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U.S. History Curriculum
XIII. THE COLD WAR
Understand the development of hostilities between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies after World War II.
Many of the issues that divided the post-war world were decided at the World War II summit meetings at Tehran (November, 1943), Yalta (February, 1945), and Postdam (July-August, 1945).
President Roosevelt knew of the weaknesses of the League of Nations and believed that only the great powers could insure peace in the postwar era. In his view, the "Four Policemen"--the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China--should assume the responsibility of preventing aggression after subduing the Axis. The movement to found a new league based upon the concept of collective security gathered strength, however, especially in Congress, and the President had little choice but to embrace the scheme. He did succeed in incorporating some of his views in the United Nations: the five great powers (France was added) would become permanent members of the Security Council, the UN's principal executive organ, and they would possess a veto over its actions. The Senate of the U.S. approved membership in the U.N. in July, 1945, by the vote of 89 to 2.
When the "big three" met at Yalta the main outlines of the conference had been agreed to at Tehran. The three leaders generally agreed to deNazify and demilitarize postwar Germany but not about how to achieve these goals. Disagreement existed not only between the Allies but also within the American government. Some leaders believed that while Germany deserved rather drastic treatment, the Allies should not reduce its sixty-odd millions to a semi-starvation level. They believed that Germany should have a sufficient economic base to feed itself and to play a constructive role in the revival of the European economy. Others believed that the only wise and safe course was to partition Germany and reduce her as close as possible to a pastoral agricultural economy, depriving her of the industrial sinews of war. Roosevelt, while initially favoring the harsh stand, came around to the idea of allowing Germany to rebuild its economy.
Stalin favored a drastic policy toward Germany. He particularly wanted heavy reparations in capital equipment, goods, and labor, to rebuild his devastated country, and referred to a total of $20 billion as reasonable (Germany's World War I reparations had been set at $33 billion), with one-half going to the Soviet Union. At Yalta the amount of reparations was left open (a reparations commission would decide) and the question of dismemberment was also postponed. The Allies did agree to divide Germany into zones of occupation with Berlin jointly occupied. At British wishes primarily, France received an occupation zone carved from the British and American zones. Churchill, unsure of the future U.S. involvement on the continent, thus sought French help in curbing Germany and in watching closely the Soviet Union.
The three leaders spent a disproportionate amount of time at Yalta in debate about the future of Poland. To the Soviets, a friendly Poland was absolutely essential. They had been attacked through Poland in 1812, 1914, and 1941 with devastating results each time. Yet Poland was a corridor that ran both ways; the West would not feel comfortable with the Red Army sitting on Poland's western border. In addition, Poland had great psychological significance. Great Britain had gone to war in 1939 over Hitler's invasion of Poland, while many Americans recalled Wilson's role in the creation of the state during World War I and millions of Polish-Americans voters had an intense interest in its fate.
Unfortunately for the West, geography and military realities meant that only the advancing Soviet armies would free Poland of Nazi control. A Polish government in exile existed in London, and the Soviet government had recognized it after Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union. Stalin insisted, however, that Poland return the area it had taken from the Soviet Union by force in 1921. Churchill and FDR urged the Polish government in vain to recognize the realities of Soviet power and the imperative necessity of quickly striking an agreement with Moscow. The Poles would be compensated with German territory from the west to make-up for the territory they lost to the Soviet Union in the east. When the Poles refused to agree to the Soviet demands, Moscow broke relations with the exile government in 1943 and subsequently installed in Warsaw a Communist-dominated Polish government.
Even before the defeat of Germany a rift had begun to emerge within the Grand Alliance. When Italy surrendered in 1943 the Soviets were excluded from any participation in the peace talks and subsequent terms. Thus the Italian government was allowed to surrender with conditions, to stay in power, to retain administrative control of non-battlefield areas in Italy, to keep the monarchy, and eventually to join the Allies as a co-belligerent. The end result was that by 1945 the same groups that had run Italy before the war were still in power, backed by an Allied Control Council from which the Soviets had been systematically excluded. Stalin had protested initially, but did not press the point, for he seems to have recognized the value of the precedent -- those who liberated a country from the Nazis could decide what happened there. He was more than willing to allow the Allies to shape the future in Italy in return for the same right in Eastern Europe.
