The Korean War and Containment Policy: A Historical Overview

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The Korean War

- In 1950, evidence confirmed America's belief that Communism was getting stronger around the world.
- In 1949, China became communist. American spies reported to Truman that Stalin was using the Cominform to help Communists gain power in Malaya, for example. Truman saw this with increasing anxiety, thinking that communist countries were working together to spread Communism. When South Korea was invaded in 1950, they took action. Korea had been ruled by Japan, but in World War II, the northern part was liberated by Soviet troops and the south by American troops.
- The North remained communist-controlled, with a communist leader trained by the USSR, Kim Il Sung, and a Soviet-style one-party system.
- The South was anti-communist, not very democratic, but anti-communist enough to win USA's support. President: Syngman Rhee.
In 1950, the hostility between these leaders spilled into warfare. North Korean troops overwhelmed the South's forces. As a consequence, Truman sent advisers, supplies, and warships to the waters around Korea and put pressure on the UN Security Council to condemn the actions of the North Koreans and to call on them to withdraw their troops.
In the cold war atmosphere of 1950, each superpower always denounced and opposed any action by the other, so the Soviet Union would have used its right of veto to block the call for action by the UN. (USSR was boycotting the UN at this time). When China became Communist in 1949, the US had blocked its entry to the United Nations. The USSR walked out of the UN as a protest. As the USA was the single biggest contributor to the UN, it was in a powerful position to influence its decision. The UN was committed to drive North Korean troops out of South Korea.
MacArthur had quickly achieved the original UN objective of removing North Korean troops from the south. North Koreans were driven back to the original border. Despite China's warnings that pressing on would mean its joining the war, the UN approved to advance into North Korea.
In October 1950, China joined the North Koreans, launching a successful attack. The UN troops recovered and it reached a stalemate.
MacArthur wanted to continue the war, invading China and even using nuclear weapons. However, Truman disagreed and said that saving South Korea was enough. The UN ruled out the attack on China.
In 1951, MacArthur ignored the UN instruction and openly threatened an attack on China. As a consequence, he was removed from his position, rejecting his aggressive policy towards communism.

Containment Policy

Bitter fighting continued until 1952, so when Truman was replaced by President Eisenhower who wanted to end the war.
With Stalin's death in March 1953, it made Chinese and North Koreans less confident. An armistice was finally signed in July 1953.


born in 1880. His father was an army leader. Trained at the top American military academy. Youngest commander. In 1950, at 70 years old, he was given command of the UN forces in Korea, but he was relieved of his duties in 1951. He died in 1964.

Was Containment the Right Policy?

There was no doubt at all in the USA that communism had to be resisted. Some favored the aggressive policy proposed by MacArthur, that containment was not enough. They wanted the USA to take the fight to the communists and push back the frontiers of communism. Dulles set up a network of anti-communist alliances around the world.
- South-east Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), in 1954
- Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), in 1955. The Soviets felt threatened and accused the USA of trying to encircle the communist world.
- In 1955, the Warsaw Treaty Organization or the Warsaw Pact was set up between the USSR and all the communist East European countries except Yugoslavia. Co-existence, the new leader of the USSR, Nikita Krushchev, seemed to ease tensions with the USA, he talked about peaceful co-existence. After ten years, the leaders met but they did not achieve anything specific, but this chat was some improvement. Not all Western leaders were convinced by Nikita, his behavior was a constant reminder of the evils of communism.
- 1956: Protest in Poland by a rise in food prices, the Red Army intervened.
- 1956: The crushing might of the Red Army put down an anti-communist rising in Hungary at the cost of their lives.
-1961: Communists built the Berlin Wall dividing the East and the West. The Soviet Union wanted to stop people leaving the East.

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