Search in

Digital Archive International History Declassified


Baek Seon-yeop

Andrew C. Nahm and James E. Hoare

When the Korean War began in June 1950, Baek was in command of the 1st Division, one of the four South Korean divisions on duty on the 38th parallel.


BAEK SEON-YEOP (1920-). Often referred to as Paik Sun-yup. Baek was educated at the Manzhouguo Military Academy and served in Japan’s armed forces during World War II. He returned to Korea in 1945 and joined the newly formed Korean Constabulary and then the South Korean army. When the Korean War began in June 1950, he was in command of the 1st Division, one of the four South Korean divisions on duty on the 38th parallel. Despite many of his men being on leave, Baek’s division fought well, and only retreated across the Han River after the fall of Seoul on 28 June. The 1st Division was quickly reformed, and following the September 1950 landing at Incheon, Baek led the United Nations forces across the 38th parallel and into North Korea, taking Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on 19 October.

Baek’s next major role was at the armistice negotiations from July-October 1951. He then led “Task Force Baek,” a combined military and police unit that conducted “Operation Ratkiller” against North Korean guerrilla forces in the southwest from December 1951-April 1952. It was deemed a success, but there have been accusations that Baek’s force used great brutality in pacifying this region. President Syngman Rhee then appointed Baek army chief of staff, a post he held until 1954. He also became South Korea’s first four-star general, aged 33. He again served as army chief of staff from 1957-1959, and in 1959, he became chairman of the chiefs of staff. However, he soon resigned, following allegations of corruption from younger officers. Following the Military Revolution of 16 May 1961, Baek served as an ambassador on several occasions, and was briefly minister of transport in 1969-1970. He later became a successful businessman. In 1992, he published his autobiography, From Busan to Panmunjeom, which carefully avoided some of the more controversial issues in his life, such as the question of wartime atrocities.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Korea, by Andrew C. Nahm and James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).