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What were the Causes of the Korean War (1950-1953)?

On 25th June 1950, ninety thousand North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea’s border defences; the Korean war had begun, this small-scale civil war would escalate into an international conflict. Historically Korea had once been a united country under Japanese rule between 1905 and 1945; however, the Japanese were unruly and did not treat the Koreans well. Therefore, at the end of the Second World War, it was decided that the country would be divided along the 38th parallel and occupied by Soviet troops in the North and American troops in the South.

Syngman Rhee, who had spent some years exiled in America, became the president of South Korea in 1948, while Kim Il Sung, having fought for the Russian red army during the war, became leader of the Peoples Democratic Republic (Communist) in North Korea. I intend to outline the causes and contributing factors that eventually led to the Korean War. An underlying factor in this conflict is the two very contrasting political systems in North Korea; the communist North led by Kim Il-sung had links with fellow Communist nations such as China and the USSR; in April 1950, Kim Il Sung visited Moscow, and by May and June Military supplies were being sent to North Korea including 150 T-34 Tanks.

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Similarly, China did not want to have an American-influenced democratic country bordering its frontiers, so they too were always likely to support Kim Il Sung and the North Koreans. In The South, Syngman Rhee’s supposedly democratic government was likely to gain American support due to the fear of the spread of Communism, sometimes referred to as the “Domino Theory” However just as the Soviet government had only given limited support to Kim Il Sung as they feared the potential of a direct conflict with American troops. However, some historians may argue that Kim Il Sung misled Stalin into believing that the war against South Korea would be straightforward to attain support.

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The USA did not provide an air force for the South Koreans as they too did not want Syngman Rhee to abuse his advantageous position. In 1949, Mao had just led a communist government to victory in a Chinese civil war, leaving the defeated Chinese nationalists in exile on the island of Taiwan (Formosa). This precedent where the Americans failed to stop the spread of Communism resulted in criticism of Truman’s apparent soft approach towards the dangers outlined in the domino theory.

This may have led to questions being asked as to whether the USA would intervene if North Korea invaded the South. Truman would now have to take a more stern and uncompromising approach to Communism to maintain domestic support. Some may argue that the Korean support was an unnecessary token gesture to prove his vigilance and hard-line approach to Communism. However, the Soviet Union adopted a somewhat different approach; Stalin was quite happy for there to be conflict, revolution and war in Asia as it would draw away attention from his plans of primary importance in eastern Europe, where he wanted to maintain his influence in the so-called “satellite countries” such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany.

Syngman Rhee lacked domestic support in South Korea, his government was corrupt, and there were a string of civil disturbances and communist uprisings in South Korea. Rhee’s inflammatory Rhetoric was often very provocative and possibly inspired many of the border incidents of the late 1950s. In contrast to the insincere south, the North, where Kim Il Sung’s heavily military-orientated government had amassed an army of considerable size and strength, appeared relatively organized, having had several domestic successes.

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These both relatively new governments succeeded the temporary occupation of Soviet and American troops in the North and South respectively; some historians may argue that it was the departure of foreign troops that led to the events of the Korean War with the Americans leaving first in 1948 and the Soviet troops leaving North Korea in 1949. With the benefit of hindsight, organized elections should probably have been held throughout Korea.

There were several short term events and misjudgements that had immediate effects in Korea, In January 1950, the American secretary of state, Dean Acheson made his “Defence Perimeter” speech in which he failed to include Korea as an area that would have US influence in the event of an invasion. Stalin and the USSR were absent from the UN Security Council in an act of protest against the refusal to allow Communist China into the UN. If it had not been for this the USSR could have prevented UN backing to the Korean War.

In Conclusion the real causes of the Korean lie in the wider context of cold war hostility and international relations rather than a civil war in an “Insignificant country”. In 1949 It had been revealed that Russia know had the ability to use an atomic bomb, by the 1950s the fear of a third world war or conflict between major powers, the internal suspicions of Communism in western politics and the growing reality of a Polarised world led to increased tension in cold war hostility; Korea was just a venue.

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What were the Causes of the Korean War (1950-1953)?. (2021, Sep 26). Retrieved May 27, 2022, from