On May 11, 1945 after the German surrender, President Truman order a drastic curtailment in lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union. Ships were even recalled that were already enroute with cargoes of aid for Russia. Although Truman countermanded the order (the Soviet Union still had to fight Japan), this action deeply offended Stalin who viewed it as an example of American bad faith and an attempt to coerce the Soviet Union into following policies favorable to the United States if it wanted to continue to receive aid for a post-war recovery program.
After the war ended the Soviet Union began to organize and dominate the areas along its boarders. In Eastern and Central Europe this meant a sphere of influence in countries that the Red Army controlled: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and East Germany. With the exception of Czechoslovakia, prior to the war these countries had been ruled by right-wing dictatorships hostile to the Soviet Union (Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria had declared war on the Soviet Union and their troops had helped in the German invasion). Probably Russia under czarist, Communist, or any other form of government would have pursued rather similar goals after 1945. Security and traditional national goals were more important than ideology in the Soviet take over of Eastern Europe.
Probably at no time did Stalin plan a Communist take-over of all Europe, much less the whole world. Apparently he viewed foreign Communist movements with much skepticism and distrust, fearful they might escape his control, and he was cynically prepared to use them and to sacrifice their interests for the good of the Soviet Union. He looked askance upon Josip Tito's Communist government in Yugoslavia and Mao Zedong's Communist movement in China. He refused to directly help the Greek communists in their attempt to overthrow the Greek government.
Stalin apparently was ready to accept the existence of Western spheres of influence in return for the acceptance of his own. He probably believed that the negotiations at Tehran and Yalta had arrived at an agreement or understanding about the Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe. FDR and Churchill had conceded the desirability of "friendly governments" along the Soviet Union's borders, but they had not conceded the complete Soviet dominance and communization of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. The Americans especially thought that it was possible to have East European governments that were both capitalistic and friendly to the Soviet Union. As Secretary of State James Byrnes put it, "our objective is a government in Poland both friendly to the Soviet Union and representative of all the democratic elements of the country." It was an impossible program. The division of East European society into elites and masses precluded democratic capitalism, and no capitalistic government in the region could be any other than anti-Soviet.
The West was shocked and felt betrayed by the Soviet take-over of Eastern Europe. Although it was obvious that Stalin was cooperating in the attempt to restore world-wide stability by refusing to aid the Communists in Greece, Italy, France, China, and elsewhere, Americans came to believe that he was a would-be world conqueror. He was seen as another Hitler, and Americans remembered how appeasement had failed in preventing Hitler's expansion. Time and again Stalin emphasized the Soviet Union's desire for security, her need to protect herself from Germany and the capitalistic West by controlling the nations on her border, but increasingly Americans dismissed his statements as lies and denounced him as a paranoid whose aim was world conquest. The flames were fed by millions of American voters of East European origin, aided by the Catholic Church, businessmen who wanted access to the region's markets, anti-Communists in the State Department, and military men who were sincerely worried about the new strategic balance in Europe. A kind of panic swept over the U.S. One of the first of those to feel the panic was President Truman.
In January, 1945 Stalin requested a $6 billion post-war recovery loan for the Soviet Union. The U.S. State Department refused to discuss the matter unless Stalin became more receptive to U.S. demands in Europe. Later in 1945 the Soviets asked for a $1 billion loan. The official U.S. government explanation to this day was that they lost the request. When it was "found" months later, the State Department offered to discuss the loan if the Soviets would pledge "non-discrimination in international commerce," allowing U.S. investment and goods into the Soviet sphere of influence. At the same time the U.S. loaned Great Britain nearly $4 billion and France $1 billion for recovery measures. Stalin rejected the U.S. conditions and instead announced a new 5 year plan to rebuild the Soviet Union.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Understand the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.
