18.08.

1976: Ax Murder nearly Causes World War (DMZ Incident)

1976: Ax Murder nearly Causes World War (DMZ Incident)
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 18 August 1976
  • A bizarre border incident between North Korean and UN troops took place on this day in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, resulting in the death of two American officers. The incident was likely prepared in advance by the North Koreans, with the goal of discrediting the USA. In response, American forces increased their readiness level to DEFCON 3 (yellow alert), the same level that was declared after the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

One of the most dangerous border incidents between North and South Korea took place on this day.

The so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two countries contains only one border crossing, and this is the only place where the soldiers of each country stand guard directly facing each other.

The bridge dividing the two has earned the nickname “Bridge of No Return”, which stems from a tradition to give North Korean POWs one chance to cross the bridge or stay in South Korea. Once they crossed the bridge, they were forever forbidden to return.

A UN border outpost was located near the bridge and was sometimes nicknamed the “Loneliest Outpost in the World” due to its isolated nature. Communication with nearby UN forces was difficult due to a tree which blocked visibility.

The territory around the border outpost was under the joint jurisdiction of the North and South Korean Armed Forces. The North Koreans tried several times to abduct UN personnel from the outpost, so that the local UN officers decided to trim the branches of the offending tree and thus make communication with the nearest outpost easier.

On this day UN troops reached the tree and started trimming it. They were unarmed because the local laws forbade them to carry weapons, but they did have axes and various other tools in their truck.

The North Koreans arrived on the scene soon after. Officer Pak Chul, known for his aggressive nature and called “Lieutenant Bulldog” by the UN troops, ordered the trimming to stop because “Kim Il Sung had personally planted and nourished that tree.”

The UN officer simply turned his back on the North Koreans and ignored them. “Lt. Bulldog” then knocked down the US officer and ordered his troops to kill all the Westerners.

The North Koreans grabbed the axes that were previously used by the tree-trimmers and attack the UN troops. Two UN officers, both American, were killed, while the others managed to escape.

Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, held a speech at a Non-Aligned Nations Conference in Sri Lanka the very same day, where he described the event as an American attack on innocent North Korean guards.

He suggested that the Nonaligned Movement should prepare a resolution to condemn the Americans, which was accepted at the Conference. This means that the entire incident was likely prepared in advance by the North Koreans, with the goal of discrediting the USA.

American forces increased their readiness level to DEFCON 3 (yellow alert), the same level that was declared after the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

An artillery and missile attack on North Korea was considered, but was called off because the North Koreans had at the time a 4 : 1 advantage in  artillery pieces.

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