How far was the Korean War a militant and political success for the US? The world was by taken by surprise when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in June 1950. The war that followed soon snowballed out of proportion, spreading out to involve China, the Soviet Union, and the UN and is said by historians to have shaped US foreign policy as it is today. But was the war a success, or was it merely another black whole swallowing the lives of American, Korean and Chinese soldiers? From a militant point of view it may be said that the war was a success.
General MacArthur, who was appointed by President Truman as Commander of UN forces in Korea in 1950, is said to be the one saving the war from being completely lost by the Americans. General MacArthur’s brilliant strategies, willfulness, egomania and refusal to obey orders dramatically influenced the outcome of the war in both positive and negative ways. He was the one launching the Inchon-landing, and even though the landing was full of risks because of the geographical factors, it was a major success for the US.
This attack, together with the breakout of Walker’s troops forced back into the Pusan area, trapped more than half of the North Korean’s NKPA troops. However, in the months that followed with the expanding victories by the US and with the troops pushing closer and closer to China, China itself sent major numbers of troops, unwilling to let the US come closer to their doorstep. The outcome of the war turned, and again, the enemy was literally standing on the 38th parallel. But MacArthur was fierce full and threatened with the use of nuclear weapons. Suddenly both political and moral discussions threatened the war.
However, President Truman and his Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were confident they had won a major victory and had seen the end of the war, had already contemplated in changing their foreign policy from one of the containment of communism to the roll back of communism in the north when they’d let MacArthur cross the Parallel, and they did not want to extend the war even further with the use of nuclear weapons. MacArthur’s outspoken criticism of the lack of will by Truman and his administration by not taking a more aggressive stance against the communist China and North Korea led to his dismissal in 1951.
Far from being an example of presidential power, the removal of General MacArthur from his position as Field Commander during the Korean War was, in fact, a confession of weakness. Truman and his policies had failed to influence the events he chose in Korea, but he did not risk to start a Third World War, and by the removal of MacArthur, a popular figure in the US, only confirmed what many had begun to suspect; that Truman was unsure of the way forward in the war whereas MacArthur was very clear.
However, it is important to stress that unlike nearly all of the previous wars waged by the United States, the conflict in Korea brought no military victory; in fact, during the last two years of the struggle neither side sought to settle the issue decisively on the battlefield. It may be more correct to say that the US gained more political success after the war. During 1945-1951 the US politic was faltering due to internal discussions and lack of belief in the country’s leadership with Truman unwillingly to engage a full-scale war with communism, but on the other hand, he was not prepared to abandon Korea.
However, Eisenhower won the presidential election in 1953 under the slogan “I shall go to Korea” which had widely interpreted by the American’s as a desire to end the war. The year of 1953 saw also another significant change in leadership when Joseph Stalin died. The new Soviet leadership was willing to end the war and by this point the Korean’s themselves were increasingly war-very. In July 1953 an armistice was finally agreed and the 38th parallel was restored.
In conclusion it may be appropriate to say that to some extent the war was very successful, but maybe more successful by gained knowledge than in terms of militant and political views. However, the Korean War was the first armed confrontation of the cold war and it set the standard for many later conflicts in both militant and political terms. The Korean War can be considered a success for some reasons: although the war did at times get out of hand, the US and the USSR were able to avoid direct confrontation, especially since the USSR fought mainly by proxy.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though it was fought just five years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, the Korean War was not an atomic war, avoiding the possibility of a immediate nuclear holocaust. However, it created the idea of a limited war, where the two superpowers would fight in another country, forcing the people in that nation to suffer the bulk of the destruction and death involved in a war between such large nations. But it also expanded the Cold War, which to that point had mostly been concerned with Europe.
To defend Truman and his politics however, the Korean War was the first war to not be a crusade war, in that sense that the goal was not meant to be destruction or ideological transformation of the enemy, but merely protection of their own ideological beliefs in their own region. But also, under Truman, military expenditure increased rapidly, laying the foundations for the so-called military industrial complex that existed throughout the Cold War which several times sent the world dipping on an edge to a nuclear war.
Perhaps on a more positive side, it was during the Korean War that black and white troops were first integrated in the US Army, an important step on the road to civil rights. The Korean War also strengthened the US relationship with Britain. It was during the Korean War (and partially because of it) that the Democratic monopoly of the Presidency, going back to before World War II, finally ended with the election of Eisenhower. The Korean War was Truman’s war, not MacArthur’s; it was a fairly limited war and to that extent reflected the realities of international politics in the nuclear age.
It would be correct to say that the US’s success during the Korean War is to the extent that South Korea and its values continued to exist. America did not win the war, thousands of soldiers and civilians died, and Korea is still divided among a highly guarded boundary. The 38th parallel is often seen as the physical evidence that North Korea and South Korea are still in war with each other and that the two countries are still frozen into a state of mutual incomprehension towards each other as they were 5 decades ago when the parallel was restored once again.