Unit 1 D6: Ideology, Conflict and Retreat; the USA in Asia, 1950-73
A: The Korean War, 1950-53; causes, course and consequences
Background to the Korean War
Korea had been under Japanese occupation since 1910. With the defeat of Japan in 1945 the USA and USSR agreed to divide the country into two zones along the 38th Parallel.
The United Nations demanded free elections for the whole country and was supported by the USA which did not see this as a permanent division and believed that since their zone contained two-thirds of the population, the communist north would be outvoted.
Korea became part of the general post war cold war rivalry and no agreement could be reached.
Elections were held in the south, supervised by the UN, and the independent Republic of Korea, or South Korea, was set up, in 1948, with Syngman Rhee as President.
Within a month the Soviet Union had created the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the communist government of Kim II Sung.
In 1949 Russian and US troops were withdrawn but in June 1950 North Korean troops invaded South Korea
Which side started the war?
The North claimed it was started by South Korea who shelled an area on the Ongjin Peninsula on 23 June 1950 and then sent their 17th Regiment to seize the town of Haeju. The 17th Regiment was a crack unit of soldiers formerly from the North who hated communism.
The more likely explanation is that the 17th Regiment was acting in retaliation to an invasion from the North.
Why did Kim II Sung invade South Korea?
There are two schools of thought among historians.
One school believes he was encouraged by Stalin as a means of spreading communism and testing Truman’s policy of containment.
They had supplied the North Koreans with tanks and other equipment. A communist takeover would strengthen Russia’s position in the Pacific and make up for Stalin’s failure in Berlin.
The other school of thought, influenced by Khrushchev’s memoirs, believes that Stalin was too cautious to risk an escalation of the conflict into a possible war with the USA and looks for other reasons.
It was Kim II Sung’s own idea, possibly encouraged by a statement by Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State, earlier in 1950.
Acheson was talking about which areas round the Pacific the USA intended to defend, and for some reason, he did not include Korea.
Kim II Sung may also have been encouraged by the new Chinese Communist government.
Why did the USA intervene?
The principle of deterring aggression
The entry of the USA was, on the face of it, a response to the aggression of North Korea in invading the South.
The USA was able to force a resolution through the UN Security Council, taking advantage of the absence of the Soviet Union, on the invasion to justify their intervention.
‘The armed attack upon the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea constitutes a breach of the peace’.
The US claimed that it was acting to uphold democracy and peace against aggression. But, on the other hand, Syngman Rhee’s regime in South Korea was not a model of freedom and democracy.
Truman insisted he was determined to avoid the mistakes of the League of Nations in the 1930s in the face of aggression and uphold the principles of the UN.
By using the UN, the USA gained the support of its allies for armed intervention.
Truman would have preferred indirect intervention but the South Korean army was too weak to hold back the communist forces.
Context of the Cold War
The communist invasion of the South came at a time when the USA felt increasingly under threat in its rivalry with the Soviet Union and attempts to contain the spread of communism.
In 1949 the Soviet Union successfully tested its first atom bomb. The USA had believed this was unlikely to occur until late 1950 and had lost its lead in the development of nuclear technology.
The success of Mao and communism in China was another blow to...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document