Guided Readings: The Korean War

Reading 1

In Korea the Government forces, which were armed to prevent border raids and to preserve internal security, were attacked by invading forces from North Korea. . . . The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.

President Harry Truman

Reading 2

[While flying back to Washington after receiving news that North Korea had attacked South Korea, Truman pondered the Communist action in Korea. He later wrote in his memoirs]:

This was not the first occasion when the strong had attacked the weak. I recalled some earlier instances: Manchuria, Ethiopia, Austria. I remembered how each time that the democracies failed to act it had encouraged the aggressors to keep going ahead. . . . Communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to over-ride nations closer to our own shores. If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threats and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors.

President Harry Truman


The following documents all originated after the intervention of 250,000 Chinese Communist troops in November 1950 as UN forces, having broken the back of the North Korean army at Inchon in September 1950, approached the Yalu River that marked the border between North Korea and China. The Chinese forces almost trapped an American army and drove the UN forces back down the Korean Peninsula.

Reading 3

Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory—not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory.

General Douglas MacArthur

Reading 4

It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issue thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom.

General Douglas MacArthur

Reading 5

We do not want to see the conflict in Korea extended. We are trying to prevent a world war—not to start one. . . . But you may ask why can’t we take other steps to punish the aggressor. Why don’t we bomb Manchuria and China itself? Why don’t we assist Chinese Nationalist troops to land on the mainland of China? If we were to do these things we would be running a very grave risk of starting a general war. . . . If we were to do these things, we would become entangled in a vast conflict on the continent of Asia and our task would become immeasurably more difficult all over the world.

I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted, to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized and to prevent a third world war. A number of events have made it evident that General MacArthur did not agree with that policy. I have, therefore, considered it essential to relieve General MacArthur so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.

President Harry Truman

Reading 6

General MacArthur . . . would have us, on our own initiative, carry the conflict beyond Korea against the mainland of Communist China, both from the sea and from the air. He would have us accept the risk of involvement not only in an extension of the war with Red China, but in an all-out war with the Soviet Union. He would have us do this even at the expense of losing our allies and wrecking the coalition of free peoples throughout the world. He would do this even though the effect of such action might expose Western Europe to attack by the millions of Soviet troops poised in Middle and Eastern Europe.

George Marshall

Reading 7

Thus, fighting in China would mean that the US would be "in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

General Omar Bradley