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JC History Tuition - Cold War Notes - Why was North Korea involved in the Korean War

Why was North Korea involved in the Korean War?

Topic of Study [For H2 and H1 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: The Korean War (1950)

Find out how the Korean War began and its impact on a divided nation. [Video by South China Morning Post]

Prelude to the War
Before the North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea, the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung made several visits to meet Stalin in person. Kim bore the political ambition to reunify the Korean peninsula under Communism. In March 1949, Kim made his way to Moscow and discussed with the Soviet leader the prospect of an invasion.

Stalin: Are they penetrating into the South Korean army? Do they have their own people there?

Pak Heon-yeong: They are penetrating, but so far they are not revealing themselves there.

Stalin: This is correct. It is not necessary to reveal themselves now. The southerners also, apparently, are sending their people into the army of the north. They need [to exercise] caution.

An excerpt from Kim Il Sung’s conversation with Stalin during his Moscow visit on 5 March 1949. Pak Heon-yeong was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in North Korea from 1948 to 1953.

Evidently, Stalin was cautious not to cause alarm and alert the USA. As such, he rejected Kim’s request to start an invasion. In May 1949, Kim then visited the Chinese leader Mao Zedong in Beijing. He hoped that China would provide military support to advance his reunification efforts.

In May 1949, Kim Il-sung sent Kim Il, Head of the General Political Department of the Korean People’s Army to visit Beijing. The main purpose of Kim Il’s visit was to ask China to transfer the several divisions made up by soldiers of Korean nationality to North Korea…

In their meeting, Mao Zedong said: “Kim Il-sung should make all necessary preparations at all times for a guerrilla warfare or a protracted warfare.” Mao predicted that Japan might help South Korea in the war and he expressed that “China can send its troops to help North Korea if necessary.” However, Mao Zedong did not agree to Kim Il-sung’s plan for an immediate reunification of Korea by force.

An excerpt from “China and the United States: A New Cold War History” by Xiaobing Li and Hongshan Li.

From these two interactions, it can be observed that Mao Zedong shared similar sentiments as Stalin, in which North Korea should attack only in retaliation to aggression by South Korea. The Chinese leader was concerned with increased American intervention as he was also preoccupied with the ongoing Chinese Civil War.

Final preparations
In April 1950, Kim Il-Sung met with Stalin in Moscow again. Kim sought to reassure the Soviet leader that his proposed invasion would result in a swift and decisive victory, such that the USA would not be able to step in. This time, Stalin finally approved Kim’s request but with the condition that both China and North Korea must achieve a consensus in the invasion.

In a conversation with the Korean comrades, Filippov [Stalin] and his friends expressed the opinion, that, in light of the changed international situation, they agree with the proposal of the Koreans to move toward reunification. In this regard, a qualification was made that the question should be decided finally by the Chinese and Korean comrades together, and, in case of disagreement by the Chinese comrades, the decision on the question should be postponed until a new discussion.

An excerpt from Stalin’s reply for Mao Zedong on 14 May 1950.

This “changed international situation” could be better understood by Stalin’s consideration of a speech by the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, which was commonly referred to as the “Perimeter Speech” that outlined US foreign policy in Asia. Stalin was certain that the speech’s exclusion of Korea would give Kim Il-sung ample time to complete his reunification efforts.

This defensive perimeter runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus. We hold important defense positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and those we will continue to hold. In the interest of the population of the Ryukyu Islands, we will at an appropriate time offer to hold these islands under trusteeship of the United Nations. But they are essential parts of the defensive perimeter of the Pacific, and they must and will be held.

… Should such an attack occur, one hesitates to say where such an armed attack could come from, the initial reliance must be on the people attacked to resist it and then upon the commitments of the entire civilized world under the Charter of the United Nations…

An excerpt from Dean Acheson’s speech to the National Press Club on 12 January 1950.

Following Stalin’s arrangements with North Korea and China, the North Korean invasion began on 25 June 1950, thus signalling the start of the conflict.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the view that ideological motivations shaped the involvement of Soviet Union in the Korean War.

Join our JC History Tuition and learn more about the Korean War. We conduct online learning programmes to impart students with the writing skills to answer essay and source based case study questions effectively.

We have other JC tuition classes, such as GP TuitionEconomics Tuition, JC Chemistry Tuition, JC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English Tuition, Secondary Math tuition, Secondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to learn more.

