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Assault On South Korea

Korea: Reluctant Dragons And Red Conspiracies

While much of what has been written about the Korean War in the last fifty years has been colored by political agendas and a lack of critical information, recent scholarship helps place the first conflict of the Cold War in its proper context.

Contrary to assertions in Max Hastings' The Korean War, the single best-selling history of the conflict, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China's leaders were deeply involved from the conflict's beginning. Hastings claimed China's entry was provoked by the rapid advance of American troops through North Korea in October 1950. Because of the presence of the Soviet Union's large military advisory group in North Korea during 1945­50 and the acknowledged heavy flow of Soviet weaponry and equipment to the pre-war North Korean army, no serious historian doubted Moscow's complicity in the June 1950 attack. New evidence, however, also clearly demonstrates Chinese involvement in the invasion of South Korea. It is now clear that the war was planned and coordinated by the three Communist powers over a ten-month period, from April 1949 until February 1950.

The first solid diplomatic confirmation that North Korea would have Chinese support in its efforts to conquer South Korea occurred during an April 1949 meeting between Kim Il Sung, the leader of North Korea, and Mao Tse-tung. After Kim asked for the return of Korean troops then serving in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Mao assured him that China would assist the North Koreans in their planned conquest. The Chinese leader subsequently ordered the repatriation of two Korean units, the 164th and 166th People's Liberation Army divisions, who were veterans of the Chinese Civil War.

The impending invasion of South Korea fit into a much larger scheme, one that calculated the possibilities of an American reaction to the invasion. In August 1949, Chinese and Soviet officials met in Moscow and agreed on international spheres of influence and functional responsibilities. While Moscow would remain the center of the international revolution, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to underwrite Beijing's assigned role in directing the eastern extension of communism. During the winter of 1949-50, Mao visited Moscow and discussed the forthcoming invasion with Stalin. When the Soviet leader asked about America, Mao said that while the United States might not intervene, they had to take U.S. intervention into consideration.

Stalin evidently believed the risk was worth taking. On January 30, 1950, the Soviet leader sent a message to North Korean leaders: The Soviet Union was now ready to discuss the unification of Korea by force and would help North Korea. Kim visited Moscow for discussions in April 1950 and made final plans with Mao during a May 13­16 visit to Beijing. During one of these sessions in China, Kim said he doubted that the United States would have time to intervene because he was confident the conquest of the South would only require about two weeks. He also doubted the need for Mao's support. (Three Chinese armies, standing in readiness, were poised along the Yalu River.) Less confident than Kim, Mao began dispatching additional troops to the border anyway. Thus, on the eve of the invasion, between thirty and forty thousand Koreans--former PLA soldiers supplied by China--had joined their countrymen in North Korea and were preparing for an invasion of South Korea. Large amounts of Soviet equipment, which greatly overshadowed the paltry number of armaments the United States had provided South Korea's defenders, would support the invasion. China had given Kim Il Sung use of a substantial number of men for the conquest, and the large Chinese force being assembled on the China­North Korea border guarded against the contingency of American intervention against North Korea's invasion.

From Mao's perspective, Korea was not the only disputed East Asian area that might bring China into confrontation with the United States. But the Chinese leader gave it primacy. In the spring of 1950, a growing conflict between the Communist Vietminh forces under Ho Chi Minh and the French was raging in Indochina. In keeping with China's new role in encouraging revolution throughout the region, Mao was called upon to oversee and support Ho's campaign. And the Nationalist Chinese, although defeated in China, were establishing a hostile base on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). The latter situation was a major concern for the Chinese leader, particularly since the faltering Nationalists had a long-standing relationship with Washington.

But Mao's concern about the United States' intentions in Korea was relatively recent, a condition that only developed after his April 1949 promise to assist Kim Il Sung in the invasion of South Korea. Two months earlier, in February 1949, Mao had told Anastas Mikoyan, a member of the Soviet Politburo, that America had not become directly involved in China's civil war. Mao had said he believed that American obligations elsewhere were too extensive, and that Washington's allies were unwilling to support U.S. involvement in Korea. Stalin, who shared this view, told a Chinese delegation visiting Moscow five months later that the United States was in no position to wage a major war. According to the Soviet leader, this gave the Communist powers an opportunity to develop their own strength.

In June, after the meeting between Mao and Kim, Mao began focusing on the United States. He launched an anti-American propaganda campaign, personally writing five articles describing America as China's most dangerous enemy. A few months later he began planning a major overhaul of the Chinese military. The PLA, a huge 5.7-million-man infantry force, was to be stripped down and modernized, a navy and air force added, and a central reserve created. The latter was specifically structured and equipped to combat American armed forces. In early 1950, the Chinese leader ordered more than twelve hundred aircraft from the Soviet Union.

