A look back at America's forgotten war - Korean conflict

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A look back at America's forgotten war - Korean conflict - By Eric Black Star Tribune Staff Writer The...
By Eric Black Star Tribune Staff Writer The Korean conflict of 195053 has been called America’s forgotten war. Perhaps that’s because it ended in a draw. Or perhaps because it never really ended. The armistice signed 50 years ago Sunday never turned into a full peace and — as the current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program reminds us — never solved the underlying issue of a divided Korea. The carnage cost the lives of 36,576 U.S. troops and perhaps millions of Korean and Chinese soldiers and civilians. Yet it never occupied the same place in popular culture or public consciousness as other major wars. The hit movie and TV show “M*A*S*H” may have done more than anything else to give succeeding generations a clue that such a war even occurred, let alone what it was about. Not until 1995 did the Korean War dead get a monument in Washington, D.C. But for all that neglect, the Korean War was a very big deal — in some ways that didn’t become clear until years later. Roy Grow of Carleton College said President Harry Truman’s response to North Korea’s attack on South Korea created a prism — based on assumptions that turned out to be shaky or false — through which subsequent administrations came to view the Cold War. To Grow, who teaches about Asia and international relations, the pattern that started with Korea led to disastrous U.S. policy decisions later in Vietnam. The essence of the Cold War prism was that communism was an international monolith, run from Moscow and bent on world domination. It included the belief in what came to be called the domino theory, which held that allowing one country to fall under Communist domination would likely lead to the same result in neighboring countries. To that list, Emily Rosenberg of Macalester College added another: That military might offered the best and possibly only means by which the United States, on behalf of the free world, could keep communism in check. 38th parallel Korea was originally divided by a fluke of timing. Japan had occupied Korea since 1910. The United States and the Soviet Union had been allies against Nazi Germany during World War II, but the Soviets had stayed out of the Pacific theater, where the United States was fighting Japan. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had agreed that three months after Germany’s surrender, in May 1945, he would help the United States finish off Japan. Soviet forces entered Korea from the north just two days before Japan surrendered. Washington and Moscow hastily agreed that, until a longer- term arrangement could be made, the Soviets would occupy northern Korea and U.S. forces would occupy the south. The 38th parallel, which has been the border ever since, was apparently chosen by a U.S. colonel who noticed that it ran roughly across the midriff of the Korean peninsula. The U.S.-Soviet conflict that became the Cold War was but an inkling at the time. Over the next five years, that inkling became a frightening reality. Stalin broke various promises he had made about the treatment of Soviet-occupied Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and blockaded U.S.-controlled West Berlin. State Department expert George F. Kennan developed the containment doctrine, which argued for the use of military, economic, diplomatic and moral assets to prevent any further expansion of Soviet control. Rosenberg, who teaches 20th-century U.S. history, said 1949 was “a particularly scary year.” The Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb. Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek , a U.S. ally, fled to Taiwan, leaving Communist Mao Zedong in control of mainland China. U.S. political and diplomatic circles searched for scapegoats to blame for allowing this giant gain for communism. NSC-68 In 1950, the fledgling National Security Council produced a secret strategy document called NSC-68 which argued that someone had to wake up the Congress and the U.S. public and convince them that “the Cold War is a real war in which the future of the world is at stake.” In many respects, NSC-68 became the blueprint for fighting the Cold War. The United States had substantially reduced military spending after World War II. NSC-68 proposed tripling the military budget. Kennan’s original containment writing had encouraged the United States to identify the most vital areas to defend against Communist expansion. NSC-68 proposed fighting everywhere. The United States was pursuing proposals to place nuclear weaponry under international control. NSC-68 urged Truman to start building and