Chapter 4 – U.S. “Containment” Strategy from Truman to Johnson - 1950 to 1968

commanded, in addition to South Korean and U.S. forces, other Allied combat troops that included units from Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, and Thailand as well as non-combat contributions from a number of other nations.

Truman on the War’s Stakes. Truman’s Radio/TV Address to the American People on July 19, 1950 included the following vivid description of the history and stakes involved in the Korean battlefront against international Communism. Thus:

This attack has made it clear, beyond all doubt, that the international Communist movement is willing to use armed invasion to conquer independent nations. An act of aggression such as this creates a very real danger to the security of all free nations, . . . an outright breach of the peace and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations . . . contempt for the basic moral principles on which the United Nations is founded. . . .

. . . [A U.N.] commission was sent out to supervise a free election in the whole of Korea. However, this election was held only in the southern part of the country, because the Soviet Union refused to permit an election for this purpose to be held in the northern part. Indeed, the Soviet authorities even refused to permit the United Nations Commission to visit northern Korea.

Nevertheless, the U.N. decided to go ahead where it could. In August 1948, the Republic of Korea was established as a free and independent nation in that part of Korea south of the 38th Parallel. . . . However, the Communist authorities never have permitted the United Nations observers to visit northern Korea to see what was going on behind that part of the Iron Curtain. . . . [After North Korea’s invasion of South Korea,] the Security Council . . . recommended the members of the United Nations help the Republic of Korea repel the attack and help restore peace and security in that area.

Fifty-two of the fifty-nine countries which are members of the United Nations have given their support to the action taken by the Security Council. . . . General MacArthur says: “ . . . We are now in Korea in force, and with God’s help, we are there to stay until the constitutional authority of the Republic of Korea is fully restored.”6

War—1950 to 1953. Equipped with modern Soviet armor, artillery, and anti-air defenses supported by Soviet-piloted MIG jets, the North Korean forces quickly overwhelmed the sparse U.N. forces, captured the South Korean capital, Seoul, and forced a U.N. retreat to a small defense perimeter around the southeastern port city of Pusan (now Busan). At this desperate point, General MacArthur conducted a landing of U.S. and other forces on September 15, 1950, at the port of Inchon located 200 miles to the north near Seoul. With the addition of reinforcements, they cut North Korean supply lines in the south and forced the invaders back across the Thirty-Eighth Parallel. By November 1950, the Allied forces had pursued the North Korean forces almost to the Yalu River that marked the border between North Korea and the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese Intervention to Cease Fire. The Korean War vastly expanded on November 26, 1950, when several hundred thousand Chinese “volunteer” troops stormed across the Yalu River into North Korea to join their North Korean allies, despite the lack of provocation, as no targets north of the Chinese border had been struck by U.S.-U.N. forces responding to the North’s invasion of South Korea. The Chinese overwhelmed the Allied forces and forced their retreat, inflicting major losses in battles including one at the Chosin Reservoir. By the end of the year, the Communist allies had driven the U.N. forces back to lines close to the Thirty-Eighth Parallel and had captured and held Seoul from January 4, 1951 to March 14, when U.N. forces, aided by Inchon landings west of Seoul, forced them to retreat far north of the Thirty-Eighth Parallel. At the same time, MacArthur’s proposals to carry the war to China’s border regions led Truman to replace him on April 10 with General Matthew Ridgway. After a series of diplomatic maneuvers by the belligerents, negotiations on a ceasefire opened in June 1950 and continued with numerous interruptions, even as major battles continued simultaneously for two years, including the costly U.S.-U.N. September 1951 victory at Heartbreak Ridge in North Korea.

Armistice—1953 and Beyond. By the time Dwight Eisenhower succeeded Truman as president in January 1953, the war had reached a military stalemate while negotiations continued. Following a U.S. threat of the possible use of nuclear weapons (see below), and Stalin’s death in March 1953, the negotiations led to a ceasefire signed on July 26, 1953 and the established a Demilitarized Zone line close to the Thirty-Ninth Parallel. Sixteen nations participated in the Korean War on the U.N. side, and over 35,000 Americans gave their lives in the war, with thousands of others wounded. Several hundred thousand Korean lives were lost and most towns and villages in South and North Korea were severely damaged during the three years of intense warfare.

[Book pg. 78]