How far was the USAs military involvement in Korea a desire to defend democracy?

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Mollie Ingram


How far was the USA’s military involvement in Korea a desire to defend democracy?

On the 25th June 1950, troops in the North Koreans people army crossed the 28th parallel into South Korea in an attempt to unify the country under a communist system of government. Within two days, the US had gained UN approval to send troops to defeat this act of aggression. However the extent this decision was shaped by a desire to ‘defend democracy’ is questionable.

The Americans themselves would see their intervention in Korea as a desire to defend democracy. It was an attempt to defeat the expansion of communism. This was viewed as a disease by the Americans as it would destroy the values that their country was built on. Certainly it would be viewed as undemocratic as only communist candidates were allowed to stand in elections and personal freedoms were severely curtailed.

The decision to fight in Korea can also be seen as an attempt to support the democratically elected government of Syngman Rhee. Syngman Rhee was the first president of South Korea. His presidency lasted from 1948 to 1960; he was regarded as an anti-communist and a strongman. Therefore to America was seen as a strong and great character to be able to get South Korea back on tracks and against communism. This would therefore be seen as a way for America to get their answers to succeeding in defending democracy.

However, it is hard to argue that the Americans were going to Korea to defend democracy when they were intent in re-instating the government of Rhee. The two main problems with Rhee’s presidency were both and still are great controversial issues. The first was the initial creation of Rhee’s government not really being democratic. The definition of democracy is as follows ‘A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives’, this is contradicted by America due to the fact that although they desire to defend democracy, the way the installed the government of Rhee was not as democratic as it should have been. This is due to the superpowers failure to agree on a system of government that was acceptable to both the north and south of Korea, and ending in the USA basically placing Rhee into place. Secondly it was not only the creation of Rhee’s government that was not democratic, but also how Rhee’s government ruled South Korea and how it turned out. The reason behind this was Rhee’s soon assumption of the ability to dictatorial powers, rather than being a representative for the people, he quickly began to do as he pleased when he pleased. Some of the main highlighted dictatorial actions that took place involved things such as the detention and torture of political opponents and several massacres of ‘leftist’ uprisings. This therefore led to substantial concerns upon the Truman administration that consequently refused to give Rhee military supplies. Through these two main factors, it is hard to argue that the Americans intention was the defend democracy due to them re-instating the government of Rhee.

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It can also be argued that America intervened in Korea to support the democratic principles of the newly established United Nations Organisation. It was known to many Americans that one of the main failures of the League of Nations was their non-involvement. This then lead to the UN being set up to reduce and if possible stop acts of aggression against countries. Therefore this is where the UN gets used in the situation of Korea to show that it has the ability to act when needed. However it is argued that what Truman in reality had done was an American ...

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