After World War II a vicious civil war broke out in Greece between the Communists and the right wing monarchy that had been re-established after the war. Although the Greek Communist Party was legally recognized, the party was finding it hard to gain strength by political action. At the UN Security Council in January, 1946, the Soviet Union condemned persecutions of leftists in Greece -- 1,219 of them had been assassinated and 18,767 arrested -- and the Greek Communists mistakenly took this as proof that the Soviets would support them in their revolution which they began in March, 1946.
Over 600,000 Greeks were killed during the years of war that swept Greece from 1940 to 1949. In addition, during the Civil War the Communists took 38,000 Greek children away from their parents to camps throughout Eastern Europe for "re-education." Many of them never returned. The Greek struggle, like most civil wars, dealt with internal, not external issues, but the West interpreted it as the first step toward world conquest by the Communists.
The Greek government was aided by the British and the Communist-led rebels were assisted by the Communist regimes in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria. Stalin sought to discourage the Greek Communists, but the western powers did not know of Stalin's views and attributed the Greek civil war to his machinations. On March 5, 1946, in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill, with President Truman present, warned that from "Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." East of that line, Churchill claimed, the Soviet Union exercised a brutal rule and cut off ancient countries from their historic ties with Western Europe. According to Churchill, the Soviets respected strength, and he urged an Anglo-American alliance to preserve the free world.
Truman already had decided that he was "tired of babying the Soviets." In February, 1947 the nearly bankrupt British government informed Washington that it could no longer assist the Greek government in its civil war and that it would pull out at the end of March. Truman was prepared to take up the burden, to begin a policy that would continue for fifty years. To sell the program to the American people, Truman, as Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg recommended to him, would have "to scare the hell out of the American people." Truman realized that he could never get the economy-minded Republican controlled Congress to spend tax dollars to support a right-wing monarchy in Greece. Truman had to describe the Greek situation in universal terms, good versus evil, to get support for containment.
After first getting bipartisan support for his proposal, Truman addressed a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, and the nation over the radio. He asked for immediate aid for Greece and Turkey (which was included because of its strategic location in blocking Soviet access to the Mediterranean and the Middle East), then he explained his reasoning. "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." In a single sentence Truman had defined United States' post-war policy toward the Soviet Union. Whenever and wherever an anti-Communist government was threatened, by indigenous insurgents, foreign invasion, or even diplomatic pressure (as with Turkey), the United States could be counted on to supply political, economic, and military aid. In May, 1947 Congress appropriated $400 million in aid for Greece and Turkey. With this aid the Greek government was able to defeat the Communist rebels. By later standards the sum was small, but nevertheless America had taken an immense stride. For the first time, the U.S. had intervened in a period of general peace in the affairs of a country outside of the Western Hemisphere.
The Truman Doctrine came close to shutting the door against any revolution, since the terms "free people" and "anti-Soviet" were assumed to be synonymous. The new policy in practice offered aid to even Communist governments, such as Tito's Yugoslavia after his break with Stalin in 1948. The "free world" came to mean merely free from Moscow's influence, as the United States extended support to a variety of regimes that were not democratic. Security, therefore, and not ideology, guided the application of the Truman Doctrine. The American policy became known as "containment" since Soviet expansion would be contained throughout the globe.
The Truman Doctrine cleared the way for the Marshall Plan--a massive U.S. aid program to Western Europe. In January, 1947, the distinguished wartime Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall, became Truman's Secretary of State. Europe remained in ruins after the war. European countries could not afford to purchase U.S. goods and Communist parties were showing impressive gains on the continent. It seemed quite possible that native Communist parties, which already polled one-third of the popular vote in Italy and one-fourth in France, might capitalize upon the general misery to capture political power through peaceful elections.
