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Causes of the Korean War

Written by Peter Fitzgerald

The Korean War is a war that started in 1950 and by all accounts is still going today. When it first started the war involved countries from across
the globe, today however it is deemed to only involve North Korea and South Korea.

In total the war has already claimed an estimated 2 million dead or wounded soldiers and 2.5 million dead or wounded civilians making this a
huge war and not simply a political affair.

The causes of the Korean War stem back around a hundred years and the affects of these causes are still seen today.

Causes of the Korean War

From 1904 Japan had been controlling Korea, but this changed when World War 2 came to an end. At the end of World War 2 the USSR and
United States were at a loose end as to what to do with Korea as their ideas were miles apart.

The United States referred the situation to the United Nations and the UN decided to put a vote to its members, this ended in elections agreeing
on a divided Korea. The USSR was the only country to show against these elections.

In the end the division occurred and the United States put forward Syngman Rhee as a possible leader of the south. Syngman Rhee had been in
exile in the United States since 1907 so the US knew him well. In voting 80% of the newly called South Koreans voted and agreed on Syngman

In an opposite turn of events the USSR put Kim el Song in charge of the north; this was because of his Communist leaning which supported the
USSR vision.

The two new countries were divided by the 38th parallel line, a circle of latitude location on the Earths globe.
Post World War 2 the Americans brought quickly reduced their number of soldiers based in South Korea; this left South Korea in charge of its
own defence under the guidance of The Korean army, known as ROK. The Korean army was armed with light weaponry.

The North on the other hand was given heavy weapons and military vehicles by the USSR making them a formidable opponent in military

In 1950 the United States spoke openly of the countries they would willing support militarily. South Korea was not mentioned and this supported
North Korea’s view that America would not step in if they attacked the South.

Overall this meant that North Korea were a much stronger military force and had strong backing by Stalin and the USSR while South Korea was
left with light weaponry and a lack of support from the United States.

Kim el Song saw great potential in attacking and winning back South Korea to make a united Korea controlled by Kim el Song and his
Communist regime. On the 25th June in the year 1950 North Korea started their “Fatherland Liberation War", this was achieved by sending
hundreds of thousands of troops into South Korea.

Effectively one could say that the causes of the Korean War were because of the end of World War 2 and the lack of support from the United
States in creating a strong South Korea that could support itself.

The Korean War (1950-1953)

Background on Korea


During the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) the Japanese began a move to dominate the peninsula of Korea. With modern weapons and
a westernized military, the Japanese easily defeated the Chinese, forcing the Chinese to give up Formosa (modern day Taiwan), and also
demanding that China recognize Korea as an independent state. The western powers, who, molded by the era, were all fairly racist,
were shocked at Japan's military prowess, modernization, and apparent imperialist desires. Japan did have designs on Korea, and the
Russians feared the Japanese might next set their sights on Manchuria, which caused Russia considerable concern.

In the late nineteenth-century, Imperial Russia was extremely interested in north-east Asia. In 1891, Russia began building the Trans-
Siberian Railway to connect Moscow and the rest of Western Russia with Vladisvostok. (Vladisvostok, Russia's main Pacific port, means
"Ruler of the East.") The best route for the Trans-Siberian Railway was through Manchuria, territory neighboring Korea and which
belonged to China. Instead of building along a less favorable route, Russia leased territory from the Chinese on which to build the
railway. Completed in 1903, this railway also gave Russia efficient access to the warm- water ports of Dairen and Port Arthur. After
Chinese attacks on Russian enterprises in Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), the Russian Czar decided to send troops into
Manchuria. America's Open Door policy (1899- 1900) in China was partially directed against the expansion of Russian domination in
Manchuria. Regardless, Russian and Japanese competition over Manchuria and Korea led to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

The Japanese fought remarkably well in this major war and defeated the Russian navy. Japan's military might once again shocked the
west and soundly embarrassed Russia. US President Teddy Roosevelt stepped in to mediate the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the
war. The treaty, signed in 1905, allowed Japan to make Korea a protectorate. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea as a formal colony, useful
for its agricultural output and mineral deposits.

After the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia that formed the Soviet Union (USSR), the Russian presence in northeast Asia dwindled
somewhat. Japan, on the other hand, became very aggressive, and even sent the Kwantung Army to protect Japanese interests in
Manchuria against the Russians. In 1931-1932, the Kwantung Army decided to invade Manchuria of its own volition, setting up a
puppet state called "Manchuko."

In 1937, Japan declared war on China, and also began an attempt to "Japanize" Korea by replacing Korean culture with Japanese
culture. This included forcing the Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones, making the Koreans practice Shinto (the Japanese
religion) and other measures offensive to the Koreans. During World War II, Korea essentially became a labor camp for the Japanese,
with Koreans living under armed guard.

The Korean War (1950-1953) had roots in the nineteenth century. Korea was seen as especially valuable to the nations that competed in
East Asia because its northern half was blessed with abundant natural resources and sources of hydroelectric power while its southern
half was an agricultural breadbasket. Imperial Russia saw south-eastern Siberia, Manchuria, and northern Korea in much the same
way the United States saw California and the West in those years. The Russians were expanding into the area, especially Manchuria,
and eyed Korea's rich natural resources. As in the American West, the Russians were busy building railroads to transport people and
goods across the Siberian wastes to this new frontier. Most importantly, the region had access to warm-water ports which did not freeze
in the winter, including Port Arthur and Dairen. Russian leaders had been trying to gain control of a warm-water port for years, but
had failed to gain a Mediterranean port. The Soviet Union, which replaced Imperial Russia after the 1917 revolution, also considered
Manchuria and the Korean peninsula to be extremely important.

Japan, however, was very worried about the possibility Russia expanding into Korea during the nineteenth-century. And in the early
twentieth century, Japan was particularly concerned about the future of Korea because, as a colony, they used it as an agricultural
breadbasket to provide their growing urban-industrial classes with rice. While Japan's desire for Korea grew, its options seemed to be
limited by the fact that in the face of Japanese aggression, Korea could appeal to the Russians, who controlled neighboring Manchuria,
for assistance. In large part, the Japanese fought the Sino-Russian war as an effort to eliminate the Russians as a rival for control of
Korea. Incidentally, though Teddy Roosevelt's mediation of the Sino-Russian War in 1905 may have won him a Nobel Peace Prize, it
also won the US the long-term hatred of the Japanese.

Because of Japanese domination of Korea in the first half of the twentieth century that culminated with Japan's insulting treatment of
Korea during World War II, the Koreans developed a deep hatred of their Japanese overlords, and developed a strong nationalism.
Koreans tended to look favorably towards Russia, which had been Japan's recent enemy for influence in the region. Indeed, it was no
surprise that many Koreans borrowed from developments in Russia and became Communists themselves. The fact that the most
powerful businessmen in Korea were Japanese, while the workers were Korean, was a further reason many Koreans were especially
receptive to the Marxist message urging workers to unite and take power. By the end of World War II, much of the Korean population
was genuinely pro-Soviet. Therefore, in terms of the Korean War, it is important to recognize that while the Soviet Union had a long
history of being interested in Korea's fate, American policymakers saw the country as only an abstract of pawn of symbolic importance
in the Cold War.

Origins of the Korean War

page 1 of 2


On August 10, 1945, after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan offered surrender in World War II. Soviet
troops, part of the Allied forces, immediately began pouring into Korea. The US was appalled, and moved quickly to prevent all of
Korea from becoming a Soviet satellite state. Dean Rusk, then a Colonel in the army, selected the 38th Parallel as the line that would
divide the American- controlled sector from the Soviet-controlled sector. General Douglas MacArthur announced the division of the
Korea into two occupation zones in "General Order Number One", which Stalin accepted. The US took control of South Korea, while
the USSR controlled North Korea.

As US and USSR forces moved in, a coalition of Korean nationalists formed the Korean People's Republic (KPR) as an interim
government. Over time, the KPR became increasingly communist, and, through a policy of encouraging peasant seizure of Japanese
property, extremely popular. The Soviet recognized the KPR, while the US did not. Kim Il-Sung, a Korean guerrilla leader from the
1930s, emerged as the leader of the pro-Soviet KPR in North Korea.

In the south, Lt.-General John Reed Hodge, who had commanded XXIV Corps at Okinawa during World War II, oversaw the
occupation of South Korea. Under Hodge, the American Military Government (AMG) became increasingly conservative. The AMG
spokesperson was Syngman Rhee, a Korean nationalist just recently returned from a 33-year exile imposed by the Japanese. When, in
1946, Hodge decided to allow a free market in South Korea, speculators hoarded the rice, leading to high prices and famine. During this
crisis, Hodge gave Rhee totalitarian powers. By September 1947, realizing that Korea was a political and social morass, Congress and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff were suggesting the US should get out of Korea. To save face, the US turned the problem over to the UN, which
proposed Korea-wide elections for March 31, 1948. Rhee's gangs and police helped rig the election and coerce people. Despite
Communist protests, Rhee's party won in the south, and called itself the Republic of Korea. In Communist elections in the North, Kim
Il-Sung won; immediately following his election, the North, rich in hydroelectric power sources, cut off power to the South.
By the late 1940s, the Cold War was heating up. In the summer of 1947, at Harvard commencement, General George C. Marshall
announced the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of West Germany. Germany and Berlin had already been split in two, occupied
by American and Soviet forces, and more generally the US and USSR were contesting the political future of Europe, communist versus
anti-communist. But after the Berlin Blockade and the formation of NATO, the Soviets began to look outside of Europe for places to
expand. By 1949, the confrontation between the US and USSR escalated to another level: the Soviets had achieved the A-Bomb, setting
off the arms race. Meanwhile, the United States was gearing up for even more adamant opposition of the Soviets based on the reasoning
of NSC- 68, which portrayed communism as a monolithic, evil, and calculating enemy, and called for a huge American military buildup.

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong, having defeated Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalist forces, proclaimed the communist People's Republic of
China (PRC). The news sent shock waves through the minds of American leaders. In an effort to make the PRC think of the US as a
possible ally, the US abandoned Chang Kai-Shek and the Chinese nationalists on Formosa (now Taiwan). In a speech to the National
Press Club, Dean Acheson, secretary of state for Truman, gave a speech on Asia, in which he mentioned that South Korea was not all
that important to US security. According to his speech, keeping Japan anti-Communist was the most important part of America's Asian
defense perimeter.


At the end of World War II, the US was not ready for occupation of Korea. It had no Korean language officers, and no Korea experts.
When he arrived in south Korea, Lt.-General Hodge was forced to leave most of the Japanese bureaucracy in place because he had no
one to replace them with. Ironically enough, at this early conflict in the escalating cold war, politeness ruled the day: the US asked the
Soviets to stop at the 38th Parallel, and they did. Surprised by the Soviet acquiescence, American policymakers failed to realize that the
USSR probably didn't want or care for more than the North, which was rich in minerals, hydroelectric power, and warm-water ports.
Regardless, in 1945, the 38th Parallel was intended only as a temporary dividing line, not the permanent boundary it later became.

The KPR, initially meant to be an interim government based in Pyongyang, developed into North Korea's government through fair
elections. In American- controlled South Korea, the KPR government was not acknowledged. Thus, ironically, the Soviets allowed the
Koreans to determine the future of their own state while the Americans did not grant the South Koreans the same freedom to choose a
government. Kim Il-sung did create a police state in North Korea, but almost all North Koreans vastly preferred his government to one
run by Japanese Koreans.
Also ironically, Syngman Rhee's regime in South Korea, accepted and supported by the US for its anti-communist bent, was no less
repressive than Kim Il-sung's government. Far from a simple American puppet, the 77-year old Rhee became a diplomatic liability, for
he was incredibly obsessed with conquering North Korea and unifying Korea under his leadership. In the example of Rhee's
government can be seen the formulation of American strategic thought through much of the Cold War; the US saw communism as such
a menace, that it was willing to overlook the fact that it was supporting non-democratic governments in its attempt to stop communist's

It is also important to note the arbitrary division nature of division at the 38th Parallel. Not only did that line have no historical or
cultural significance, it also led to economic difficulties: the North needed rice, available only in the South, and the South needed
Northern manufactures. Separating the two economies, which had been linked under Japanese rule, lead to some discomfort.

From the events described above, it is hard to immediately see why the United States would come to the Southern Republic of Korea's
rescue when the Communists invaded in 1950. Much of the rationale for the US action, however, can be traced back to memories of
"appeasement", the policy by which Britain and the United States allowed Nazi Germany to expand in Europe. Not wanting to make the
same mistake twice, the US was now ready to go to war over any aggression by the USSR. It wasn't so much that Korea was strategically
significant, it was simply that the US had to fight back as a symbol of American opposition to Communist aggression anywhere.

NSC-68 is a vital document in the history of the Korean War as well as the Cold War. According to NSC-68, primarily authored by Paul
Nitze of the Policy Planning Staff, the Soviets were engaged in a rational, calculating, gradual plan to conquer the world. Thus, by the
logic of NSC-68, a defeat for anti- communists anywhere was a defeat everywhere, with the very fate of Western Civilization at stake.
The thinking inherent in NSC-68 explains the rapidity with which the US went to war after North Korea's invasion of South Korea.
However, one also wonders if Stalin would have allowed Kim Il-sung to invade the ROK if he had known about the policies of NSC-68.
A similar historical question centers on whether Secretary of State Dean Acheson's Press Club speech partially responsible for North
Korea's invasion of South Korea? It is possible that in trying to express goodwill towards the newly Communist PRC, Acheson
unwittingly provoked the attack on South Korea by giving the impression that South Korea was not vital to American security interests
in the Far East.
In terms of the Cold War and the buildup of the American Military Industrial Complex, the Korean War provided major impetus.
Before the war, Dean Acheson was afraid that the Truman Administration's recommendation to triple American military expenditure
wouldn't pass Congress. With the Korean War, however, the policies of NSC-68 took precedence and the spending was carried out.

