The Military Implementation of Containment
The Korean War was the first militarized instance of containment, as U.S. and South Korea fought against communist North Korea.
Key PointsIn June 1950, North Korean troops surged across the border into South Korea, triggering the first major confrontation between the forces of the communist and non-communist worlds.The Korean War was the first time the policy of containment spread outside the initial Asian defense perimeter as defined by the U.S. Secretary of State.The success of the Inchon landing inspired the U.S. and the United Nations to adopt a rollback strategy to overthrow the Communist North Korean regime, which was later revoked after the Chinese Army intervened.The cease-fire armistice that resulted from the Korean conflict divided Korea into a Communist northern state and a republican southern state, with a demilitarized zone between the two territories that remains to this day.Currently, American troops are still stationed in South Korea.Key TermsDouglas MacArthur: An American army general and field marshal of the Philippine Army who was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He led the U.N. forces during the Korean War.containment: A United States policy using numerous strategies to prevent the spread of communism abroad. A component of the Cold War, this policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to enlarge communist influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, and Vietnam. It represented a middle-ground position between détente and rollback.
Containment and the Korean War
Containment was the major Cold War policy of the United States and its allies to prevent the spread of communism abroad. This policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to enlarge communist influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa, and Vietnam. Containment represented a middle-ground position between detente (the easing of strained political relations) and rollback (forcing change in the major policies of a state, usually by replacing its ruling regime). It lets the opponent choose the place and time of any confrontation. During the Cold War it meant intervening to prevent the spread of Communism to new countries but not attacking nations that were already Communist.
In line with this policy, the U.S. attempted to curb Soviet influence on the Korean Peninsula by occupying the southern part of that area. The area occupied by the U.S. became South Korea, while the other part became North Korea. North Korea soon passed into the control of the Communist Party.
In May 1949, fighting between North and South Korean troops broke out near the border between the two nations. In an attempt to add South Korea to the Communist World, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. The People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union lent their support to North Korea, while the United States did the same to South Korea. On June 25, 1950, a large military force moved across the 38th parallel in the Republic of Korea.
On Saturday, June 24, 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson informed President Truman by telephone, “Mr. President, I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.” Truman and Acheson discussed a U.S. invasion response with defense department principals, who agreed that the United States was obligated to repel military aggression. They likened the situation to Adolf Hitler’s aggressions in the 1930s, and said that the mistake of appeasement must not be repeated. In his autobiography, President Truman acknowledged that fighting the invasion was essential to the American goal of the global containment of communism as outlined in the National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68). The Korean War was the first militarized instance of containment, as U.S. and South Korea fought against communist North Korea.
On June 27, 1950, the United Nations Security Council first adopted a ceasefire resolution. When the UN Security Council voted to aid South Korea in stopping North Korean aggression, the U.S. agreed to send troops to the Korean Peninsula. General Douglas MacArthur was given the command of UN troops in Korea. The U.S. agreed to send troops over on June 30 along with increasing aid to the French fight against Communists rebels in Indochina. MacArthur was placed in command on July 8. At the beginning the U.S. troops lacked training and were out of shape. In the first few weeks of fighting, the U.S. troops were pushed back to a defensive perimeter at Pusan.
Incheon: US success at Incheon encouraged UN and US forces to pursue a policy of rollback in Korea. This photograph depicts General MacArthur observing the Incheon Landing.
As a counter-offensive, MacArther launched the Inchon Landing, a decisive victory and strategic reversal in favor of the United Nations. The success of the Inchon landing inspired the U.S. and the United Nations to adopt a rollback strategy to overthrow the Communist North Korean regime, thus allowing nationwide elections under U.N. auspices. General Douglas MacArthur then advanced across the 38th parallel into North Korea. The Chinese sent in a large army and defeated the U.N. forces, pushing them below the 38th parallel. Although the Chinese had been planning to intervene for months, this action was interpreted by Truman’s supporters as a response to U.S. forces crossing the 38th parallel. This allowed the episode to be used to confirm the wisdom of containment doctrine as opposed to rollback. The Communists were later pushed back to around the original border. Truman blamed MacArthur’s focus on victory and adopted a “limited war” policy. His focus shifted to negotiating a settlement, which was finally reached in 1953. For his part, MacArthur denounced Truman’s “no-win policy.”
