There are many different reasons why the US intervened in Korea in the 1940’s. However these reasons can be divided between two categories, events that happened in Asia and domestic pressures that the US were being faced with. I am going to discuss the different reasons that the US had for intervening in Korea and which reasons are the most important and influential.
Firstly, one of the main events that occurred in Asia was the communist take over in China. After the defeat of Japan, parts of China were left without any form of control, the communists took advantage of this and took over these parts and by 1949 had pushed the Nationalists out of the whole of China and Chiang-Shek and his army were forced to move to Taiwan because their powers were too weak against the communists. In the US the China takeover was seen as evidence that Stalin was spreading world communism and to many Americans this meant that the forces of freedom and capitalism seemed to be under threat. The Americans saw the China takeover as a reason for them to get involved in stopping communism because they thought that they had failed to send enough support for the nationalists and the consequences were that the communists would become stronger and after they take control of Korea as well, the next target for the communists would be America.
Furthermore in 1947 came the introduction of the Truman Doctrine, which was seen as a way to contain Soviet expansionism. The Truman Doctrine stated that all democracies, who were being pressured or attacked by the communists, would receive aid from the USA to help them fight against it. Due to the fact that America had failed to help the nationalists in China, it meant they had to redeem themselves and the main way they could do this was by stopping the Soviets from spreading communism any further.
Japan also had a major part to play in why the US intervened in Korea. In the period between 1946-1949, USA supported the Japanese with aid of $500 million a year in an attempt to rebuild their shattered economy. According to George Kennan, a revived Japan would provide a defensive barrier against the Soviet Union. Another reason that the Americans decided to rebuild Japan’s economy, instead of making them weak like they had first intended to, was because it would make Japan less likely to fall to communism if they saw how much America was helping them instead of seeing them as the enemy.
Due to this relationship with Japan it was important for America to defend South Korea when the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel, on 25th June 1950. They needed to defend South Korea for two main reasons. The first reason is because it was easy for the communists to attack Japan from South Korea, which would mean that the American defence barrier would be broken, which would make it easier for the communists to target America as their next subjects to fall to communism. The second reason that America needed to defend South Korea was because they were part of the United Nations. This meant that they had to defend other member, especially if they were a weaker country being attacked by a stronger one.
At this time, trade was very important because capitalist countries could not keep trading with a neighbouring country if they had fallen to communism. Therefore it was important to keep South Korea capitalist so that Japan still had someone to trade with and to stop Japan from having to trade with communist countries and becoming friendly with them.
I believe that the main event that occurred in Asia which led to the US intervention was China’s fall to communism because this led to other events taking place. For example, if China had not fallen to communist rule it would mean that America had followed the Truman Doctrine properly because they were giving aid to a country that needed to defend itself from communism. However, this did not happen and because the Americans felt guilty they felt that to redeem themselves they needed to intervene in Korea. Another reason that I think China’s fall to communism is the most important event is also because it led the Americans to fear that they were going to be targeted by Stalin soon. This meant that they rebuilt Japan and used it as their defence, which led to them having to defend South Korea as well.
Domestic pressures were also reasons for why the US intervened in Korea. The first domestic pressure that I’m going to discuss happened after China fell to communism. During this time in America, the people’s fear of the communist spread was at its worst, this was known as the Red Scare. Between the years 1945-1955 Americans feared that because communism was spreading so quickly it might mean that there are a group of communists who are working from the inside to get and gain communist control. These fears were made even worse when two Russian Scientists, Ethel and Julius Rosenburg were executed in America, after they had been found guilty of selling American bomb secrets to the Soviet union.
This communist fear was also raised my a man named Joseph McCarthy, who believed that there were “card-carrying” communists in the government. Between 1949-1954 McCarthy found that 3000 people in the American government had communist beliefs and all these employees were sacked. This shows how extreme their fear of communism was and that US felt that they had to intervene in Korea before the Soviet Union reached America and before their fears turned into reality. This also shows how an event in Asia caused domestic pressures.
Furthermore, the Kennan Telegram also extended the fears of a communist takeover in America. He stated the he believed the only way to contain communism and safe guard us interest was by a hard-line approach towards the Soviets. This meant that America had to attack and fight hard against the Soviets in order to contain them. By intervening in Korea it meant that they were directly against the Soviets and protecting American interests as well.
The final domestic pressure was from the China Lobby. They were a powerful group of media barons, conservative politicians and other long-time supporters of the Nationalist government. They believed that Truman did not do as much as he could to prevent the communist takeover in China, especially since he stopped paying them money every year. This is an example of how an event in Asia caused domestic pressures. Truman would want to help Korea because he would not want to be seen as a failure in America, especially because it might effect his future as president.
To conclude I believe that events in Asia caused domestic pressures. This is because whilst the communists were slowly taking over parts of China, the people in America feared that they were moving closer to them, therefore this would cause more pressure because Truman knew that he had to stop the communists and protect the American people.