(The KOREAN WAR – continued)

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The KOREAN WAR (2 of 8)

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Unification Elections Denied

In Tokyo, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the US forces in the Pacific, wanted Washington to give more importance to developments in Asia. He saw communism as more of a threat in Asia than it was in Europe. In March, 1949, seven months before Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China, MacArthur had described the US defense parameter in the Far East as starting in the Philippines, running through Okinawa and the other Ryukyu islands to Japan and then to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. MacArthur had left China and Korea – the Asian continent – outside this perimeter. note15

The US was training and supplying South Korea's military. But Washington did not want the South making trouble by invading the North. To prevent this it kept South Korea's military capacity limited while leaving Syngman Rhee's government with enough military strength to combat leftist guerrillas in the South fighting his government.

The Truman administration was eager to pull its troops out of Korea and give the Republic of Korea a greater aura of independence. The Russians had announced that the pull out of their troops from North Korea back in late 1948. The US pulled its troops out of the South in late June 1949, leaving behind an advisory group of about 500.

North Korea's leader, Kim Il-sung, journeyed to Moscow to meet with Stalin and requested aid so he could unite Korea by force. Stalin asked him some blunt questions. Kim replied that he was confident that he could defeat the forces of South Korea. But Stalin advised against it. It seems he did not want to provoke the West. He told Kim that it was important that the 38th parallel (between the North and the South) remain peaceful.

Truman's secretary of state after his 1948 election victory was Dean Acheson, an anti-Communist who believed in patience. Communists acquired power in China in December 1949, and Acheson said it was something that Americans would need to accept for at least a while. He said that people should learn to live with evil and observed that it had been around since the fall of Adam and Eve.

On January 12, 1950, at a National Press Club briefing, Acheson spoke of American interests in the Far East and described a defense parameter that was similar to MacArthur's. Acheson said nothing about defending South Korea from an attack by North Korea, but he believed this was needed no more than he had to mention defending New Zealand or Australia.

A document fundamental to the Truman Administrations foreign policy was the National Security Council (NSC) 48/2, which focused on stopping communist expansion by giving economic and military aid to various countries: to the French in their fight against Ho Chi Minh, to the Philippines government in its fight against the Huk guerrillas, and to the British in their fight against guerrillas in Malaya. There was in the document no mention of US military intervention anywhere, including defending Chiang's forces on Taiwan.

The Communists in Moscow and in North Korea apparently foresaw no quick move by Washington to send troops to defend the Republic of Korea. Kim Il-sung was complaining to the Soviet Union that peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula was impossible. He was encouraged by the communist victory in China and said that the Korean people want liberation and would not understand why the opportunity to have it was missed. Stalin also was impressed by the victory of the communists in China and perhaps by his possession of the atomic bomb, and he was interested in having another success for anti-capitalism. On January 30, Stalin informed Kim Il-sung in a telegram that he was now willing to help Kim in his plan to unify Korea. In the discussions with Kim that followed, Stalin suggested that in return for his support he would like a yearly minimum of 25,000 tons of lead. He advised Kim to minimize risk, the cautious Stalin apparently believing that it was possible to win a quick victory and present the world with a fait accompli.

Mao and his associates concurred in this, Mao having told Stalin that it was his opinion that the US would not intervene in Korea. Mao had been looking forward to furthering his advance against his enemy Chiang Kai-shek, now in Taiwan, which Mao saw as a part of China, and Mao believed that the US would not intervene there.

After Acheson's comments on January 12 came signs of Washington changing course in its strategy regarding the Far East. On January 25, General Omar Bradley of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in off-the-record testimony that a potential enemy (Communist China) possessing Taiwan would be a threat to America's position in the Pacific. In February, the alliance between China and the Soviet Union, signed that month, alarmed strategists in Washington. A revised bill on Korean aid reached Congress and was signed into law by Truman later in February. In early June, reflecting an increased concern over Korea, the Acheson State Department sent its bi-partisan Republican operative, John Foster Dulles, to South Korea. Dulles visited the 38th parallel on June 17, and there he spoke of America's determination to stand by South Korea.

But Kim Il-sung and Stalin were not about to reverse themselves, and Kim remained confident, not unlike the Athenians before the Peloponnesian War.


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