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War in Korea, 1950-53

In early 1946, President Truman did right in my opinion in wanting to turn Korea over to the Koreans. It was Stalin who was screwing things up. The US demanded that elections be held in both zones for the creation of a government across both zones. An overwhelming majority of the UN General Assembly agreed to general elections for Korea, but the Soviet Union resisted, apparently in order to protect the Stalinist regime that was in the making in the North, which would not have survived (like the anti-Communist Diem regime in South Vietnam would not have survived the elections that were supposed to unite Vietnam).

Talks between the Soviet regime and Washington regarding Korea's future broke down. In January 1948 the Russians refused the UN commission entry into its zone to prepare for nationwide elections. The Soviet Union complained about US capitalism and imperialism, and then it formalized its creation of an independent North Korea – with the farcical title the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

A war was in the making in a country that never should have been divided. In December, 1948, the UN General Assembly recognized the government in the south – the Republic of Korea – as the only lawfully constituted government in Korea, and this was recognized by the United States and fifty other nations. The UN was doing its job.

Those in power in South Korea looked forward to taking power over all of Korea and the regime in the North sought backing from Stalin both to protect itself and to unite Korea by force. The North's leader, Kim Il-sung, complained to the Soviet Union that peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula was impossible, and he said that the Korean people wanted liberation.

Stalin didn't recognize the willingness of the US to resist an invasion by the North into South Korea, and brains in the US department and Truman's anti-Communist secretary of state, Dean Acheson, failed to see at that time what was coming. In 1949 Kim Il Sung and his colleagues and Stalin were impressed by the Communist victory in China. On January 30, 1950, Stalin sent a message to Kim Il Sung announcing his willingness to help Kim in his plan to unify Korea.

On January 12, 1950, at a National Press Club briefing, Secretary of State Acheson spoke of American interests in the Far East and described a line of defense that ran through areas similar to what General MacArthur had described in March, 1949: a defense line in the Far East that started in the Philippines, ran 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.

The US should have made it loud and clear to the Soviet Union and the regime in North Korea that it would oppose any invasion of South Korea by North Korea. Later Acheson was to excuse himself, saying that he believed it was no more necessary to mention the US willingness to defend South Korea than it was to mention New Zealand or Australia in the US defense perimeter. At any rate, by late January he did speak of the importance of supporting South Korea. And in early June, reflecting an increased concern over Korea, the Acheson State Department sent its Republican operative John Foster Dulles to South Korea. On June 17, Dulles visited the 38th parallel, the line that divided the two Koreas, and there Dulles spoke of America's determination to stand by South Korea. But the politically powerful are sometimes slow in reversing themselves, and Kim Il Sung and Stalin either dismissed the new signs as insignificant or were delaying their analysis. In short, it was too late. Kim Il-sung's invasion plan was still in place.

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.