Limited War, Unlimited Targets

U.S. Air Force Bombing of North Korea during the Korean War, 1950–1953

Author: Taewoo Kim


In the early days of the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) had a policy of precision bombing military targets only. Policy-makers in Washington, D.C., formulated this policy to ensure the protection of Korean civilians and to increase the effectiveness of their air operations. Senior USAF officers in Korea, however, were unhappy about the limitations placed on them by Washington. In their strategic air operations against targets in North Korea USAF officers followed Washington's precision bombing policy, but they insisted that USAF bombers be permitted to use incendiary bombs against population centers in North Korea.

China's entry into the war in November 1950 led to a drastic change in the precision bombing policy. On 5 November 1950, when the UN forces began suffering defeat after defeat in battles with the new enemy, General Douglas MacArthur designated cities and villages in North Korea as "main bombing targets" and permitted the use of incendiary bombs, which had been used in attacks against Japanese cities during World War II. From that point until the end of the war, the USAF regarded North Korean cities and villages as their crucial targets as political and military occasion demanded.

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Regions: East Asia
Countries: Korea
Topics: Imperialism

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September 2012
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