Reflecting on Truman’s decision to defend freedom in South Korea

Reflecting on Truman’s decision to defend freedom in South Korea

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Less than five years after deciding to use the atomic bomb to end World War II, President Truman had to debate sending US troops to protect South Korea.

President Truman
President Truman

SAN JOSE, Calif., June 25, 2015 — On June 25, 1950, the government of Kim Il Sung in North Korea launched a surprise invasion of South Korea. On that Sunday in 1950, Harry Truman, the president of the United States, was visiting his home in Independence, Mo. That afternoon he broke off his trip and flew from Kansas City back to Washington, D.C., to face once again a tough decision to help defend a people’s freedom. It had been less than five years since Truman had to decide whether to use the atomic bomb to end World War II in Asia, and here once more he was faced with a deathly serious decision to send Americans into harm’s way.

In New York City, the United Nations held an emergency session to decide what steps to take. Unlike that organization today, the Security Council in 1950 was able to take decisive action to intervene in this conflict. Four members of the Security Council voted on June 27, 1950, to unanimously condemn the North Korean invasion of South Korea and passed Resolution 82, which requested troops from member nations to assist the Republic of Korea in defending its freedom.

Guilty or not: North Korea and the appropriate use of diplomacy

This resolution of armed action has been utilized only two other times in the history of the United Nations. All other global crises sadly went unattended since the Soviets or the People’s Republic of China used their veto power to deny unanimous consent to take corrective action.

Not many in the West foresaw the North Korean invasion, and most were stunned as the North Korean military thrust across the artificially imposed demarcation boundary of the Korean peninsula. The world basically watched as North Korean forces swarmed into South Korea in an attempt to “re-unify” Korea and establish another communist utopia. The previous year in 1949, nationalist China, one of the original allies during World War II, had fallen under the domination of Mao Zedong and his communist People’s Army.

What many in the Free World did not know at this point in time was that Joseph Stalin felt confident to advance Communist plans in Korea after he had trained and installed Kim Il Sung as the dictator in the north following WWII.

Harry Truman, wary of the massive army that existed in Communist China, understood that the alliance between the Communist nations, like the alliance among the Axis nations during World War II, would be a dangerous force to contend with through such a global confrontation. By May of 1950, Kim Il Sung had met with Mao. Although Mao had some concerns that the United States would interfere, he agreed to support the North Korean invasion for several reasons.

Initially, thousands of North Koreans had been sent by Kim after WWII to support Mao during the Chinese Revolution. Also, the People’s Republic of China viewed the U.S. as the most serious threat to its survival.

The commitment of Mao was important as a backup, and once it was established, North Korean preparations for war intensified. American forces that had been stationed in South Korea had completed their withdrawal by June of 1949. Then, experienced Soviet generals from WWII were sent as advisers, and by May of 1950, they had completed plans for the ensuing attack.

Taking a page of historical provocation from the Japanese imperial military, the original plans included an instigated skirmish, which would be viewed as originating from the South Koreans; the North would have launched a “counterattack” and an attempt to quickly capture the capital city of Seoul. However, Kim Il Sung requested a direct attack across the 38th parallel because he was afraid South Korean agents had discovered the devious plans.

Ironically, although Truman was concerned about the raw power of China’s enormous population, at that time the country was also desperately dependent upon Soviet economic and military support to grow. The PRC wanted to increase its stature within the global communist realm by encouraging communist revolutions in bordering nations, but in truth, neither Stalin nor Mao wanted a direct war with the United States. So around this time of year in 1950, Truman made a grave decision to assist the United Nations and commit American armed forces to help a little country across the Pacific.

The very unfunny Kim Jong Un and North Korea

To many Americans younger than 50, this so called “Korean Conflict” may not be viewed as being as significant as the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In fact, this conflict was a global war even though it has often been referred to as the “Forgotten War.” When one considers that the Soviet Union, a member of the United Nations and the Security Council, initiated an unprovoked attack upon a democratic member nation, entirely counter to the U.N. charter, it reveals the nature of Stalin and the Communists more clearly. This aggression was supported by the PRC, which was applying for U.N. membership at the time. Ironically, the PRC still refer to the war as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”

The real victory for freedom was when the United Nations could accomplish its true purpose under its charter and enabled President Harry Truman committed U.S. forces to assist in what he called a “police action.” This was a bit of a surprise to the Soviets; they had calculated that the U.S. would not intervene because the Truman administration had not intervened to help Nationalist China during the communist takeover by Mao Zedong. The Soviet-backed invasion would have completely destroyed the South Korean military and the democratic government in the South.

However, with the absence of the Soviet representative to the U.N. Security Council during the critical vote, and Truman’s determination, the South Korean people were spared a complete communist takeover.

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