How far did the Korean War and its origins (1950-53) change the US?

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Origins of the Korean War

  • Korea under Japanese control since 1910, 1945 USSR invaded Korea, so US moved troops into South Korea.
  • 1945- USSR and USA agree to four-power trusteeship
  • Agreement to liberate Korea at Potsdam Conference 1945- US propose Korea split along 38th parallel.
  • Kim Il Sung with USSR in North, Syngman Rhee with US in South. 
  • Stalin and China encouraged Kim Il Sung to attack S Korea, providing aid and military equipment.
  • June 1950- N Korea attacked the South, start of Korean War.
  • US didn't include Korea in Defensive Perimeter Strategy, failed to see usefulness in its resources.
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Why did the US become involved?

  • Increasing Cold War tensions.
  • 1949- China fall to communism, South Korea surrounded by communists.
  • Wanted to defend non-communist countries.
  • To contain communism.
  • August 1949- USSR now had atomic power too, US weren't more advanced anymore.
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Korean War 1950

1. Pusan and Inchon (June-September 1950)

  • June 1950- N Korean Army surprise attacks the South. Truman saw the attack as a direct communist challenge. US asked UN to get involved June 1950.
  • MacArthur organised reinforcement of Pusan Perimeter, and counter-offensive by sea at Inchon, drove N Koreans back to the North. September- Seoul retaken. 

2. Rollback of Communism to the Yalu River (September-October 1950)

  • Yalu River is border between China and Korea- China started to spread communism beyond the border. US trops took action, stopped communism spreading beyond 38th parallel.
  • UN got involved- pushing communism back to the 38th parallel.

3. Chinese Involvement and Escalation (October 1950- Feb 1951)

  • January 1951 Chinese crosssed 38th parallel and took Seoul. Was thought 3rd World War was to begin- MacArthur had planned targets to be hit with 26 atomic bombs.

4. War of Attrition (Jan 1951-July 1953)

  • Operation Thunderbolt, Operation Killer, Operation Ripper and Operation Rigged- US and UN recamptured Seoul and drove N Koreans to 38th parallel.
  • Truman prepared for Limited peace, but MacArthur didn't follow Truman's orders so was sacked in April 1951. Operation Piledriver began US peace talks.
  • Eisenhower threatened nuclear weapons, and eventually the war ended July 1953.
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Disagreements between MacArthur and Truman

  • MacArthur was Supreme Commander of the UN forces in Southwest Pacific Area.
  • MacArthur was very popular in the press and with US pooeople, making it difficult for Truman to remove him.
  • In October 1950 MacArthur refused to salute Truman. 
  • MacArthur publically questioned Truman's decisions and even argued against Truman's policies.
  • March 1951 MacArthur publically stated that he wanted to poison the Yalu river.
  • After Truman informing MacArthur of his intention of a ceasefire on the 38th parallel in March 1951, 4 days later MacArthur publically threatened China with war.
  • April 1951 MacArthur was sacked.
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Financial Consequences of the Korean War

  • US military spending more than trippled 1950-53 in NSC68
  • US increased spending to pay for expense of military build-up about nuclear weapons.
  • Chinese economic reconstruction very costly.
  • USSR planned a compromise and detente insteasd of costly option of war.
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Strategic Consequences of the Korean War

South Korea:

  • Military secure with large army, long-term US economic aid. Rhee overthrown 1961-coup detat.

North Korea:

  • Powerful military, close links to USSR and China. KIS followed Stalin's lead.


  • Loss for US, had limited power in Asia.
  • Stalins death caused a power struggle.
  • Mao's support for USSR strengthened Sino-Soviet relations.
  • USSR requested China pay for all military equipment they supplied.
  • UN could claim victory for limited war, but failure to resort to using nuclar weapons raised questions.
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Military Consequences of the Korean War

  • US armed forces more than doubled.
  • Forced to fight limited war of air-strikes, attrition and nuclear threats.
  • 4 million Korean casualties- 10% of population, more than 30,000 US men killed.
  • US disarmament policy for Japan reversed so that they could be involved in Defensive Perimeter Strategy,
  • US nuclear weapons unuseable for fear of global destruction.
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