The Chinese were convinced that the real UN intent

The major downfall of the European and American forces is that they
underestimated the Asian forces, and the willingness of China to fight in
protection of its interests. They saw the Koreans as an inferior people, and
this prejudice led them to believe that they could be easily defeated. Also,
the UN command was easily swayed by McArthur’s prediction that China would not
enter the war.

After a daring landing by UN troops at the port of Inchon, they rapidly
re-captured Seoul, and it’s nearby airport. The overall objective was to cross
the country, effectively cutting the North Korean Army in the south off from
its supplies in the north near the 38th parallel, and then crush it. However,
for some reason, McArthur insisted on putting the majority of UN forces back on
the landing ships and ferrying them around the country to the other side of the
peninsula. As a result of this move, many North Korean troops were able to
escape through the gap and back to the north. Nonetheless, by the end of
September, the remaining enemy troops in South Korea had been killed or
captured, and the democratic state of South Korea was re-established.

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 At this time, the UN leaders saw a
chance to reunite Korea under one democratic flag, by force. This had to be done
very carefully as the Chinese were convinced that the real UN intent was to
invade China itself. In order to not anger the Chinese, McArthur could only use
South Korean troops once he got near the Manchurian border with China. The
general’s other limitation was that if he did encounter any Chinese or Soviet
troops that he should back down and return below the 38th parallel. McArthur
was convinced, however, that the Chinese would not interfere in Korea, and he
convinced the UN Counsel of this; so they were a little more lenient in their

In his quest to capture communist Korea, McArthur broke every rule of
military science. He did all of the things he shouldn’t have when facing a
possible confrontation with the whole of the Chinese army. The UN forces were
divided, and sent up opposing sides of the peninsula in a way that they could
not communicate with each other because of high mountains between them. Soon
McArthur began to get reports of his men seeing Chinese soldiers among the
ranks of North Koreans, but he ignored them and pressed on. In late October
1950, an American unit reached the Yalu River, the border with China; here they
were surrounded by Chinese and destroyed. For the next four days, the UN was on
the defensive, as both Chinese and North Korean troops assaulted them. However,
after four days of intense combat, the Chinese army disappeared. McArthur took
this as a sign that they had given up, and not as a warning that the Chinese
were willing to fight. He once again started on the offensive pressing ever
closer to the Chinese border.

Unknown to McArthur, the Chinese had deployed hundreds of thousands of
troops along the border, and even in North Korea itself. On November 3, 1950,
the Chinese government issued a final warning that they believed the UN
intention was to invade China, and that they will protect their homeland. By
that time, the Chinese had approximately half a million troops along the
border, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the UN forces. On November 25, the
Chinese offensive commenced all along the Yalu River. Soon, the longest retreat
in American history would begin, as they fled the advancing communist army.
During this retreat, the losses to the Chinese, who had little respect for
human life, were enormous, as they were attacked all day by US Navy planes,
protecting the retreating United Nations and South Korean forces. The UN troops
eventually reached the coast where they along with ninety thousand Korean
refugees were loaded into ships and brought back behind the 38th parallel.

Therefore, it is plausible to blame the US for the conflict, as it seems
that Stalin’s shift in attitude towards a North Korean invasion came about
largely because of signals from the US, which suggested they would not support
South Korea in the event of a War. This is supported by Stalin’s conversations
with Kim il-Sung, in which he states that “according to information coming
from the United States…the prevailing mood there is not to interfere”4.
Subsequently, Stalin contacted an aide revealing that he was “ready to
help”5 North Korea, reunify the country. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but
three weeks prior to this decision, Dean Acheson (US Secretary of State,
1949-53) had made a defence perimeter speech, in which he omitted South Korea from
a list of countries which the United States would automatically defend, stating
that “the Asian people are on their own

Over the coming weeks, the frailty of US-South Korean relations was
further emphasized, notably by Congress’s defeat of an economic assistance
package for Rhee’s government. Such instances, along with the rejection of
Rhee’s requests for armaments, meant that the US “failed to arm the South
sufficiently”8.Thus, it helped convey the impression that they were
unconcerned by the South’s political future. Moreover, that the Americans had
refused to take direct action to “prevent a communist victory in
China”9, suggested to Stalin that they would not intervene to forestall a
similar outcome in Korea. Therefore, it is clear that US failure to provide
explicit support to the South encouraged a North Korean attack. This is because
Stalin, having not previously approved an invasion, gave his consent to the
idea, perhaps seeing it as a potentially cheap Cold War victory