After Korea was liberated from Japanese Colonial Rule at the end of World War Two, it was like many other Axis countries divided into zones
of occupation. The Peninsula had been ruled by Japan for 35 years, so there could not simply be a return to pre-war government like in other
Axis-occupied countries. The Korean state had ceased to exist during Japanese occupation, so another one had to be established. In the interim,
the nation was divided at the 38th Parallel, as stated in the United States’ General Order Number 1.

However, the two powers occupying the Korean Peninsula - the USSR and the USA - failed to establish a new Korean state. They met at
summits in 1946 and 1947 to work towards an agreement on a new Korean government, but the ideological differences meant no compromise
could be made. In their own zones, the USSR and the USA supported their own ideologies.

In the south, the USA held elections after suppressing a peasant uprising, and anti-communist Syngman Rhee was elected. At the same time in
the North, the Soviets put into place a provisional government under Kim Il-Sung. Kim had spent the war training with the Soviets in
preperation, and once he was in charge he implemented reforms to establish a communist state.

With two rival Korean States established and negotiations going nowhere, the US went to the United Nations in November 1947. The UN
demanded free elections should be held in both of the zones, however the Soviets felt that the US had too much influence in the UN and
therefore refused to co-operate in the belief that elections would give an unfair advantage to the US.

Without Soviet backing, only the South held elections, and once again Syngman Rhee was elected. He formally took power from the US military
government on August 15th 1948 as President of the Republic of Korea (ROK). In response, the Soviets handed over power to the North’s
Provisional Government under Kim Il-Sung on September 9th 1948, forming the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Therefore, by
1948 there were two separate states in Korea, divided by the 38th Parallel.

In the meantime to this, China had been undergoing civil war, between the US backed Nationalists and the USSR backed communists. By 1949,
the Communists were victorious in mainland China, and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This new Communist China saw the
US as a threat, given it’s support of the Nationalists in the Civil War. So, they endeavoured to spread communist revolutions to their
neighbouring countries, to act as a buffer between themselves and the US, much like the USSR’s Eastern Bloc. Therefore, it was in their interest
to see Korea united as a communist country
By 1950, the major communist nations felt the time was right to take the South. The DPRK felt the South would welcome a comunist takeover
and wished to re-unite Korea. The PRC wished to buffer the Americans now they had withdrawn from the South, and the USSR was confident
America would not be willing to fight for Korea, given the USSR’s recent detonation of their first nuclear bomb.

Thus, through 1950, the Soviets armed the North in order to prepare them for war. They were given tanks, planes, and guns as well as training.
The US on the other hand had provided the South with small arms, and so it was believed the North would be militarily superior.

Once the North’s military was ready, Stalin gave permission for the North to invade in April 1950, given Mao’s support. When Mao agreed, the
invasion was on. Soviet Generals were sent to Korea to plan an attack.

Kim Il-Sung still made one last attempt at peace by sending diplomats to the South on June 11th - perhaps in hope that war could be avoided, or
perhaps as misdirection. However, Syngman Rhee rejected them, and war was now unavoidable.

On the 25th June, as per the Soviet and North Korean plan, the North advanced over the 38th Parallel under the pretence that the South had
attacked first. An invasion across the whole border followed, with North Korean tanks and heavy artillery routing the South for the first few
days. The Korean war had begun.


These are the events that contributed to the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula in 1950:

1. Japanese occupation of Korea

2. American/Soviet liberation of Korea in 1945
3. Events of 1949 and 1950
4. Truman's 'Police Action'

Japanese occupation of Korea: long-term causes

Following the Meiji restoration of the second half of the 19th century, Japan emerged as a modern industrialized power based on a western
model. In order to fuel economic growth, Japan adopted an expansionist foreign policy to acquire raw materials. Korea fell victim to Japanese
aggression in the early 20th century- it was annexed in 1903 with occupation completed by 1910. Korean men were conscripted into the
Japanese military and Korean women seized to be "comfort women" (or prostitutes) for Japanese soldiers during World War II. There were anti-
Japanese guerrilla fighters active in Korea during the 1930's and 1940's (one of them was future North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung), but Korean
independence from Japanese rule was only achieved following the liberation by American and Soviet forces.

American and Soviet liberation of Korea: long-term causes

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the USSR committed
itself to declaring war on Japan within 90 days of the defeat of
Germany. By the Potsdam Conference in July and August of that
year, it was clear that the Grand Alliance was fragmenting and that
substantial difference were emerging between the USA and USSR.
This may have played a role in the USA's decision to drop two atomic
bombs on Japan but what is clear is that was a rush by both sides to
liberate the Far East.

Therefore, Soviet forces liberated the Korean peninsula north of the

38th parallel and Manchuria. In both cases, Soviet troops gave their
support to Communist forces (Mao's CCP in Manchuria, Kim's
Korean Peoples' Army in Korea) and armed them with abandoned
Japanese weapons. Under General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme
Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific Theater, the USA
occupied Japan and liberated Korea south of the 38th parallel.

Korea was now divided into two and dominated by competing

ideologies: Kim Il-Sung's communist North Korea (DPRK) and Rhee
Syngman's capitalist South Korea (ROK).
While the Chinese Civil War would rage again between 1946 and 1949, crucial developments occurred in Japan. Although allowed to keep
Hirohito as their emperor, MacArthur became defacto leader of Japan in the immediate post-war years. He oversaw the writing of a new
Japanese constitution which renounced war and stripped Hirohito of military authority. This also paved the way for sweeping political, social
and economic changes that transformed Japanese society and that would eventually result in it becoming a leading economic power. By 1950, it
was clear to the USA that Japan was becoming a valuable asset.

The events of 1949 and 1950: short-term causes

Meanwhile, North Korean dictator Kim intended to invade South
Korea and united the peninsula under communist control. In March
1949, Kim asked Stalin for permission to invade the South. His
request was denied over concerns that Soviet Union would be drawn
into a protracted land war with the United States in Asia. However,
four events occurred over the next nine months that caused Stalin to
change his mind:

1. American troops were pulled out of Korea, honoring an earlier

2. The Soviet Union acquired its first atomic bomb, putting on a
more equal footing with the USA in military terms
3. Mao's communist forces defeated Jiang Jieshi's (Chiang Kai-
Shek) Guomindang forces in the Chinese Civil War and
declared the Peoples' Republic of China
4. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, in a rushed response to
the 'fall of China'', declared Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines
to be part of the USA's Outer Pacific Defense Perimeter
against communist aggression, conspicuously failing to
include South Korea. This was largely because of the Truman
administration's inherent distrust of the Rhee government in

This series of events convinced Stalin that American troops would

probably not engage North Korean forces, that Chinese troops could
support the North Koreans if necessary, that the Americans would be
more reluctant to engage the USSR anyway following their
acquisition of nuclear weapons and that the USA were not interested
in including South Korea in their sphere of influence.
With all that in mind, Stalin finally approved Kim's invasion in April 1950, on the condition that Chinese communist forces would support North
Korea if necessary. Kim informed an alarmed Mao of this development in May 1950.

On the 25th of June 1950, North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th Parallel and began the invasion of South Korea.

Truman's 'Police Action': immediate causes

Immediately following the invasion, the United States proposed
a resolution to send a UN military force to South Korea at an
emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. The resolution
passed because:

1. China's (Peoples' Republic of China) permanent seat on

the Security Council had been awarded to Taiwan (or the
Republic of China), where Jiang Jieshi and the
Guomindang had fled to following their defeat in the
Chinese Civil War
2. The Soviet Union were boycotting the UN in support and
solidarity of the PRC

In order to get congressional authorization of the war without

actually requesting a formal declaration of war, Truman labelled
the intervention a 'police action'. Desperate to show the newly-
formed UN (the UN Charter had been signed in December 1945)
had teeth in the face of the most serious crisis of the Cold War
so far, congress granted Truman authorization to commit
American forces to Korea.

Korean War, conflict between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in which at
least 2.5 million persons lost their lives. The war reached international proportions in June 1950 when North Korea, supplied and advised by the
Soviet Union, invaded the South. The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South
Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. After more than a million combat casualties had been suffered on both
sides (see the table of casualties), the fighting ended in July 1953 with Korea still divided into two hostile states. Negotiations in 1954 produced
no further agreement, and the front line has been accepted ever since as the de facto boundary between North and South Korea.

Revolution, division, and partisan warfare, 1945–50

The Korean War had its immediate origins in the collapse of the Japanese empire at the end of World War II in September 1945. Unlike China,
Manchuria, and the former Western colonies seized by Japan in 1941–42, Korea, annexed to Japan since 1910, did not have a native government
or a colonial regime waiting to return after hostilities ceased. Most claimants to power were harried exiles in China, Manchuria, Japan, the
U.S.S.R., and the United States. They fell into two broad categories. The first was made up of committed Marxist revolutionaries who had
fought the Japanese as part of the Chinese-dominated guerrilla armies in Manchuria and China. One of these exiles was a minor but successful
guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung, who had received some training in Russia and had been made a major in the Soviet army. The other Korean
nationalist movement, no less revolutionary, drew its inspiration from the best of science, education, and industrialism in Europe, Japan, and
America. These “ultranationalists” were split into rival factions, one of which centred on Syngman Rhee, educated in the United States and at
one time the president of a dissident Korean Provisional Government in exile.

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In their hurried effort to disarm the Japanese army and repatriate the Japanese population in Korea (estimated at 700,000), the United States and
the Soviet Union agreed in August 1945 to divide the country for administrative purposes at the 38th parallel (latitude 38° N). At least from the
American perspective, this geographic division was a temporary expedient; however, the Soviets began a short-lived reign of terror in northern
Korea that quickly politicized the division by driving thousands of refugees south. The two sides could not agree on a formula that would
produce a unified Korea, and in 1947 U.S. President Harry S. Truman persuaded the United Nations (UN) to assume responsibility for the
country, though the U.S. military remained nominally in control of the South until 1948. Both the South Korean national police and the
constabulary doubled in size, providing a southern security force of about 80,000 by 1947. In the meantime, Kim Il-sung strengthened his
control over the Communist Party as well as the northern administrative structure and military forces. In 1948 the North Korean military and
police numbered about 100,000, reinforced by a group of southern Korean guerrillas based at Haeju in western Korea.

Military vehicles crossing the 38th parallel during the Korean War.


Read More on This Topic

Korea: The Korean War

South Korea began to organize a police constabulary reserve in 1946. In December 1948 the Department of National Defense was established.
By June 1950, when the war broke out, South Korea had a 98,000-man force equipped only with small arms, which was barely enough to deal
with internal revolt and border attacks. The U.S. occupation forces completely withdrew from Korea by June 1949, leaving...


The creation of an independent South Korea became UN policy in early 1948. Southern communists opposed this, and by autumn partisan
warfare had engulfed parts of every Korean province below the 38th parallel. The fighting expanded into a limited border war between the
South’s newly formed Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) and the North Korean border constabulary as well as the North’s Korean People’s
Army (KPA). The North launched 10 cross-border guerrilla incursions in order to draw ROKA units away from their guerrilla-suppression
campaign in the South.

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In its larger purpose the partisan uprising failed: the Republic of Korea (ROK) was formed in August 1948, with Syngman Rhee as president.
Nevertheless, almost 8,000 members of the South Korean security forces and at least 30,000 other Koreans lost their lives. Many of the victims
were not security forces or armed guerrillas at all but simply people identified as “rightists” or “reds” by the belligerents. Small-scale atrocities
became a way of life.
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The partisan war also delayed the training of the South Korean army. In early 1950, American advisers judged that fewer than half of the
ROKA’s infantry battalions were even marginally ready for war. U.S. military assistance consisted largely of surplus light weapons and supplies.
Indeed, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States’ Far East Command (FECOM), argued that his Eighth Army, consisting
of four weak divisions in Japan, required more support than the Koreans.

Invasion and counterinvasion, 1950–51

South to Pusan
In early 1949 Kim Il-sung pressed his case with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that the time had come for a conventional invasion of the South.
Stalin refused, concerned about the relative unpreparedness of the North Korean armed forces and about possible U.S. involvement. In the
course of the next year, the communist leadership built the KPA into a formidable offensive force modeled after a Soviet mechanized army. The
Chinese released Korean veterans from the People’s Liberation Army, while the Soviets provided armaments. By 1950 the North Koreans
enjoyed substantial advantages over the South in every category of equipment. After another Kim visit to Moscow in March–April 1950, Stalin
approved an invasion.

In the predawn hours of June 25, the North Koreans struck across the 38th parallel behind a thunderous artillery barrage. The principal offensive,
conducted by the KPA I Corps (53,000 men), drove across the Imjin River toward Seoul. The II Corps (54,000 soldiers) attacked along two
widely separated axes, one through the cities of Ch’unch’ŏn and Inje to Hongch’ŏn and the other down the east coast road toward Kangnŭng.
(See the map.) The KPA entered Seoul in the afternoon of June 28, but the North Koreans did not accomplish their goal of a quick surrender by
the Rhee government and the disintegration of the South Korean army. Instead, remnants of the Seoul-area ROKA forces formed a defensive
line south of the Han River, and on the east coast road ROKA units gave ground in good order. Still, if the South was to stave off collapse, it
would need help—from the U.S. armed forces.
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Truman’s initial response was to order MacArthur to transfer munitions to the ROKA and to use air cover to protect the evacuation of U.S.
citizens. Instead of pressing for a congressional declaration of war, which he regarded as too alarmist and time-consuming when time was of the
essence, Truman went to the United Nations for sanction. Under U.S. guidance, the UN called for the invasion to halt (June 25), then for the UN
member states to provide military assistance to the ROK (June 27). By charter the Security Council considered and passed the resolutions, which
could have been vetoed by a permanent member such as the Soviet Union. The Soviets, however, were boycotting the Council over the issue of
admitting communist China to the UN. Congressional and public opinion in the United States, meanwhile, supported military intervention
without significant dissent.

