The Reluctant Crusade: American Foreign Policy in Korea 1941-1950

Matray, James Irving, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation is an investigation of American foreign policy in Korea from the beginning of World War II until the outbreak of the Korean War. It focuses particularly on evaluating the wisdom of American leaders in recognizing the limitations on the power of the United States in formulating policy objectives in Korea. In addition, the study analyzes America's Korea policy in the larger context of the postwar international struggle between The United States and the Soviet Union,. Previously, most scholars have agreed that the Truman Doctrine marked the crucial turning point in postwar American foreign policy. In reality, the Korean War witnessed the emergence of America’s unlimited commitment to defend the word from the threat of Soviet domination.

Prior to 1941, the United States had been indifferent to Korea's fate. During World War II, however, Franklin D. Roosevelt developed the realistic policy of pursuing a four power trusteeship for Korea, to include the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. When Harry s. Truman became President in 1945, Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe had begun to ala.rm American leaders. As a result, Truman attempted to liberate Korea unilaterally and thus reconstruct this nation without Soviet interference. Stalin's decision to send the Red Army into Korea before the United States had an opportunity to land troops in the peninsula forced Truman to settle for a line dividing Korea at the 38th parallel into zones of occupation. The Soviet-American partition of Korea meant that a civil war was likely unless the major powers could agree to peaceful reunification.
After 1945, Truman sought to reunify Korea under a government that reflected the American, rather than the Soviet, model of political and economic development. At the Moscow Conference in December 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared to agree on trusteeship as a solution to the Korean problem. When Stalin refused to accept the American interpretation of the Moscow Decision, Truman rejected further negotiations and turned to the containment policy to break the Korean deadlock. Containment sought to build a strong, democratic, Western-oriented government in South Korea capable of self-defense, thus permitting American withdrawal. At the same time containment would act as a liberating force. When the North Koreans recognized the benefits involved in accepting American economic aid and diplomatic support, they would oust the Communists and seek reunification under the South Korean regime.

By the fall of 1948, South Korea emerged as Truman's test case of containment in Asia. Success in Korea would resolve two difficult problems. First, Truman could_ utilize limited amounts of economic aid and technical advice to halt the Soviet advance without having to resort to American military power. Second, the Administration sought to atone for America's failure in China and thus eliminate Republican criticism of Truman's foreign policy. Containment promised to achieve a great deal at home and abroad, but at a relatively limited cost in terms of men and material.

Unfortunately, the North Koreans decided to invade South Korea in June, 1950. This attempt at forcible reunification shattered the foundation of Truman's postwar foreign policy. American prestige and credibility demanded that the United States act to defend the South Koreans. Tragically, the Administration adopted an overly emotional and simplistic justification for intervention. Far from being a local civil war, Truman viewed the Korean conflict as nothing less than the initial phase in a Soviet campaign for world conquest Previously, the United States was uncertain regarding the nature and magnitude of the Soviet threat. After 1950, Moscow's aims appeared global and aimed ultimately at the United States. In the wake of the Korean War, the United States embarked again on a global crusade for the achievement of universal principles of law and justice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
United States -- Foreign relations -- Korea, Korea -- Foreign relations -- United States

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: