The Korean War
The Korean war, to many americans known as “The forgotten war” because the United States made no significant territorial or political gains during the war. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of Americans died, the war both began and ended with the Korean Peninsula divided at the 38th parallel. Nevertheless, the Korean War helped define the Cold War, established a precedent for keeping peripheral wars limited, and boosted defense spending that contributed to the postwar economic boom in the United States.
Despite the loss of life, the Korean War faded from national memory, perhaps because the three-year conflict ended without any territorial or political gains. Although General Douglas MacArthur captured nearly the entire Korean Peninsula after his brilliant Inchon ...view middle of the document...
In expanding the draft and sending more than 3 million U.S. troops to Korea, Truman demonstrated to the USSR his commitment to containing Communism at almost any cost. This demonstration of massive U.S. military force in East Asia forced the Soviets to rethink postwar policy in Eastern Europe and the rest of Asia.
Truman also set a precedent during the war of avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, despite the fact that MacArthur advocated using them against North Koreans and the Chinese. Although the American public vilified Truman for this decision and for firing his insubordinate general, the decision proved to be prudent. The president knew that using nuclear weapons would only drag the Soviet Union and China fully into the conflict, which would destabilize Europe and initiate a third world war—one that might even lead to all-out nuclear war. By refusing to use nuclear weapons, Truman kept the war confined to the Korean Peninsula. The decision would later have an enormous impact on future presidents making similar decisions in Vietnam. Truman’s actions in Korea therefore demonstrated not only American resolve to contain Communism but also a desire to keep the Cold War from devolving into an open war.
The Korean War also boosted American military spending, as a result of a memorandum issued by the National Security Council, known as NSC-68. The memo recommended that Congress quadruple military and defense spending in order to contain the Soviet Union. As a result, the percentage of Congress’s annual budget spent on defense soared throughout the following years, hovering at roughly 50 percent under the Eisenhower administration. Government investment in war factories kept employment high and money flowing into the economy between 1950 and 1970, contributing significantly to the prosperous economic boom.