Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History

By William Stueck | Go to book overview

POLITICAL SCIENTIST JOHN MUELLER HAS CHARACTERIZED THE Korean War as “quite possibly the most important event since World War II.” 1 I have labeled it “a substitute for World War III.” 2 What we mean is that in its timing, its course, and its outcome, it had a stabilizing effect on the Cold War. It did not end that conflict; indeed, it intensified and militarized it as never before. For Koreans it was a total war, with some 10 percent of the population either killed, wounded, or missing. In property, South Korea lost the equivalent of its gross national product for the year 1949. North Korea lost eightyseven hundred industrial plants, its counterpart twice that number. North and South each saw six hundred thousand of its homes destroyed. 3 Yet the fighting did not expand beyond Korea. The costs and risks of the war, combined with the success of the United States and the Soviet Union in preventing the other from enabling its proxy government in Korea to unify the peninsula, discouraged future efforts on each side to venture beyond its zone of influence by military means. The rearmament in the United States and Western Europe provoked by the war created a rough and sustainable balance of military power

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