The Korean War
As World War II was raging, the Allied powers had agreed that once Japan was defeated, Korea would become an independent state. After Japan's surrender, General Douglas MacArthur's plan called for the creation of an artificial line at the 38th parallel in Korea. The line essentially split the country in half. The Japanese forces above the parallel surrendered to the Soviet Union, and those to the south to the Americans.
In June 1950, the Communist government of North Korea launched a full-scale military invasion of neighboring South Korea, a capitalist country. Of course, the Soviet Union was modeling the North Korean government on its own example of Communism.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted 9–0 to hold North Korea accountable for the attack. The resolution sent a peacekeeping force, virtually all of which was made up of U.S. troops. The Soviet Union was a permanent member of the Security Council, but it had been boycotting meetings because other members refused to recognize the Communist government in China as the rightful government of the Chinese people.
The Korean “Police Action”
Not wanting to call these actions involvement in a war, President Truman termed the conflict a police action and put General MacArthur in command of the UN forces, a post he would hold until his replacement in April 1951. MacArthur held his position on the southeastern portion of the peninsula, and American bombing missions crippled North Korean supply lines.
In one of his boldest military operations, General MacArthur planned for a large amphibious landing on the west coast of South Korea at Inchon. Once ashore, American troops would push back the enemy and recapture the capital of Seoul. Concurrently, the Eighth Army would break out of the Pusan Perimeter and head toward Seoul as well. Despite skepticism, MacArthur pushed for his plan. American forces hit the beaches in September, taking the capital on September 27, 1950. Many thought the war was over with the UN goals having been achieved. The Communists were contained behind the 38th parallel.
South Korea Pushes North
The Americans had done so well, however, that the South Koreans believed they could push farther to expel Communism from Korea completely. Others in Washington didn't concur, knowing how strongly China and the Soviet Union felt that North Korea served as a buffer state. Syngman Rhee, president of South Korea, was determined to fight regardless of American sentiment. His troops crossed the 38th parallel and attacked the North Koreans. When they did, President Truman immediately committed UN forces (with the majority of them being U.S. soldiers) to follow Rhee. The next month, Truman and MacArthur met on Wake Island, hoping to discuss the final phase of the Korean War, which they anticipated ending by Thanksgiving.
A little too arrogant and confident, MacArthur advanced his men too close to the Chinese border, in violation of his instructions. MacArthur had seriously underestimated the Chinese forces, leaving the Americans vulnerable. By November, it was evident that China was invading on a much larger scale. MacArthur outwardly opposed some of the restraints on his command, but Washington officials feared that the Soviet Union would view the Korean conflict as a global struggle, sparking another world war. President Truman's anxiety over this eventually led to his replacing MacArthur with General Matthew Ridgway. General MacArthur faced a Senate hearing for his insubordination to the commander in chief — threatening the Chinese with a powerful U.S.-UN attack without clearing it first with Truman.
Back home, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his running mate Richard Nixon won the presidential election in 1952. Though peace negotiations had begun in 1951, the new administration inherited the war, and fighting continued for two more years until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. In the final analysis, the war cost everyone in lives and materials and left no country satisfied — certainly not the United States. Americans had to accept something less than victory in this, the first limited U.S. war. But limited warfare certainly beat nuclear annihilation.
The Cold War continued. After Joseph Stalin died, Nikita Khrushchev exposed the brutal crimes that Stalin had committed against his own people. He'd ruled with terror, executing millions of Soviet citizens. These revelations softened the tensions with the West, but only slightly. The United States committed more funds to NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and it stepped up aid to another capitalist government in danger of Communist takeover in South Vietnam.