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What with all the hoopla over the North Koreans recent nuclear saber rattling one would think that some mention would be made of what got us here. We hear nothing about the Presidential decision that led to the permanent separation of Korea into two states. Fifty two years ago a confrontation between President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, over far east policy leading to this decision, dominated the news. It resulted in the removal of MacArthur from his position as Commander of the U.N. armed forces then fighting the North Koreans.
To provide historical background: After World War II, the Korean peninsula was temporarily divided along the 38th parallel, with a pro-Communist government in the north and a pro-Western government in the south. Armies from North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea on June 24, 1950. President Truman's administration immediately committed troops to the United Nations in the effort to move the North Korean army back across the 38th parallel.
General Douglas MacArthur, command of the Allied occupation of Japan was extended to include the United Nations troops. The U.N. forces had been forced back to a small perimeter around the southern port city of Pusan. MacArthur succeeded in breaking out of this perimeter in conjunction with the an amphibious landing at Inchon. In a short time the U.N. army crossed the 38th paralled and moved north toward the Yalu River that marked the territorial boundary between China and North Korea.
There was an obvious difference of opinion between MacArthur and Truman over the what the point of this military action was. .MacArthur looked for victory as being the defeat of the North Korean army whereas Truman felt this action was one of containment and the aim was not for total victory. There is no doubt that MacArthur aggravated the situation by making public statements that should have first been cleared by superiors. He ignored the chain of command and wrote letters about what the aims of the U.S. should be in Korea even if it risked war with China. As Commander in Chief President Truman fired him. Truman may have acted correctly in that action but surely his actions in restraining the U.N. armed forces from defeating the North Koreans and unifying the country into one Korea should be questioned.
There should also be no doubt that Truman's decision was one that had an influence on the results of the Vietnam War - and - on other actions taken by our armed forces in other parts of the world. It was the first time the United States essentially lost a war and reflected a weakness in our country's moral fiber, as seen by our enemies, that appears to have done us more harm than good.
Looking back over the last fifty plus years, the U.S. has had to maintain a large military force in South Korea and the problem existing between the two Koreas has never been resolved. In fact, we all now know that there exists a much more serious situation involving the possible use of nuclear weapons. It would seem reasonable to view the action President Truman took in allowing the continuation of two Koreas as being wrong. History has demonstrated that appeasement has little success over the long term in the defeat of evil and tyranny.