Korean War

“Yet this war that Americans preferred to forget had enormous consequences.  For the Koreans, whose leaders’ suicidal ambitions had sparked it, the results were catastrophic, an estimated three million dead, roughly 10 percent of the population, their country laid to waste.  The nation remained divided after the ‘peace’ treaty, the South still occupied by foreign troops. For the major Communist nations, the war had mixed results.  By holding its own against the United States, Mao’s China achieved instant great-power status.  China’s dependence on the Soviet Union solidified their alliance for the short term, but that very dependence and sharp differences over the conduct of the war opened fissures in the Communist bloc that would widen in the coming decade.  For Stalin, who had gambled on Kim’s ability to win a quick victory, the Korean War was a major setback.  The pressures he imposed on his East European allies to produce war materials created strains that would provoke uprisings that in tern threatened Soviet control over its vital buffer zone. Korea also produced Stalin’s worst nightmare, a massive buildup of Western European defenses –including the first steps toward German rearmament –and U.S. mobilization for all-out war.”  –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 645


Discussion Questions

  • Herring describes the origins and tragic duration of the Korean War as a series of miscalculations.  What were the most catastrophic faulty judgments in this narrative, especially by US policymakers?
  • How did the Korean War affect US Cold War policies in Asia?


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