Term Paper: Korean War

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[. . .] While forged in regard to the destabilizing situation in Greece and Turkey, William H. Melish of the Council of American-Soviet Friendship said flatly: "We see in this measure, and especially in the solemn language with which the President proposed it, a tacit declaration of political and economic war upon the Soviet Union." (Muste, 1947) Nonetheless, Truman was able to garner political support for his doctrine in the nation, and in the United Nations. It was initiated in complete support of the U.S. government and done with full explanation to the United Nations in order to be accompanied by leadership to reinforce the United Nations.

Thus, when the actions in the Korean peninsula turned from diplomatic to military, Truman was already positioned in the world community to take action. He had the full support of the American government, and the United Nations to pursue a course of action which would contain and oppose the spread of communism in the world. The brilliance of Truman's achievement was that he was able to take the high ground without declaring war on the Soviet Union. He was also able to back away from the nuclear trigger and establish a course of action which would pursue military, economic, and political actions when opposing the spread of totalitarian regimes around the world.

The Korean Military Conflict

The changing nature of the interaction of political, economic, and military prosecution of limited war was a new approach to warfare in the U.S. Previously, the U.S. had won decisive victories in all of its wars through implementing overwhelming amounts of man power, equipment, and technology in order to secure a total and complete surrender of the opposing forces. From the victory in the Revolutionary war over superior forces to the Civil war, and on through WWI and WWII, the pride of victory resided with the U.S. which brought it's foes to total and complete surrender. Military forces and military theory was designed in the U.S. based on this strategy. However, the advent of nuclear arms required a change to the strategy, and this change created a paradigmatic shift for those who prosecuted the wars.

General MacArthur prosecuted a successful military campaign in the Pacific during WWII, and was a key advisor to the plans regarding use of atomic weapons. His viewpoint was one of total victory. From the military commander's point-of-view, any objective which included a less than overwhelming victory put his troops at risk of unnecessary losses. Therefore a limited war was one which was not only unwarranted, but unwise to the commander.

Truman installed MacArthur in the pacific when the Korean conflict began. Their history together at the end of WWII created a working relationship between them of trust. Mac Arthur's military success also was a source of confidence for Truman. In initial battles, MacArthur was able to stop the North Korean juggernaut from advancing, and turn them back to the north.

The North Koreans had taken the capitol city of Seoul in the early weeks of the conflict, before the U.S. could get troops on the ground. So when MacArthur counterattacked, they first took the city of Inchon, and then turned their attention northward to Seoul. MacArthur achieved victory after victory, until the North Koreans began to be reinforces by the second most powerful totalitarian regime in the world, the Chinese. At this point, the difference of opinion between MacArthur and his commander in chief became apparent, as did the new complication ob fighting limited warfare.

After discovering the Korean - Chinese connection, MacArthur wanted to use the U.S. air superiority to target strategic objectives in China. After all, the friend of my enemy is my enemy, and in order to keep the North Koreans in retreat, he wanted to limit their supply lines. However, Truman refused to increase the scale of the conflict, and risk a new global war just a few years after the country had completed WWII. The nation had not recovered economically or socially, and turning our fire power against the Chinese risked a full scale assault, which could quickly draw in the U.S.S.R.

However, MacArthur publicly criticized Truman for not taking his advice. As a military commander, he saw Truman's approach as limiting his own effectiveness, and thereby crating a situation in which his own men would be at increased risk. The resulting discord between the two cost Mac Arthur his position. He was recalled stateside, and replaced.

The changes in the approach to warfare did not sit well with the American people either. The conflict dragged on, into the next presidential election. As a result of the growing restlessness of the American people to have their soldiers home, and the increasingly awkwardness of fighting a limited war, Truman lost the election, and was replaced by Eisenhower who promised to bring our troops out of Korea, and leave the world to police itself.

Truman was visionary man, who understood that the rules governing the playing field of international politics had changed as a result of the Atomic Age. His wisdom and foresight helped solidify the position of the United Nations as an international body of influence over international affairs. He engaged the communist nations in a way which let them know that we would still oppose their presence in the world, and defend those nations which were currently free from an encroaching communist presence. Fighting a limited war is never a satisfying option to military, or political leaders, and indeed the Korean conflict, followed closely by the Vietnam War were two wars which the nation would like to leave in a distant memory. Some would say they were the result of ill conceived policy; however war is never the product of good choices. President Truman's wisdom and foresight kept the Korean conflict from becoming a third global conflict as he made difficult choices with the changing world political and military environment.

Resources.

American Presidents: Life Portraits, CSPAN, 2004 http://www.americanpresidents.org/presidents/president.asp?PresidentNumber=32

Berger, C. The Korea Knot: A Military-Political History Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965

Bernstein, Barton J., Matusow, Allen J., eds., The Truman Administration: A Documentary History, Harper and Row, New York, NY, 1968

Donovan, Robert J., Nemesis: Truman and Johnson in the coils of war in Asia, St. Martin's/Marek, New York, 1984.

Edwards, L. Congress and the Origins of the Cold War: the Truman Doctrine. World Affairs, Vol. 151, 1989.

Joseph M. Jones, The Fifteen Weeks. New York: The Viking Press, 1955

Matlof, Maurice American Military History: Chapter 25 The Korean War: 1950-1953 U.S. History; 9/1/1990.

McCullough, David, Truman, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1992

National Archives and Records Administration, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, 2004, Feburary 28, 2004, http://www.trumanlibrary.org/index.html

Pierpaoli, Paul G., Jr. Beyond collective amnesia: a Korean War retrospective (1). International Social Science Review; 9/22/2001;

Testimony of A.J. Muste before U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Assistance to Greece and Turkey, 80th Congress, 1st session, 1947, p. 100. Testimony of William A. Melish, Ibid., p. 106.

The New York Times, March 12, 1948.

Tucker, Spencer C., ed., Encyclopedia of the Korean War: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA, 2000. [END OF PREVIEW]

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