Ideology, conflict and retreat: the USA in Asia 1950-1973

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the surrender and occupation of Japan

  • in august and september 1945, three events seemed to confirm US dominance in the western pacific and east asia.
  • on the morning on august 6th, three B-29 long-range bombers reached the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
  • at 8.15am one of them released an atomic bomb.
  • nearly 100,000 people were vapourised or incinerated. thousands more died subsequently of radiation.
  • on august 9th, another plane left the US base at Tinian for Nagasaki. when it dropped an atom bomb on Nagasaki 35,000 people died instantly.
  • the Japanese Gov decided not to continue the fight
  • on sep 2nd, on board the battleship USS missouri in Tokyo Bay, General Douglas MacArthur took the formal surrender and became new ruler of Japan.
  • MacArthur embodied the strength and assertion of the victorious United States, and like some Roman proconsul (a governor of an ancient roman province) of old, set about governing and transforming this latest 'province' of imperial america.
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american dominance in asia

  • the USSR joined the conflict against Japan in the closing days of the war and occupied Manchuria and North Korea, but the Soviet union was shattered by her exertions in the struggle against Germany. much of western Russia was devestated and her war effort had become heavily dependent on loans from the USA. the USSR's total GNP in 1945 was only a quarter of that of the USA. vast as the soviet army was, it had nothing comparable to the strategic bomber force of the USA or its enormous navy.
  • China, the most populous state, was also devastated by its eight years of struggle against Japan and the corrupt regime of Chiang Kai-Shek, and was heavily dependent on US support. its army has US instructors attached and in many respects Nationalist China was almost an american satellite.
  • only the communists in the north west of China under Mao Zedong were independent, but the future seemed to belong to Chiang not Mao. both Russia and the USA certainly thought so in 1945
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the shifting balance of power

  • in 1950, america's position of almost unchallenged supremacy seemed to have been undermined, particularly in Asia.
  • Most serious and unexpected was the defeat of the US-backed regime in China under Chiang Kia-shek (Jiang Jieshi). despite the aid of $2 billion to Jiang, the world's most populous nation under the control of the communists, led by Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao had proclaimed the people's republic of china in Tiananmen square on the 1st of october 1949. at the end of the year, Mao had gone to Moscow and early in 1950 signed an alliance with the soviet union.
  • the defeated nationalists had fled to the isalnd of Taiwan and there prepared to repel the expected invasion from the victorious communists. the USA were deeply disillusioned with Jiang's regime and didnt appear to be inclined to defend it in its island refuge.
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superpower rivalry: relations between the USA and

  • the US army had been rapidly run down after the war and was short of all kinds of equipment. once peace came, Truman's government cut defence spending savagely: in 1948 the US spent only $10.9 billion compared to Russia's $13.1 billion. despite an American increase in defence spending to $13.5 billion in 1949, there appeared to be a growing gap in the military balance of power.
  • the USSR had an army of 2.6 million with 30 armoured divisions; the USA's army totalled 640,000 with one armoured division. the MiG-15 jet fighter had come into service in 1949-50 and the USSR was building up a strategic bomber force, producing 7000 planes of all types a year to the 1200 produced in the US.
  • a month before Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China in october 1949, US aircraft picked up signs of a vast radioactive cloud off the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka.
  • the USA was no longer the world's only nuclear power. at the end of August 1949, Stalin had got the news he had been waitinf for from his secret police officer, Beria: Russia had successfully tested a nuclear bomb.
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superpower rivalry: relations between the USA and

  • it was the context of a perception of growing weakness that a secret report on America's military strength was produced in April 1950.
  • it was to be known as NSC 68. its author was Paul Nitze, acting under the direction of secretary of state Dean Acheson.
  • it attempted to answer the question of what the USA should be spending on defence to contain the USSR. it arrived at the conclusion that defence spending should be increased to somewhere in the order of $35-$50 billion annually. President Truman was cautious and refused to publicise the report. the rapid expansion ran counter to his whole policy hitherto.
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Ideology and the Cold War context