JC History Tuition - Cold War Notes - Why did the superpowers get involved in the Korean War

Why did the superpowers get involved in the Korean War?

Topic of Study [For H2 and H1 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: The Korean War (1950)

Learn more about the political motivations that shaped US involvement in the Korean War. [Video by PragerU]

Historical context
The Korean War began as a civil war between North Korea and South Korea. Local leaders Kim II-sung and Sygnman Rhee pursued the aim of reunifying the Korean peninsula under diametrically-opposite ideologies. Notably, both governments turned to the superpowers for military support. Yet, it is myopic to claim that the conflict remained localised as the USA and Soviet Union were also influenced by their strategic motivations to aid the two Koreas, thus escalating the event to a proxy war.

1. Stalin’s tactical gambit
From the Soviet perspective, Stalin aided Kim II-sung to divert the attention of his Cold War rival from the European theatre of war. Distinguished historians Donggil Kim and William Stueck arrived at this conclusion after analysing Joseph Stalin’s telegram to the Czechoslovak President Klement Gottawald.

The reason we eventually allowed the war in Korea is because: let us suppose that the U.S. continues to be tied down in the Far East and also pulls China into the struggle. What might come out of this? It follows that America would over-extend itself in this struggle. It is clear that the United States of America is presently distracted from Europe in the Far East. Does it not give us an advantage in the global balance of power, especially back in Europe? It undoubtedly does, allowing us to use this war to our advantage.

An excerpt from Stalin’s telegram to Czech President Klement Gottwald, 27 August 1950.

The telegram was delivered on 27 August 1950, nearly two months after North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and entered the South Korean territory. Interestingly, Stalin reassured his Cold War ally that Soviet Union’s absence in the Security Council was a calculated risk.

2. A litmus test for American commitment
As for the Truman administration, increased US involvement in the Korean War was largely influenced by the fear of ideological expansion in East Asia as well as domestic political pressure.

Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong formed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949 after his victory against Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Soon, Stalin forged diplomatic ties with Mao Zedong by signing the Treat of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance on 14 February 1950. These developments had alarmed the US government as the Soviet Union gained a new ally.

The “loss of China” became a partisan issue. Leading Republicans, especially Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio and former President Herbert C. Hoover, assailed Truman, Acheson, and “treacherous Communists” in the State Department for Chiang’s defeat. MacArthur, considered the China Lobby’s ally, said that allowing the Communists to grow in power in China was “the greatest political mistake we made in a hundred years in the Pacific.”

An excerpt from “Truman, MacArthur, and the Korean War” by Dennis D. Wainstock.

Additionally, Truman also faced mounting pressure domestically to fight the Communists. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy criticised Truman for being “soft” on Communism. As such, the American government became more determined to defend South Korea. These actions were also meant to demonstrate to its allies that the USA was ready to protect them from external aggression, as described by Dean Acheson at the National Press Club on 12 January 1950.

Although post-World War II anti-communism and the makings of the Second Red Scare can be traced all the way back to 1946, not until after the outbreak of hostilities in Korea and the Chinese intervention did McCarthy reach full fury, hurling wild accusations and contriving a political atmosphere so poisonous that it has since come to bear his name: McCarthyism.

…however, the overall political atmosphere he created certainly affected the parameters within which Truman and his advisers had to operate.

An excerpt from “Truman and Korea: The Political Culture of the Early Cold War” by by Paul G. Pierpaoli.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– How far do you agree that ideological concerns were the main motivation that shaped superpower involvement in the Korean War?

Join our JC History Tuition and learn more about the Korean War. We provide concise study notes and conduct writing workshops to improve your reading and writing skills to ace the GCE A Level History examinations. Be proficient in essay writing and the analysis of Source Based Case Study questions.

We have other JC tuition classes, such as GP TuitionEconomics Tuition, JC Chemistry Tuition, JC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English Tuition, Secondary Math tuition, Secondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to find out more.

JC History Tuition Bishan Bedok Tampines Singapore - What started the Korean War - JC History SBQ Skills

What started the Korean War?

What is the Korean War?
The Korean War is a militarised conflict between the North Korea and South Korea. It broke out when North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950 by crossing the 38th Parallel. The invasion was met with swift resistance by South Korea, which was assisted by the United States (US) and United Nations (UN). Over time, the conflict was intensified by the influx of Cold War influences that originated from the indirect and direct responses by the two superpowers, US and USSR.

