Friday, August 3, 2012

June 27, 1950 – US Decides Not to Fight in South Korea

Communism was seen as creeping into post-war Europe, but the success of the Marshall Plan injecting billions of dollars into the West suppressed the growth of communist parties in countries such as France and Italy.  Czechoslovakia, which had turned down the Marshall Plan due to political pressure from the Soviet Union, fell to a coup in 1948.  Shortly after, the Berlin Airlift successfully ended Stalin’s plans of forcibly reuniting Germany.  President Truman enacted his doctrine of stemming the spread of Communism through dollar diplomacy, which proved effective in Greece and Turkey.  An Iron Curtain descended across Europe, establishing clear borders between the capitalist West and communist East.

Halfway across the world, however, Communism continued to spread.  China’s decades-long civil war ended with a Communist victory as the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1950.  Even before that war was over, North Koreans from the area that had been occupied by Soviets after the war invaded the South.  South Koreans appealed to the United Nations, who on June 25 enacted United Nations Security Council Resolution 82 (the Soviets had boycotted the UN over the refusal to recognize the PRC) and following resolutions calling up forces to help defend the country.  This put US President Truman in a delicate position between a war-weary populace and the prediction of losing Japan if Communism spread across the Sea of Japan.  After much discussion with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, he determined not to repeat the mistakes of appeasement as had been seen with Hitler, but he doubted the desire of fellow Americans to enter another war.

On June 27, 1950, Truman announced before Congress that the United States would offer support from its bases in Japan, funding, advisers, and arms, but only a voluntary expeditionary force would be dispatched rather than a renewal of the draft and a full declaration of war.  The UN and its allies would be supportive, but the US would not be “running the show.”  The first evidence of support was the movement of the US Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait, which ended the PRC’s hopes of fully crushing the Nationalists.  Mao Zedong reorganized what would have been the invasion army for Taiwan into the People’s Liberation Army North East Frontier Force to intervene in Korea, whom Premier Zhou Enlai called “China’s neighbor.”

Reinforcements from the UN arrived in September, as the South Koreans had been nearly pushed off the peninsula.  At the Battle of Inchon, US, Canadian, and British naval attacks provided cover as a mixed group of Allied marines stormed the beach and seized Kimpo Airfield.  The largely unorganized Allies made some advancement toward Seoul, but the lack of troops slowed progress despite the clear supply line.  That fall, the Chinese again warned of intervention of the UN crossed the 38th Parallel that had initially divided the North and South.  The UN obliged, preparing for winter as the South Koreans made their own strikes across the border.  Many, such as General Douglas MacArthur in Japan, criticized the move, stating that victory against North Korea should be absolute.  If the Chinese joined the war, then it would be another communist country to defeat and liberate.

Instead, the war became a stalemate as the South Koreans bolstered their defenses and gradually replaced UN soldiers.  In the North, China and the Soviet Union gave aid, but neither side could legally enter the fight.  For the remainder of his term, Truman kept up his doctrine of aid for communist-threatened countries but felt glad he had kept America at large out of another war.  Chinese expansion continued southward, however, as they seized Tibet in 1950 and gave aid to rebels against colonialism in French Indochina.  The Eisenhower Administration gave similar aid, but was unsuccessful in halting the fall of Vietnam and Laos.  Closer to home, however, economic support to Cuba won over Castro’s new government.

In the Middle East, meanwhile, the Soviets began to make political maneuvers to expand their political influence.  Americans drew up their own allies, but notions of Pan-Arabism stilted the effect of both.  Instead, the US limited its efforts while the Soviets pressed all the harder, leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.  The war would prove too costly for the Soviet Union, which had been decaying internally for years, and contribute to its collapse in 1991. 

Chinese communism began to suffer similar decay, but the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 brought in a new generation of leaders who put into effect economic reforms that brought a new era of prosperity.  The death of Hu Yaobang in 1989 led to protest for similar reforms on democratization and freedom of speech, but the ideas were suppressed.  The prosperity of smaller Asian communist states has not followed as readily while some, such as Vietnam, do well with tourism and manufactures while others still suffer repression.

North Korea remained under the control of guerilla leader Kim Il-sung until he left for Moscow in 1956 to stand up to Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization.  Former followers seized the government and worked to stop his return as his popularity had never recovered from his futile invasion.  This coup won over much of the support of the military and of Mao Zedong, who had begun to question Kim’s stability.  Kim was exiled to Russia, where he remained despite attempts to reinvade his country.  North Korea continued as a satellite of China, but began to seek a more independent stance in the 1980s.  In August 2000, the Koreas became reunified.


In reality, the US was the primary contributor to the Korean War, and General Douglas MacArthur led the UN forces there.  Early victories came swiftly with the UN crossing the 38th Parallel on October 1 and even marching into China itself in pursuit of North Korean armies.  The Chinese entered the war with over a million soldiers, and the fighting became a stalemate near where it had started.  An armistice was announced in 1953 with a formal division in 1954 that lasts even today, though talks of reunification are beginning to blossom.

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