What were the intentions of President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur regarding the United States intervention during the Korean War?

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What were the intentions of President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur regarding the United States’ intervention during the Korean War?

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        The aftermath of the Korean War still directly affects the relationship between North and South Korea and their citizens. As the only divided nation which is still at war in theory, analyzing the origin of division, the impacts of Korean War, and the intentions of major figures are significant for both North and South Korea. After providing the basic background and the course of the Korean War, two opposing viewpoints on the United States’ intervention in the Korean War are presented. Therefore, my investigation ultimately leads to one research question: What were the intentions of President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur regarding the United States’ intervention during the Korean War?

        Both primary and secondary sources were incorporated in the investigation to analyze two contrary viewpoints on the intentions of Truman and MacArthur. The experts and historians focus on the United States’ initial standing on October 7, 1950, in General Assembly of the United Nations to unify Korea under a democratic government. In addition, they elaborate on MacArthur’s great success in the Inchon landing and consider him a war hero. On the other hand, other historians quote the MacArthur hearing to prove that he protested to extend the war and attempted to use atomic bombs without full knowledge of their destructive potential. For this reason, many reject MacArthur’s status as a hero. Additionally, these historians criticize the United States’ intention to appease the USSR by dividing Korea, pointing to the war crimes conducted during the Korean War under the control of the Americans. These contrary views led me to analyze the sincere intentions of Truman and MacArthur.

        After the investigation, I conclude that although Korea remains divided and the war is still on, without aid from Truman and MacArthur, North Korea would have united Korea under the communist regime. South Korea as a whole has been indeed benefitted from the decision of Truman and the leadership of MacArthur during the Korean War.

Table of Contents

Abstract _                                                                                   _                1-2

Table of Contents                                                                                3

Introduction                                                                                           _        4

Background of the Korea War                                                            _        5-6

The Course of the Korean War                                                                7-9

Body                                                                                                10-16

The Controversies Regarding the United States’ Intention during the Korean War                10

  • President Harry S. Truman and General MacArthur as the Saviors                        10-12
  • President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur as the Self-Interested        13-16

Conclusion                                                                                        17-18

References and Bibliography                                                                        19-21

Appendices                                                                                        22-29


        The Korean War was the civil war between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) which later turned to the proxy war between the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the United States. The Korean War was extremely significant since it was the first military engagement of the Cold War. In addition, the Korean War left many legacies which still directly affect North and South Korea: the division of North and South Korea, 38th parallel, Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the temporary, unstable peace. It becomes necessary to examine the intentions of major figures who played key roles in the Korean War to understand its consequences, namely, the intentions of President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur.

        There is ongoing debate regarding the intentions of Truman and MacArthur during the Korean War. The veterans of the Korean War in South Korea, General MacArthur, General Ridgway and other historians argue that the was waged simply to assist in becoming an independent and democratic nation. However, the young generation in Korea, Bruce Cumings, John W. Spanier and many other historians maintain that Truman helped to contain communism and did not protect Koreans and that MacArthur fought simply to obtain fame as a war hero, both men acting in self-interest.

Background of the Korea War

        In 1905, Japan defeated Imperial Russia in the Russo-Japanese War and made Korea a protectorate under the Eulsa Treaty. In 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. Resisting the Japanese dominance in Korea, many Korean left-wing nationalists fled to Shanghai and established the Provisional Korean Government, an exile government headed by Syngman Rhee. They formed the National Revolutionary Army to fight against Japan. At the same time, communists founded the People’s Liberation Army, led by Kim Il Sung, and struggled against Japan for the liberation of Korea in the Korean peninsula.

        At the Cairo Conference of 1943, the United States, the United Kingdom and Nationalist China agreed that “Korea should become free and independent ‘in due course’” (Hastings 26). However, at the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the Allied powers unilaterally agreed on dividing Korea in contrast to the earlier Cairo Conference. In addition, the Soviet Union declared war against Japan on August 9, 1945, and occupied the northern part of Korea above the 38th parallel. Worried that the USSR would increase its sphere of influence in the Far East, the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee of the United States made a unilateral decision to occupy the southern part of Korea. On September 8, 1945, General John R. Hodge arrived in Inchon to accept the Japanese surrender after two nuclear bomb attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

        After the Japanese occupation of Korea, General Hodge controlled the southern part of Korea via the United States Army Military Government from 1945 to 1948. On December 27, 1945, the Three-Power Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Moscow reached an agreement regarding the treatment of Korea. Korea was “to become the object of a Four-Power ‘International Trusteeship’ for five years, paving the way to independence as unified states” (37). The result of the Moscow meeting brought political turmoil in Korea; the right-wing Korean nationalists headed by Syngman Rhee opposed to the Soviet-American trusteeship of Korea by maintaining that after thirty five years of Japanese dominance over Korea and Korea opposed any kind of foreign supremacy at all. As a result, The Republic of South Korea (ROK) was established on August 15, 1948 and elected the American-educated Syngman Rhee as its first president. Likewise, in the northern part of Korea, the USSR established a Communist North Korean government led by Kim Il Sung.

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        Tension between the countries increased as both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung tried to reunify Korea under their own political ideology. The situation worsened in 1949 when US troops left Korea while the USSR continued sending military aid in preparation for a southern invasion by North Korea.

The Course of the Korean War

        On June 25, 1950, North Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. Around 9:30 a.m., Kim Il Sung announced that South Korea had committed armed aggression against North Korea ...

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