Marshall announced his proposal for economic assistance to Europe on June 5, 1947. Most Americans approved wholeheartedly of the Marshall Plan. The policy appealed to their humanitarian instincts as well as to their desire to halt the inroads of Communism, nicely harmonizing ideals with self-interest. If Western Europe collapsed and fell under Communist domination, the U.S. would be cut off from traditional markets and dangerously isolated in an increasingly Soviet-ruled world. Moreover, a generous program of aid to Europe would greatly stimulate the American economy (most of the aid money had to be spent in the U.S., and the purchased materials had to be carried to Europe on U.S. ships).
A Soviet coup in Czechoslovakia in February, 1948 helped convince members of Congress to appropriate the initial $5 billion in April, 1948. By 1952, when military aid began to supplant economic assistance, the U.S. had expended nearly $14 billion to promote European recovery. The program was very successful, checking the growth of Communism and laying the basis of Europe's future economic success -- Europe's economic productivity increased by nearly 200 percent between 1948-1952.
Understand the Berlin Blockade and the formation of NATO.
During the war each side believed that a divided Germany was essential for a peaceful post-war world. If Germany were unified, no matter what the guarantees, both the Soviets and the Western Allies feared that the other would sooner or later control it. The country that controlled Germany controlled the heartland of Europe. In the circumstances, the only thing to do was divide it, with the Soviets controlling the eastern third, and the Western Allies the western two-thirds. Berlin, the capital of Germany, located 200 miles inside Eastern Germany, was also divided into equal zones of occupation.
At the beginning of the summer of 1948, the Soviet Union was faced with a whole series of what they considered threatening developments. The Marshall Plan and the aid to Greece and Turkey under the Truman Doctrine began to draw the Western European nations closer together. In March, 1948, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg formed a defensive alliance. The United States had encouraged its formation and had indicated it intended to join.
In June, 1948 the Western powers indicated that they intended to go ahead with the formation of an independent West German government. Soviet foreign policy, based on an occupied and divided Germany, a weakened Western Europe, and tight control of East Europe, faced serious problems. To Stalin it must have seemed that the victor in the war was being hemmed in by the West, with the vanquished Germany (and Italy) playing a key role in the new coalition. The Soviets viewed West Berlin as a Western intelligence and military outpost in the heart of the Soviet security belt. On June 23, 1948 the United States introduced West German currency into West Berlin (implying that it was an integral part of West Germany) and Stalin responded immediately. He argued that since the West had abandoned the idea of German reunification, there was no longer any point to maintaining Berlin as the future capital of a united Germany. The Western powers, through the logic of their own acts, ought to retire to their own zones.
The Soviets clamped down a total blockade on all ground and water traffic into Berlin. The Anglo-Americans set up a counter-blockade on the movements of goods from the east into West Germany. Like Stalin, the Americans believed that they could not give an inch--to retreat from West Berlin might be perceived in Western Europe as a lack of resolve by the United States to "stand up" to the Soviet Union, and encourage the Western European countries to try and accommodate Stalin. The Americans supplied Berlin with an around the clock airlift, flying in 5,000 tons of goods a day. In July, 1948 the U.S. sent two groups of B-29s (the planes that had dropped the atomic bomb on Japan) to Britain thus establishing the principle of forward American bases. The Berlin crisis induced the U.S. Congress to reintroduce the draft, something it had refused to do earlier. In April, 1949 the U.S. and 11 other nations (Canada, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, France, the Benelux countries, Portugal, and Italy) formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), pledging that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." President Truman moved four divisions of U.S. troops to Europe to join the American occupation forces in Germany as part of the United States' commitment to the common defense.
On May 12, 1949 the Soviets lifted the Berlin blockade. The counter-blockade by the west was hurting them more than they were injuring the West and they realized that there was no longer any hope of stopping the movement toward a West Germany Government. On May 23, 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was created. In 1955, over French objections, West Germany was allowed to recover full sovereignty and to raise 12 divisions of troops. Germany joined NATO and placed its divisions under NATO (not German) command. Greece and Turkey entered NATO prior to 1955, and Spain joined in 1983 (even though Spain had U.S. airbases on its soil for years, the fascist leader Franco had to die before Spain was allowed to join). In response to NATO the Soviet Union tightened its control over Eastern Europe and later formed a rival armed alliance, the Warsaw Pact (disbanded in 1991).
