The Road to Confrontation: American Policy toward China and Korea, 1947-1950

The Road to Confrontation: American Policy toward China and Korea, 1947-1950

The Road to Confrontation: American Policy toward China and Korea, 1947-1950

The Road to Confrontation: American Policy toward China and Korea, 1947-1950


Concentrating on U. S. concerns for credibility abroad, Stueck uses recently declassified documents and many interviews to analyze the origins of the Sino-American confrontation in Korea in late 1950. He demonstrates how personalities (Secretary of State Marshall and General MacArthur) and bureaucracies (the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff) influenced policy development and how congressional penny-pinching reduced prospects for a prudent American course in Korea.

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On 28 November 1950, General Douglas MacArthur wrote despondently to his superiors in Washington that United Nations forces in Korea faced "an entirely new war." Although prone to overstatement, the irrepressible general was not exaggerating this time. In the previous fortyeight hours, Chinese Communist forces had launched a massive counteroffensive south of the Yalu River. Instead of completing the military unification of the entire peninsula under non-Communist leadership, United Nations troops now reeled from an attack by numerically superior forces. The situation, at best, was uncertain, at worst disastrous.

Communist Chinese intervention in the Korean War had a momentous impact on American politics and foreign policy. Shortly after the end of his tenure as secretary of state in 1953, Dean Acheson correctly observed that

this Chinese Communist advance into North Korea . . . was one of the most terrific disasters that has occurred to American foreign policy, and certainly . . . the greatest disaster which occurred to the Truman administration. It did more to destroy and undermine American foreign policy than anything that I know about -- the whole Communistsin-government business, the whole corruption outcry, was really just window-dressing put upon this great disaster.

After the first year of the Truman administration, to be sure, the "Communists-in-government business" was never far below the surface of American politics. In early 1950, with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's charges of widespread Communist infiltration into the State Department, the issue moved to center stage. Yet the Sino-American confrontation in Korea gave tremendous momentum to the "Red Scare" at home. McCarthy's attacks centered on American China policy, and the extended conflict in Korea could only add weight to his charge that Chiang Kai-shek had been "sold down the river." Although many Americans continued to reject domestic "treason" as the source of their nation's trials in Asia, developments in Korea in November 1950 made the Truman administration's earlier failure to prevent a Communist victory in China look all the more catastrophic.

The Sino-American collision led directly to the clash over Asian strategy between the president and General MacArthur, which, in turn, bolstered Republican efforts to undermine public confidence in Democratic leadership. Chinese intervention turned what promised to be a badly needed American victory in Asia into a defeat from which the Truman administration never recovered, even after United Nations forces halted the Chinese advance and . . .

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