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Korean War 1950-1953

1. John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War – A New History, (London: Penguin, 2005)
Korea, like Germany, had been jointly occupied by Soviet and American forces at the end of World War II. The
nation had been part of the Japanese empire since 1910, and when Japanese resistance suddenly collapsed in the
summer of 1945, the Red Army, which had been planning to invade Manchuria, found the way open into
northern Korea as well. The way was also open, in southern Korea, for some of the American troops whose
original mission had been to invade the Japanese home islands. The peninsula was occupied, therefore, more by
accident than by design: that probably accounts for the fact that Moscow and Washington were able to agree
without difficulty that the 38th parallel, which split the peninsula in half, would serve as a line of demarcation
pending the creation of a single Korean government and the subsequent withdrawal of occupation forces. Those
withdrawals did take place, in 1948–49, but there was no agreement on who would run the country. Instead it
remained divided, with the American-supported Republic of Korea in control of the south by virtue of an
election sanctioned by the United Nations, while the Soviet-supported Democratic Republic of Korea ruled the
north, where elections were not held. The only thing unifying the country by then was a civil war, with each side
claiming to be the legitimate government and threatening to invade the other.
Neither could do so, however, without superpower support. This the Americans denied to their South Korean
allies, chiefly because the Truman administration had decided to liquidate all positions on the Asian mainland
and concentrate on the defense of island strongpoints like Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines—though not
Taiwan. The South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, repeatedly sought support for his ambitions to liberate the
north from officials in Washington, as well as from General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of United
States occupation forces in Japan, but he never got it. One of the reasons the Americans withdrew their troops
from South Korea, indeed, was their fear that the unpredictable Rhee might “march north,” and thus drag them
into a war they did not want.
Rhee’s North Korean counterpart, Kim Il-sung, had similar designs on the south, and for a time a similar
experience with his superpower sponsor. He had repeatedly sought support in Moscow for a military campaign
to unify Korea, and had been repeatedly turned down—until January, 1950, when yet another request got a more
encouraging response. What made the difference, it appears, was Stalin’s conviction that a “second front” was
now feasible in East Asia, that it could be created by proxies, thus minimizing the risk to the U.S.S.R., and that
the Americans would not respond. They had done nothing, after all, to save the Chinese nationalists, and on
January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Acheson had even announced publicly that the American “defensive
perimeter” did not extend to South Korea. Stalin read the speech carefully—as well as (courtesy of British spies)
the top-secret National Security Council study upon which it was based—and authorized his foreign minister,
Molotov, to discuss it with Mao Zedong. The Soviet leader then informed Kim Il-sung that “according to
information coming from the United States, . . . the prevailing mood is not to interfere.” Kim in turn assured
Stalin that “the attack will be swift and the war will be won in three days.”
Stalin’s “green light” to Kim Il-sung was part of the larger strategy for seizing opportunities in East Asia that he
had discussed with the Chinese: shortly after endorsing the invasion of South Korea, he also encouraged Ho Chi
Minh to intensify the Viet Minh offensive against the French in Indochina. Victories in both locations would
maintain the momentum generated by Mao’s victory the previous year. They would compensate for the setbacks
the Soviet Union had encountered in Europe, and they would counter increasingly obvious American efforts to
bring Japan within its system of postwar military alliances. A particular advantage of this strategy was that it
would not require direct Soviet involvement: the North Koreans and the Viet Minh would take the initiative,
operating under the pretext of unifying their respective countries. And the Chinese, still eager to legitimize their
revolution by winning Stalin’s approval, were more than willing to provide backup support, if and when needed.
These were the events, then, that led to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. What Stalin had not
anticipated was the effect it would have on the Americans: this unexpected attack was almost as great a shock as
the one on Pearl Harbor nine years earlier, and its consequences for Washington’s strategy were at least as
profound. South Korea in and of itself was of little importance to the global balance of power, but the fact that it
had been invaded so blatantly—across the 38th parallel, a boundary sanctioned by the United Nations—appeared
to challenge the entire structure of postwar collective security. It had been just this sort of thing that had led to
the collapse of international order during the 1930s, and to the subsequent outbreak of World War II.
2. UNSecurity Council – Resolution 84 (July 05, 1950 )
The Security Council,
Having determined that the armed attack upon the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea
constitutes a breach of the peace, Having recommended that Members of the United Nations furnish
such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore
international peace and security in the area,
1. Welcomes the prompt and vigorous support which Governments and peoples of the United Nations
have given to its resolutions 82 (1950) and 83 (1950) of 25 and 27 June 1950 to assist the Republic of
Korea in defending itself against armed attack and thus to restore international peace and security in the
2. Notes that Members of the United Nations have transmitted to the United Nations offers of
assistance for the Republic of Korea;
3. Recommends that all Members providing military forces and other assistance pursuant to the
aforesaid Security Council resolutions make such forces and other assistance available to a unified
command under the United States of America;
4. Requests the United States to designate the commander of such forces;
5. Authorizes the unified command at its discretion to use the United Nations flag in the course of
operations against North Korean forces concurrently with the flags of the various nations participating;
6. Requests the United States to provide the Security Council with reports as appropriate on the course
of action taken under the unified command.
Adopted at the 476th meeting by 7 votes to none, with 3 abstentions (Egypt, India, Yugoslavia)

3. Khrushchev, in his memoirs, record Stalin's support for the Korean War.
I remember Stalin had his doubts. He was worried that the Americans would jump in but we were inclined to
think that if the war was fought swiftly—and Kim II Sung was sure that it could be won swiftly—then
intervention by the USA could be avoided... I must stress that the war wasn't Stalin's idea but Kim II Sung's. Kim
was the initiator. Stalin of course didn't try to dissuade h i m . . . Stalin called back all of our advisers who were
with the North Korean divisions and regiments as well as all of the advisers who were serving as consultants and
helping to build up the army. I asked Stalin about this, and he snapped back at me, 'It's too dangerous to keep our
advisers there. They might be taken prisoner. We don't want there to be evidence for accusing us of taking part in
this business. It's Kim II Sung's affair.

4. Ciphered telegram from Stalin to Kim Il Sung 13.10.1950

I have just received a telegram from Mao Zedong in which he reports that the CC CPC [Central Committee of
the Communist Party of China] discussed the situation [in Korea] again and decided after all to render military
assistance to the Korean comrades, regardless of the insufficient armament of the Chinese troops. I am awaiting
detailed reports about this matter from Mao Zedong. In connection with this new decision of the Chinese
comrades, I ask you to postpone temporarily the implementation of the telegram sent to you yesterday about the
evacuation of North Korea and the retreat of the Korean troops to the north.

4. General MacArthur's resignation. - after he was dismissed as commander-in-chief of US forces in Korea

he returned to USA and was asked to justify his actions to the Congress on 11.04.1951.
In the simplest terms what we are doing in Korea is this: we are trying to prevent a third world w a r . . . It is
right for us to be in Korea. It was right last June. It is right today. I want to remind you why this is true. The
communists in the Kremlin are engaged in a monstrous conspiracy to stamp out freedom all over the world. If
they were to succeed the United States would be numbered among their principal victims. It must be clear to
everyone that the United States cannot—and will not—sit idly by and await foreign conquest. The only question
is: when is the best time to meet the threat and how? The best time to meet the threat is in the beginning. It is
easier to put out a fire in the beginning when it is small than after it has become a roaring blaze.