Korea: The First War America Lost

On the early morning of June 25, 1950, the army of communist North Korea invaded South Korea, and the world has never been the same since. The attack made real the fear of direct communist aggression against the West, raised in the Russian blockade of Berlin two years before. It appeared to validate the existence of a world-wide communist conspiracy of conquest. This specter of a far-reaching plot, actual or not, ensured that the McCarthy-era witch hunt for Red agents and sympathizers would be supported by many. The panic precipitated Europe to subdue its fear of the German army and allow West Germany to rearm as a Western ally. American response to the attack crystallized the practice of confrontation diplomacy with the communist world in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and that affected American policy all the way through the Vietnam War years. Korea provided the opportunity for the spectacular zenith and caused the dizzying nadir of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, one of the most brilliant but contradictory leaders in American military history. Korea motivated the American people to undergo a weeks-long examination in Senate committee hearings of what the country should do about the war and communism. Yet by the end of the Korean War, it had become manifest to many Americans, though by no means to all, that the simple verities about total victory and the conflict between good and evil that had guided American policy for many years were inadequate in the dismaying world that arose from World War II.

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