Having demonstrated its political will, the Truman administration faced the unhappy truth that it did not have much effective military power to
meet the invasion. MacArthur secured the commitment of three divisions from Japan, but U.S. ground forces only expanded the scope of defeat.
For almost eight weeks, near Osan, along the Kum River, through Taejŏn, and south to Taegu, U.S. soldiers fought and died—and some fled.
Weakened by inadequate weapons, limited numbers, and uncertain leadership, U.S. troops were frequently beset by streams of refugees fleeing
south, which increased the threat of guerrilla infiltration. These conditions produced unfortunate attacks on Korean civilians, such as the firing
on hundreds of refugees at a railroad viaduct near the hamlet of Nogun-ri, west of the Naktong River, during the last week in July.

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It was not until the first weeks of August that the United Nations Command, or UNC, as MacArthur’s theatre forces had been redesignated,
started to slow the North Koreans. The Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, one of the best corps commanders
in Europe in 1944–45, and the ROKA, led by Major General Chung Il-kwon, rallied and fought back with more success. Supplies came through
the port at Pusan, where the Eighth Army’s logistics system depended on Korean and Japanese technicians and on thousands of Korean
labourers. To stop the North Koreans’ tanks and supporting artillery and infantry, Walker brought in Sherman and Pershing medium tanks,
rocket launchers, artillery pieces, antiaircraft guns, and, most important of all, close-air-support aircraft. The Fifth Air Force attacked forward
units of the KPA with World War II-era P-51 Mustangs, new jet-powered F-80s and F-84s, and even B-26 and B-29 bombers. U.S. Marine
Corps squadrons, embarked on navy light carriers, were capable of flying anywhere along the front in quick response to requests from ground
forces, and on the east coast the U.S. Navy’s cruisers and destroyers became a seagoing heavy artillery for the ROK I Corps. Meanwhile, fresh
U.S. Army and Marine Corps units began to arrive, supplemented by a British Commonwealth brigade. In the same period, the ROKA, which
had shrunk to half its prewar strength through deaths, surrenders, a few defections, and substantial desertions, began to bring its ranks back up
with reservists, student volunteers, and men impressed from cities’ streets as the South Koreans fell back.
Concerned that the shift of combat power toward the UNC would continue into September, the field commander of the KPA, General Kim
Chaek, ordered an advance against the Naktong River–Taegu–Yŏngdŏk line, soon to become famous as the “Pusan Perimeter.” (See the map.)
The major effort was a double envelopment of Taegu, supplemented by drives toward Masan and P’ohang, the southwestern and northeastern
coastal anchors of the perimeter. None reached significant objectives. At the Battle of Tabu-dong (August 18–26), the ROK 1st Division and the
U.S. 27th Regimental Combat Team defeated the North Koreans’ main armoured thrust toward Taegu. By September 12 the KPA, its two corps
reduced to 60,000 men and its tank forces destroyed, had been driven back in most places west of the Naktong and well away from Taegu and
P’ohang. At that moment the entire strategic balance of the war was shifted by the sudden appearance of the X Corps at Inch’ŏn.

North to the Yalu

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MacArthur did not believe that he could win the war without an amphibious landing deep behind enemy lines, and he had started to think about a
landing as early as July. For the core of his landing force, he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff selected the 1st Marine Division and the Eighth
Army’s remaining infantry division, the 7th. As the force developed, it also included South Korean marine and infantry units and an assortment
of U.S. support troops. The entire force was designated X Corps and was commanded by Major General Edward M. Almond, MacArthur’s chief
of staff.

U.S. troops preparing for the assault on Inch’ŏn during the Korean War, September 1950.

Bert Harey—© Hulton Deutsch/PNI

For the landing site, MacArthur himself fixed on Inch’ŏn, the port outlet of Seoul on Korea’s west coast. A host of problems defied a landing
there: wide tidal variance, mines, a crazy quilt of islands and shoal waters, and dangerous proximity to KPA reinforcements from Seoul.
MacArthur brushed off all these concerns. After a naval gun and aerial bombardment on September 14, marines the next day assaulted a key
harbour defense site, Wŏlmi Island, and then in the late afternoon took Inch’ŏn itself. The North Korean resistance was stubborn but spread thin,
and the 1st Marine Division, accompanied by ROK and U.S. army units, entered Seoul on September 25. The bulk of the 7th Division advanced
to Suwŏn, where it contacted the Eighth Army on the 26th (see the map). MacArthur and Syngman Rhee marched into the damaged capitol
building and declared South Korea liberated.

As an organized field force, the KPA disintegrated, having lost 13,000 as prisoners and 50,000 as casualties in August and September.
Nevertheless, about 25,000 of its best troops took to the mountains and marched home as cohesive units; another 10,000 remained in South
Korea as partisans. As the communists headed north, they took thousands of South Koreans with them as hostages and slave labourers and left
additional thousands executed in their wake—most infamously at Taejŏn, where 5,000 civilians were massacred. The ROK army and national
police, for their part, showed little sympathy to any southern communists they found or suspected, and U.S. aircraft attacked people and places
with little restraint. As a result, the last two weeks of September saw atrocities rivaling those seen in Europe during the fratricidal Thirty Years’
War of the 17th century.
Even before the Inch’ŏn landing, MacArthur had thought ahead to a campaign into North Korea, though his plans never went beyond
establishing a line across the so-called waist of Korea, from P’yŏngyang in the west to Wŏnsan in the east. On September 27 the Joint Chiefs
gave him final authority to conduct operations north of the 38th parallel; however, he was instructed to limit operations in the event of Russian
or Chinese intervention. For the UNC the war aim was expanded. As announced by the UN General Assembly on October 7, it was to include
the occupation of all of North Korea and the elimination of the KPA as a threat to the political reconstruction of Korea as one nation. To that
end, ROKA units crossed the parallel on October 1, and U.S. Army units crossed on October 7. The ROK I Corps marched rapidly up the east
coast highway, winning the race for Wŏnsan; P’yŏngyang fell to the U.S. I Corps on October 19. The Kim Il-sung government, with the
remnants of nine KPA divisions, fell back to the mountain town of Kanggye. Two other divisions, accompanied by Soviet advisers and air
defense forces, struggled northwest toward the Yalu River and the Chinese border at Sinŭiju. The UNC assumed that the KPA had lost its will to
fight. In reality, it was awaiting rescue.

Back to the 38th parallel

As UNC troops crossed the 38th parallel, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong received a plea for direct military aid from Kim Il-
sung. The chairman was willing to intervene, but he needed assurances of Soviet air power. Stalin promised to extend China’s air defenses
(manned by Soviets) to a corridor above the Yalu, thus protecting air bases in Manchuria and hydroelectric plants on the river, and he also
promised new Soviet weapons and armaments factories. After much debate, Mao ordered the Renmin Zhiyuanjun, or Chinese People’s
Volunteers Force (CPVF), to cross into Korea. It was commanded by General Peng Dehuai, a veteran of 20 years of war against the Chinese
Nationalists and the Japanese.

The Chinese First Offensive (October 25–November 6, 1950) had the limited objective of testing U.S.-ROK fighting qualities and slowing their
advance. In the battle of Onjŏng-Unsan along the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn River, the Chinese ruined seven Korean and U.S. regiments—including the only
Korean regiment to reach the Yalu, cut off in the vastness of the cold northern hills near Ch’osan. The Chinese suffered 10,000 casualties, but
they were convinced that they had found a formula for fighting UNC forces: attack at night, cut off routes of supply and withdrawal, ambush
counterattacking forces, and exploit all forms of concealment and cover. Stunned by the suddenness of the Chinese onslaught and almost 8,000
casualties (6,000 of them Koreans), the Eighth Army fell back to the south bank of the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn and tightened its overextended lines. With a
harsh winter beginning and supplies in shortage, the pause was wise.

Another matter of concern to the UNC was the appearance of MiG-15 jet fighters above North Korea. Flown by Soviet pilots masquerading as
Chinese and Koreans, the MiGs, in one week’s action (November 1–7), stopped most of the daytime raids on North Korea. The U.S. Air Force
immediately dispatched a crack wing of F-86 Sabre jet interceptors to Japan, and thus a two-and-a-half year battle for air superiority was joined.
Over the course of the war, the F-86s succeeded in allowing the Far East Air Forces (FEAF) to conduct offensive air operations anywhere in
North Korea, and they also protected the Eighth Army from communist air attack. However, they were never able to provide perfect protection
for B-29s flying daylight raids into “MiG Alley,” a corridor in northwestern Korea where MiGs based near An-tung, Manchuria (now Dandong,
China), fiercely defended bridges and dams on the Yalu River. (See the map.)
The FEAF also turned its fury on all standing structures that might shield the Chinese from the cold; cities and towns all over North Korea went
up in flames. But the air assault did not halt the buildup for the Chinese Second Offensive. This time Peng’s instructions to his army
commanders stressed the necessity to lure the Americans and “puppet troops” out of their defensive positions between the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn and
P’yŏngyang, giving the impression of weakness and confusion, while Peng would surround their forward elements with his much-enlarged force
of 420,000 Chinese and North Korean regulars. MacArthur, in what may have been his only real military mistake of the war, ordered the Eighth
Army and X Corps northward into the trap on November 24, and from November 25 to December 14 the Chinese battered them back to South
Korea. Falling upon the U.S. IX Corps and the ROK II Corps from the east, Peng’s Thirteenth Army Group opened up a gap to the west and
almost cut off the I Corps north of the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn. The I Corps managed to fight its way through Chinese ambushes back to P’yŏngyang. In
the eastern sector the Chinese Ninth Army Group sent two armies against the 1st Marine Division near the Changjin Reservoir (known to the
Americans by its Japanese name, Chosin). Under the worst possible weather conditions, the marines turned and fought their way south,
destroying seven Chinese divisions before reaching sanctuary at the port of Hŭngnam on December 11.

At the height of the crisis, MacArthur conferred with Walker and Almond, and they agreed that their forces would try to establish enclaves in
North Korea, thus preserving the option of holding the P’yŏngyang-Wŏnsan line. In reality, Walker had finally reached the limits of his disgust
with MacArthur’s meddling and posturing, and he started his men south. By December 6 the Eighth Army had destroyed everything it could not
carry and had taken the road for Seoul. Walker’s initiative may have saved his army, but it also meant that much of the rest of the war would be
fought as a UNC effort to recapture ground surrendered with little effort in December 1950. Walker himself died in a traffic accident just north
of Seoul on December 23 and was succeeded by Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway.

Heartened by the ease with which the CPVF had driven the UNC out of North Korea, Mao Zedong expanded his war aims to demand that the
Chinese army unify all of Korea and drive the Americans and puppets off the peninsula. His enthusiasm increased when the Chinese Third
Offensive (December 31, 1950–January 5, 1951) retook Seoul. The Chinese attacks centred on ROKA divisions, which were showing signs of
defeatism and ineptness. Ridgway, therefore, had to rely in the short term upon his U.S. divisions, many of which had now gained units from
other UN participants. In addition to two British Commonwealth brigades, there were units from Turkey, France, Belgium, The Netherlands,
Greece, Colombia, Thailand, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. Pulling his multinational force together, Ridgway pushed back to the Han River
valley in January 1951.

“Korea: U.N. Forces Cross Han,” Pathé News newsreel of United Nations forces …

Stock footage courtesy The WPA Film Library

The Chinese, now reinforced by a reborn North Korean army, launched their Fourth Offensive on February 11, 1951. Again the initial attacks
struck ill-prepared South Korean divisions, and again the UNC gave ground. Again the Eighth Army fought back methodically, crossing the 38th
parallel after two months. At that point Peng began the Fifth Offensive (First Phase) with 11 Chinese armies and two North Korean corps. The
attacks came at an awkward moment for the Eighth Army. On April 11 Truman, having reached the opinion that MacArthur’s independence
amounted to insubordination, had relieved the general of all his commands and recalled him to the United States. The change elevated Ridgway
to commander in chief, FECOM and UNC, and brought Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet to command the Eighth Army. Like Ridgway,
Van Fleet had earned wide respect as a division and corps commander against the Germans in 1944–45.

Before Van Fleet could re-form the ROK Army and redeploy his own divisions, the Chinese struck. At a low point in Korean military history,
the battered ROKA II Corps gave way, and U.S. divisions peeled back to protect their flanks and rear until Van Fleet could commit five more
U.S. and Korean divisions and a British brigade to halt the Chinese armies on April 28. Mao refused to accept Peng’s report that the CPVF could
no longer hold the initiative, and he ordered the Second Phase of the offensive, which began on May 16 and lasted another bloody week. Once
again allied air power and heavy artillery stiffened the resistance, and once again the UNC crossed the 38th parallel in pursuit of a battered (but
not beaten) Chinese expeditionary force.

To the negotiating table

By June 1951 the Korean War had reached another critical point. The Chinese–North Korean armies, despite having suffered some 500,000
casualties since November, had grown to 1,200,000 soldiers. United Nations Command had taken its share of casualties—more than 100,000
since the Chinese intervention—but by May 1951 U.S. ground troops numbered 256,000, the ROKA 500,000, and other allied contingents
28,000. The U.S. FEAF had grown from fewer than 700 aircraft in July 1950 to more than 1,400 in February 1951.

War-weary civilians passing a stalled M26 Pershing tank during the Korean War, June 1951.

Maj. R. V. Spencer/U.S. Department of Defense

These developments obliged the leaders of both coalitions to consider that peace could not be imposed by either side through military victory—
at least at acceptable cost. Truman and the UN, in particular, had lost their ardour for anything more than a return to status quo ante bellum and
were sympathetic to the idea of a negotiated settlement. On May 17, 1951, the U.S. National Security Council adopted a new policy that
committed the United States to support a unified, democratic Korea, but not necessarily one unified by military action and the overthrow of Kim

UN convoy at the “United Nations House” in Kaesŏng, Korea, during early Korean …

U.S. Department of Defense

The communist road to a negotiated peace started in Beijing, where Mao, who had no desire to end the war, approved an approach suggested by
Peng and others: hold the ground in Korea and conduct a campaign of attrition, attempting to win limited victories against small allied units
through violent night attacks and infantry infiltration. Protection from UNC aircraft and artillery would be provided by caves and bunkers dug
into the Korean mountains. Meanwhile, negotiations would be managed by the Chinese, an unparalleled chance to appear an equal of the United
States in Asia and a slap at the hated Japanese. The Koreans were not a factor for either side.

