Korean War: US involvement
The Truman Doctrine stated that the USA would help people to fight against communism. In 1950 the USA showed that this was more than words: US troops went to war to stop the spread of communism in Korea.
How successful was the USA in the Korean War?
A divided land
The Japanese controlled Korea between 1904 and 1945. At the end of the Second World War Korea was in a situation similar to Germany. Russian forces were in the north of Korea and American troops had landed in the south. Korea became divided in two at the 38th parallel. In 1948 separate Korean governments were set up in the north and south of the country.
A communist, Kim II Sung, took power in the North. From 1948 the President of South Korea was the anti-communist, Syngman Rhee. He was a corrupt leader and he soon became very unpopular. In April 1950 Rhee did badly in elections. Many of the people of the south voted in favor of unification with the communist state of the north.
On 25 June 1950 North Korean troops invaded the South in a bid to re-unite Korea by force. Historians disagree about whether the North Koreans were told to invade by the Russians. Truman believed that the Russians were behind the attack and that it was a test of the US policy of containing communism. The invasion came at a time when many Americans were extremely worried about the challenge of communism China had recently become a communist state.
In September 1949 the Americans found out that the USSR had nuclear weapons. American politicians became convinced that communists wanted to take over the world. On hearing the news from Korea, Truman immediately ordered US forces in Japan, led by General MacArthur, to help South Korea.
Truman asked the United Nations Security Council to back the use of American troops in Korea. At that time the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council and was not able to use its veto. As a result the Security Council supported the USA and called on other member states to provide troops. Soldiers from a number of countries fought in Korea, including Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, the bulk of the UN forces were provided by the USA.
The US counter-attackAt first the North Korean attack was very successful. Within four days the Southern capital of Seoul had been captured. The North Koreans conquered all of the country except for a small area in the south around the town of Pusan. In July 1950 MacArthur sent American forces to Pusan and prepared for a counter-attack.
The US fight-back began in September. MacArthur organized a successful amphibious attack on the town of Inchon. At the same time US forces broke out of the Pusan area. The counter-attack went extremely well and by 1 October the US troops had reached the 38th parallel, the original border between North and South Korea.
The Americans faced a dilemma. Should they push on and invade North Korea? They now had a chance to go beyond containment and 'roll back' the frontiers of communism. On the other hand, there was a possibility that by invading the North the Americans might provoke China to join the war.
MacArthur was keen to go on. Truman approved the change of policy and the US forces crossed the 38th parallel on 7 October. Eventually MacArthur's troops reached the Yalu River, close to the Chinese border. This was the first time since 1945 that Americans had tried to liberate a communist state.
The risk of Chinese interventionCommunist China was a new force in the world. Few people believed that they would risk war with the mighty USA. In early October the Chinese issued a statement that said, 'China will not sit back with folded hands and let the Americans come to the border'. The Americans ignored this warning and continued to march north. On 10 October the Chinese government said that Chinese troops would attack the Americans if MacArthur continued. MacArthur ignored this threat.