The Korean War
War and American Society 2014OCT HIS-356-OL010
Written Assignment 4: “The Forgotten War”
10 December 2014
The Korean War has been called the forgotten war for various reasons. It has never been considered our most successful venture. Based on liberation, the American objective of bringing unified peace to the Koreans was never met, and it wasn’t until the opposing sides sat down and negotiated the conflict, that the war or police action had come to an end. The term may have been coined based off the idea that the Korean War was left in the shadows of WWII and Vietnam. The impact that these larger military engagements have had on America seems to have shifted the focus away from the Korean War. Lacking major historical substance or impact, the Korean War seems to be almost intentionally forgotten. America neither won nor lost the war in Korea, and we were unable to reach a clear-cut agreement to indefinitely conclude the conflict. Perhaps the fact that neither side had ever truly ended the feud is the reason it has been called forgotten. People grew tired of waiting for a permanent, peaceful resolution between Koreans, that eventually they accepted the ongoing conflict, and began to forget. “The Korean War has become America 's ‘Forgotten War,’ and those who fought it have become America 's forgotten warriors”(Lloyd, 2012). The war may have been drawn out and ended in somewhat of a stalemate, but the conflict isn’t over; it is merely lying dormant, and has been doing so for the past 50 years.
The feud between communist North Korea and anti-communist South Korea began as a civil war that turned into an international conflict. The United States acknowledged the threat of the potential for communism to spread and the threat of expansion did not sit well with president Truman. A national containment strategy was implemented with the objective of preventing expansion. The Korean warfare was, in reality, a United Nations action. The United Nations agreed with Truman, and their approval eventually lead to our involvement in the war. When North Korea invaded South Korea, the US felt obligated to respond. It has been said that when a nation gets involved in international affairs, they are typically acting on their on best interest and not the best interest of said nation. As far as America and the Korean War is concerned, it could be argued that President Truman decided to enter Korea to showcase our value within the United Nations, prove our ability to aide in civil unrest, and help re-establish political systems. But instead of America going in front of the world and displaying its effectiveness and value in the UN, we ended up displaying our ineffectiveness and military arrogance. “The truth had yet to penetrate a feeling of cocky complacency and American superiority, but the realization that we could not look forward to a swift Buck-Rogers-style victory over helpless masses of “Gooks,” “Chinks,” and “Rooskies” was already sobering military circles” (Stone 1952). So would it have been possible for Truman to endorse his preconceived peace treaty as a cover story to justify Americas desire to enter an international conflict? Presumably, based on his own best interest of adding another success story to his legacy as president, the war could have been a tool to build up Truman’s political resume. The reality of these accusations are unclear, but the validation of these claims would make Truman a major contributor to a international genocide, leaving him with the blood of millions of civilians and soldiers on his hands.
The Korean War took place over a series of phases. Composed of political and military action, these phases encompass the consecutive chronological circumstances and parties during the engagement. The first phase was the initial invasion of South Korea by their northern counterparts, in which non-communist Koreans were forced to the southern most point of Korea. I view the communist invasion as a worldwide alarm being sounded that created the means to justify immediate international intervention. The second phase refers to the actions taken by the United Nations to regain control in the south, and restore a border agreement. The 38th parallel was pushed up, and the North Koreans were shuffled back north towards the Chinese border. This phase served as a catalyst for the evolving participation of foreign countries engaging in warfare. The third phase of the war deals with the reaction and involvement of the Chinese as troops advanced towards their border. The Chinese intervention resulted in the opposing forces being pushed back by the heavily armed Chinese forces. Our soldiers wee eventually able regain the territory lost by forcing the Northern Koreans back to the 38th parallel and restoring containment. The fourth and final phase discusses the circumstances that lead to the eventual armistice. Neither side wanted to continue pursuing victory out of the fear of risking more casualties. Talks of a truce were being discussed as the fighting raged on for years, until eventually each side committed to a cease-fire agreement, and the warfare came to halt before ever reaching the objective to unify Korea. The fourth phase had the greatest impact on reestablishing peace. For the first time after the initial invasion, South Korea regained a sense of peace. I feel as if the people of South Korea knew that the end to the fighting would not last forever, but I am sure that they were thankful to return to their old lifestyle, and begin rebuilding a sense of normalcy.
The results of the Korean War were far from what America had intended. The Korean War has been referred to as a limited war, opposed to the total war that took place in WWII. It was limited in political objectives and intentions for implementing military force; however the war was not limited in the sense of casualties. How can a war that resulted in over 4 millions deaths with the majority being Korean civilians be labeled as limited? I feel as if it wasn’t just the devastating cost of human life that made the war appalling, the monetary value of the war was also staggering, and in total, the war cost America over 50 billion dollars. I have come to acknowledge that the war was not a complete loss. In the grand scheme, President Truman set that stage for strengthening executive power in politics, and the concept of containment was successful in theory. But Truman may have pushed the envelope and overstepped his boundaries by essentially initiating a war without first going through congress or issuing a formal declaration, thus elevating his executive powers. The containment objective was a victory in the sense that we helped reestablish and maintain a stronghold on the 38th parallel separating North and South Korea, which ultimately diffused the situation. Due to our alleged success in aiding in the containment of communism, America was able to let their guard down and embrace the calm after the storm. Although the storm no longer rains down in hails of bullets or thunderous bombing, the clouds have never dissipated. The two feuding sides simply agreed to embrace the break in stormy weather, while acknowledging that the lingering threat of a rainy day is an ominous and unsettling reality.
After the Korean War, America continued their diplomatic efforts to prolong the containment of communism and unite Korea as a non-communist nation. It has been said that the Korean conflict set the stage for the Cold War, which ultimately led to our continued presence in that part of the world. “The Korean War was the first major conflict of the nuclear age. While no atomic bombs were used, there was always a threat that expansion of the fighting two areas beyond the Korean peninsula would inevitably lead to WWIII and a nuclear holocaust”(Anderson 1984). I believe our continued interest in Korea stemmed primarily from the reality that there was no definitive solution set in place; the threat had not disappeared, but had merely been tucked away. America has maintained interest in that part of the world because of communism. North Korea, China and the Soviet Union were all active communist nations that have continued to be perceived as political liabilities, which have steadily captured America’s attention. This made America and the UN retain a heightened state of alert, as they were afraid of the domino theory taking effect. It would appear as if our continued commitment of troops and diplomatic efforts are in response to conflicts and political actions pertaining to the communist nations gathered in that part of the world. As Truman stated "The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive” (Truman, 1947). After all was said and done, the United States had not been the deciding force that restored peace. America had been unsuccessful in our strategic restoration, and nothing has really changed. Korea is still divided, and both sides still enforce one of the strictest borders in the world. “There are still multiple unpleasant facts Americans have not learned about this war, truths that most Americans do not know and perhaps don’t want to know, truths sometimes as shocking as they are unpalatable to American self-esteem”(Garner, 2010).
Anderson, Kenneth. "THE KOREAN WAR." In US Military Operations, 1945-1985, 62.
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Garner, Dwight. "Books of The Times Carpet-Bombing Falsehoods About a War
That’s Little Understood." The New York Times. July 21, 2010. Accessed
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War, 341-342. Second Paperback Editon ed. New York: Monthly Review
Truman, Harry. "The Truman Doctrine- A radio address to the Nation1947."
Ahshistory. Accessed December 6, 2014. http://www.ahshistory.com/wp content/uploads/2013/06/THE-TRUMAN-DOCTRINE.pdf.
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