After secret meetings between U.S. and Soviet diplomats, the Soviet Union announced that it would not block a negotiated settlement to the
Korean War. The Truman administration had already alerted Ridgway to the prospect of truce talks, and on June 30 he issued a public statement
that he had been authorized to participate in “a meeting to discuss an armistice providing for the cessation of hostilities.” On July 2 the Chinese
and North Koreans issued a joint statement that they would discuss arrangements for a meeting, but only at their place of choice: the city of
Kaesŏng, an ancient Korean capital, once part of the ROK but now occupied by the communists at the very edge of the front lines. The Chinese
had just fired the first salvo of a new war, one in which talking and fighting for advantage might someday end the conflict.


Korean war causes Oxford university

Summary and Keywords

On June 25, 1950, North Korea’s invasion of South Korea ignited a conventional war that had origins dating from at least the end of World War II. In April
1945, President Harry S. Truman abandoned a trusteeship plan for postwar Korea in favor of seeking unilateral U.S. occupation of the peninsula after an
atomic attack forced Japan’s prompt surrender. Soviet entry into the Pacific war led to a last minute agreement dividing Korea at the 38th parallel into
zones of occupation. Two Koreas emerged after Soviet-American negotiations failed to agree on a plan to end the division. Kim Il Sung in the north and
Syngman Rhee in the south both were determined to reunite Korea, instigating major military clashes at the parallel in the summer of 1949. Moscow and
Washington opposed their clients’ invasion plans until April 1950 when Kim persuaded Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin that with mass support in South Korea,
he would achieve a quick victory.

At first, Truman hoped that South Korea could defend itself with more military equipment and U.S. air support. Commitment of U.S. ground forces came
after General Douglas MacArthur, U.S. occupation commander in Japan, visited the front and advised that the South Koreans could not halt the advance.
Overconfident U.S. soldiers would sustain defeat as well, retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, a rectangular area in the southeast corner of the peninsula. On
September 15, MacArthur staged a risky amphibious landing at Inchon behind enemy lines that sent Communist forces fleeing back into North Korea. The
People’s Republic of China viewed the U.S. offensive for reunification that followed as a threat to its security and prestige. In late November, Chinese
“volunteers” attacked in mass. After a chaotic retreat, U.S. forces counterattacked in February 1951 and moved the line of battle just north of the parallel.
After two Chinese offensives failed, negotiations to end the war began in July 1951, but stalemated in May 1952 over the issue of repatriation of prisoners
of war. Peace came because of Stalin’s death in March 1953, rather than President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s veiled threat to stage nuclear strikes against

Scholars have disagreed about many issues surrounding the Korean War, but the most important debate continues to center on whether the conflict had
international or domestic origins. Initially, historians relied mainly on U.S. government publications to write accounts that ignored events prior to North
Korea’s attack, endorsing an orthodox interpretation assigning blame to the Soviet Union and applauding the U.S. response. Declassification of U.S.
government documents and presidential papers during the 1970s led to the publication of studies assigning considerable responsibility to the United States
for helping to create a kind of war in Korea before June 1950. Moreover, left revisionist writers labeled the conflict a classic civil war. Release of Chinese and
Soviet sources after 1989 established that Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong approved the North Korean invasion, prompting right revisionist scholars
to reassert key orthodox arguments. This essay describes how and why recent access to Communist documents has not settled the disagreements among
historians about the causes, course, and consequences of the Korean War.

Keywords: 38th parallel, border clashes, North Korea’s attack, Pusan Perimeter, Inchon Landing, Chinese intervention, truce talks, prisoner repatriation, left
revisionism, right revisionism

Popular wisdom dates the start of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, when a North Korean Communist army invaded South Korea. Another assumption
holds that the Soviet Union ordered the attack as part of its plan to use military means to achieve global conquest. President Harry S. Truman provided
support for this perception just two days after the hostilities began. On June 27, he told the American people that North Korea’s attack on South Korea
demonstrated that world “communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and
war.”1 This assessment reflected Truman’s conviction that North Korea, like the nations of Eastern Europe, was a puppet of the Soviet Union and its leader
Kim Il Sung was acting on instructions from Moscow. Top administration officials, as well as the general public, fully shared these assumptions.2 Prior to the
1970s, few histories of the war challenged this traditional explanation, providing only brief, if any, coverage of events in Korea before the day of North
Korea’s attack. Once scholars began to gain access to primary sources, however, they reached a firm consensus that the origins of the Korean War date
from at least the end of World War II. Moreover, the new evidence revealed that developments inside Korea were as important as international factors in
determining the causes, course, and consequences of the conflict.

Origins of the Korean War

Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910 created the circumstances that led ultimately to the Korean conflict. As a result of Japan’s conquest, Korea’s liberation
necessarily became an objective of the Allies in World War II. Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States had no vital interests in this remote
East Asian country and was largely indifferent to its fate, although it had been the first Western nation to sign a treaty with Korea in 1882. After December
7, 1941, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recognizing the importance of this strategic peninsula for the preservation of future peace in the Pacific,
advocated a postwar trusteeship to achieve Korea’s independence. At the end of the Cairo Conference in December 1943, Roosevelt, British Prime Minister
Winston Churchill, and China’s Jiang Jieshi announced that the Allies, “mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due
course Korea shall become free and independent.”3 Some writers have faulted Washington for not supporting Korean exiles in China and recognizing their
Korean Provisional Government (KPG), but others argue that the United States was realistic in promoting a multinational trusteeship to manage Korea’s
postwar transition to independence.4

Korea would not regain its sovereignty after World War II. For years after the Korean War began, the standard narrative was that at the Yalta Conference
early in 1945, Roosevelt struck a deal with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to divide Korea.5 In fact, at that meeting, the president gained Stalin’s endorsement
for his four-power trusteeship plan to avert a revival of past Sino-Russian competition for control over the peninsula. The emerging Soviet-American rivalry,
however, would produce a different and unfortunate outcome. When Harry S. Truman became president after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, he expected
Soviet actions in Korea to mirror Stalin’s expansionist policies in Eastern Europe. Almost immediately, he began to search for an alternative to trusteeship
that would remove any chance for a repetition of “sovietization.” The atomic bomb seemed to offer a solution. Japan’s prompt surrender after an atomic
attack would preempt Soviet entry into the Pacific war and allow the United States to occupy Korea unilaterally. But Truman’s gamble failed. When the
Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8 and sent the Red Army into Korea before U.S. leaders expected Moscow to do so, Truman proposed and
Stalin accepted Korea’s division into Soviet and American zones of military occupation at the 38th parallel.6

U.S. military occupation of southern Korea began on September 8, 1945. Historians continue to debate whether the U.S. Army deserves either direct or
indirect responsibility for the violent clashes that disrupted the U.S. zone for five years after the end of World War II. Without much preparation, the War
Department had redeployed the XXIV Corps under the command of Lieutenant General John R. Hodge from Okinawa to Korea to accept the surrender of
Japanese forces. While the hasty U.S. occupation was a tactical military success, the U.S. government’s failure to provide Hodge with a specific plan for
reunification and civil administration contributed to creating conditions resulting in the emergence of a Korean civil war. Comprised of approximately forty-
five thousand soldiers who were ignorant about Korea’s history or culture, the U.S. occupation force was unable to maintain order because Koreans wanted
independence, rather than occupation. But the onset of the Cold War in Europe, historians agree, raised the odds against realizing the U.S. objective of
creating the foundation for postwar prosperity and democracy in a united Korea.
Studies of the American occupation of southern Korea from 1945 to 1948 have advanced very different assessments of the performance of the U.S. military.
Hodge’s defenders blame his failures on U.S. officials in Washington, who waited until nine months after arrival before providing him with detailed
instructions to govern his operations. Moreover, despite very limited resources, the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) was successful in
its efforts to relieve human suffering, revive the economy, and introduce an administrative infrastructure. In addition, the USAMGIK promoted land reform,
while American military advisors built a constabulary force after 1946 that became the nucleus for a future national army.7 Some scholars, however, fault
the USAMGIK for not acting promptly to bring the KPG back from exile in China and placing it in power in the south alone. The United States then could
have avoided the ill-advised decision to resurrect a trusteeship that ignited internal warfare among the people of southern Korea.8

Serious mistakes, however, would have a greater impact than the USAMGIK’s positive accomplishments. For example, the U.S. military established in
southern Korea an authoritarian government that imitated the Japanese colonial model. American occupation officials also relied for advice on rich
landlords and businessmen who could speak English, leading to appointment of them to top positions in an interim government. Many of these individuals
had collaborated with the Japanese and were insensitive to the demands of Korean peasants and workers for economic and social reforms.9 Ultimate
responsibility for the failures of the occupation rests with Hodge as a consequence of his administrative inexperience, instinctive anti-communism, and
fixation with maintaining security. Sharing his fears, U.S. military advisors recruited rightwing extremists who had served in the Japanese army as officers in
the Korean constabulary army. Determination to build an anti-Communist bulwark in South Korea explained the USAMGIK’s toleration of rightist
paramilitary groups waging a reign of terror against leftist politicians and alleged supporters.10

Meanwhile, Soviet military forces in northern Korea, after initial acts of rape, looting, and petty crime, acted purposefully to build popular support. U.S.
government publications for two decades after World War II emphasized that the Soviet Union had entered Korea with a pre-conceived plan to create in
northern Korea a Stalinist state modeled after those it was installing in Eastern Europe. Adding to this orthodox interpretation, initial historical accounts
would define Stalin’s postwar goals in Korea as first to realize an historic Russian objective of acquiring warm-water ports and second to create a buffer
zone against an expected revival of Japanese aggression.11 Subsequent release of Soviet documents showed, however, that Stalin had not developed plans
for postwar Korea because he did not expect to occupy the country.12 Upon arrival, Soviet occupation officials, in contrast to their American counterparts,
recognized the authority of local people’s committees that the Koreans had formed after Japan’s surrender. But they also put selected leaders in places of
national authority, notably wartime guerrilla leader Kim Il Sung.

During the fall of 1945, Soviet occupation officials rejected U.S. requests for cooperation and coordination across the 38th parallel. Deterioration of Soviet-
American relations in Europe reinforced Moscow’s determination to consolidate Communist control in northern Korea. Hoping to prevent Korea’s
permanent division, the United States persuaded the Soviet Union to accept a revived trusteeship formula at the Moscow Conference in December 1945.
Bilateral negotiations in the spring of 1946 in Korea’s capital at Seoul failed to reach an agreement on a representative group of Koreans to form a
provisional government, primarily because Moscow refused to allow and Washington insisted upon consultation with anti-Soviet politicians who opposed
trusteeship. Talks adjourned in early May with neither side willing to acquiesce in an agreement that might strengthen its adversary in Korea. By then,
Soviet occupation officials, partnering with Korean Communists, implemented comprehensive political, social, and economic changes. The reform program
included expropriation of land that belonged to Japanese collaborators, large landlords, and the church. In addition to nationalization of all industry,
transportation, communications, and banking, it also mandated an eight-hour workday and declared sexual equality.

Two Koreas in Conflict

Reform measures in northern Korea had a dramatic negative impact on southern Korea, as members of the propertied classes fled southward and added to
escalating distress in the U.S. zone. Unable to halt political and economic deterioration, U.S. occupation officials strongly urged Washington to order
prompt withdrawal. Intensifying pressure on the United States to leave was a steady decline in defense spending as part of postwar demobilization. In
September 1947, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) added weight to the argument for withdrawal when, in response to a State Department request, they
advised that Korea had little strategic significance for the United States. But with Communist power growing in China, the Truman administration was
reluctant to desert southern Korea, fearful of political criticism at home and damage to U.S. credibility abroad. Seeking an answer to its dilemma, the United
States decided to refer the Korean dispute to the United Nations in September 1947, which resulted in passage of a resolution on November 14 calling for
reunification of Korea after internationally supervised nationwide elections.

Predictably, the Soviet Union refused to cooperate with this plan, denying UN access to northern Korea. The Truman administration anticipated this action,
having shifted its policy after Soviet-American negotiations to reunite Korea collapsed in August 1947 to pursuing formation of a separate government in
southern Korea ultimately capable of defending itself. While the United States provided military and economic assistance, a stamp of legitimacy from the
United Nations would enhance further South Korea’s prospects for survival. Bowing to intense American pressure, the United Nations supervised and
certified as valid elections in the south alone during May 1948, resulting in formation of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in August. The Soviet Union followed
suit, sponsoring creation in September of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). And so the postwar great powers created two Koreas. In the
south, President Syngman Rhee built a repressive, dictatorial, and anti-Communist regime, while Kim Il Sung emulated the Stalinist model for political,
economic, and social development in the north.
These events amplified the need for prompt U.S. withdrawal, as did a UN request for both occupiers to leave Korea. Stalin raised the ante when he
announced that Soviet troops, fulfilling a DPRK request, would leave the north by the end of 1948. The Truman administration already had taken steps to
provide the ROK with the ability to defend itself against anything less than a full-scale invasion. U.S. military advisors had supervised the formation and
training of a National Police Force in South Korea. Also, a U.S. Army advisory team had trained and equipped an army cadre of twenty-five thousand men.
Despite these internal security forces and the continuing presence of U.S. troops, Rhee’s new government faced violent opposition within weeks after its
creation, climaxing in October 1948 with the Yosu-Sunchon Rebellion. U.S. military advisors played a central role in helping purge leftists from South Korea’s
military. The Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), comprised of about five hundred U.S. officers and enlisted men, then supervised a dramatic
improvement in the ROK Army before and after the departure of U.S. forces. Postponing plans to leave South Korea at the end of 1948, U.S. military
withdrawal did not occur until June 29, 1949.

