When the U.S. almost went to war with North Korea

Gordon F Sander writes: On August 19, 1976, the day after the Republican Party nominated President Gerald Ford as its candidate in the forthcoming presidential election against Democrat Jimmy Carter, readers of the New York Times were greeted by the following harrowing front page headline:


According to the Times, a group of North Korean (Korean People’s Army, or KPA) soldiers wielding axes and knives had attacked a group of American and South Korean soldiers and civilian workers in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, killing two U.S. officers and wounding five South Korean troops. Accompanying the article was a grainy photo of the lethal melee taken by a U.S. soldier who had observed the incident from a nearby guard post.

Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam the year before, the DMZ was then the only place in Asia where American combat troops directly confronted Communist forces. It had also been the site of numerous other attacks by the soldiers of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather. Still, as the Times reported, “even by the level of past provocations, yesterday’s attack appeared unusually brutal.”

It was. Two American officers on a pre-agreed mission to trim a tree blocking the view of the U.S.-South Korean unit that patrolled the Joint Security Area—a heavily guarded area in the center of the DMZ—had been murdered in broad daylight by North Korean troops in a clearly premeditated attack. To the Western world, the killing of Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett—in what would soon become known as the Axe Murder Incident—seemed to epitomize the contempt of the Pyongyang regime for the United States and its indifference to human life. It appeared as if Kim Il Sung was begging for war. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email