Hindsight and the Korean War

In 1950 a massive nuclear exchange was not possible. ICBMs were not invented until late in the 50s. China did not have nuclear weapons in 1950.

The Russians did and they had the ability to (re)-flatten most of W Europe.

What forces did the Chinese have in 1951 that could have posed a serious threat to a carrier task group or our bases on Japan? The PLAAF in 1950 was pretty small and composed mainly of WWII era Soviet fighters and very poorly trained pilots. Oh, I suppose that the Soviets might have given them some pilots just like they did the North Koreans, and some more advanced MIGS as well, but there is no way they could hit US bases in Japan or tangle with a carrier at sea. Mainly the Soviet pilots for North Korea fought defensive battles against American aircraft, not deep strikes against targets like those.

It’s true the Soviets and the Chinese didn’t have the nuclear arsenals in 1950 that they would later have. But we didn’t either. We had around three hundred nuclear warheads but these were fission not fusion bombs. The damage they caused was measurable in kilotons not megatons. We could have inflicted a huge amount of damage on targets in North Korea (and China if necessary) but not caused them to collapse. As we saw in Germany and Japan and Britain in WWII and as we would see again in Vietnam, countries can absorb a lot of bombing and still keep fighting.


The Chinese had uninterrupted supply lines, an infinite supply of troops and they held the territory. It was an old fashioned land war. Air superiority was expensive and of questionable utility.

Nuclear weapons require a concentrated, high value target.


What was in Pyongyang that was so valuable that without it the Communists are forced to surrender?

Well…actually, if you look at a map of North Korea it will become evident that it’s a major road hub. In fact, it’s THE major road hub (there are others, but they are pretty small roads even today…and looks to me as if most of the rail system goes through Pyongyang today, so I assume it was the same in 1950), connecting the north of the country with the south. Take that out and you are going to put a pretty big bottleneck in logistics and transport throughout the country (I assume the other major road system along the coast from Hamhung to Wosan would have been pretty easy for the US and allies to interdict and it doesn’t connect as easily to where the fighting was).

Not saying nuking it would be the best thing, but it’s a pretty vital hub, and in 1950 would have been a potential make or break spot for getting troops and supplies from the north to where the fighting was, especially wrt Chinese deployments.