KMAG training of the ROK Army succeeded in building confidence among South Korean officers, who unfortunately began to stage aggressive assaults
northward across the 38th parallel during the summer of 1949. These attacks ignited a number of clashes with North Korean forces that often saw fighting
between battalion-sized units. Warfare between the Koreas therefore was already underway before June 1950 when North Korea’s invasion started the
conventional phase of the conflict. Fearful that Rhee might initiate an offensive to achieve reunification, the Truman administration denied ROK requests
for tanks, heavy artillery, and warplanes. Many writers have claimed that the U.S. failure to build a stronger South Korean military force invited an attack
from North Korea.13 Others counter that limited resources required Washington to implement a policy of qualified containment in Korea. Rather than
shirking its responsibilities in South Korea, the Truman administration had undertaken a commitment to train, equip, and supply a security force strong
enough to maintain internal order and deter an attack from the north. It also submitted to Congress a three-year program of economic aid for recovery and
self-sufficient growth.14

On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson attempted to generate support in Congress for the Korean assistance package during an address
before the National Press Club where he offered an optimistic assessment of the ROK’s future. Six months later, critics charged that his exclusion of South
Korea from the U.S. “defensive perimeter” in the Pacific gave a “green light” to the Communists to launch an invasion. Defenders of the Truman
administration at that time stressed as more important initial congressional rejection of the Korean aid bill as a more influential motivator, while other
observers noted Democratic Senator Tom Connally’s publicized comment in May that the demise of the ROK was certain. Nevertheless, many historians
persist in highlighting Acheson’s Press Club speech as a key trigger for the Korean War, while countless South Koreans accept this explanation as an article
of faith. Soviet documents have confirmed, however, that Acheson’s words had almost no impact on Communist planning for the invasion.15
Stalin in fact was worried throughout 1949 about South Korea’s threat to North Korea’s survival. Consequently, he consistently refused to approve Kim Il
Sung’s persistent requests to authorize an attack on the ROK. Developments in South Korea during the first six months of 1950 provided additional
justification for the Soviet leader to be concerned, as the U.S. policy of containment in Korea through economic means appeared to be experiencing marked
success. The ROK had acted vigorously to halt spiraling inflation and genuinely free elections in May gave control over the legislature to Rhee’s opponents.
Just as important, the ROK Army virtually had eliminated guerrilla operations disrupting domestic order, causing the Truman administration to consider a
significant increase in military aid. While Washington was willing to wait for Moscow’s artificial client state in the north to collapse, Rhee publicly stated his
intention to pursue military reunification. Given its rising strength, the ROK posed a real threat to the DPRK’s survival.

By early 1950, Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War the prior fall placed pressure on Stalin to support a similar outcome in Korea. Late in January, he
discussed with Kim Il Sung in Moscow plans for an invasion, but the Soviet dictator still withheld final consent. However, he did approve a major expansion
of the DPRK’s military capabilities. At another Moscow meeting in late April, Kim Il Sung persuaded Stalin, who feared U.S. intervention, that a military
victory would be quick and easy because of southern guerilla support and an anticipated popular uprising against Rhee’s regime. The Soviet leader
authorized the attack, but on the condition that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) also agreed. In May, Kim Il Sung went to Beijing and obtained Chinese
leader Mao Zedong’s reluctant approval, who had no choice but to support Stalin’s decision and Communist “liberation” of Korea. Like Stalin, he expected
the United States would act to defend South Korea, threatening his aspirations to establish Chinese regional hegemony. Then, on the eve of the attack, fear
that the war might not be won fast enough to avert U.S. entry led Stalin to modify the invasion plan that provided for a limited strike to provoke a
counterattack before a full-scale invasion. On June 21, word that the ROK had learned of the impending attack caused Stalin to approve Kim’s proposal to
launch the massive, tank-led assault that would cause U.S. and West European leaders to equate it with Nazi Germany’s attacks igniting World War II.

Koreans Invade Korea

Truman and Acheson gave no thought to the domestic origins of North Korea’s decision to invade South Korea. Cold War assumptions governed the
immediate reaction of the president and his advisors, as they instantly concluded that Stalin had ordered the invasion as the first step in his new plan for
military conquest of the world. “Communism,” Truman explained later in his memoirs, “was acting in Korea just as [Adolf] Hitler, [Benito] Mussolini, and the
Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier.”16 Acting on the history lesson learned in the 1930s, Truman concluded that inaction would
constitute appeasement and only encourage more Soviet-inspired aggression. Early accounts of the war would heap praise on the president for acting with
swiftness and courage to halt the Communist invasion, but he in fact delayed for a week before committing U.S. ground forces after U.S. aerial attacks on
invading army proved ineffectual. Instead, Truman referred the matter to the UN Security Council. At a meeting with his top advisors on June 25, 1950, to
consider the Korean crisis, he approved air support for evacuation of Americans from Korea, sending a survey team, and shipment of more military supplies
to the ROK Army, which he hoped could repel the North Koreans on its own.

On June 25, the UN Security Council passed its first resolution, calling upon North Korea to halt its invasion, accept a ceasefire, and withdraw from South
Korea, but the Korean People’s Army (KPA) continued its advance. Two days later, a second resolution requested that member nations provide support for
the ROK’s defense. On June 29, Truman, still optimistic that he could avoid full military intervention, agreed during a press conference with a newsman’s
description of the conflict as a “police action.” His actions were consistent with the policy in place of seeking to block Communist expansion in Asia without
using U.S. military power, thereby avoiding enlarged defense expenditures. General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. occupation commander in Japan, provided
support for the president in his desire to stay the course when, after a visit to the Korean battlefield on June 29, he reported that the ROK Army had
regrouped and was fighting effectively. But early the next day, Truman reluctantly approved deployment of U.S. ground troops to Korea after MacArthur
advised in a new report that not doing so guaranteed Communist destruction of the ROK.

On July 7, 1950, the UN Security Council passed a resolution providing for creation of the United Nations Command (UNC) and authorizing Truman to
appoint the UNC’s commander, who immediately selected MacArthur. The resolution required the UNC commander to submit periodic reports to the
United Nations on developments in the war. Truman had vetoed a proposal for the formation of a UN committee that could contact the UNC commander
directly, instead adopting a procedure whereby U.S. Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins would convey instructions to MacArthur and receive
reports from him on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Since MacArthur’s reports to the United Nations required U.S. government approval, they in
practice were after-action summaries of information that was common knowledge because newspapers already had printed coverage of the same
developments. Although the UNC would consist of military units from fifteen other nations, the United States and the ROK contributed 90 percent of the
manpower. Moreover, the United States provided the weapons, equipment, and logistical support to save South Korea.

On June 27, the KPA occupied Seoul, located thirty miles below the 38th parallel. On July 5, the KPA routed U.S. forces in their first military engagement,
initiating a string of humiliating defeats. By July 20, the North Korean invaders had shattered five U.S. battalions and moved one hundred miles south of
Seoul. Six days later, MacArthur went to Korea to deliver an ultimatum to Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, that
further retreat was unacceptable. In response, Walker issued a “stand or die” order to his troops, but the KPA’s advance continued. As the United States
delivered more troops, equipment, arms, and supplies, U.S. forces established defensive positions along the Pusan Perimeter, a rectangular area in the
southeast corner of the peninsula. By then, Walker was the target of blame for battlefield defeats. Later historians instead would fault MacArthur for
sending into battle untrained and poorly armed troops who suffered from low morale and had no sense of purpose. Furthermore, they criticized him for
running the war by “remote control” from Tokyo and not relieving ineffective officers.17
Despite the UNC’s seemingly desperate situation in July, MacArthur devised plans during that month for a counteroffensive in coordination with an
amphibious landing behind enemy lines. The JCS had serious reservations about his intention to land at the coastal port of Inchon, twenty miles west of
Seoul, because of its narrow access, high tides, mudflats, and seawalls. MacArthur insisted that surprise alone guaranteed success. Justifying his optimism,
the Inchon Landing on September 15 was a stunning triumph that reversed the course of the Korean War. It allowed Walker’s forces to break out of the
Pusan Perimeter and advance north to join with the X Corps, liberating Seoul two weeks later and forcing a routed KPA to retreat above the parallel.
Orthodox writers would credit MacArthur’s brilliance for the success at Inchon. Since the landing—labeled “Operation Common Knowledge” in press
reports at the time—was no secret, they insist that this military victory was the direct result of the superior planning, leadership, courage, determination,
and luck of MacArthur.18 More recently, scholars have dismissed as exaggerated claims that the operation was risky, while maintaining that MacArthur
crushed an already beaten enemy.19

During the last week of September 1950, UNC forces were in position to advance across the 38th parallel. Historians concur that the subsequent UNC
offensive into North Korea was an extraordinary blunder because it provoked Chinese intervention. Truman administration officials later tried to shift blame
to MacArthur for the disastrous consequences of invading North Korea, which transformed a three-month war into one lasting three years. Early writers
would attribute the U.S. decision to cross the parallel to “military momentum” and “a surge of optimism” after the exhilarating Inchon Landing.20 Scholars
now blame Truman. Some identify a political motivation, arguing that the president was hoping to boost his party’s prospects in the November elections.21
For others, the motive was to score a geopolitical victory in the Cold War.22 One more reason was maintaining U.S. credibility, which required pursuit of
Korea’s reunification.23 Finally, Truman’s decision may have been the result of his belief that eliminating the DPRK would allow a united Korea to choose
freely to follow the U.S. model of economic, social, and political development.24

To be sure, MacArthur was determined to “compose and unite” Korea. However, several State Department officials had begun to lobby during July for
forcible reunification once the UNC had pushed Communist forces back into North Korea. They advocated pursuit and destruction of the North Korean
army, which then would allow the United Nations to sponsor free elections for a government to rule a united Korea. On July 17, Truman instructed his staff
to consider what to do when UNC forces reached the border at the 38th parallel. Acheson, who initially had defined the U.S. goal as restoring the prewar
status quo, soon endorsed an offensive into North Korea. U.S. military leaders, however, were hesitant to support this drastic change in war aims, worrying
that it would trigger Soviet intervention. But after defensive lines in Korea stabilized, the JCS advised Truman on July 31 that occupying North Korea would
be desirable. During early August, Truman authorized the development of plans to achieve forcible reunification. On August 17, Warren R. Austin, in a
speech at the United Nations where he was U.S. ambassador, asked this question: “Shall only a part of this country be assured that freedom?” His answer
was “I think not!”25
An Entirely New War

U.S. leaders realized that extending hostilities northward risked Soviet or Chinese entry and possibly a global war. Therefore, the U.S. plan for elimination of
the DPRK, which Truman approved on September 1, 1950, included two significant precautions. First, only Korean forces would occupy the most northern
provinces. Second, Washington would obtain explicit UN support for reunification. Perhaps unwittingly, General George C. Marshall, newly appointed
secretary of defense, proceeded to undermine the Truman administration’s emphasis on a cautious approach. On September 27, he sent an ill-advised
cable to MacArthur affirming his orders to invade North Korea. Marshall then elaborated that his superiors “want you to feel unhampered strategically and
tactically to proceed north of the 38th parallel.” He advised MacArthur against advance announcements that might precipitate a premature vote in the
United Nations. After the DPRK refused to surrender, the United Nations passed a resolution of October 7, providing specific authorization for MacArthur to
“ensure conditions of stability throughout Korea.”26

China considered U.S. actions in Korea a serious threat to its national security. Worse, on June 27, Truman moved the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait,
preventing the PRC from destroying its Guomindang rival on Taiwan. MacArthur visited the island in late July and stated plans to strengthen the military
capabilities of Jiang Jieshi’s regime. Much to Truman’s chagrin, the militant anti-Communist general then sent a message to the Veterans of Foreign Wars,
which seemed to threaten China. Nevertheless, Beijing attempted to avoid war. On October 2, Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai warned the Indian ambassador
that China would join the fighting in Korea if U.S. forces entered North Korea. U.S. officials thought the Chinese were bluffing. At a meeting on Wake Island
on October 15, MacArthur assured Truman that China would not intervene. Four days later, the Chinese People’s Volunteers Force crossed the Yalu. Even
after the first clash between UNC troops and Chinese forces later that month, MacArthur remained supremely confident.

Early in November, the PRC delivered a final warning when Chinese forces launched a sharp attack against advancing UNC and ROK units, then broke
contact and retreated into the mountains. In response, MacArthur ordered air assaults on the bridges over the Yalu without seeking approval from
Washington. Upon learning this, the JCS suspended the decision until Truman gave his approval. MacArthur then asked permission for U.S. pilots to engage
in “hot pursuit” of enemy aircraft fleeing from Korea into Manchuria. After MacArthur predicted that allowing the enemy free movement of men and
supplies into North Korea risked destruction of his forces, Truman approved the strikes, but only against the Korean side of the bridges. Strenuous
opposition from U.S. allies, however, led to dropping the “hot pursuit” proposal over the objections of U.S. military leaders. These decisions infuriated
MacArthur. Desperate to avoid a total war with China, Britain advanced a “buffer zone” proposal that would halt the UNC offensive short of the Yalu.
MacArthur was livid when informed of what he judged a proposal for appeasement.
On November 24, MacArthur launched his “Home by Christmas Offensive” to the Yalu with U.S. troops in the vanguard. The JCS questioned, but did not
countermand, the general’s breech of Truman’s instructions. The Chinese then counterattacked in force with an estimated 300,000 troops, sending UNC
forces into helter skelter retreat southward. On November 28, the National Security Council met to consider what MacArthur reported was “an entirely
new war” and Truman decided to pursue a ceasefire. At a press conference two days later, the president, responding to a newsman’s question, divulged
that his civilian and military advisors had use of atomic bombs in Korea under consideration since the outset of the war. MacArthur, he elaborated, would
decide whether to use these weapons against the Chinese. Truman’s comments ignited panic among U.S. allies who feared nuclear war was at hand. British
Prime Minister Clement Attlee hurried across the Atlantic to Washington to express European anxieties that use of atomic weapons in Korea would widen
the conflict. Attlee suggested ending the war through negotiations with Moscow and Beijing resulting in a UN seat for the PRC, a proposal that Truman flatly
rejected. Attlee left with only the promise from the president that he would try to consult with U.S. allies before ordering any escalation.

