Editor's Note: The audacious Inchon landing was a dramatic military success that changed the course of the Korean War in 1950. However, its outcome also sharpened the Cold War policy debate between advocates of containment and those favoring liberation. Containment prevailed. --Ed.
Inchon! Among military historians and scholars, the name Inchon connotes daring, audacity and military genius. Fifty-eight years ago, on September 15, 1950, U.S. military forces, led by the 1st Marine Division, seized that strategic South Korean port, moved swiftly inland to take Kimpo Airfield, and by the end of September, after intense and bloody fighting, took Seoul, the South Korean capital, from communist forces. The amphibious landing at Inchon achieved tactical and strategic surprise. At one brilliant stroke, the Inchon landing relieved the pressure on the remaining U.S. and South Korean forces dug in at the Pusan perimeter, severed the North Korean supply lines, and forced the communist forces into a headlong retreat across the 38th parallel.
The U.S. victory at Inchon, however, also set the stage for a dramatic debate about the direction and goals of U.S. foreign policy in the early Cold War period; a debate that initially revolved around the forceful personalities of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and President Harry S. Truman.
MacArthur was 70 years old at the time of the Inchon landing. His distinguished fifty-year military career included deputy command and command of the "Rainbow Division" in France during the First World War, where he was repeatedly decorated for heroism and bravery; superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; Army Chief of Staff in the early 1930s; military advisor to the Government of the Philippines and command of the nascent Filipino army; commander of U.S. and allied forces in the Southwest Pacific during World War II, where he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; and military governor of Japan in the immediate post-World War II years.
MacArthur conceived the Inchon landing after visiting the battlefront on a hill near the south bank of the Han River on June 29, 1950, four days after the North Korean invasion. In his memoirs, MacArthur recalled that he "watched for an hour the pitiful evidence of the disaster I had inherited. In that brief interval on the blood-soaked hill, I formulated my plans." "I would rely," he continued, "upon strategic maneuver to overcome the great odds against me. (1)