Truman's Dilemma in the Korean War Essay

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President Harry S. Truman found himself entrenched in a major dilemma as the Korean War unfolded. The consensus among most political leaders in the United States was that the Soviet Union was intending to export communism to the rest of the world. This consensus formed the basis of the American foreign policy with the goal being to contain communism at home and abroad. In Europe, this policy was characterized by the Marshall Plan but, in Asia, this policy became identified by the United States' participation in the Korean War.

Korea had been divided at the end of the Second World War into two halves. This division had occurred as a result of the Soviet Union having invaded Korea during the War and the Japanese subsequently surrendering to the Soviets. The United States, fearing that the Soviet Union might try to establish a communist government on the entire peninsula moved troops into southern Korea toward the end of the War. Subsequently, the United States and the Soviet Union peacefully agreed to divide Korea at the 38th parallel. In the North a communist government was organized while a rival government was established in the South. Unfortunately, each government was intent on uniting the nation under its own principles which created an unstable condition.

Despite this situation the Truman administration had adopted a position of withdrawal from Korea. The State Department had argued that Korea lay outside the United States' defense perimeter and that they had no intention of defending South Korea from any potential attack from North Korea. Several World events, however, caused the United States to reconsider its position. First, the news that the Soviet Union had exploded an atomic bomb caused great concern as America's monopoly on the weapon was now eliminated. Additionally, the Soviet Union began to intervene in political affairs in both Greece and Turkey. Finally, in China, a communist government under the leadership of Mao Tse Tong was established. This series of events caused the Truman administration to re-evaluate its position so that when the North Koreans invaded the South Truman determined that he needed to take action to protect the democratic South Korean government. Based upon the events in Europe and China, Truman reasoned that the Communists were determined to expand their sphere of influence throughout not only Europe but also throughout Asia and that in order to stall their efforts the United States needed to make a statement in Korea.

Truman, although he strongly believed that the North Koreans needed to be stopped, did not want to act unilaterally against the North Koreans. He categorically believed that the Soviet Union and Red China were behind the North Koreans' efforts but felt that any assistance provided to the South Korean government must be done under the auspices of the newly formed United Nations. Through the urging of the United States, the United Nations sent forces to South Korea but the United States sent the bulk of the forces and directed the operations.

Although Truman was dedicated to stalling the expansion of Communist influence throughout the World, he was also determined to not allow political events to deteriorate into another World War. This caused Truman to be placed in a position of attempting to limit Communist expansion but not being able to wage an all-out military offensive. As a result, Truman ordered that the United States limit its activities in Korea so as to not irritate either the Soviet Union or Red China too severely. This position caused a major rift to occur between Truman and his commanding general, Douglas MacArthur, who favored a more aggressive approach. Matters between the two developed into a major media event that resulted in Truman actually being forced to dismiss MacArthur. MacArthur emerged from the dispute a national hero while Truman suffered significantly in the polls.

Shortly after MacArthur's dismissal, the North Koreans, who had been forced back deep into their own country, mounted a major offensive that allowed them to push the United Nation forces below the 38th parallel. During this offensive the North Koreans were heavily assisted by the Red Chinese government with both manpower and armaments. This action by Red China confirmed Truman's suspicions and he became more determined to take a position that would…[continue]

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