During early December 1950, MacArthur publicly defended his advance to the Yalu as a “reconnaissance in force” that had exposed a Communist trap and
averted a military disaster. He also complained about the extraordinary limits on his command, highlighting his inability to attack sanctuaries in Manchuria.
Truman later explained that he should have fired MacArthur at that juncture, but did not want to embarrass the general in the aftermath of defeat. Amid
deep pessimism, he sent General Collins to Korea to provide him with a firsthand assessment. Upon his return, Collins reported that the UNC would halt the
enemy’s advance. Truman now thought that he could fight a “limited war” in Korea to restore the prewar status quo. As for MacArthur, he approved
issuance on December 6 of a directive, clearly aimed at the general, that informed all U.S. officials that State Department approval was required for any
public comments about the war.

On December 29, the JCS sent new instructions to MacArthur to retreat to defensible positions with the goal of avoiding evacuation of the peninsula. In
reply, MacArthur pressed for adoption of his “Plan for Victory” that called for blockading China’s coast, air assaults on military installations in Manchuria,
deploying Chinese Nationalist ground troops in Korea, and assaulting China’s mainland from Taiwan. Despite later denials, the JCS seriously considered
implementing MacArthur’s proposals. In fact, on January 12, 1951, they finished a draft memorandum listing possible future courses of action that included
all these recommendations. In its response to MacArthur, however, the JCS only repeated the most recent directive, advising him that he would receive no
reinforcements. On January 10, MacArthur had shifted responsibility back to Washington, stating that complying with these instructions was impossible
without lifting the “extraordinary limitations” on his command. He insisted that escalation or evacuation were the only options in Korea.

Meanwhile, in Korea, Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, having replaced Walker who died in a jeep accident late in December, was displaying
astonishing leadership in restoring the discipline and fighting spirit of American forces. After ending “bug-out fever” and halting the UNC retreat, he
ordered the first counterattacks. At the end of February, UNC forces were near reoccupying Seoul. Truman no longer faced a choice between abandoning
Korea or escalation of the war, but instead could focus on punishing the enemy to force it to accept a ceasefire. The president also could ignore the now
discredited “Sage of Inchon.” Indeed, from this point onward, the JCS contacted Ridgway directly about the conduct of the war. Then, on March 7, Ridgway
staged a major offensive that pushed enemy forces above the parallel. Truman and his advisors saw this as creating the opportunity to achieve an armistice.
The administration’s preparations to end the Korean War short of total victory set the stage for Truman’s final clash with MacArthur.

Talking and Fighting for Peace

On April 11, 1951, Truman relieved MacArthur of his commands in Korea and Japan in response to two acts of insubordination. On March 20, the general’s
issuance to the Chinese of a demeaning public ultimatum demanding their immediate surrender scuttled Truman’s planned peace initiative. Then, two
weeks later, Republican Congressman Joseph W. Martin Jr. read a letter from MacArthur on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives charging the
Truman administration with appeasement in Korea. This directly violated the December 6, 1950, directive requiring clearance for public comments on the
war. Historians reached an early consensus that still commends Truman for preserving the constitutional principle of civilian control over the military.27 But
more important reasons related to military strategy and alliance politics. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) wanted to make atomic weapons available to the
commander of the United Nations Command (UNC) to counter a major enemy escalation in Korea, but feared that MacArthur might provoke an incident to
widen the war. Also, U.S. allies never would consent to providing the UNC commander with discretion to order atomic retaliation so long as MacArthur held
the position.

MacArthur’s recall ignited a firestorm of public criticism against Truman and the war. The general returned home to ticker-tape parades and, in a televised
address before a joint session of Congress, defended his actions, declaring that there was “no substitute for victory.” Republicans and critics of Truman’s
China policy demanded an investigation that resulted in a hearing before members of two Senate committees. The first witness on May 3, 1951, was
MacArthur himself, who testified for three days. He insisted that the JCS was in full agreement with him on policy, but Truman and Acheson had made it
impossible to win the war. Thereafter, six administration witnesses, including Marshall and the members of the JCS, refuted his testimony, emphasizing the
importance of fighting a limited war in Korea and the necessity for civilian control over the military. U.S. Army General Omar N. Bradley, the JCS chair,
stated succinctly that doing what MacArthur advocated would lead to “the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

In April and May 1951, the UNC repulsed two massive Chinese offensives, establishing defensive positions just north of the 38th parallel. The ensuing
military stalemate on the battlefield persuaded the combatants to seek an armistice. On June 23, two days before the conclusion of the MacArthur
Hearings, Soviet UN Ambassador Jacob A. Malik advocated in a radio address a ceasefire in the Korean War. Armistice negotiations opened on July 10 at
Kaesong, just north of the 38th parallel. The Truman administration was determined to limit the discussions to military matters alone, thus preventing the
PRC from exploiting the talks to gain admission to the United Nations or control over Taiwan. As a consequence, the belligerents appointed military officers,
rather than diplomats, as the main negotiators, reducing prospects for flexibility and compromise. Archival records demonstrate that both sides arrived at
Kaesong expecting rapid achievement of a settlement. Instead, the negotiations would be highly rancorous, resulting in regular temporary adjournments.
More than two years would pass before an armistice ended the Korean War.

There were several reasons for the failure to reach a prompt agreement on the terms for peace. First, the main belligerents had no direct contact between
governments. Second, the conference site was isolated and austere. Third, cultural and ideological differences contributed to misperceptions and distrust.
Fourth, domestic politics on both sides restricted options. Most important, sharply divergent national interests made compromise difficult. The Communist
side created an acrimonious atmosphere at the outset with efforts to humiliate its adversary, but the United States raised the first major roadblock when it
proposed a demilitarized zone extending deep into North Korea. The Communists suspended the talks in August after fabricating a UNC violation of the
neutral zone. Two months later, talks resumed at Panmunjom, six miles east of Kaesong, after Ridgway demanded a new negotiating site. Expeditious
agreement followed that the line of battle would divide the center of the demilitarized zone. Negotiators then approved inspection procedures to enforce
the cease-fire and a postwar political conference to arrange for withdrawal of foreign troops and reunification. Ten months after talks began, negotiators
reached a deadlock on repatriating prisoners of war (POWs), preventing them from signing an armistice.

For Americans who served on the UNC delegation, negotiating with the Communists at the Korean armistice talks was an exasperating experience. Without
exception, they condemned the Chinese and North Koreans for tenacious rigidity in delaying a settlement. In his account of the negotiations, Vice Admiral
C. Turner Joy, chief UNC negotiator until May 1952, also criticized the Truman administration for instructing him to make needless concessions at the truce
table. Other U.S. participants shared Joy’s disgruntlement, blaming Washington for imposing limitations both on the negotiators and on the battlefield that
prevented a more aggressive stand against the Communists, preventing an early settlement and unnecessarily prolonging the war.28 Rosemary Foot, in her
authoritative account, exposes these assessments as exaggerated, describing how the Communists made many major concessions. She instead
characterizes the United States as obstreperous because, accustomed to total victory, it had no interest in serious negotiations with an enemy that had
demonstrated its ability to resist U.S. military power. Raising a different issue, other historians have faulted the United States for ignoring the United
Nations in determining both the conduct of military operations and the course of the peace negotiations in Korea.29

Events at the armistice negotiations influenced how U.S. civilian and military leaders made decisions about conducting the war. For example, after the
Communist side adjourned the talks in August 1951, Washington ordered U.S. B-29 bombers to stage mock atomic bombing test flights over North Korea in
September and October to scare Communist negotiators into resuming negotiations and accepting UNC demands. For its part, the PRC began to publicize
accusations early in 1952 that the United States was waging bacteriological warfare in Korea. Secretary of State Acheson vehemently denied these
allegations and demanded an international investigation, but North Korea and China stymied International Red Cross efforts to do so. Historians initially
endorsed as accurate U.S. denials of the Communist accusations that the UNC was using both biological and chemical warfare, but some later scholars
pointed to evidence of American guilt.30 Soviet documents have shown, however, that China’s germ warfare charges were false. Moscow even told its
Korean and Chinese allies to cease making unsubstantiated accusations.

Truman was responsible for the UNC delegation assuming an inflexible position against forcing unwilling Communist POWs to return to China or North
Korea, arguing that humanitarian principles required providing them with asylum. Orthodox works on the Korean War judged his decision as correct and his
justification as sincere. More recent writers, however, have asserted that the president’s main goal was to win a propaganda victory in the Cold War, which
required misrepresenting the facts. Voluntary repatriation directly contradicted the Geneva Convention, which mandated, as the Communist side
demanded, return of all POWs. Far worse, the Truman administration encouraged the belief that those Communist prisoners rejecting repatriation were
defecting to the “Free World.”31 In fact, thousands of Chinese prisoners were Nationalist soldiers trapped in China who now had the chance to escape to
Taiwan. As for the North Korean POWs, a large majority were actually South Koreans who either had joined the KPA voluntarily or been conscripted. U.S.
supervisors at UNC camps also allowed Chinese Nationalist guards to wage a terrorist “reeducation” campaign to force POWs to refuse repatriation, beating
or killing resisters. Non-repatriates even tattooed prisoners wanting to return home with anti-Communist slogans.

A Substitute for Victory

Stalemate in the truce tent and at the fighting front in Korea frustrated U.S. leaders. In May 1952, the UNC’s brutal suppression of a Communist prisoner
uprising at the UNC’s Koje-do POW compound seemed to substantiate the Communist side’s charges of inhumane treatment. That summer, massive UNC
bombing raids devastated North Korea, but brought no changes in the Communist negotiating position at Panmunjom. Despite intense efforts at the United
Nations, the armistice talks adjourned in October 1952. The next month, angry American voters elected Dwight D. Eisenhower president largely because
they expected him to end what had become the very unpopular “Mr. Truman’s War.” Fulfilling a campaign promise, the general visited the Korean
battlefront in December, concluding that a new ground offensive would be pointless. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution proposing
the formation of a neutral commission to resolve the prisoner dispute. Rather than support the plan, Eisenhower, after assuming office in January 1953,
seriously considered staging nuclear strikes on China to force a settlement.
Eisenhower initiated a new confrontational approach toward China on February 2 when he ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to withdraw from the Taiwan
Strait, implying that he supported a Guomindang attack on the mainland. What influenced China more was the devastating domestic impact of the war. By
summer 1952, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) faced enormous internal economic problems and probably had decided to seek peace after Truman left
office. Major food shortages and physical devastation motivated Pyongyang to advocate an armistice even earlier. But Stalin ordered his allies to continue
fighting because the war weakened the United States. By early 1953, however, both China and North Korea were ready to resume the truce negotiations,
although they wanted the Americans to initiate the process. That came on February 22 when the UNC, reviving a Red Cross proposal of the previous fall,
suggested exchanging sick and wounded POWs.

A critical turning point arrived on March 5 when Stalin suddenly died. His successors, in a policy reversal, urged the Chinese and North Koreans to act on
their desire for peace. On March 28, Communist negotiators accepted the UNC proposal. Two days later, Zhou Enlai publicly proposed that a neutral state
assume responsibility for POWs rejecting repatriation. On April 20, Operation Little Switch, the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners, began and six days
later negotiators reconvened at Panmunjom. Pointed differences then emerged about the final details of the truce agreement. Late in May, Secretary of
State John Foster Dulles allegedly told India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that unless there was progress toward peace, the United States would end
the existing limitations on its conduct of the war. Some historians still accept as valid Eisenhower’s claim later that the Chinese, in response to this veiled
nuclear threat, agreed to an armistice on U.S. terms, although no documentary evidence currently exists to validate his assertion. Nehru, for his part,
denied that he conveyed the U.S. warning to the Chinese.

Washington and Beijing moved toward ending the Korean War in the spring of 1953 for a number of reasons. First, they both had grown weary of the
economic burdens and military losses, as well as the political and military constraints ruling out options to break the deadlock. Second, they worried about
the consequences of accidentally expanding the war. Third, pressure from allies and the world community pushed the belligerents toward ending the
unpopular conflict. For the United States, continuation of the Korean War threatened to inflict irrevocable damage on its relations with allies in Western
Europe and non-aligned members of the United Nations. Most recently, in May 1953, there was an outburst of world criticism in reaction to U.S. air assaults
on North Korea’s dams and irrigation system. Later that month and early in June, Chinese forces staged powerful attacks against ROK defensive positions.
Far from being intimidated, Beijing thus displayed its persistent resolve, utilizing military means to convince its adversary to make concessions on the final
terms. Before the belligerents could sign the agreement, Rhee released twenty-seven thousand North Korean POWs in an attempt to bulldoze the
impending truce. Eisenhower bought Rhee’s acceptance of the armistice with promises of financial aid and a mutual security pact.

Many historians consider the conflict in Korea the most important event in world affairs after World War II because it dramatically altered the course of the
Cold War. In response, U.S. leaders implemented enormous increases in defense spending, strengthened the North Atlantic Treaty Organization militarily,
and pressed for rearmament of West Germany. In East Asia, it prevented the demise of Jiang Jieshi’s regime on Taiwan and made South Korea a long-term
client of the United States. U.S. relations with the PRC were hostile for two decades, especially after Washington persuaded the United Nations on February
1, 1951, to condemn China as an aggressor in Korea. Ironically, the war aided Mao’s regime in consolidating control in China, while elevating its regional
prestige. U.S. leaders, acting on what they thought was Korea’s primary lesson, resorted to military means to meet this emerging challenge, leading
infamously to the disastrous intervention in Vietnam.

Discussion of the Literature

Harry S. Truman explained in his memoirs that North Korea’s attack on June 25, 1950, “was a new and bold Communist challenge” because “for the first
time since the end of World War II, the Communists openly and defiantly embarked upon military force and invasion.”32 For the next twenty years, nearly
every study of the Korean War endorsed the president’s description of the reasons for the conflict. Cold War assumptions influenced these authors in
affirming the traditional interpretation of the Korean War prior to the declassification of archival documents. During the first decade after the armistice,
accounts of the conflict congratulated the United States for acting to halt Soviet-inspired Communist expansionism.33 T. R. Fehrenbach established the
initial interpretive baseline in 1963 when he argued in his account that the United States was not prepared militarily or mentally to fight a limited war in
Korea. Nevertheless, he applauded military intervention as necessary to preserve U.S. credibility and prestige. British historian David Rees conducted
research in documents available at the time to publish in 1964 what would be the standard history of the conflict for two decades. He praised the Truman
administration for successfully waging a limited war that defeated aggression.34 During the next decade, histories of the Korean War affirmed conventional
wisdom, as writers seemed to think that they had received the last word on the reasons for the conflict, as Korea earned its nickname as the forgotten

Surprisingly, a few writers during the Korean War rejected the Truman administration’s description of the conflict’s origins. One dissenter claimed that
North Korea “jumped the gun” and attacked South Korea before the date the Soviet Union had selected for the invasion. For proof, he pointed to the Soviet
boycott of the UN Security Council that prevented Moscow from blocking UN measures to defend the ROK. I. F. Stone, the famous leftist journalist,
published a book in which he charged that Rhee purposely had initiated a border clash to provoke a North Korean retaliatory attack. He depicted the
orderly retreat of South Korean forces as a military debacle to dupe the United States into saving his corrupt regime.36 Revival of these arguments came
after former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reported in 1970 that Stalin approved the invasion with great hesitancy because he feared U.S.
intervention.37 A new study soon claimed that Moscow and Pyongyang had decided on August 15, 1950, as an invasion date, but the attack came two
months earlier because of a power struggle in North Korea. Some writers even boldly charged that South Korea struck first and North Korea
counterattacked in self-defense.38 Lack of supporting primary source evidence weakened the validity of these first revisionist accounts.
Early histories of the Korean War devoted little attention to discussing events prior to the North Korean invasion of South Korea because authors assumed
that Stalin made the decision to attack for reasons having nothing to do with Korea. Historical explanations for the Korean War would experience a
fundamental shift in the 1970s, as classified U.S. documents for the prewar years through 1950 became available. Soon, scholars were asserting that the
origins of the war dated from at least the start of World War II, emphasizing the centrality of domestic factors in fueling an existing conflict. Rejecting
Truman’s characterization of North Korea’s attack as the result of external aggression, Bruce Cumings insisted that in 1945, the United States intruded on a
civil war in the first postwar act of containment, preventing the triumph of a leftist revolution on the peninsula and then imposing a reactionary regime on
southern Korea, which would lead to the conventional war that started on June 25, 1950.39 Others writers who reassessed postwar U.S. policy toward
Korea arrived at less harsh conclusions. Referencing U.S. documents, they wrote detailed studies of U.S. involvement in Korea from the start of World War II
to the North Korean invasion that dismissed Truman’s simplistic description of the causes of the Korean War.40

During the 1980s, many historians, after reading new primary sources, agreed with Cumings that the Korean conflict was a classic civil war. Several writers
published histories of the war stressing its domestic origins, as well as insisting that North Korea made the decision to attack South Korea.41 In 1988,
Cumings and coauthor Jon Halliday, reviving Stone’s argument, made the provocative claim that South Korea attacked northward across the parallel first to
incite a Communist invasion that would prompt U.S. intervention and open the way for its conquest of North Korea. Two years later, Cumings described this
“trap theory” in more detail in the second volume of his The Origins of the Korean War.42 Release of Soviet documents after 1991 revealed, however, that
contrary to these left revisionist claims, Stalin played a central role in approving and supporting North Korea’s attack. Almost immediately, a right revisionist
perspective on the Korean War emerged which reemphasized the significance of international factors, resulting in a revival of key orthodox arguments. For
these writers, domestic causes were less important than Stalin’s obsession with aggressive expansion in explaining the origins of the conflict.43 But other
scholars who read the same sources disagreed. They insisted that Kim Il Sung made the decision to attack. An unenthusiastic Stalin gave his consent after
concluding that any further delay only would lead to the emergence of a South Korea strong enough to absorb North Korea.44

During the 1980s, scholars armed with primary sources wrote new histories of the Korean War challenging orthodox judgments about the conventional
phase of the conflict from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. British historians Callum MacDonald, Max Hastings, and Rosemary Foot discredited the traditional
portrayal of it as an example of the United States using its power with wisdom and restraint to prevent Communist expansion.45 Later writers also
questioned accounts that either lauded MacArthur for his success at Inchon or damned him for his reckless advance to the Yalu and insubordination in
trying to escalate the war.46 That MacArthur no longer occupies a central place in histories of the Korean War constitutes a significant shift in the literature
on the conflict. But China’s rationale for entering the Korean War has emerged as a subject of intense debate, with recent studies minimizing Allen S.
Whiting’s traditional explanation that preserving national security was the main motivation. Chinese scholars instead emphasize Mao’s desire to display
ideological purity, consolidate domestic authority, and assert regional hegemony, as well as to repay the North Koreans for their help in the Chinese Civil
War.47 Whether Eisenhower’s atomic threat ended the war remains contested terrain, but recent studies have advanced alternate reasons for an
armistice.48 Publication of two new histories of the Korean War in 2014 and 2015 indicates that scholars have not reached a consensus on explanations for
most of the events and issues in the conflict.49

Primary Sources

Historians have an enormous array of primary sources available to them in the English language to explain the origins of the Korean War, as well as specific
issues and events during the conflict. Unquestionably the most important collections are located at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland, which
houses U.S. government documents. The records of the State Department, U.S. Army, Defense Department, and Central Intelligence Agency in descending
order have the highest valuable. Rebecca L. Collier has compiled a comprehensive guide that describes all holdings related to the Korean War at National
Archives II.50 Much more accessible are a selection of these same U.S. government documents that the U.S. State Department has reprinted in Foreign
Relations of the United States (FRUS). Annual volumes for Korea, China, and the East Asia region present cables, policy papers, and meeting minutes
primarily from State Department records that relate to U.S. policy toward Korea from 1941 to 1951, with documents on Korea for the last two years of the
war reprinted in a single volume. The University of Wisconsin Library had made available electronic access to these FRUS volumes.

Manuscript collections of the central U.S. decision makers during the Korean War are located at the presidential libraries of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D.
Eisenhower in Independence, Missouri, and Abilene, Kansas, respectively. In addition to the papers of each president, holdings include the records of the
National Security Council and major foreign policy advisors. Selected documents and other primary sources are accessible electronically at both
repositories.51 The private papers of several influential U.S. military officers who commanded troops in the Korean War are located at the U.S. Army War
College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Of particular value are the manuscript collections at the Douglas MacArthur Memorial Library in Norfolk, Virginia. In
addition, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, holds useful personal papers of individuals involved with U.S. policy toward
Korea from 1941 to 1953. British archives at Kew Garden in London contain the most valuable primary sources among other nations who participated in the

Researchers also will find helpful the multivolume official U.S. Army history of the Korean War, which references primary documents related to the conduct
of military operations. Two initial volumes provide coverage of the first five months of the Korean War from different perspectives, the first describing the
military engagements and the second explaining the development and direction of U.S. military strategy. A third book traces events during the next nine
months of the war. The last volume covers the war’s final two years, discussing the truce talks and continued intense fighting at the front.52 Another U.S.
Army publication provides details on the activities of the Korean Military Advisory Group in training South Korea’s army before and after the North Korean
invasion.53 Also featuring citations of primary documents are the official histories that describe the contributions of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, as
well as the military operations of the U.S. Marines.54 Historians still find useful the third volume of the official history of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which
exceeds the U.S. Army studies in value because it references a fuller array of primary sources. A volume in the official history of the Office of Secretary of
Defense also cites key telegrams and policy papers in presenting a different perspective on mainly the first year of the Korean War.55

Writers of the early histories of the Korean War had to rely on published primary sources that remain valuable for those researching the conflict. The State
Department, for example, published several pamphlets presenting narratives describing the events leading to North Korea’s attack from the U.S.
government’s perspective, often including a selection of reprinted documents. Perhaps the most insightful of these publications is North Korea: A Case
Study in the Techniques of Takeover, which presented evidence allegedly proving that North Korea was a Soviet satellite.56 Before and during the war, the
U.S. Department of State’s Bulletin reprinted speeches, meetings summaries, and policy decisions related to Korea. Similarly, the annual volumes of the
Public Papers of the Presidents contain reprints of Truman’s and Eisenhower’s presidential addresses and transcripts of their press conferences. Finally,
contemporary newspapers, especially the New York Times, are a valuable source of primary information, reporting events in Korea before the North Korean
attack and on the course of the war thereafter.

Access to Soviet and Chinese primary sources about the Korean War are far more limited, while North Korea has released none at all. The ROK government
has published a three-volume history of the Korean War that includes references to South Korean documents.57 The PRC government has published in the
Chinese language a selection of archival documents concerning its involvement in a number of official collections that include reprints of telegrams, letters,
and the minutes of meetings. Firsthand accounts are available in the published memoirs of Chinese directly involved in the war, some in English
translations.58 With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian government began releasing documents confirming Stalin’s direct involvement in
planning the North Korean invasion.59 In June 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented to the ROK government a collection of additional Soviet
documents related to the Korean War. The next year, the Russian government allowed the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) at the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars and Columbia University’s Korea Research Center to obtain copies of approximately twelve hundred pages of high-
level documents on the war, which was twice as large as the Yeltsin gift. The CWIHP has printed English translations of the most important of these
documents in its Bulletin. These primary sources are essential for understanding the Korean War.60

Links to Digital Materials

• Cold War International History Project

• Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home

• Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

• U.S. Department of Defense, Korea 1950-1953

• U.S. Foreign Relations of the United States

Further Reading

Brune, Lester H., ed. The Korean War: Handbook of the Literature and Research. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.Find this resource:

Casey, Steven. Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950–1953. New York: Oxford University Press,
2008.Find this resource:

Chen Jian. China’s Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Collins, J. Lawton. War in Peacetime: The History and Lessons of the Korean War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.Find this resource:
Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 1: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945–1947. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1981.Find this resource:

Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 2: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.Find this

Foot, Rosemary. The Wrong War: American Policy and the Dimensions of the Korean Conflict, 1950–1953. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.Find
this resource:

Foot, Rosemary. A Substitute for Victory: The Politics of Peacemaking at the Korean Armistice Talks. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.Find this

Goncharov, Sergei N., John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.Find
this resource:

Kaufman, Burton I.The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Matray, James I.The Reluctant Crusade: American Foreign Policy in Korea, 1941–1950. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Matray, James I. “Korea’s War at Sixty: A Survey of the Literature.” Cold War History 11.1 (February 2011): 99–129.Find this resource:

Matray, James I., and Donald W. Boose Jr., eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to the Korean War. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014.Find this resource:
Merrill, John. Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War. Wilmington: University of Delaware Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Millett, Allen R. “Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Korean War: Cautionary Tale and Hopeful Precedent.” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 10.3–4
(Fall–Winter 2001): 155–174.Find this resource:

Millett, Allen R.The War for Korea, 1945–1950: A House Burning. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005.Find this resource:

Millett, Allen R.The War for Korea, 1950–1951: They Came from the North. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010.Find this resource:

Pearlman, Michael D.Truman and MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.Find this

Pierpaoli, Paul G., Jr.Truman and Korea: The Political Culture of the Early Cold War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Rees, David. Korea: The Limited War. New York: Macmillan, 1964.Find this resource:

Shen Zhihua. Mao, Stalin and the Korean War: Trilateral Communist Relations in the 1950s. Translated by Neil Silver. New York: Routledge, 2012.Find this

Stueck, William. The Road to Confrontation: American Foreign Policy toward China and Korea, 1947–1950. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1981.Find this resource:
Stueck, William. The Korean War: An International History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Stueck, William. Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Weintraub, Stanley. MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero. New York: The Free Press, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) Harry S. Truman, “U.S. Air and Sea Forces Ordered into Supporting Action,” U.S. Department of State Bulletin 23 (July 3, 1950), 5.

(2.) Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969); John M. Allison, Ambassador from the
Prairie or Allison Wonderland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973); Mark W. Clark, From the Danube to the Yalu (New York: Harper, 1954); J. Lawton Collins,
War in Peacetime: The History and Lessons of Korea (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1969); Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964);
and Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War: History and Tactics (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967).

(3.) Final Text of the Communique, November 26, 1943, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), The Conferences at Cairo
and Tehran 1943 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961), 448–449.

(4.) Mark E. Caprio, “The Eagle Has Landed: Groping for a Korean Role in the Pacific War,” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 21, no. 1 (Spring 2014),
1–29; Park Hong-kyu, “From Pearl Harbor to Cairo: America’s Korean Diplomacy, 1941–1943,” Diplomatic History 13, no. 3 (Summer 1989), 343–358; Liu
Xiaoyuan, “Sino-American Diplomacy over Korea during World War II,” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 1, no. 2 (Summer 1992), 223–264; and
James I. Matray, “An End to Indifference: America’s Korean Policy during World War II,” Diplomatic History 2, no. 2 (Spring 1978), 181–196.
(5.) Robert T. Oliver, Syngman Rhee: The Man Behind the Myth (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1955); George M. McCune and Arthur L. Grey, Jr., Korea Today (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1950); and E. Grant Meade, American Military Government in Korea (New York: King’s Crown Press, 1951).

(6.) Mark Paul, “Diplomacy Delayed: The Atomic Bomb and the Division of Korea, 1945,” in Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship, 1945–1953,
ed. Bruce Cumings (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983), 67–92; and Michael C. Sandusky, America’s Parallel (Alexandria, VA: Old Dominion Press,

(7.) Donald Stone Macdonald, The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988); Allen R. Millett, The War for Korea, 1945–
1950: A House Burning (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005); and Gregg Brazinsky, Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the
Making of Democracy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

(8.) Cho Soon-sung, Korea in World Politics, 1940–1950: An Evaluation of American Responsibility (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967); and
Choi Sang-Yong, “Trusteeship Debate and the Korean Cold War,” in Bonnie B.C. Oh (ed.), Korea Under the American Military Government, 1945–1948
(Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 13–40.

(9.) McCune and Grey, Korea Today; Carl Berger, The Korea Knot: A Military-Political History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957); and
Gregory Henderson, Korea: The Politics of the Vortex (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

(10.) James I. Matray, “Hodge Podge: U.S. Occupation Policy in Korea, 1945–1948,” Korean Studies 19 (1995), 17–38; and Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the
Korean War. Vol. 1: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945–1947 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981).

(11.) Dae-suk Suh, “A Preconceived Formula for Sovietization: North Korea,” in The Anatomy of Communist Takeovers, ed. Thomas T. Hammond (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975), 475–489; and Eric Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone: Stalin’s Policy in Korea, 1945–1950 (Oxford, UK: Berg, 1989).
(12.) Shen Zhihua, Mao, Stalin and the Korean War: Trilateral Communist Relations in the 1950s, trans. Neil Silver (New York: Routledge, 2012); and James I.
Matray, “Korea’s Partition: Soviet-American Pursuit of Reunification, 1945–1948,” Parameters 28, no. 1 (Spring 1998), 150–162.

(13.) Berger, The Korean Knot; Cho, Korea and World Politics; and Charles M. Dobbs, The Unwanted Symbol: American Foreign Policy, the Cold War, and
Korea, 1945–1950 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981).

(14.) James I. Matray, The Reluctant Crusade: American Foreign Policy in Korea, 1941–1950 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985); Russell D. Buhite,
“‘Major Interests’: American Policy Toward China, Taiwan, and Korea, 1945–1950,” Pacific Historical Review 47, no. 3 (August 1978), 425–451; and Ronald L
McGlothen, Controlling the Waves: Dean Acheson and U.S. Policy in East Asia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993).

(15.) James I. Matray, “Dean Acheson’s National Press Club Speech Reexamined,” Journal of Conflict Studies 22, no. 1 (Spring 2002), 28–55.

(16.) Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 2: Years of Trial and Hope (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956), 463.

(17.) Robert A. Cole, “Leadership in Korea: The War of Movement, 1950–1951” and Uzal W. Ent, “Walton Walker: Defender of the Pusan Perimeter,” The
New England Journal of History 60, nos. 1–3 (Fall 2003–Spring 2004), 163–211; Geoffrey Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur (New
York: Random House, 1996); and Stanley Weintraub, MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero (New York: Free Press, 2000).

(18.) For representative examples, see Walt Sheldon, Hell or High Water: MacArthur’s Landing at Inchon (New York: Macmillan, 1968); and Michael Langley,
Inchon Landing: MacArthur’s Last Triumph (New York: Times Books, 1979).

(19.) Joseph C. Goulden, Korea: The Untold Story (New York: Times Books, 1982); Bevin Alexander, Korea: The First War We Lost (New York: Hippocrene,
1986); Max Hastings, The Korean War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987); Stanley Sandler, The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished (Lexington:
University Press of Kentucky, 1999); and Allan R. Millett, The War for Korea, 1950–1951: They Came from the North (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas,

(20.) David Rees, Korea: The Limited War (New York: St. Martin’s, 1964); Martin Lichterman, “To the Yalu and Back,” in American Civil-Military Decisions: A
Book of Case Studies, ed. Harold Stein (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1963), 569–642; and Ridgway, The Korean War.

(21.) Ronald J. Caridi, The Korean War and American Politics: The Republican Party as a Case Study (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968);
and Trumbull Higgins, Truman and the Fall of MacArthur: A Precis on Limited War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960).

(22.) Walter LaFeber, “Crossing the 38th: The Cold War in Microcosm,” in Reflections on the Cold War: A Quarter Century of American Foreign Policy, eds.
Lynn H. Miller and Ronald W. Pruessen (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1974), 71–90; and Barton J. Bernstein, “The Policy of Risk: Crossing the 38th
Parallel and Marching to the Yalu,” Foreign Service Journal 54 (March 1977), 16–22, 29.

(23.) William W. Stueck Jr., The Road to Confrontation: American Foreign Policy toward China and Korea, 1947–1950 (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1981); and Burton I. Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986).

(24.) James I. Matray, “Truman’s Plan for Victory: National Self-Determination and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel Decision in Korea,” Journal of American History
66, no. 2 (September 1979), 314–333.

(25.) Warren R. Austin, “President Malik’s Continued Obstruction Tactics in the Security Council,” U.S. Department of State Bulletin XXIII (August 28, 1950),

(26.) James I. Matray, “Fighting the Problem: George C. Marshall and Korea,” in George C. Marshall: Servant of the American Nation, ed. Charles F. Brower
IV (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 79–115.
(27.) Richard Rovere and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The General and the President and the Future of American Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and
Giroux, 1951); and John W. Spanier, The Truman-MacArthur Controversy and the Korean War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1959).

(28.) C. Turner Joy, How Communists Negotiate (New York: Macmillan, 1955); William H. Vatcher Jr., Panmunjom: The Story of the Korean Military Armistice
Negotiations (New York: Praeger, 1958); Herbert Goldhamer, The 1951 Korean Armistice Conference: A Personal Memoir (Santa Monica, CA: RAND
Corporation, 1994).

(29.) Rosemary Foot, A Substitute for Victory: The Politics of Peacemaking at the Korean Armistice Talks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); Donald
W. Boose Jr., “The Korean War Truce Talks: A Study in Conflict Termination,” Parameters 30, no. 1 (Spring 2000), 102–116; and Sydney D. Bailey, The Korean
Armistice (New York: St. Martin’s, 1992).

(30.) John Gittings, “Talks, Bombs and Germs: Another Look at the Korean War,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 5, no. 2 (Spring 1975), 205–217; Conrad
Crane, “‘No Practical Capabilities’: American Biological and Chemical Warfare Programs During the Korean War,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 45,
no. 2 (Spring 2002), 241–249; and Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and
Korea (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

(31.) Foot, A Substitute for Victory; Barton J. Bernstein, “The Struggle over the Korean Armistice: Prisoners of Repatriation,” in Child of Conflict: The Korean-
American Relationship, 1945–1953, ed. Bruce Cumings (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983), 261–307.

(32.) Truman, Years of Trial and Hope, 464.

(33.) Rutherford B. Poats, Decision in Korea (New York: McBride, 1954); John Dille, Substitute for Victory (New York: Doubleday, 1954); Robert Leckie,
Conflict: The History of the Korean War, 1950–1953 (New York: Putnam, 1962); and Glenn D. Paige, The Korean Decision, June 24–30, 1950 (New York: Free
Press, 1968).
(34.) T. R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study of Unpreparedness (New York: Macmillan, 1963); and Rees, Korea: The Limited War.

(35.) Harry J. Middleton, The Compact History of the Korean War (New York: Hawthorne, 1965); Edgar O’Ballance, Korea 1950–1953 (London: Faber, 1969);
and James McGovern, To the Yalu: From the Chinese Invasion of Korea to MacArthur’s Dismissal (New York: Morrow, 1972).

(36.) Wilbur W. Hitchcock, “North Korea Jumps the Gun,” Current History 20, no. 115 (March 20, 1951), 136–144; and I. F. Stone, The Hidden History of the
Korean War (New York: Monthly Review, 1952).

(37.) Nikita S. Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, trans. Strobe Talbott (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970).

(38.) Robert R. Simmons, The Strained Alliance: Peking, Pyongyang, Moscow and the Politics of the Korean Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1975); Joyce
Kolko and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945–1954 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); and Karunakar
Gupta, “How Did the Korean War Begin?,” China Quarterly 52 (October–December 1972), 699–716.

(39.) Cumings, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945–1947.

(40.) John Merrill, Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War (Wilmington: University of Delaware Press, 1989); Stueck, The Road to Confrontation; and
Dobbs, The Unwanted Symbol; Matray, The Reluctant Crusade.

(41.) Prominent examples include Peter Lowe, Origins of the Korean War (New York: Longman, 1986); Kaufman, The Korean War; Callum A. MacDonald,
Korea: The War Before Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1986); Gavan McCormack, Cold War/Hot War (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1983).
(42.) Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War (New York: Pantheon, 1988); Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 2: The
Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).

(43.) Kathryn Weathersby, “Korea, 1949–50: To Attack or Not to Attack: Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and the Prelude to War,” Cold War International History Project
Bulletin [hereafter, CWIHPB], no. 5 (Spring 1995), 1–9; Kathryn Weathersby, “New Findings on the Korean War: Translation and ‘Commentary,” CWIHPB,
no. 3 (Fall 1993), 1, 14–18; Kathryn Weathersby, “The Soviet Role in the Early Phase of the Korean War: New Documentary Evidence,” Journal of American–
East Asian Relations 2, no. 4 (Winter 1993), 425–458; William W. Stueck, The Korean War: An International History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1995); and William W. Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

(44.) Allan R. Millett, The War for Korea, 1945–1950: A House Burning (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005); Shen Zhihua, “Sino-Soviet Relations and
the Origins of the Korean War,” Journal of Cold War Studies 33, no. 2 (Spring 2000), 44–68; Evgueni Bajanov, “Assessing the Politics of the Korean War,
1949–1951,” CWIHPB, nos. 6–7 (Winter 1995/1996), 54, 87–91; Alexandre Y. Mansourov, “Enigmas of D-Day,” The Korean War at Fifty: International
Perspectives, ed. Mark F. Wilkinson (Lexington: Virginia Military Institute, 2004), 40–65; and Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain
Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993).

(45.) MacDonald, Korea; Hastings, The Korean War; Rosemary Foot, The Wrong War: American Policy and the Dimensions of the Korean Conflict, 1950–
1953 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985). See also, Alexander, Korea; Richard L. Whelan, Drawing the Line: The Korean War, 1950–1953 (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1990); and Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950–1953 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008).

(46.) Russell D. Buhite, Douglas MacArthur: Statecraft and Stagecraft in America’s East Asian Policy (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008); Michael D.
Pearlman, Truman and MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008); and Millett, They
Came from the North.

(47.) Allen S. Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu: The Decision to Enter the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1970); Chen Jian, China’s Road
to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Shu Guang Zhang, Mao’s Military
Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950–53 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995); and Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism: Mao,
Stalin, and the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

(48.) Elizabeth A. Stanley, Paths to Peace: Domestic Coalition Shifts, War Termination and the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009);
Edward C. Keefer, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the End of the Korean War,” Diplomatic History 10, no. 3 (Summer 1986), 267–289; and Thomas
Allen, “No Winners, Many Losers: The End of the Korean War,” in Security in Korea: War, Stalemate, and Negotiation, eds. Phil Williams, Donald M.
Goldstein, and Henry L. Andrews Jr. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994), 110–126.

(49.) Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014); and Masuda Hajimu, Cold War Crucible: The
Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

(50.) Rebecca L. Collier, National Archives Records Related to the Korean War (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2003).

(51.) Access to selected primary sources on the Korean War at the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower presidential libraries.

(52.) Roy E. Appleman, South of the Naktong, North to the Yalu (June–November 1950) (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1961); James F.
Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1972); Billy C. Mossman, Ebb and Flow: November
1950–July 1951 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1990); and Walter J. Hermes, Jr., Truce Tent and Fighting Front (Washington, DC: Center of
Military History, 1966).

(53.) Robert K. Sawyer and Walter G. Hermes Jr., Military Advisors in Korea: KMAG in War and Peace (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military
History, 1962).
(54.) James A. Field Jr.History of the United States Naval Operations Korea (Washington, DC: Director of Naval History, 1962); Robert F. Futrell, The United
States Air Force in Korea, 1950–1953 (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Air Force History, 1983); and Lynn Montross, Nicholas A. Canzona, Hubard D.
Kuokka, N. W. Hicks, Pat Meid, and James M. Yingling, History of U.S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950–1953. 5 vols. (Washington, DC: Historical Branch, G-
3, Headquarters, Marine Corps, 1954–1972).

(55.) James F. Schnabel and Robert J. Watson, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Vol. 3: The Korean War (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1979);
and Doris Condit, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 2: The Test of War, 1950–1953 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense,

(56.) See, for example, U.S. Department of State, Korea’s Independence, Far Eastern Series, No. 18 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1947); U.S. Department of State, United States Policy in the Korean Crisis, Far Eastern Series, No. 34 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1950); U.S. Department of State, The Fight Against Aggression in Korea, Far Eastern Series, No. 37 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1950);
U.S. Department of State, The Conflict in Korea: Events Prior to the Attack on June 25, 1950, Far Eastern Series, No. 45 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1951); U.S. Department of State, The Record on Korean Unification 1943–1960: Narrative Summary with Principal Documents, Far Eastern
Series, No. 101 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960); and U.S. Department of State, North Korea: A Case Study in the Techniques of
Takeover, Far Eastern Series, No. 103 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961).

(57.) Korean Institute of Military History, The Korean War, 3 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001).

(58.) See Yafeng Xia, “The People’s Republic of China,” in Ashgate Research Companion to the Korean War, eds. James I. Matray and Donald W. Boose Jr.
(Farnham, UK: Ashagate, 2014), 61–63.

(59.) In 1993, Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai reprinted the Soviet documents Russia released in Uncertain Partners.

(60.) Researchers can examine the copies of these Soviet documents at the National Security Archive of the George Washington University.