Understand the Communist success in China.
There were many reasons for the triumph of communism in China, however Japanese aggression was the most important single factor in Mao Zedong's rise to power. When the Japanese armies advanced rapidly in 1938, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government moved its capital to Chungking deep in the Chinese interior and the war settled into a stalemate.
The war enabled the Communists, aided by their uneasy "united front" alliance with the Nationalists, to build up their strength in guerrilla bases in the countryside behind Japanese lines. Mao avoided pitched battles and concentrated on winning peasant support and forming a broad anti-Japanese coalition. By the end of the war the Communists controlled a vast slice of China with about 116 million people. Mao and the Communists emerged in peasant eyes as the true patriots, the genuine nationalists. The promise of radical redistribution of the land strongly re-enforced their appeal.
The long war with Japan exhausted the Nationalist government. The United States had little influence in China, but it wished to use China as a counter-balance to Soviet and Japanese expansion in the area. The U.S. put terrific pressure on Chiang to root out corruption, to introduce some meaningful land reform, and to make an accommodation with Mao and the Communists. United States' policy rested on the false assumption that Chiang wanted, and would initiate, reform. Most Americans viewed the Chinese communists with horror and there seemed to be no alternative between Mao and Chiang.
The U.S. sent huge loans to Chiang, often in the form of direct cash. In actuality these were bribes since the Chinese threatened to quit the war against Japan if their palms were not crossed. Fully half of Japan's overseas armies were pinned down in China, and the Chinese had suffered 3 million casualties in fighting the Japanese. The possibility that the Chinese might surrender, thus freeing the bulk of the Japanese army for deployment against U.S. troops, frightened Washington sufficiently to keep the money flowing.
In early 1942, Washington sent General Joseph W. Stilwell (Vinegar Joe) to China as Chiang's Chief of Staff. Stilwell fumed because of Chiang's undeclared truce with the Japanese--whenever the enemy advanced, Chiang's forces fell back without offering resistance--Chiang was using his best forces to fight the Communists and he wanted a strong army left after the war. Chiang and Stilwell hated each other. Stilwell reported to Washington that "Chiang Kai-shek believes he can go on milking the United States for money and munitions by using the old gag about quitting if he is not supported. . . .I believe he will only continue his policy of delay, while grabbing for loans and postwar aid, for the purpose of maintaining his present position, based on one-party government, a reactionary policy, and the suppression of democratic ideas with the active aid of his gestapo." Finally, the antagonism between Stilwell and Chiang became so great that Stilwell was removed from his position.
During the last stages of the war, Chiang also received Soviet promises, basically honored, not to support the Chinese Communists. In return Chiang leased Port Arthur to the Soviets and recognized their control of Outer Mongolia.
When Japan collapsed in August 1945, Communists and Nationalists both rushed to seize evacuated territory (Chiang's troops were transported to key areas by the Americans). Heavy fighting broke out in Manchuria and the civil war resumed in earnest in April, 1946. During 1945-48 Chiang received more than $3 billion in U.S. aid, large quantities of U.S. military equipment, and the weapons of 1.2 million defeated Japanese. American influence was so strong that by 1946 the United States was responsible for 51 percent of all Chinese imports (as opposed to 22 percent in 1936) and 57 percent of all exports (compared to 19 percent in 1936). At first Chiang had the upper hand, but the Communists resorted to guerrilla warfare and refused to be defeated.
