War against an Ambiguous Enemy
U.S. Air Force Bombing of South Korean Civilian Areas, June–September 1950
Author: Taewoo Kim
In the early months of the Korean War, close air support provided by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) fighter-bombers in the front-line areas significantly delayed the advance of the North Korean Army. This article shows, however, that U.S. pilots very quickly diverged from the original policy of precision bombing and began the indiscriminate and unrestricted bombing of villages, towns, and even refugees in the South Korean region. They did so for three reasons: (1) to deal with effective countermeasures being taken by the North Korean Army; (2) the short range of U.S. fighter-bombers taking off from bases in Japan; and (3) difficulties in finding clear targets. Civilian areas were not exempt because most USAF pilots regarded the people in civilian areas as enemy troops and villages were considered to be enemy shelters. In the early months of the Korean War, the Operations Analysis Office (OAO) of the USAF had already acknowledged that "in a certain number of cases the troops in question may have been civilians." This article draws on mission reports written by U.S. pilots and on OAO reports to make the case that the conduct of American fighter-bomber pilots during the Korean War needs serious reconsideration.