stockpiling the next generation of weapons for fear the Soviets would get there first. NSC-68 was submitted to Truman in April 1950. He was at first reluctant to embrace its costly and combative approach. Then on June 25, North Korean troops streamed across the 38th parallel with a goal of uniting Korea under the leadership of Communist North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung. “The attack in Korea was to NSC-68 what September 11 was to the National Security Strategy document that the Bush administration adopted last year,” said Rosenberg, referring to the strategy that laid out President Bush’s doctrines about fighting preemptive wars. In both cases, a hawkish group within the administration had been trying to sell a doctrine of global confrontation against a threat. In both cases, a dramatic attack suddenly helped them make the sale. In Korea, the U.S. decision to go to war was based on the assumption that Kim’s attack was directed from Moscow and was part of the Soviet master plan for world domination. In November, when Chinese troops entered the war on the North Korean side, this was taken as evidence of world communism’s monolithic nature, Grow said. Soviet documents that have become available since the end of the Cold War shed some doubt on those assumptions. In the book “We Now Know,” a reassessment based on some of that material, Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis writes that Kim sought Stalin’s support for the invasion before it occurred and assured him during a meeting in Moscow in April 1950 that the United States would not intervene. In the end, Stalin gave an ambiguous green light but told Kim that, if he needed any military help, he would have to get it from China. “If you should get kicked in the teeth, I shall not lift a finger,” Stalin told Kim. Mao likewise gave a weak endorsement of Kim’s plan without a specific promise of aid. Kim went ahead without assistance. Later, when U.S.-U.N. troops approached the Chinese border, China entered the war. Stalin strongly encouraged China to help and promised to supply Soviet air support, but the exchanges between them make clear that Mao was not taking orders from Moscow. And, according to Gaddis’ book, Mao saw China’s entry into the war as a defensive move, based on the assumption that after U.S. troops finished off North Korea, they would proceed into China and try to reverse the outcome of the civil war there. So to the degree that the U.S. decision to intervene in Korea was based on the assumption that the invasion of South Korea was part of a coordinated move by the Communist monolith to advance the master plan for global domination, it was at least an exaggeration or oversimplification, Grow and Rosenberg said. Eric Black is at eblack@startri- bune.com . PAGE A8 •STARTRIBUNESATURDAY, JULY 26 • 2003 P Source: ESRI, Encyclopedia Americana; U.S. Department of DefenseDave Silk/ Star Tribune 40 ° 5 lll 130 ° 125 ° a i e theYaluRiverUSandalliedforcesare MacArthurtostoppubliclyespousinghis f e AR AR O 3 100 miles Korean War: 50 years of unresolved conflict Lee Jin-man/Associated Press U.S. war veteran Donald P. Rutledge burned incense Friday at the National Cemetery in Seoul, South Korea. More than 1,000 war veterans from 21 countries attended the 50th anniversary ceremony. On July 27, 1953, an armistice ended the carnage, but it never became a full peace. America’s forgotten war set up a pattern the Cold War would follow for the next 40 years. COMING SUNDAY fl Heavy memories: The soldiers of the forgotten war shoulder a heavy and complicated pack: regret, loss, pride, bitterness. flLiving history: Philip Ahn reflects on his journey from Pyongyang to Roseville to the State Department, where he works as a translator. “I have so many relatives in North Korea who couldn’t get out — and we don’t know what ever happened to them.” “The attack in Korea was to NSC-68 what September 11 was to the National Security Strategy document that the Bush administration adopted last year.” — Emily Rosenberg, Macalester College, referring to the strategy that laid out President Bush’s doctrines about fighting preemptive wars. REMEMBERING KOREA GRAND OPENING! GRAND OPENING! GRAND OPENING! Quality Brand Name Furniture Mfg’s. Overstock Close-Out Furniture Discounted Furniture Showroom Samples Scratch & Dent Furniture Your Best Source For Value Priced Furniture  Sofas/Chairs  Dining Sets  Computer Desks  Bookcases  Entertainment Ctrs.  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  1. Star Tribune,
  2. 26 Jul 2003, Sat,
  3. Main Edition,
  4. Page A8

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  • A look back at America's forgotten war - Korean conflict

    staff_reporter – 15 May 2018

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