Chinese forces enter Korea: Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River and joined the Korean War. Chinese entrance into the War prolonged the conflict and increased tensions between the U.S. and China.
While not directly committing forces to the conflict, the Soviet Union provided material aid to both the North Korean and Chinese armies. The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, when the armistice agreement was signed. The agreement restored the border between the Koreas near the 38th Parallel and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile-wide fortified buffer zone between the two Korean nations. Minor incidents still continue today.
The Korean War
The Korean War was one of the most significant events of the Cold War, caused largely by the broader tensions between America and the Soviet Union.
Describe the progression of the Korean War and the cost to human life and general resources
Key PointsThe Korean War was primarily the result of the political division of Korea by an agreement of the victorious Allies at the conclusion of the Pacific War at the end of World War II.In June 1950, the Soviet and Chinese backed North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea.The UN responded by coming to the aid of South Korea, led mainly by the United States.In September 1950, the U.S. military led a successful attack on North Korea, which led to China sending troops to support the North Korean Army.Eventually, after an intense war of attrition, an armistice was signed that created a demilitarized zone between North and South Korea; however, no peace treaty was ever signed and the war continues to this day.During the main years of fighting, approximately 1.2 million people died on all sides of the conflict.Key Terms38th parallel: This latitudinal parallel divides the Korean peninsula roughly in the middle. In 1948, this parallel became the boundary between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), both of which claim to be the government of the whole of Korea.war of attrition: A military strategy in which a belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and materiel.Joseph Stalin: The leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. The United Nations, with the United States as the principal force, came to the aid of South Korea. China, with assistance from the Soviet Union, came to the aid of North Korea. The war arose from the division of Korea at the end of World War II and from the global tensions of the Cold War that developed immediately afterwards.
Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II. In August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan as a result of an agreement with the United States and liberated Korea north of the 38th parallel. U.S. forces subsequently moved into the south. By 1948, as a product of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, Korea was split in to two separate governments. Both claimed to be the legitimate government of Korea, and neither side accepted the border as permanent. The civil war escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces—supported by the Soviet Union and China—moved to the south to unite the country on June 25, 1950. On that day, the United Nations Security Council recognized this North Korean act as invasion and called for an immediate ceasefire. Twenty-one countries of the United Nations eventually contributed to the defense of South Korea, with the United States providing 88% of the UN’s military personnel. On the North Korean side, Joseph Stalin “planned, prepared, and initiated” the invasion, creating “detailed
After the first two months of the conflict, South Korean forces were on the point of defeat, forced back to the Pusan Perimeter. In September 1950, an amphibious UN counter-offensive was launched at Inchon and cut off many of the North Korean attackers. Those that escaped envelopment and capture were rapidly forced back north all the way to the border with China at the Yalu River, or into the mountainous interior. At this point, in October 1950, Chinese forces crossed the Yalu and entered the war. Chinese intervention triggered a retreat of UN forces that continued until mid-1951. After these dramatic reversals of fortune, which saw Seoul change hands four times, the last two years of conflict became a war of attrition, with the front line close to the 38th parallel. The war in the air, however, was never a stalemate. North Korea was subject to a massive bombing campaign. Jet fighters confronted each other in air-to-air combat for the first time in history, and Soviet pilots covertly flew in defense of their Communist allies.
