North Korea Celebrates Victory on Korean War Armistice Day, America's 'Forgotten War'

Korean War Celebrations NK
North Koreans wave flags and walk with statues of former leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il during a military parade past Kim Il-Sung square marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. North Korea mounted its largest ever military parade on July 27 to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, displaying its long-range missiles at a ceremony presided over by leader Kim Jong Un. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

After the war in the Korean Peninsula erupted on June 25, 1950, it took two years, 17 days and 158 meetings to stipulate an armistice to end the confrontation.

It all started when the Soviet Union-backed North Korea invaded the South crossing the 38th parallel, which signaled the countries' border as agreed between Moscow and Washington in 1945, after the defeat of the Japanese empire that had previously colonized the country.

U.S. President Harry Truman entered the war after seeking U.N. Security Council backing—but not the more time-consuming congressional approval—free of opposition from the Soviets, who were boycotting the Council over the admission of the People's Republic of China into the organization.

U.N. Resolution 83 called for member countries to back South Korea to "repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area", with soldiers from 15 other countries joining the U.S. and South Korea in the United Nations Command. By the time the war ended, nearly 1.8 million Americans had fought in the conflict, nearly 37,000 soldiers died and more than 7,800 remain unaccounted for to this day.

Korean War Armistice Day
Korean veterans attend the ceremony to commemorate the 64th Anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement on July 27, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. On June 25, 1950, soldiers of the North Korean army breached the 38th parallel invading the Republic of South Korea, marking the beginning of the Korean War. On July 27 1953, a signed armistice agreement brought the three-year conflict to an end. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The armistice, signed on July 27, 1953, was never followed by a peace treaty and relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea never recovered.

The agreement required the countries to suspend open hostilities, preventing them from entering the air, ground, or sea areas under control of the other; established the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the two countries, with newly-formed agencies such as the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) tasked with monitoring adherence to the truce. It also arranged for the release and repatriation of prisoners of war and displaced persons.

The armistice paved the way for a closer military collaboration between the U.S. and South Korea, under the Mutual Defense Treaty signed on October 1, 1953, sanctioning the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea—more than 28,000 at present, according to the White House.

North Korea, instead, progressively strengthened its alliance with Mao Zedong's China, who had sent troops to assist Pyongyang in the war and lost his eldest son, Mao Anying, in a U.S. airstrike. North Korea and China signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961.

Why does North Korea celebrate "Victory Day"?

Despite the "Generalissimo" Kim Il Sung's failure to invade the South, the continued existence of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea under the helm of the Kim family is enough reason for Pyongyang to celebrate the occurrence as its "Victory Day" against "U.S. imperialists" in the "Fatherland Liberation War".

In describing the war, the state media, KCNA, proclaimed it the "fiercest revolutionary war in the world history of wars." Pyongyang traditionally organizes a parade to display its military forces and weapons and to celebrate the Kim dynasty: from Kim Il Sung, the country's first ruler who led the Korean People's Army (KPA) during the war, to his son Kim Jong Il, to his heir and current supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

Reports in North Korean state-sanctioned media started reporting about local remembrance initiatives taking place a few days ahead of the anniversary, such as a performance of wartime songs from the Socialist Women's Union of Korea and from the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea.

North Korea Victory Day
A photo taken on July 24, 2017 shows groups of people gathered on Kim Il Sung square ahead of 'Victory Day' celebrations in Pyongyang. In North Korea 'Victory Day' on July 27 refers to the end of the Korean War. Ed jones/AFP/Getty Images

A "forgotten war"?

In the U.S., the Korean war is commonly referred to as the "forgotten war." The war began only five years after the end of World War II, in a place that most Americans had heard little about.

"A lot of veterans returned home to indifference," Col. David J. Clark, executive director, DOD 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration committee, told the U.S. Army publication in 2012. "People didn't know they had served in Korea, and didn't really care."

A common quip at the time was that the soldiers "died for a tie," a comment which President Barack Obama rejected in a speech he made on the 60th anniversary of the armistice. "That war was no tie" he said "Let it be said that Korea was the first battle where freedom held its ground and free peoples refused to yield."

It wasn't until 1988 that the first memorial dedicated to those who served in the war was built in the U.S., in Chicago. Seven years later, the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. opened on July 27, 1995, to mark the 42nd armistice day. In 2016, President Obama signed into law a bill allowing for the construction of a wall of remembrance at the site bearing a list of names of members of the U.S. army who died in the war.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts