The Korean War - Turning Point in the Cold War

This revision sheet looks at the Korean War in the wider context of the Cold War. The factors that contributed to the Korean War itself and the consequences it had on those involved.

All notes taken from the excellent, 'Access to History - The USA and the Cold War, 1945-63'.

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  • Created by: toomerj
  • Created on: 22-06-11 14:25
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War in Korea: Turning Point?
June 1950 ­ 90,000 North Korean soldiers attack South Korea
Ordered by Kim Il Sung ­ nationalist, wanted to unify Korea under Communist rule
Encouraged by support of communism in South and growing opposition of current regime.
Part of on-going civil war ­ recent historical evaluation
Kim ­ hostile towards US. Japan had occupied Korea between 1910-1945. Yet US helping
rebuild Japan as regional power!
Also aware of US intervention in China ­ trying to help nationalists defeat Mao.
Jan 1950, Stalin agreed to Kim invasion plans.
April meeting between Kim and Stalin ­ Kim told Russia would NOT intervene directly in any
Did send military supplies and military advisors in May and June 1950 ­ looking after
interests of USSR
Didn't want to get involved in another large scale conflict ­ but saw a united Korea as an
advantage to the USSR.
Security for Russian borders, threat to Japan & use of South Korea's reserves of lead.
Mao also didn't give promise of military assistance ­ too busy establishing communist rule in
China after civil war.
American response to invasion ­ rush of military supplies.
27 June ­ UN Security Council resolution passed, allowing military action against N. Korea.
Truman ordered US soldiers stationed in Japan into Korea ­ 75% support for decisive action
in the US.
UN exercise dominated by the US (260,000 troops ­ other countries made up of 35,000)
General MacArthur placed in command.
Why did the US commit to land war in Asia so soon after WW2?
Policy-makers wrongly believed Kim was being ordered by Moscow ­ couldn't accept he
was acting independently.
Crossing of 38th parallel was seen as clear instance of Soviet expansionism.
If US did nothing ­ other states would fall to Communism ­ domino theory.
Truman justified "If Korea goes, so will rest of Asia, East Asia and who knows what will
happen to Europe" ­ alarmist?!
Wider global context ­ test of US credibility to resist communism across the world.
Inaction in Korea may create mood of defeatism in Europe and Japan ­ see USSR as more
reliable ally.
Overview of the war

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Bad start for the Americans ­ August 1950, N. Korean's capture Seoul, capital of S. Korea
Terrible conditions, monsoon season ­ US soldiers drinking standing water from rice fields ­
many affected by dysentery.
September ­ UN forces occupy tiny area of south, S. Korea around area of Pusan.
September 1950 - MacArthur launches an ambitious amphibious assault behind enemy lines
near the 38th parallel
Same time ­ UN forces break out of Pusan area and advance north rapidly.…read more

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Dubbed `Truman's war' ­ US people annoyed with lack of quick victory and high casualty
Truman would remain deeply unpopular for the rest of his second term
Ridgway took command in Korea
Feb 1951 ­ counter-attack launched, Operation Killer. Followed in March by Operation
Superior firepower and air support allowed US to re-cross 38th parallel and stabilise across a
line just north of it.
For the next two years, UN forces held the line, using `active defence' to probe the enemy.…read more

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Must achieve near-parity with Soviet forces and maintain nuclear superiority
Therefore, Truman now supported NSC 68
1950 ­ Truman asked for $10 billion for Armed Forces, £260 million for Hydrogen Bomb &
$4 billion in military aid for US allies.…read more

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However, the Korean War ended any hopes of Mao becoming an ally
Truman sent support to Taiwan and defended her with economic and military aid.
Denial of Taiwan to China was an important means of limiting the power of Chinese
communism in Asia.…read more


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