  • by the 1950, the war-time alliance (this refers to the 'big three' opponents of Germany and Japan, namely Britain, the USSR and USA) had seriously fragmented and the world's two greatest powers now faced one another in a game of diplomatic and military confrontation
  • throughout the 19th century, Tsarist Russia and Britain had played what had been termed the 'great game' for the domination of Asia. in one sense the USA had inherited Britain's role. this viewpoint was well expressed in a secret OSS (US special operations and the ancestor of the CIA) report presented to president Roosevelt
  • to western poowers, Russia looked more powerful than it really was. Stalin was well aware of Russia's historical backwardness and her vulnerability to a series of invaders from the west, the latest of whom had been Nazi Germany, Swedes, Poles and the Germans had marched east to seize parts of 'mother russia' at various times. stalin was determined to prevent a repeat invasion, and much that appeared aggressive to the west arose from a partially justified paranoia on Stalin's part. Russia was vulnerable.
  • after the second world war ended, the border of Soviet Russia was pushed westward and Soviet troops installed communist governments in all the nominally independent countries of eastern europe.
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The USSR: ideology

  • the soviet regime openly proclaimed its belief that there could be no long-term peace between capitalism and communism, and that communism would eventually triumph throughout the world. the USSR now saw itself as the face of progress and the USA as the bastion of capitalist selfishness.
  • in the USA, Alger Hiss in the state department supplied the state secrets to the soviet union
  • the bolshevik revolution on 1917, far from advancing russia, had actually turned the clock back from a moderately authoritarian Tarist regime to one of incredible brutality. Lenin's new government had murdered more peole in the first year of its existence than in the 23 years of Tsar Nicholas II's reign. Stalin surpassed Lenin, and only Hitler among his contemporaries could rival stalin's capacity for political murder which bordered on genocite
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The USA: attitudes and ideology

  • truman doctrine - Truman announced to congress details of what became known as the truman doctrine. he adressed congress to ask for $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey, and to request that American millitary and economic advisers be sent to both countries. its purpose was to overcome widespread opposition within the US to direct involvement in europe and to ensure that neither Greece nor Turkey fell under soviet control
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the US domestic context - the shaping of policy

  • in the US, the process was far more complicated. here the press and public opionion were a considerable influence, and the US constitution deliberately shared power among different institutions to guard against the sort of authoritarian abuse that marked the two communist regimes
  • the central but by no all-powerful, figure of the american system was the president. five presidents occupied the white house between 1950 andd 1973: truman, eisenhower, kennedy, johnson and nixon. they were five very different personalities but none could be discounted
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developments under president Truman

  • it was during his time in the white house that the cold war was launched and the USA became involved in the crisis in Korea. he tended to have a rather black-and-white view of the world and morality. the oppression and apparent agression of soviet russia appalled him, and while wishing to avoid a third world war, he wasnt prepared to be pushed around.
  • he adopted the policy of 'containment': communism should be accepted in the areas where it had established itself but resisted if it sought to expand. Truman believed that such an intrinsically wicked system would eventually fail if it were contained.
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national secutriy act of 1947

The national security council was set up to advise the president in the new context of the cold war. it had at its disposal a growing army of experts and analysts and produced a series of influential policy statements, such as NSC 68. another new organisation set up under the national security council was the CIA. many were suspicious of such a body, seeing it as 'un-american' and a threat to traditional libertarian values, but in the context of the growing rivalry with the USSR it gradually grew in numbers and enjoyed an escalating budget, both for intelligence gathering and covert operations.

unlike the political system in the USSR, the US executive couldn't operate without the co-operation of the legislature. the american president and his advisers had to work with Congress to secure money and new laws if they were necessary:

  • the house of representatives was elected every two years. in 1946 the domocrats lost their long-standing majority to the republicans, increasing Truman's problems.
  • the senate played a major part in both making laws but also in having to approve the president's choice of ministers in his cabinet. Truman lost a democratic majority here in '46.
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  • in 1950 a catholic priest suggested that he [McCarthy] might raise his profile by launching a campaign against communist infiltration of the government.
  • he made a speech in which he claimed that he knew of 205 communists in the state department. although no evidence was produced, the public began gradually to take notice and the smears started to have effect. some fellow republicans in Senate and House of representatives began to lend support to McCarthy's campaign, and even some democrats.
  • Joseph Kennedy of Massachuesetts and his son were sympathetic - they had a large number of anti-communist Catholic constituents. Anti-communist sentiment was intensified and Truman's and Acheson's conduct of foreign policy made more difficult by the furore
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the red scare

