President Truman and the Korean War Term Paper

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Korean War is often called the quiet or forgotten war. Sandwiched in between the popular war, World War II, and an unpopular war, The Vietnam War, The Korean conflict was not the measure of hardware and military might which occurred in WWII.

The Korean War was also not the political boondoggle which arose during the Vietnam era. The Korean conflict tested the wills and strategies of the world's global super powers, and how they would respond to include the newly formed United Nations in their actions. As such, the Korean Conflict tested the character of the nations involved, rather than the military might, or will to win. As such, President Truman was at the center of the crucible, and responded to the crisis with political acumen.

Following the use of atomic weapons on Japan to end WWII, Russia had developed atomic weapons also. Thus as the world entered the military playground called the Korean peninsula, each country was fearful of a conflict which would escalate to a level wherein atomic weapons would be used again. The prior generation's definition of victory, which is total victory at all costs, became a secondary goal to the prosecution of this war. This war was about forming alliances which would last into a lengthy cold war, and securing partners who could watch borders from around the world. Because of atomic weaponry, prosecuting a war was no longer defined by moving large amounts of men and equipment from one location to another. War became a much more strategic enterprise, and for the newly formed United Nations, and the two victors from WWII, the war was a test of how far they would go and still avoid all out war, rather how far they would go to win the conflict. As the world looked at the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone had a clear understanding that an all out war would create no victors.

Because of the changed dynamics of armed conflict, when communist supplied and supported North Korea marched over the 38th parallel into South Korea, President Truman approached the situation from the vantage point of a diplomat as well as a military commander. He put General MacArthur on the ground with orders to repel the North Korean forces and protect the south, but he did so through the 'legal authority' of the UN rather than a declaration of war from the U.S. According to Berger (1965) for 2 years prior to the onset of the war, Truman had been working with the UN to engage a lasting peace on the continent. The UN had attempted to hold nation wide elections on the peninsula, and finally, under leadership from the Truman white house, arranged to hold elections in the north and the south only after joint initiatives had failed. While this angered the Russians, who accused the U.S. Of 'attempting to colonize Korea" (NY Times, 1948) engaging the process to build a lasting peace prior to the outbreak of war helped change the worlds opinion of the U.S. As the country which was willing to drop atomic bombs on it's adversaries to that of a nation committed to working toward peace.

Therefore when the North Korean's crossed the 38t Parallel into South Korea, Americas was swift to respond militarily, with the full support of the UN, and the international community. President Truman sent troops into the region in the basis of a "police keeping mission" rather than a declaration of war against the North. Without a declaration of war against North Korea, Russia was at a disadvantage, and could not 'officially' enter the conflict either. Although they were strongly in support of the measures taken by the North, and indeed may have initiated the conflict, they too were faced with the difficult of fighting a political and diplomatic war in the world community while troops battle for land and control of the Korean Peninsula.

According to Matlof (1990) Fifty-three U.N. members signified support of the Security Council's June 27 action which called for an international response to the North Korean aggression, and twenty-nine of these made specific offers of assistance. The Ground, air, and naval forces eventually sent to assist South Korea would originate from twenty U.N. members and one nonmember nation. The United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Turkey, Greece, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Thailand, the Philippines, Colombia and Ethiopia would furnish ground combat troops. India, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Italy (the non-United Nations country) would furnish medical units. Air forces would arrive from the United States, Australia, Canada, and the Union of South Africa; naval forces would come from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

The Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine was also framed in the political realities of the post WWII era. Truman began by describing the military and political pressures being applied to Greece and Turkey by terrorists and communists, while he did not specifically mention the Soviet Union, there was little doubt by his listeners that the Soviets were perhaps the largest target of the aggressive political policy. Truman explained that the British government was limited in the aid it could, since its resources were needed to rebuild its own country. He said that the assistance of the United Nations had been considered but that the UN was not in a position to extend the help required, i.e. military backing to political will. By using the communist expansion in the Greek isles as a backdrop, he conceded that the Greek government was not perfect and stated that U.S.'s aid did not mean the condoning of extremism on the left or the right. Reaffirming U.S. support 'for the U.N.'s goals of freedom and independence for all its members, Truman insisted that these objectives would not be realized "unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes... This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States." (Edwards, 1989) This was the heart of the Truman Doctrine: international peace and U.S. security were linked, and that as of the completion of WWII, America assumed Great Britain's role as keeper of the peace not only in the Near East but around the world.

In response to the totalitarian threat which was being felt in the Greek Isles, a full 4 years prior to the Korean War, Truman insisted that the United States respond firmly. However, in order to build international support, he focused his attention primarily on aid which could be provided through economic assistance.

Truman emphasized the seriousness of the crisis in the Near East at the time, stating that the fall of Greece and Turkey would cause "confusion and disorder" in the entire Middle East and would have a "profound effect" upon Europe. He therefore asked Congress for $400 million in aid to Greece and Turkey, arguing that "the free peoples of the world" looked to the United States to help them maintain their freedom. "If we falter," Said the president, "we may endanger the peace of the world-- and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation." (Jones, 1955)

The president received a standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans alike upon the delineation of the Truman Doctrine, but as Acheson comments, "this was a tribute to a brave man rather than unanimous acceptance of his policy." 3 In the senate, party loyalists began to sort out the details of what this doctrine would mean in dollars and sense, as well as commitment of military might. Some conceded that the United States had abandoned its previous practice of isolationism and would assist democratic governments to retain their freedom in every appropriate way.

By linking international peace and U.S. security, the president had seemed to suggest that the United States would "find it necessary to defend the United States against what might be called the chain reaction of aggression wherever it occurs in the world."

Through the course of hearings over the following weeks, the senators began to digest the logical consequences of the Truman Doctrine. The president's statement substantially broadened the concept of peace and security for the U.S. The Truman doctrine specified that wherever the United States found free peoples having difficulty in maintenance of free institutions, and difficulty in defending against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes, the United States was taking a position which put those totalitarian regimes on notice that while the U.S. may not respond in the same way to each situation, the U.S. did propose to react. (Jones, 1955) In this brief discussion in the congress regarding the changing field of foreign policy, a bipartisan understanding on the global thrust of the Truman Doctrine was publicly forged. The emphasis on assisting already free peopled rather than…[continue]

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