Korean War: Chinese intervention
At the end of October Chinese troops went into action and attacked South Korean and American troops. In November the South Koreans and Americans were forced to retreat. Truman and MacArthur were not put off by the Chinese intervention.
Britain and France wanted Truman to talk to the Chinese. The advice from these allies was ignored. Instead, MacArthur planned a further push towards the Chinese border. This renewed attack began on 25 November. It went badly wrong. MacArthur made a big mistake: he divided his forces in two and marched north.
The Chinese had little difficulty in attacking and destroying many of the US forces. MacArthur had to retreat and the Chinese soon took control of almost all North Korea. Once again it was the turn of the communist forces to push over the border into South Korea. The Chinese offensive continued into the New Year. On 1 January they crossed the 38th parallel, and on 4th January they took the Southern capital, Seoul.
The success of the Chinese caused great disappointment in America. There were behind-the-scenes arguments about what to do next. General MacArthur recommended extreme action. Truman hinted at a press conference that he might drop the atomic bomb on China.
MacArthur's advice: December 1950• The US should consider all methods to defeat the Chinese; this could include the use of atomic bombs against China.
• The war should be extended to the Chinese mainland in order to cut off supplies to the communist forces in Korea.
• The ultimate aim of the war should be not only the recapture of North Korea, but also the defeat of communism in China.
The British government was appalled by talk of using atom bomb and invading China. The British Prime Minister, Attlee, flew to Washington and urged Truman to negotiate with the Chinese. Attlee failed to get the Americans to talk to the Chinese but Truman did stop talking about dropping the atom bomb.
The fall of MacArthur
In February 1951 the Americans launched a further attack on the communist troops. By March the communist forces had been pushed back to the original border, the 38th parallel. At this point MacArthur disagreed with Truman. Truman now abandoned the idea of conquering all of Korea and was considering making peace with China.
For a long time there had been tension between Truman and MacArthur. This now reached breaking point. On 24 March MacArthur made a public statement criticizing the idea of a deal with the Chinese. Truman was annoyed when he heard this.
MacArthur wanted to cross the border again in order to re-conquer North Korea. He sent a message to an American politician explaining his view that America should keep fighting until the Chinese were defeated. Truman was very angry that a general was trying to control the war, instead of obeying his orders, and in April MacArthur was dismissed. This caused a sensation in the United States.
By early summer 1951 the two sides in the Korean War had reached a stalemate. The Chinese launched a huge push south in April and May, but it was not successful. The loss of life on the Chinese side was enormous. In these two months over 200,000 men were killed. Peace talks began in July 1951 but there was no agreed cease-fire. Sporadic but bloody fighting continued.
The negotiations soon got stuck over where to draw the border and the exchange of prisoners. As the months passed the situation became similar to the Western Front in the First World War, with both sides dug in to strong defensive positions. This situation continued throughout the second half of 1951 and through the whole of 1952.
Soldiers continued to be killed in large numbers on both sides. Between the start of the talks and November 1952, 45,000 American troops were killed or wounded. At the end of 1952 the Americans elected a new President, Ike Eisenhower. The new President took power in January 1953 and he was determined to end the war. An agreement to stop fighting was eventually signed on 27 July 1953.