As a result of early Chinese tactical successes, General Douglas MacArthur, who was in command of U.N. forces in Korea, argued in favor of using nuclear weapons against China and/or the North Korean interior in order to disrupt Chinese supply lines and force negotiations. MacArthur attempted to orchestrate public support for bombing China and assisting an invasion of the mainland by KMT forces led by Chiang Kai-shek. MacArthur’s stance contributed to his controversial dismissal by President Truman. In April 1951, Truman relieved MacArthur of his duties and replaced him with Ridgway.
The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea and allowed the return of prisoners. However, no peace treaty has been signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war. Periodic clashes, many deadly, have continued to the present.
The Truman administration was unprepared for the invasion. Korea was not included in the strategic Asian Defense Perimeter outlined by Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Military strategists were more concerned with the security of Europe against the Soviet Union than East Asia. At the same time, the Administration was worried that a war in Korea could quickly widen into another world war should the Chinese or Soviets decide to get involved.
A major consideration was the possible Soviet reaction in the event of U.S. intervention. The Truman administration was fretful that a war in Korea was a diversionary assault that would escalate to a general war in Europe once the United States committed in Korea. At the same time, “
According to the data from the U.S. Department of Defense, the United States suffered 33,686 battle deaths and 2,830 non-battle deaths during the Korean War. U.S. battle deaths were 8,516 before its first engagement with the Chinese on November 1, 1950. South Korea reported 373,599 civilian and 137,899 military deaths. Western sources estimate the PVA suffered about 400,000 killed and 486,000 wounded, while the KPA suffered 215,000 killed and 303,000 wounded.
Data from official Chinese sources, on the other hand, reported that the PVA had suffered 114,000 battle deaths, 34,000 non-battle deaths, 340,000 wounded, 7,600 missing, and 21,400 captured during the war. Among those captured, about 14,000 defected to Taiwan, while the other 7,110 were repatriated to China. Chinese sources also reported that North Korea suffered 290,000 casualties, 90,000 captured and a “large” number of civilian deaths.
Recent scholarship has put the full battle death toll on all sides at just over 1.2 million.
Postwar recovery was different in the two Koreas. South Korea stagnated in the first postwar decade. In 1953, South Korea and the United States concluded a Mutual Defense Treaty. In 1960, the April Revolution occurred and students joined an anti-Syngman Rhee demonstration; 142 were killed by police, leading Rhee to resign and flee to the United States.
From 1965 to 1973, South Korea dispatched troops to Vietnam and received $235,560,000 allowance and military procurement from the U.S. GNP increased five-fold during the Vietnam War. South Korea industrialized and modernized. Contemporary North Korea remains underdeveloped. South Korea had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies from the early 1960s to the late 1990s.
Following extensive USAF bombing, North Korea “had been virtually destroyed as an industrial society.” After the armistice, Kim Il-Sung requested Soviet economic and industrial assistance. In September 1953, the Soviet government agreed to “cancel or postpone repayment for all… outstanding debts,” and promised to grant North Korea one billion rubles in monetary aid, industrial equipment, and consumer goods. Eastern European members of the Soviet Bloc also contributed with “logistical support, technical aid,
Postwar, about 100,000 North Koreans were executed in purges. According to Rummel, forced labor and concentration camps were responsible for over one million deaths in North Korea from 1945 to 1987; others have estimated 400,000 deaths in concentration camps alone. Estimates based on the most recent North Korean census suggest that 240,000 to 420,000 people died as a result of the 1990s North Korean famine and that there were 600,000 to 850,000 unnatural deaths in North Korea from 1993 to 2008. The North Korean government has been accused of “crimes against humanity” for its alleged culpability in creating and prolonging the 1990s famine.
South Korean anti-Americanism after the war was fueled by the presence and behavior of American military personnel (USFK) and U.S. support for the authoritarian regime, a fact still evident during the country’s democratic transition in the 1980s. However, anti-Americanism has declined significantly in South Korea in recent years, from 46% favorable in 2003 to 74% favorable in 2011, making South Korea one of the most pro-American countries in the world.