However, the instigator of the conflict would appear to be Kim Il Sung.
This view is corroborated by Hitchcock, a member of the American Military
Government in Korea from 1945-8, who declares that “the attack on South
Korea was ordered by Kim il-Sung”10. Inevitably Hitchcock attempts to
clear the US of any wrongdoing and places the blame on Kim Il Sung. However,
this analysis is validated by a series of original telegrams sent from Shtykov
to Vyshinsky, stating that “Kim Il Sung asks permission to begin military
operations against the South”11, whilst another declares that “Kim Il
Sung asked to buy Soviet Union arms for the three infantry divisions he
intended to form”12. Therefore, we might assert that “primary
responsibility for the outbreak of war” rests “on North
Korea”13. Indeed, the persistence and aggression of Kim are shown to be a
critical factor in both pressuring Stalin into supporting the conflict and
instigating the War.

 The argument that Kim Il Sung was
responsible for the conflict is broadened by the notion that he initiated the
invasion through his manipulation of Stalin. The North Korean leader played
upon Stalin’s insecurities, threatening that “if Stalin would not endorse
an invasion, he Kim would go and place himself under Mao”14.This view is
supported by a telegram from Shtykov to the Russian authorities, which tells
how in a recent conversation, “Kim underscored that Mao Zedong promised to
render his assistance”15. Whilst China was willing to help Kim to some
degree, this threat seems to be wholly unrealistic – mainly because Mao was
preoccupied with reconstructing the economy and consolidating the revolution.
Although China has yet to release official documents concerning the conflict,
the fact that they sent only two divisions of North Korean troops back to Kim
indicates their inability to offer effective support. Thus, it would appear
that Kim Il Sung exaggerated China’s position to Stalin, which is likely to
have presented a threat to Stalin’s leadership of global communism, thus, pressuring
the Soviet leader to aid North Korea.

Meanwhile, it is possible to see how Syngman Rhee’s unpopularity in the
South encouraged Kim to attack. Indeed, it would appear that the majority of
South Koreans were opposed to the reactionary police state overseen by Rhee.
This notion is reflected in the May 1950 elections, which saw Rhee retain only
22 of 210 seats. Subsequently, the “North Koreans saw Rhee’s electoral
setback as an opportunity to launch a new political offensive”16, as Kim
felt strongly that an “attack would spark strong anti-Rhee uprisings in
the South”17. This view is further justified by a telegram which declares
that “the people in the South are waiting for liberation from the yoke of
the reactionary regime”18. Rhee’s unpopularity would have made it seem
that an invasion of the South would be welcomed by the people, encouraging the
North to attack. Although we might not cite Rhee’s presence as a prime cause of
the War, it acted as a catalyst for the conflict, helping to accelerate the process.
However, we might blame the US for Rhee’s failure, as they were responsible for
imposing him as President. Perhaps they should have had the foresight to
recognize that a westernized, intolerant man would not make for a good unifying

Nonetheless, it would appear that conflict was inevitable between the
Communist North and Capitalist South, as it seems unlikely that such
ideologically contrasting regimes could ever coexist peacefully. Indeed, Kim
il-Sung continually expressed his desire to defeat the Capitalist South and
unify the country under Communism. Therefore, we might find further reason to
hold the USA and Russia responsible for the conflict, due to their separation
of the country, in 1945. The division of Korea saw the country polarized as
“two US colonels were given half an hour with a map, before deciding upon
the 38th Parallel as a point of separation”19; chosen for its
convenience, it had no historical, cultural, or topographical significance.
Subsequently, America and Russia established two opposing sides which
compounded the potential problems in constructing a unified, indigenous
government thus creating the context for a civil war. Indeed, it would seem
there were elements of genuine civil conflict in the Korean situation as both Rhee
and Kim il-Sung “had been talking of war”20. But, due to the Cold War
climate, a civil war would escalate into an international conflict. Thus, it is
important to note that the initial division of Korea was an important factor in
establishing the potential for conflict.

Whilst Stalin was not the prime mover behind the war (a role more
associated with Kim Il Sung, he was the sponsor of North Korean ambition, which
enabled Kim to unite the country. Indeed, Kim was firmly the instigator; not
only did he continually indicate his desire to unify Korea, he also looked to
manipulate Stalin into supporting his effort. However, the shift in Stalin’s
attitude towards the war seems to have occurred due to signals which suggested
the likelihood of US neutrality. Yet, responsibility cannot be assigned to the
US, as its only contribution to the start of the war was passive. Instead, the
conflict was only made possible due to Stalin’s support of Kim. This is an idea
which is succinctly captured by Vojtech Mastny, who argues that “North
Korea was hugely dependent on Moscow, in much the same way as its Eastern
European satellites were”.