Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953

Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953

Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953

Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953


How presidents spark and sustain support for wars remains an enduring and significant problem. Korea was the first limited war the U.S. experienced in the contemporary period - the first recent war fought for something less than total victory. In Selling the Korean War, Steven Casey explores how President Truman and then Eisenhower tried to sell it to the American public.

Based on a massive array of primary sources, Casey subtly explores the government's selling activities from all angles. He looks at the halting and sometimes chaotic efforts of Harry Truman and Dean Acheson, Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles. He examines the relationships that they and their subordinates developed with a host of other institutions, from Congress and the press to Hollywood and labor. And he assesses the complex and fraught interactions between the military and war correspondents in the battlefield theater itself.

From high politics to bitter media spats, Casey guides the reader through the domestic debates of this messy, costly war. He highlights the actions and calculations of colorful figures, including Senators Robert Taft and JHoseph McCarthy, and General Douglas MacArthur. He details how the culture and work routines of Congress and the media influenced political tactics and daily news stories. And he explores how different phases of the war threw up different problems - from the initial disasters in the summer of 1950 to the giddy prospects of victory in October 1950, from the massive defeats in the wake of China's massive intervention to the lengthy period of stalemate fighting in 1952 and 1953.


America’s experience during the Korean War defies simple classification. Initially a conflict of wildly fluctuating fortunes, during its last two years it bogged down in a bloody stalemate contested over a narrow stretch of land. Although ultimately a war fought for limited objectives, U.S. officials were periodically tempted to push for the unification of the entire peninsula and on occasion even contemplated extending the war into Chinese territory. The first United Nations (UN) war, the American public initially basked in the aura of legitimacy accorded by the sponsorship of that body, before becoming increasingly exasperated by the lack of tangible support from allies. The first hot war during the Cold War era, senior U. S. officials were determined to keep Korea in perspective and not take their eyes off the vital European theater. They therefore moved to militarize America’s whole containment strategy, seizing on the Korean crisis to implement NSC-68, the national security review completed in April 1950, which led ultimately to a 262 percent increase in defense appropriations.

How did the Truman administration sell such a complex war to the American public? Despite a vast and burgeoning literature on other dimensions of the conflict, in this area Korea remains very much the “forgotten” war. The reasons for this amnesia are various. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the first historians and political scientists who wrote about the war reached the conclusion that Korea, because of its very nature, had been basically impossible to sell. Americans, they insisted, only ever wholeheartedly embraced all-out crusades designed to compel the unconditional surrender of the enemy. As a result, they implied, any limited conflict that stopped short of complete victory was doomed to unpopularity, inexorably squeezed between “hawks” who wanted to use maximum force and “doves” who wanted to get out altogether. In such an environment, any publicity efforts the government might have made were likely to be ineffectual at best.

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