By Valerie Ford,2014-06-20 08:17
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Transcript for Video Program on The Cold War, Containment, and Korea


The Loss of China

    Through the early years of the Cold War, the Truman administration’s policy of “containment” had halted Soviet expansion in Europe. Their attempts to halt the

    spread of communism elsewhere were much less successful.

    The end of World War II brought renewed violence in a long-running Chinese Civil War. In 1949, Communist leader Mao Zedong launched an all-out offensive to defeat Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government. American efforts to mediate an end to the conflict failed and Chiang’s government was forced to flee into exile.

    At home, conservatives blamed President the Truman administration for what they called the “loss of China” to communism.

    News that the Soviets had successfully tested their first atomic bomb and a series of sensational spy scandals, convinced many Americans that the enemy had seized the initiative in the Cold War.

War in Korea

    In June 1950, these fears seemed to be confirmed when the communist army of North Korea launched a blistering attack against its neighbor, South Korea.

    Within days they had overrun the capital of Seoul and forced the defending South Korean army into full retreat.

    The North Korean invasion was the first military challenge of the Cold War. How the United States responded to the threat was critically important.

    Following World War II, Korea was temporarily divided at the 38th parallel and jointly occupiedby the United States, in the South, and the Soviet Union, in the North.

    The Soviets, turned North Korea into a communist state. They installed into power a dictator named Kim il-Sung.

    In South Korea, the United States established a pro-Western government under Syngman Rhee, an oppressive, yet fanatically anti-communist leader.

    Both Rhee and Kim aspired to unite Korea under their own rule, but neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union would allow their client-states to start a war.

    That changed in 1950. Kim finally convinced Joseph Stalin to support his invasion of South Korea. Kim would provide the troops, Stalin would supply the military hardware, and Mao Zedong, if it became necessary, would provide Chinese reinforcements.

    Kim promised that victory would be swift and decisive. It would be neither.

    Half a world away, the North Korean invasion sparked intense debate in Washington. Was the assault ordered by the Soviets? Was this the beginning of World War III?

    President Truman and his advisors quickly decided to take action.

President Harry S. Truman:

    “An act of aggression such as this creates a very real danger to the security of all free nations. This challenge has been presented squarely. We must meet it squarely.”

    The U.S. acted through the United Nations. Their mandate was explicit: repel the attack and restore peace to the area. A coalition of fifteen countries agreed to send troops.

    But the overwhelming majority of fighting men were American, fighting under General Douglas MacArthur, to defend American interests in the region.

    In diplomatic language it was termed a “police action.” But it was a war. In the words of military historian Slam Marshall: “…the century’s nastiest little war.”

    General MacArthur rushed his troops to the battlefront, but the ill-prepared units were completely overwhelmed by the disciplined North Korean army fighting with Soviet tanks and artillery.

Turning the Tide

    Within a month, MacArthur’s army had retreated to the tip of the Korean peninsula, near Pusan, while plans were laid for a daring amphibious landing behind enemy linesat the Port of Inchon.

    If it were were successful, the North Korean army could be trapped. If it failed, U.N. forces might be wiped-out entirely.

The assault at Inchon came on September 15, 1950.

    It was a gauntlet: dangerous currents, extraordinary tides, defense fortifications, and massive seawalls. One planner described the obstacles:

“We drew up a list of every natural and geographic handicap—and Inchon had all

    of them.”

    Despite the challenges, the invasion was a stunning success. Within days the capital city of Seoul was liberated. With the restoration of South Korea, the U.N. mission had been accomplished.

    But, General MacArthur demanded the authority to cross the 38th parallel into North Korea.

    The political risks were immense. Would the Soviets retaliate? Would Communist China intervene? There were rumors that Mao’s troops were already massing along the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China.

President Truman reluctantly agreed to MacArthur’s appeal, but he warned his


“Stay away from the Chinese border.”

MacArthur replied:

    “Mr. President, if the Chinese cross the Yalu, I will make of them the greatest slaughter in the history of warfare.”

Red China

    In early October 1950, the first American troops marched north, across the 38th parallel, toward China.

    By the end of October, MacArthur’s forces had captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. By Thanksgiving day, they approached the Yalu River.

    As the General prepared for the final offensive, he cabled President Truman:

“...this should for all practical purposes end the war.”

    But, MacArthur had underestimated the enemy. On the night of November 25th, the Chinese army struck with fury.

Archival Newsreel:

    “At the White House, top defense officials gather to discuss the gravest defense

    condition since Poland and Pearl Harbor.”

President Harry S. Truman:

    “The forces of the United Nations are in Korea to put down an aggression that threatens not only the whole fabric of the United Nations but all human hopes of peace and justice. If U.N. yields to the forces of aggression, no nation will be safe or secure. If aggression is successful in Korea, we can expect it to spread throughout Asia and Europe and to this hemisphere. We are fighting in Korea for our own national security and survival. We have committed ourselves to the cause of a just and peaceful world order through the United Nations. We stand by that commitment.”

Archival Newsreel:

    “…which has broken their fluid lines of defense across North Korea.”

U.N. forces fought desperately to escape the Chinese onslaught.

    At the Chosin Reservoir, 6,000 Marines were encircled by the enemy. With temperatures dipping to minus 40 below zero their situation seemed hopeless. But, in a heroic effort dubbed the Chosin Breakout, their big guns and air

    support smashed the Chinese lines. 60,000 enemy troops were killed and the Marines escaped.

    General MacArthur demanded that he be allowed to wage an all-out war against China, but President Truman was determined that Korea should remain a limited war. When MacArthur made it clear that he disagreed with that policy, the President fired him.


    By the Spring of 1951, the war had degenerated into a brutal stalemate near the 38th parallel, but American troops continued to fight and die in Korea for two long years.

    In the end, more than four million soldiers and civilians were killed during the conflict. Among them, 40,000 Americans died.

    For Harry Truman, the costly war in Korea was a crushing blow to his Presidency. His popularity, already weakened by charges of “losing China,” collapsed.

    When the cease fire agreement was finally signed in July 1953, it was Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who earned the credit.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

    “We have won armistice on a single battle ground. Not peace in the world. We and our United Nation Allies must be vigilant against the possibility of untoward developments.”

The Forgotten War

    Korea is often called the “forgotten war,” but it dramatically changed America’s sense of security.

    For many, it reinforced the belief in “monolithic communism,” the assumption that all communist movements were orchestrated from Moscow. The idea poisoned American politics for decades and set the stage for the disaster in Vietnam.

Korea also put the country on a permanent war footingleading to spiraling

    defense spending and greatly increasing the Pentagon’s influence. By the end of his term in 1960, President Eisenhower warned of a growing threat to the nation from within.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

    “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

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