Derive a better understanding of this Cold War conflict by analyzing the contributing factors that will be examined in the following sections.

Topic of Study [For H2 and H1 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: Korean War (1950-53)

1. The Division of Korea 
After the Second World War, the two superpowers occupied Korea. The US landed on South Korea, while USSR entered North Korea. The occupation lasted for several years until the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution that declared free elections to be held. As a result, South Korea held an election that concluded with Syngman Rhee being declared the first president of the “Republic of Korea” (ROK) in August 1948. As for North Korea, the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK) announced Kim II-Sung as its Prime Minister a month later. These two historic events signaled a permanent division of the Korean peninsula and set the stage for the Korean War.

2. Political Motivations for the Invasion  
Kim II-Sung bore political ambitions to unify the Korean peninsula under communist rule. He held the perception that an invasion would be met with positive reception by the South Korean citizens. As such, Kim sought the approval of Stalin before commencing with the invasion. Eventually, Stalin agreed under the condition that Soviet troops would not be involved directly if there was a military confrontation with the US. Consequently, the North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel on 25 June 1950, marking the start of the Korean War.

3. Strategic Considerations 
From Stalin’s perspective, a unified communist Korea would prove useful in advancing the Soviet Union’s Cold War agenda. However, Stalin contemplated Kim II-Sung’s proposal to invade South Korea cautiously. Stalin was careful to avoid direct confrontation with US and took evasive steps to ensure that North Korea was the primary instigator for the invasion. As such, Stalin provided military support to North Korea, such as Soviet military advisors and artillery pieces. These military hardware and guidance aided Kim II-Sung for his incursion into South Korean territory.

4. Ideological Motivations 
As for the Americans, the North Korea invasion was unexpected. Although the invasion was led by North Korea, the US interpreted these attacks as an act of ideological expansionism orchestrated by Stalin. As described by former US President, Dwight Eisenhower, the ‘domino theory‘ illustrated how one country falling to communism would cause the surrounding countries to be undermined by this ideological threat as well. Given this understanding, the Korean War confirmed the suspicions of the Americans.

In response, US led the discussions in the UN and formed a military coalition to counter the North Korean invasion. The swift response to the perceived ideological threat was consistent with Truman’s push for the ‘Containment Policy’. As such, US supported South Korea and succeeded in repelling the North Korean forces back to the 38th Parallel.

However, the US revised its aim to cross the 38th Parallel and adopted a policy of rollback to eradicate communist influence in the North. The UN forces then crossed the partition line. Hence, it was evident that these actions revealed the ideological motivations of the US in the globalised Cold War conflict.

4. Outcome of the Korean War 
Following the UN’s crossing of the partition line, China came to the aid of North Korea. After a prolonged period of military confrontation between the North and South, US called for ceasefire and an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953. Notably, the Korean War had intensified the superpower rivalry that was observed in subsequent conflicts, like the Cuban Missile Crisis. In recent years, observers have argued that there are improvements in the diplomatic ties between the two Koreas, as exemplified by the desire to end the war formally.

What’s Next?
Now that you have walked through this journey of what may have caused the Korean War, you should reinforce your revision of this chapter by reflecting on the following questions:
– Was the Korean War a localised or Cold War conflict? 
– How did the superpowers capitalise on the Korean War to advance their Cold War aims? 
– In comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), identify the similarities and differences of the Korean War in influencing the Cold War developments beyond Europe [to be covered in our lessons].

For both H1 and H2 History students, we believe that these learning resources will be essential in complementing your revision to ace the A Level History examinations. If you are keen to improve your quality of writing, join our JC History Tuition!

We provide in-depth discussions that will broaden your understanding of Cold War topics, like Korean War and Cuban Missile Crisis. Learn how to apply your knowledge to form persuasive arguments that answer the essay questions effectively. Our tuition programme is based on the latest syllabus requirements set by the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB). We understand that the changes to the syllabus have raised concerns for both H1 and H2 students. As such, our classes will provide a progressive and easy-to-follow learning structure for you to learn.

On the other hand, you can sign up for our GP Tuition and Economics Tuition programmes. These classes will complement your acquisition and refinement of writing techniques, such as question analysis, information extract and paragraph development.

We shape you to become a Reflective Thinker, Persuasive Writer and Problem Solver.