  • there had been serious soviet penetration of the USA in the 1930s and early 1940s. in 1941 there had been 221 NKVD (soviet secret intelligence and police) agents reporting back to Beria and more GRU (soviet army intelligence) agents reporting back to the red army. Stalin knew more about the Manhattan than Truman did as vice president.
  • alger Hiss had been supplying the soviets with diplomatic secrets at the time of the Yalta conferece. In Januray 1950, Hiss was found guilty of perjury (lying under oath) and sentenced to five years' imprisonment. most other soviet agents had been rounded up between 1945 and 1950 by the FBI, the government organisation responsible for checking inter-state crime and internal threats to US security.
  • Turman's government had tightened up with increased loyalty tests and excessive security precautions in 1947-1948.
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Chapt 2: the roots of the korean war

  • was in the middle of three powerful neighbours:China, Russia and Japan
  • for 40 years korea was the subject of brutal Japanese rule. Korean patriots were murdered and exile was the fate of many.
  • Kim Il Sung, part of the chinese communist party led a guerrila group against the Japanese from 1932-1940. they were defeated and feld to the Soviet Union where he became a member of the soviet army.
  • doctor Syngman Rhee was sent to the USA in 1905 in the hope he could assist the cause of Korean independence in the talks that brought about peace between Russia and Japan
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the division of Korea

  • Russia had agreed to join in the war against Japan. the atomic bomb meant that the USA didnt need them in the end, but soviet troops poured into Manchuria and into the Korean peninsula. as with Germany, it was essential to arrive at a dividing line between the victorious allies.
  • the USA rushed troops to Korea with orders to halt at the 38th parallel.
  • Kim Il Sung arrived first in north Korea and Rhee arrived a month later into the American zone
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the establishment of the north korean state

  • in Feb '46 an Interim people's committee was set up under Kim's chairmanship. this was tantamount to the establishment of a trainee North Korean government. initially co-operation was sought with various leftist elements, including a few christians. populist policies were introduced involving the redistribution of land to the peasants.
  • gradually soviet-influenced communists were inserted into all the leading positions in the North at the expense of those with chinese links. independent liberal leftists were sidelined or arrested, and a police state based on a soviet-style army and secret police increasingly controlled all aspects of life. government informants penetrated all parts of society. the press in the north regurgitated the official lilne. a mini-version of the soviet totalitarian state had been created.
  • in sep '48 an independent government was established in N.K and the soviet forces formally withdrew. it left behind a doctile puppet state. the key institution came to be the NKPA (north korean people's army), established in feb '48. it was placed under soviet-trained commanders like Kim with a plentiful supply of advisers and soviet equiptment.
  • collectivisation (a policy whereby enterprises and especially farms came under collective group ownership and state control) was to take back land from the peasants. an oppressive state replaced the old landlord class, and a degree of tight control exceeded anything that they and their Japanese masters had managed.
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South Korea

  • Rhee emerged in the south as the most effective political leader with a reputation for resistance to Japanese rule. He had strong links to the Chiang Kai-shek regime in China and was not well loved by the state department.
  • the USA was increasingly anxious to pull out of Korea. The south was riddled with factional divisions and banditry and was hardly the most promising territory for fledging democracy. reluctantly the US authorities came to accept that Rhee was the best they had, and he and his associated Korean Democracy Party (KDP) assumed power after winning the UN-supervised elections of May '48. However, many left-wing parties refused to compete and N.K refused to allow UN commission in.
  • Neither south nor north accepted the other as legitimate and both claimed to speak for the whole of Korea. Civil war or permanent partition was inevitable, but neither Kim nor Rhee accepted partition. War would come whenever one of their patrons, the USA or the USSR, accepted it as desirable.
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Why did the forces of North Korea attack South Kor

  • Kim begged for help in attacking the South but Stalin refused permission.
  • the republic of Korea's forces launched small-scale attacks, but the USA refused to supply the hardware necessary to make a real invasion of the North possible.
  • Stalin, in 1949, had been restraining influence on Kim, but in 1950 the bonds of restraint were snapped for a variety of reasons. In '49, the soviet union was generous with military equipment: 87 T-34 tanks were supplied, as well as various armoured vehicles and self-propelled guns. Military aircraft were also supplied, they were also given 50,000 veterans who had served with the people's liberation army (PLA) in China's civil war.
  • In February 1950 equipment for a further three divisions was made avaliable. More T-34 tanks, SU-76 self-propelled guns, heavy howitzers and river-crossing gear were poured into Ch'ongjin Harbour in april and may. By june there was a formidable aggressive force with 242 tanks and over 200 aircraft on the north side of the 38th parallel.
  • Stalin appears to have hoped that the USA wouldnt intervene in the coming conflilct. US troops has withdrawn from SK in '49 and those in Japan were poorly equipped. it is argued that Stalin was influenced by a speech made by Dean Acheson when the US secretary of state defined the US pacific defence perimeter as excluding territory in mainland asia.
  • on 4am on the 25th of June the North launched a massive attack across the 38th paralled towards the southern capital of Seoul.  
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why did the USA decide to intervene?

