America in Asia (Korea)


Roots of Korean War

  • Korea was in the middle of three powerful neighbours: China, Russia and Japan
  • 40 years under Japanese control: murdered, exiled and culture wipe out

Two important figures:

  • Syngman Rhee, Christian and spoke english. In USA, spreading the cause for Korean idependence and was in peace talks between Russia and Japan
  • Kim Il Sung, escaped Japanese rule and was in China. Joined CCP and fought against Japanese. Fled to USSR and joined the red army. Indoctriated with loyalty to Stalin


  • Soviet troops poured in to manchuria and the korean peninsula after collaspe of Japan
  • Agreed dividing line with allies as in Germany
  • At suprise of Japanese collapse, USA had no troops in Korea and the US pushed for a halt line
  • The 38th parallel
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Establishment of two state Korea

North Korea:

  • USSR was more prepared for running occupied zone
  • Advantage of thousands of native Koreans who had served with the CCP or the red army
  • In Feb 1946, Interim People's committee was set up under Kim's leadership
  • Policies were introduced eg. land reforms to peasants
  • Many of landowning class who had co-operated with japanese fled to south, 800,000
  • Soviet-influenced communists were inserted in to leading positions
  • Government penetrated all aspects of society eg, secret police, press follow gov
  • Independent gov was formed in Sept 1948
  • Not democratic ( no history of this) + less corrupt than the south + Emphasis was on heavy industry
  • Collectivsation took land back from peasants and meant people worked for the state.
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Establishment of two state Korea

South Korea:

  • US forces less prepared for administration of Korea
  • Few americans could speak Korean and the use of Japanese officals cause resentment
  • The US was anxious to pull out of Korea
  • The south was full of fractional divisions
  • Rhee and KDP assumed power after winning UN supervised elections of May 1948
  • Many left wing parties refused to compete and N Korea didn't allow UN in.
  • The Republic of Korea established on 15th August 1948
  • Authoritarian and corrupt
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Why did forces of North Korea attack south Korea

Conflict started in 1949 with border raids. Both sides showed agression

Kim begged for help in attacking the South but Stalin refused permission

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Why did the USA intervene?

The USA did not want to have conflict in Korea, deliberately withheld heavy equipment from ROK to prevent them invading N Korea

  • After two days, the Southern Capital fell to communists, General MacArthur informed Washington that the ROK would collapse without extensive US assisstance.
  • Saw that the attack on South Korea was a breach of the US-Soviet Agreement of Aug 1945
  • Acheson saw that the UN had a obligation to defend sovereign states and he wanted to deter aggression
  • Didn't want to mirror the appeasement of the lead up to WWII
  • Rusk saw that a Communist Korea would be 'a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan'

The US gained support of the UN and led and operated under the UN flag

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USA unprepared

The ROK forces were under equipped, badly trained and badly led:

  • The ROK army only had 95,000, lacked efficent weapons and solders were peasants conscripts, had little reason to fight and units disintergrated under attack

Seoul was taken on 29th June and US forces rushed to fix army:

  • First was the 24th infantry regiment from Japan and was understrength,and undertrained
  • Most equipment was faulty and underestimated the strength of N Korea attack
  • Was forced into rapid defeat

By August, US and ROK was forced in to pocket known as pusan perimeter

  • Held off N Korean attacks for 5 weeks and US had total command in air, US navy dominated seas
  • Brutalities of NK troops created South Korean Identity
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Inchon landing

MacArthur's plan was risky:

  • 30foot tidal change each day and no beaches (mud)
  • Possiblilty of N Koreans would have mined the area
  • Promised Seoul would be liberated in 3months of the war (bombed the city to ensure this goal)
  • Invasion was set on 15th September                                       (impress the media)

Kim was taken by suprise and the N Korean position in the South collapsed:

  • Broke out of the Pusan perimeter and kim's army was cut off from supplies
  • The NK's retreated to 38th parallel

MacArthur wanted to 'liberate' all of Korea and was untouchable and difficult to control

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American decision to invade North Korea

Military sense:

  • It wouldn't of been efficent to wait for the North to recover and attack again
  • It looked better to push on the eliminate the threat or find a better defensive line


  • The USSR lost credibility and destroyed the 1945 agreement by encouraging the assault
  • They saw that they must accept the loss of North Korea from the sphere of influence

Within state dept, moderates that saw USSR as badly behaved were replaced with more aggressive 'cold war warriors'

Growing anti communist lobby in US, 64% of pop favoured invading the North

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American decision to invade North Korea

Problems in invading the north:

  • Bad supply and communication links
  • Winter and sub-arctics temps of -30'C were likely
  • Roads were rare and country was divided by mountain range.

MacArthur brushed aside the problems:

  • Willoughby altered intelligence to please MacArthur
  • The no. of troops in Manchuria were underestimated and their quality

the narrowest point of Korean Peninsula was reach, a key defensive point and wanted to stop:

  • MacArthur saw this as appleasing communism and wanted to advance
  • In Nov, Chinese troops attacked close to the chinese border and ruined US troops
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Risks of Chinese involvement (crossing the 38th pa

There were risks in moving in to North Korea:

  • It would provoke Chinese intervention
  • Large no. of Chinese troops occupying Manchuria close to Yalu river, the border with N Korea
  • To occupy all of Korea it would bring US forces to the borders of USSR and china. 

Zhou Enlai claimed that if US forces crossed the border, China would intervene (to indian ambassador):

  • No diplomatic line between China and USA, he hoped it would spread.
  • The state dept didn't take it seriously
  • MacArthur was convinced he would complete his triumph of 'rolling back communism'
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Background and origins of cold war

Opposing ideologies:

USA - Democratic democracy

USSR - Socialist

Truman doctrine, 1947 - 

  • Aid to Greece and turkey - prevent spread of communism
  • Strategic land vital to stopping communism
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The sacking of MacArthur

Truman and MacArthur disagreed:

  • Truman wanted the war to be contained to Korea
  • MacArthur wanted move in to China and also use nuclear weapons

In Dec 1950 after failed conquest of North Korea, he was interviewed:

  • He blamed the restraints put on him for the retreat
  • He hadn't been allowed to bomb Chinese bases in Manchura and blamed European allies.

Truman and Acheson thought it was inappropriate for a serving soldier to question high-level decision making in public. 

Seoul was retaken again by the Chinese and MacArthur issued a statement that unification of the entire peninsula was still the goal:

  • This went against the settled return to the 38th parallel and ceasefire along the border

MacArthur thought that they should bomb manchura and poison the Yalu river with radioactive waste. He saw the settlement as appeasement and sabotaged it.

11th april, Mac Arthur was fired and this led to protest in the USA, 69% of US backed MacArthur

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The end of the korean war

There were peace talks that started in March 1951 for an armistice around the 38th parallel

Mao under pressure from Kim and Stalin, did another 'spring offensive' to recapture Seoul, this leg to bloody battles in the capital.The defeat made the Chinese see that a ceasefire was the more desirable option

The first armistice talks in July 1951:

  • The communists used it as propaganda to imply the USA was pleading for peace
  • Kim was opposed to the deal and Stalin thought that continuing the war would occupy and weaken the USA and tie China to the USSR

The talks were stalled until 27th July 1953:

  • Sticking points on the exact boundary and the issue of the return of prisoners
  • Truman would not force communist prisoners to return against their will (brutal treatment given by USSR to returned prisoners, WWII)
  • North Korea was endlessly bombed to make them sign
  • Following Stalin's death in March 1953 and the election of Eisenhower, communists saw as being more aggressive
  • A cease fire was signed but not a peace treaty
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