The Cold War and the Crisis in Korea
Anti-communist leaders and their policies
The origin of the Korean War, its course and outcome, can all be traced to the policies of the leaders and the strategy of the generals...
Syngman Rhee or Yi Seungman (March 26 1875 – July 19 1965)
Syngman Rhee was the first president of the Republic of Korea, serving from 1948-1960. In his youth, Rhee was arrested for political activity against the occupying Japanese. After his release, he spent a long period of exile in the United States. When Rhee returned to Korea he was relatively unknown. His selection as the presidential candidate was part of the UN’s efforts to establish stable economic and political arrangements in Korea. While being backed by the US, he remained deeply resentful of the US giving priority in economic assistance to Japan over Korea. Rhee was also a strong anti-communist who regarded communism as another kind of colonisation, similar to that which he had experienced under the Japanese. Like Kim Il-sung, Rhee was committed to a unified Korea. His presidency was marked by internal political conflict in the south between the end of WWII and the Korean War. Rhee was accused of being a puppet of the US in the Korean War just as Kim Il-sung was seen as the Soviet pawn. Ultimately, Rhee’s hopes for a unification of Korea were dashed. After a post-war period of unpopular rule he resigned as President and was exiled to Hawaii. He died there in 1965 without returning to Korea.
Douglas MacArthur (26 January 1880 5 April 1964)
General Douglas MacArthur is the American most often associated with the Korean War. A strong personality and a forthright speaker with a very successful military career behind him, MacArthur represented the ultimate soldier warrior. After achieving renown in WWI and WWII MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers to accept the formal surrender of the Japanese and demilitarise the country. When the Korean War commenced, MacArthur was appointed Commander of United Nations forces (UNC or United Nations Command) in Korea. Against advice he made a bold amphibious landing at Inchon deep in the rear of the North Korean Army, then pinning other UN forces in the Pusan Perimeter. MacArthur’s prestige, high after Inchon, suffered a setback when he failed to foresee the effect of Chinese intervention in the war. This same intervention decided President Truman that there could not be a complete victory in Korea and a negotiated peace was the best that could be hoped for. MacArthur was critical of this policy, writing that ‘There is no substitute for victory.’ When his views were leaked to the press, Truman sacked MacArthur on 10 April 1951. General Matthew Ridgway replaced him. MacArthur retired from the military and briefly considered running for president. He acted as advisor to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. MacArthur was honoured with a state funeral on his death in 1964.
Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (20 December 1894 – 15 May 1978)
Menzies was Australia’s longest-serving prime minister. He was elected to the Federal Parliament in 1934 where he quickly made his mark. In 1939 he became Prime Minister but was forced to resign in 1941. Menzies became Prime Minister again in 1949. His second term of office was marked by economic prosperity, post war European immigration and his government’s determined anti-communist policies. Despite his initial opposition to committing Australian military forces to the war in Korea, Menzies eventually accepted the necessity to do so. Menzies was in office for 18 years. He voluntarily retired as Prime Minister in 1966 and became Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. He died in 1978 and was given a state funeral.
Harry Truman (8 May 1884 – 26 December, 1972)
Truman was the President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. Before entering politics Truman was a farmer and store keeper and served as an artillery captain in the US Army during World War I. He was elected to the Senate in 1934. During the Second World War he headed the Senate war investigating committee. As Vice President to Franklin D. Roosevelt Truman became the President on Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. The 1948 ‘Truman Doctrine’ was implemented to contain the spread of communism. When the Korean War began, Truman secured United Nations approval and committed the United States to prevent North Korea occupying South Korea. Truman’s management of the Korean War was characterised by his determination to defeat communist aggression, but also to prevent the war evolving into a major war between the world’s communist and non-communist powers. He died in 1972 at the age of 88.