The Korean War was a civil war between the nations of North Korea and South Korea, which was a result of the occupation zones of the Soviet Union and the United States that were established at the end of World War II. Often called the “forgotten war” because of the lack of attention Americans had given it, the Korean War demonstrated how the direction of United States foreign policy was affected during the Cold War. The failure to hold free elections after World War II throughout the Korean Peninsula deepened the division between the two sides; the North established a communist government, while the South established a capitalist one. The 38th parallel increasingly became a contested border between the two Korean states. Although reunification negotiations continued in the months preceding the war, tension intensified. The situation escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950. Pushed by the US, the United Nations voted to act and member states sent troops to resist the offensive. China became involved on the North Korean side, and pushed the conflict towards a new direction. The Korean War marked the first significant armed conflict of the Cold War. The conflict persisted over three years until an armistice agreement was reached in July 1953. Today, Korea remains divided along the 38th parallel. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two nations is still the most heavily fortified border in the world. There is still hope among the peoples in the North and South that Korea will once again be united under one flag.
The Korean War brought the effects of the Cold War to Asia, and as Michael Hickey observes, it was the point at which “the Cold War turned hot for the first time.”1 Political ideologies clashed on the Korean peninsula, as the Western capitalist nations like the United States and the United Kingdom, faced off against the Communist powers – China and the Soviet Union. The American presence in Korea was important for the United States’ stance on containment, as they understood that they had the duty to defend the free world from the possibility of Communist control. As Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated, “The American people are faithful to the cause of human freedom and loyal to those everywhere who honorably support it. Today the Korean people are in the front line of freedom … you encounter a new menace, that of Soviet Communism.”2 For the United States, the Korean War made a significant change to the United States’ foreign policy, sparked an increase in the defense budget, and demonstrated that limited wars were possible in containing the Soviet threat around the world. The United States entered the Korean War with hopes of defending South Korea from a communist invasion, following their policy of containment. The outbreak of the Korean War provided the spark for the militarization of containment, which previously had been focused on containment through ideology and economic aid. Prior to American military intervention in Korea, the goal was to form a unified Korea through the process of a democratic election. However, with the subsequent attack on South Korea by the North, the hopes of containing the Soviet threat in Korea forced the United States to intervene militarily. As Dulles expressed, the conflict showed that communism could not be checked by merely building up sound domestic economies, “the military blow from the North dissipates the thesis that internal reform and well-being is itself a sufficient defense against communist aggression.”3 When the North Koreans invaded the South, many were critical of the Truman Administration for having allowed this happen. Blame was affixed to Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State to President Truman, who in a speech had excluded South Korea from being vital to U.S interests, as U.S strategic policy at that time focused on maintaining a strong American presence in Europe and several island...
Cited: "A Report to the National Security Council - NSC 68", April 12, 1950. President 's Secretary 's File, Truman Papers, Truman Library .
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Dulles, John Foster
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"Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Situation in Korea, September 1, 1950." Public Papers of the Presidents: Harry S. Truman. [PUBLICATION INFORMATION OR URL?]
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