  • firstly they didnt seek conflict in Korea, they deliberately withheld heavy equipment from the Republic of Korea (ROK) army to prevent Rhee launching an attack on the North. The SK forces only had 27 light armoured vehicles and no tanks; they possessed 22 aircraft.
  • in 2 days, the SK capital fell to advancing communist forces and the ROK army was in full retreat. on 29-30th June, General McArthur, informed washington that the ROK was likely to collapse without extensive US assistance and recommended sending two US divisions from Japan
  • the attack on SK was a breach of the US-Soviet agreement of August 1945 and of the UN recognition of the legitimacy of the ROK.
  • Dean Acheson had decided to involve the United Nations from the beginning, and on the day of the attack the security council adopted a resolution to condem the attack and call for NK's withdrawal from the south
  • on 27th June the UN security council authorised the use of force to assist SK, and US forces would now act under a UN flag.
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Chap3 - the north korean offensive june-sep'50

  • 25 june - artillery and mortar barrage fell on SK troops. Kim Il Sung was launching an all-out assult to reunite the peninsula. Seven well-equipped and well-motivated combat divisions with an armoured brigade of T-34 tanks poured across the border. they were supported by over 200 russian built aircraft.
  • Kim commanded an army of 135,000 men. Nearly a third of them had extensive combat experience in the chinese civil war. Kim anticipated the conquest to take 3 weeks - too quick for the USA to intervene and such intervention wasnt expected anyway
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the defenders

  • by comparison the SK forces were under-equipped, badly trained and badly led for the most part. the ROK army numbered approx. 95,000. they lacked tanks, anti-tank weapons and spare parts for its vehicles, a third of which were out of actions awaiting repair. the ordinary soldiers were peasant conscripts with little love for their corrupt government or officers; they had little reason to fight. Seoul was taken on June 29th.
  • First US force to arrive, July 1st, was the 24th infantry division from Japan. much of its equipment was faulty and the product of 5 years of low defence spending. MacArthur, appointed US supreme commander, underestimated the strength of the north korean attack and overestimated the impact of US troops.
  • the NKs tended to follow chinese tactical doctrine. US units tended to be tied to their vehicles and the limited road network; consequently they frequently found the enemy to their side and rear. where a flank was supposedly guarded by ROK units, these often melted away.
  • the rugged countryside made supply difficult and the sheer fire power of the US air force and artillery began to tell. by early august the US and ROK forces had been forced back to a small pocket of SK to the Pusan perimeter
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The Inchon landing

  • MacArthur was certain that the landing at Inchon would work and convinced the reluctant Joint Chiefs of staff to let the operation go ahead. he promised that seoul would be liberated within 3 months of the start of the war. MacArthur placed Lieutenant General Edward Almond in command of invasion corp. Kim was taken completely by suprise. the harbour hadnt been mined despite advice from the gov of Mao that it was a likely US move.
  • The US forces then pressed on to Seoul. here, there was fighting as the NKs had rushed in reinforcements. the marines were urged to make rapid progress despite casulties. Massive bombing was used and the destruction of the city resulted. MacArthur flew from Japan into Kimpor airport near Seoul to pose for appropriate pictures/
  • the whole NK position in SK collapsed. Walker's army in the Pusan Perimeter broke out to drive the fleeing remnants of the NK invaders before them. Kim's army faced the possibility of annihilation with the landing at Inchon. cut off from supplies, threatened by massive US air power and badly weakened by its repeated attacks on walker's amry in august and early september, it scrambled as best as it could back north of the 38th parallel.
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the risks of china's involvement in korea

  • on oct 1st some ROK units crossed the 38th parallel into NK
  • on oct 2nd the chinese prime minister summonded the indian ambassador in bejing to tell him that if US forces crossed the border, China would be forced to intervene. the Chinese hoped that India would pass the message on to the USA since there were no direct diplomatic link between the people's republic of china and the USA
  • unfortunately the state department didnt take the warning seriously. MacArthur was convinced that the chinese wouldnt intervene and was determined to complete his triumph of inchon by 'rolling back communism' from north korea
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the american decision to invade north korea

