilities, and railroads were also American-owned. In the 1930s, after security forces repeatedly used lethal violence to quell demonstrations by Puerto Rican nationalists, some opted for armed struggle, and they launched a campaign of assassinations and other violent attacks against government officials and security forces.

The leader of the independence movement, Pedro Albizu Campos, was a Harvard Law graduate, a polymath, and a gifted public speaker. He adopted the goal of Puerto Rican independence as his life’s purpose under the slogan, “the homeland is valor and sacrifice.” As the leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, he organized a militarily trained youth wing called Los Cadetes de la República, with the idea that these young “soldiers” would eventually lead the armed struggle for the country’s independence.

In 1936, after two cadets assassinated a notorious police official and were in turn caught and executed, Albizu Campos and several cohorts were arrested and found guilty of sedition. Albizu Campos spent most of the next decade in U.S. prisons. He was freed and returned to Puerto Rico in 1947, just before the island’s first-ever free gubernatorial elections were held.

The politician who won them, Luis Muñoz Marín, was Albizu Campos’s total opposite. He not only opposed Puerto Rico’s independence but was also a driving force behind a move to keep the island within the American orbit as an “unincorporated U.S. territory.” Seen as a pro-U.S. bulwark against the rise of Communism in the hemisphere, Muñoz Marín became a darling of successive American Administrations. 

During the first nine years of the sixteen he would spend in power, Muñoz Marín benefitted from La Ley de la Mordaza, or the Gag Law, which allowed him to jail anyone who publicly espoused pro-independence beliefs. Huge numbers of Puerto Ricans were placed under long-term surveillance by secret police, and thousands were arrested for their political beliefs. The Puerto Rican flag was outlawed.

On October 27, 1950, after being alerted to preëmptive police raids being carried out against his followers, Albizu Campos summoned his followers to arms. His small band of nationalists retrieved secretly cached weapons and rose up to seize towns and attack police stations and other targets. In Jayuya, a small town at the mountainous center of the island, the nacionalistas seized the police station after a shootout—one policeman died—and also burned down the town’s U.S. post office.


The local rebel leader, a woman named Blanca Canales, raised Puerto Rico’s flag in the town square and declared a “free republic of Puerto Rico.” In nearby Utuado—one of the townships most heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria—at least nine nationalists were killed, five of them summarily executed after surrendering to authorities. Muñoz Marín secured both towns after ordering them to be pounded by field artillery and strafed from the air. In Old San Juan, four more rebels were killed in an abortive attack on the governor’s residence, La Fortaleza.

On the island, the rebellion was over by the night of October 31st. But the plot wasn’t finished. On the morning of November 1st, in Washington D.C., two Puerto Rican nationalists approached Blair House, where President Harry Truman was staying temporarily during renovations to the White House across the street, and opened fire on the security men guarding the building. Their plan was to enter Blair House and kill Truman, if they could. They never got inside the building. Instead, in the shootout, one of the Puerto Ricans died, and so did a Secret Service agent. Truman himself was unhurt. Albizu Campos, who was arrested along with several dozen of his followers, was sentenced to eighty years in prison.


Two years later, Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated U.S. territory, or “commonwealth,” was voted on and overwhelmingly approved by Congress. In 1954, in an effort to keep the cause of Puerto Rican independence visible, four more of Albizu Campos’s followers entered the U.S. Capitol and opened fire on congressmen there, wounding five of them before being overwhelmed by police. Albizu Campos, who had received a pardon a few months earlier, was immediately rearrested and spent another decade in prison before his death, in April, 1965.


Further Reading


War Against All Puerto Ricans - The Revolution

New Yorker - The Dream of Puerta Rican Independence, and the Story of Heriberto Marin

Politico - Puerto Rican Militants Try to Assassinate Truman

Miami New Times - The Nationalist Uprising Explores a Forgotten Chapter in Puerto Rico's Past

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