Indeed, the principles of Containment were central to Truman’s decision in the summer of 1950. Containment had proved a success in Europe, most notably in Greece and Berlin, thus America decided to once again use its power and influence, especially economic, to defend the independence of countries threatened by the expansion of Communism. America were under the assumption that North Korea’s leader Kim Il Sung was simply a puppet of Moscow, and thus in halting Kim Il Sung, Stalin would have been taught a lesson.
Truman’s response to the invasion of North Korea, was also shaped by what had been learnt in the pre second world war days, where aggression by Germany in Europe and Japan in the East, was met with Allied appeasement and thus causing a world war. With Stalin being spoken of in the same breathe as Hitler, America were encouraged not to let this aggression go unchecked, otherwise another world war may be on the hands of America. Also post-war events in Europe had highlighted the real dangers of the expansionist Communists. Their methods of election rigging, intimidation and murder, had seen Europe “trampled underfoot” by the USSR. Thus if Truman was able to counter the Soviet-inspired thrust in Korea, he would tip the balance back in the favour of the West, the protectors of democracy and freedom.
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As well as the Communists having huge success in Europe, they were also making huge waves in the East in 1949-50. It emerged that the USSR had developed and tested an A bomb, which came as a great shock to the Truman administration. The Americans had lost their upper hand on nuclear arms, they once held on the Soviets, and overnight fear of the USSR intensified immensely within America. Truman realised that with the USSR being on a nuclear par with America and with rumours of them planning to develop an H-bomb, America’s credibility as a super power was threatened. Anxiety hit the administration, fearing that allies the USA once had, would re-asses their position and seek alignment with the Soviets. With the USSR holding the advantage on both conventional armoury and perhaps nuclear armoury, it was imperative that Truman held his line in Korea, to try and restore faith back into the country.
However not long after the waves had calmed down over the advancement in Soviet nuclear capability, did a second shockwave rock the Truman administration. In 1949 China went Communist, even though America had ploughed in billions of dollars to keep it a democracy, as it was central to his policy in a post-war Asia, China signed a 30 year friendship pact with Stalin, falling directly under his control. The unthinkable was nearly becoming a reality, with the Communists controlling all of Asia, thus it was vital that America went into Korea to push them back.
With China going Communist in 1949, the Red Scare, which started in 1947, was intensified. The domestic factors in the USA between 1945-50 were a great burden on the Truman administration. There was great hysteria throughout the country with the “Red Scare”, where it was thought, that Communists had infiltrated every major American institution, most notably in Hollywood and Government. Thus the FBI under rabid anti communist Hoover pursued a campaign to hunt down the communists, and hold them to hearings under the House Committee on Un-American Activities. This led to many Hollywood actors being blacklisted, with very little support for their films at the cinema, including the great Katharine Hepburn thus forcing them to move abroad if they ever wanted to work again.
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To add fuel to the fire, the Socialist party in the USA was gaining more votes than ever, thus this led to Senator Joseph McCarthy to exploit the worrying figures and start the biggest witch-hunt ever held in Government, known as the McCarthy era. McCarthy scattered accusations of communism widely, initially concentrating his fire on members of the State Department. He felt it was a haven for liberals and left-wingers and claimed that they had not given enough support to Jiang in the Chinese Civil War, thus they were to blame for the loss of China. Then when the German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs, who worked on the Americans Manhattan project, was found guilty of espionage in Britain, for leaking atomic secrets to the Russians, the whole situation exploded, and the pressure on the government to deal with the Russians was so great, that Truman decided that he had to deploy troops into South Korea to repel the Communists. Truman was also facing great pressure from his political rivals. The Republicans were desperate to get into power, after losing the last 4 elections, and so attempted to discredit Truman by blaming him for losing China. Thus in order to keep a hold on power, Truman decided to go on the offensive and implement the policies of containment and rollback, to push the Communists out of Asia.
Events of 1949 in USSR and China had triggered off a re-assessment of American foreign policy and in 1949, just two months before the invasion, there was a modification of containment, the NSC-68, which reflected their aggressive intentions towards containment. NSC-68 included new proposals such as the substantial increase in its military strength, with regards to conventional and atomic weapons. Policy was again centred with regards to Asia, around Japan, and its economic revival thus if anything was to interfere with this, America would have to intervene. This policy of Rollback was born out of fear of the Communists dominating the world and causing “the destruction of civilisation itself” – NSC-68. So when North Korea crossed the 38th parallel into the south, America felt obligated by its own foreign policy to send troops to defend its interests.
Since 1945 the USA had created economic ties with South Korea and when in 1950 it was invaded, the USA felt it had to honour its ties with the country and help a democratic state from unjustified aggression. Although not his primary reason for sending troops into South Korea, Truman felt that with the US being a prominent member of the UN, it was its duty to uphold its principles of democracy, as South Korea was a “democracy” for all intensive purposes under Syghman Rhee. Thus by going into South Korea, the USA was showing its altruistic side, in that it was acting for the good of world interests.
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Truman, therefore had no hesitation in sending his troops into Korea, he could take the moral high ground under the auspices of the UN, in that he was there to uphold freedom and honour the ties between two allies. However the main reason for sending troops into Korea was in fact a more selfish one, in that there was a perception that American interests would be gravely harmed if firm action was not taken against Korea. The pressures of the Cold War demanded a military response and thus in doing so, Truman was acknowledging that the Cold War had gone East.