The huge influx of U.S. money caused inflation to grip the country, the government's money became worthless. The ruling classes panicked, and the rising prices caused terrible hardships among the people. Violent strikes became widespread. The Nationalists faced serious problems--their supply lines were extremely long, American equipment was ill suited for guerrilla warfare, and internal rivalries split the high command. In addition, most workers and peasants hated the Nationalists for their oppressive policies. Throughout the Communist controlled areas a hundred million peasants had received land. American economic inroads blocked the expansion projects of many of the Chinese bourgeoisie and a large portion of them were pushed toward political collaboration with the Communists. Beginning in the spring of 1948 the Communists began their final offensive and by December, 1949 they had defeated the Nationalists. Chiang and 1 million of his followers fled to the Island of Taiwan under U.S. protection, and on the mainland Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China.
After their victory the Communist government seized the holdings of landlords and rich peasants -- 10 percent of the farm population owned between 70 to 80 percent of the land -- and distributed it to 300 million poor peasants and landless laborers. The Communists consolidated their power by dealing harshly with their foes. Mao admitted in 1957 that 800,000 "class enemies" had been executed between 1949 and 1954. By means of mass arrests, forced-labor camps, and, more generally, re-education through relentless propaganda and self-criticism sessions, all visible opposition from the old ruling groups was destroyed.
Finally, Mao and the Communists reunited China in a strong centralized state. They demonstrated that China was indeed a great power. This was the real significance of China's intervention in the Korean war. In 1950, when the American-led United Nations forces crossed the 38th parallel and appeared to threaten China's industrial base in Manchuria, the Chinese attacked, advanced swiftly, and fought the Americans to a bloody standstill on the Korean peninsula. This struggle against "American imperialism" mobilized the masses, and military success increased Chinese self-confidence. It was the Communists who realized many of the fondest dreams of Chinese nationalism.
Understand the Korean War, 1950-53.
After Japan's surrender, Soviet armies had occupied north Korea and Americans the south, with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. North Korea, was larger in area (48,000 square miles, slightly smaller than New York) and possessed most of the relatively few industrial plants. It is mostly mountainous, and in 1950 had a population of 9 million. South Korea (37,000 square miles, a little smaller than Virginia) had 21 million people, and the best agricultural land. The two powers evacuated Korea in 1948 and 1949 respectively. The Soviets left behind a Communist regime in the north that refused to permit a U.N. supervised election to unify Korea. Elections were held in South Korea in May 1948; Syngman Rhee became President of the Republic of Korea.
Each Korean government claimed the whole of the peninsula, and each was itching to fight for it. Because Korea had little significance in the complex contest between the Soviet Union and the United States, neither power closely supervised its dependent government before 1950. At a January 1950 press conference Secretary of State Achenson stated that he did not regard Korea as having any great strategic importance.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked across the 38th parallel with 7 divisions and 150 tanks. Because the South Korean army had no armor at all, the North Korean attacks were stunningly successful. At this time, the Soviets were boycotting the UN for its refusal to seat Communist China (because of U.S. policy, the Nationalists on Formosa represented China in the UN until 1972). Within hours of the attack President Truman ordered supplies dispatched to the South Koreans, then he ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to sail between China and Formosa to prevent an invasion. He also promised additional assistance to counter-revolutionary forces in the Philippines and Indochina. On June 30, U.S. ground forces were committed to the Korean fighting.
The U.S. pushed a resolution through the UN Security Council branding the North Koreans as aggressors, demanding a cessation of hostilities, and requesting a withdrawal behind the 38th parallel. The resolution was a brilliant stroke, for without any investigation at all it established war guilt and put the UN behind the official American version. Although 16 nations did make small contributions to the UN forces, the UN commander, General Douglas MacArthur, reported to, and took his orders from, the U.S. Joint Chiefs. MacArthur later declared that: "even the reports which were normally made by me to the United Nations were subject to censorship by our State and Defense Departments. I had no direct connection with the United Nations whatsoever."