  • there was a growing anti-communist lobby in the USA, most notably enshrined in the singularly unpleasant and unprincipled figure of senator Joe McCarthy, but even moderate republicans were pressing for a tougher line in moscow. Public opinion seemed to be behind this tougher stance and opinion polls indicated that 64% of american citizens favoured invading the North.
  • on nov 1-2 a large force of chinese troops struck an elite force of his troops at Unsan . they inflicted a terrible battering on the americans and swept away several ROK units on their flanks. over 150,000 chinese troops had crossed into korea.
  • the chinese were drawing MacArthur on, he fell for it and took the bait ordering his forces further north into ever more inhospital terrain. he was convinced the chinese had been beaten off.
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why did china intervene?

  • Stalin pressed the chinese to assist Kim, but it was plain that direct soviet intervention was out of the question. the best that could be hoped for was air cover, which stalin promised. many of the chinese leaders, including Mao, distrusted the soviet union and could see that they wished to use china for their own benefit. Mao didnt want hostile US forces on the boarder with chinese Manchuria, where most of china's limited industry was concentrated. furthermore, Mao could see that a conflict could heighten nationalist sentiment in china behind the new regime, helping him to sweep away enemies and impose his programme of reform.
  • Peng Dehuai supported intervention and was appointed to command the 300,000 troops that china began to assemble on the korean border. the decision taken in october to intervene, since the USA had crossed the 38th parallel.
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the 'dragon' attacks

  • on 25th nov, the chinese offensive against walker in the west began near the town of Kunuri. the UN front collapsed. ROK units broke and fled, and US forces faced being surrounded. the decision was taken to retreat.
  • 2 days later the attack in the east began. by this time nearly 100,000 chinese veterans had encircled the marine corps, blocking its retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. the encirclement failed and the marines proceeded to blast their way down the road they had only two weeks before advanced up. the chinese now blew up the bridge over the chasm to halt the marines but bridging equipment was flown in from Japan and guns,tanks and vehicles of all sorts passed down the road to the port of Hungham. Almond's whole corps then embarked with little loss of men, equipment or accompaying civilian refugees. it was a triumph of naval and air power.
  • Pyongyang was abandoned and thousands of tons of stores destroyed. on 23rd dec, walker was killed in a road accident. nevertheless, Seoul was lost for the second time, and it wasnt until some 50 miles to the south that the chinese were halted. they had outrun their supplies and were hungry, frozen and pounded by US air power. in this way the great retreat came to an end in feb'51
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the sacking of MacArthur

  • In Dec'50, as MacA's triumphal conquest of NK collapsed in ruins, he gave an interview to an american journal blaming the restraints put upon him for the retreat. He hadn't beeen able to bomb Chinese based in Manchuria and he blamed America's European allies for imposing the restraints.
  • 15th March'51, the day after Seoul was taken. MacA issued a press statement that the unification of the entire peninsula was still his foal - he sought total victory.MacA was urging on Washington the need to extend bombing to Manchuria and poison the Yalu river boundary with radioactive waste to cut off korea from China. such requests were firmly denied. Truman informed MacA on the 20th March that the USA was going to propose a ceasefire along the 38th parallel
  • MacA was challenging the civilian government's control of policy making and proposing a course of action which would lead to a full-scale war with China. such a course was unacceptable to both Truman and Acheson.
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the end of the korean war

  • the USA had decided to in March'51 to seek an armistice on or around the 38th parallel. it appears that Peng had reached the same conclusion, although Mao hadnt yet; under pressure from Kim and Stalin, he agreed to a further 'spring offensive' to recapture Seoul. The defeat of the Chinese offensive convinced even Mao that a ceasefire might be desirable and yet the war was to last another two years
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armistice negotiations

  • first negotiations held at Kaesong in july'51. the communists used it as a propaganda exercise to imply that the USA was pleading for peace. Kim was certainly still opposed to a deal and so it appears was Stalin, who felt that a bubbling conflict would occupy and weaken the USA and tie China more firmly to the USSR.
  • there were endless sticking points over the exact boundary and over the issue of the return of prisoners. Truman was adamant that he wouldnt force communist prisoners to return against their will.
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