Truman responded to the Communist attack for several reasons: the administration believed that the Korean attack was a major test for the policy of containment--if the U.S. allowed Korea to "fall" to the Communists it might send a message to the Soviet Union that the U.S. would not back up its commitments to Western Europe; Chiang could not hold on in Formosa nor Rhee in South Korea without an American commitment; the U.S. Air Force and Navy needed a justification to retain their bases in Japan; and, the Democrats had to prove false the Republican charges that Senator Joe McCarthy and others were making that they "were soft on Communism." The administration also used to war as the rational for a massive rearmament program; the defense budget rose from $13.5 billion in 1949 to $71 billion in 1952.
By September, 1950 the North Koreans had pushed the Republic of Korean (ROK) and American troops southward to a small perimeter around the port of Pusan. MacArthur then made a daring and dangerous landing behind enemy lines at Inchon and pushed out from the Pusan perimeter. The UN forces trapped and almost annihilated the North Korean armies, liberated Seoul, and drove the enemy north of the 38th parallel. In Washington the idea of containment turned to one of liberation. The administration believed that if the Soviets and Chinese were going to intervene in the war they would have done so when the North Koreans had almost won at Pusan. Thus, the administration and the Joint Chiefs assumed that they would not interfere if the U.S. "liberated" North Korea. And they believed that if Communist China did intervene American air power would destroy its troops as they tried to enter Korea.
When MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel the Chinese issued a series of warnings, culminating with a statement to India for transmission to the U.S., that China would not "sit back with folded hands and let the Americans come to the border." When America discounted this statement the Chinese broadcast a warning on October 10, 1950, that if the Americans continued north, they would enter the conflict. MacArthur assured Truman that the Chinese would not interfere. MacArthur was wrong. Fearing the prospect of a powerful enemy army on the borders of Manchuria (The Japanese had invaded China from Korea), Mao Zedong threw 200,000 Chinese troops across the border in November. Within two weeks the Americans were driven below the 38th parallel.
By March, 1951 the Americans had fought their way back to the 38th parallel. The administration, having been burned once, was ready to negotiate. MacArthur smarted from his defeat at China's hands, and he genuinely believed that the time was fast expiring for an effective challenge to international Communism and that Korea provided the best and perhaps the last chance. He urged the nuclear bombing of the Chinese "sanctuary" in Manchuria, blockading its coast, and "unleashing" Chiang Kai-shek to invade the mainland. The administration rejected his advice as likely to lead to a hopeless war in Asia, thereby freeing the Soviet Union for new ventures in Europe and perhaps igniting a third world war. A number of Republicans, angered by Truman's 1948 presidential victory, and hoping to discredit the Democrats, rallied to MacArthur's cause.
Failing to win his case within the government, MacArthur began to appeal to the American public and particularly to elements within the Republican party. He ignored orders to clear his statements with the Defense and State Departments. On April 5, 1951 Representative Joseph Martin, Republican Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, read to the House a letter from MacArthur calling for a new foreign policy. "Here in Asia" he said, "is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest. . . .Here we fight Europe's war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words." The issue involved was containment versus liberation. On April 11, 1951 Truman removed MacArthur from his command in Korea and Japan. After an intense, but brief, furor over his recall, MacArthur faded from sight.
The war then settled into a bloody war of attrition resembling the horrible years of trench warfare on the Western Front in Europe in World War I. When it appeared to Syngman Rhee that the United States would not protect his position he released over 50,000 North Korean prisoners thereby delaying the peace process until he could get U.S. assurances. After nearly two years of negotiation, an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 which for all intents and purposes re-established the status quo ante-bellum (newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower privately threatened to use atomic weapons to end the stalemate).
The Korean War lasted three years and one month. During that time 54,246 Americans died and 103,284 were wounded. The war cost the U.S. $54 billion. About 4,500 from other UN countries died, along with over 113,000 South Korean military. Total Communist battle deaths were estimated at 740,000. More than two million civilians in North and South Korea were killed or injured. In addition, much of South Korea and practically all of North Korea were shattered. It took many years to repair the damage. Today, South Korea is a pro-American ally under a conservative democratic government. North Korea is a strict Communist dictatorship.
Go on to XIV. U.S. 1945-1968
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