As soon as the North Koreans invaded South Korea in late June 1950, Mao readied his country for the employment of PLA forces in Korea, despite the hugely successful invaders' not inviting them to intervene. A second Chinese troop deployment, this one to the border with Korea, was made during the first week in July, immediately after North Korean forces first clashed with the Americans and drove them south to Pusan. Mao ordered China's central reserve, the best equipped PLA troops, to the Yalu, and commanders were ordered to defend China's borders. Secondarily, they were instructed to ready their soldiers to cross the border by the end of July. The orders to defend the border were just a mask, however, for at this juncture offensive plans outweighed defensive precautions. For example, on August 2, anti-aircraft artillery units were concentrated around the Yalu River bridges in order to protect them, ensuring a safe and speedy Chinese crossing into Korea. The North Koreans were still attacking, and U.N. forces were clinging to the shrinking Pusan Perimeter. Two days later, the Chinese Politburo met. Mao's foreign affairs adviser, Zhou Enlai, recommended that China's weight be added to the war in Korea. After the meeting, Mao ordered his military commanders along the Yalu to prepare their troops to enter the war.

The PLA leadership's attitudes about fighting U.S. forces surfaced at a meeting in mid-August, just when the North Korean offensive along the Pusan Perimeter began to falter. The Chinese commanders believed they should move across the border and assist the North Koreans, and calculated that their forces along the Yalu outnumbered the Americans by three to one. They were confident that worldwide responsibilities would preclude the Americans from putting more than half a million troops into Korea. In comparison, China had four million soldiers available. The commanders said Chinese troop morale, bolstered by a just cause, would overshadow that of the Americans.

At this same meeting, the Chinese officers also considered the tactics they would use in fighting the Americans. In view of the United States' superiority in firepower and mobility, they discarded the notion of frontal attacks. The preferred tactic would be to penetrate American lines and thrust to the rear, destroying communications and transportation capabilities before separating, surrounding, and finally annihilating isolated pockets of enemy resistance.

After the mid-August conference Chinese military leaders reported their conclusions to Mao and asked for more time to equip and prepare their forces. Chinese troops' attitudes about fighting in Korea also had been canvassed and reported. About half the Chinese soldiers in the north advocated joining North Korea in fighting the South Koreans and Americans. Some 40 percent were indifferent, neither enthusiastic nor unwilling. About one in ten of their troops, mostly former Nationalist soldiers, expressed a reluctance to leave China to fight someone else's war. On August 18, Mao granted permission to postpone the move across the Yalu, setting the new readiness date of September 30.

Mao meanwhile provided Kim with basic and critical intelligence. He forewarned North Korea's military forces about the likelihood of a U.S. landing at the South Korean port of Inchon. On August 23, the PLA's Operational Bureau predicted an American amphibious operation behind North Korean lines, a forecast based upon intelligence reports, observations, and logical deductions. There were reports of gathering U.S. naval vessels in Japan and the presence there of two U.S. divisions practicing landing operations. The Chinese also noted statements by an American diplomat that the U.N.'s military goal was unification of the two Koreas. In addition, staff officers noted that U.S. and South Korean forces along the Pusan Perimeter were neither attacking nor withdrawing. They took this as a U.N. ploy to draw as much of North Korea's army as possible southward to be cut off when the American landing was made. Finally, the bureau pointed to General Douglas MacArthur's great experience in amphibious operations during World War II. Several possible landing points, including Inchon, were cited as sound candidates for such a strike. Alarmed by the forecast, Mao called in a North Korean liaison officer, pointed to a map, tapped Inchon, and suggested that defenses immediately be prepared for a U.S. landing there.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1950, while successful Chinese intelligence-gathering operations were proceeding, U.S. intelligence operations, military readiness, and politico-military coordination were proving inadequate. President Harry S. Truman believed that the loose army-navy intelligence sharing arrangement that had served the United States during World War II was outdated and inefficient, and had replaced it with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA's first major test--predicting the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula--did not bode well. Truman later complained that the agency had only identified Korea as one of several places where war might break out in 1950, giving him no clue as to whether or when such an event might occur. The CIA's Korean operation appeared worse than the army-navy intelligence system's performance had been during World War II. In November 1941, military intelligence officers had given the president and his Asia-Pacific commanders ten days' prior warning of coming hostilities with Japan. There was no such alert in June 1950. Both the Truman administration and the U.S. embassy in Seoul were caught napping.

Then, too, the United States had allowed its military forces in the Far East to wither and become vastly overmatched by potential Communist adversaries. The U.S. Army, the service destined to shoulder about 70 percent of the Korean War effort and about 80 percent of the American defensive role in Europe, had only ten understrength and ill-equipped divisions at the war's outbreak. The president had consistently opposed greater American military strength by refusing to heed his military leaders' advice and impounding any congressionally approved defense funding he had not requested. In February 1950, a civilian panel of the National Security Council (NSC), noting the growing military imbalance with Communist forces, recommended tripling the defense budget. But Truman turned aside his own aides' counsel. The administration had pursued an aggressive foreign policy that sought to contain the steadily advancing boundaries of the Communist world, but it was not willing to make the expenditures or develop the strength necessary to underpin that policy.

Much of the poor American performance during the early weeks of the war could be blamed on a lack of planning and policy coordination. The Far East Command's chief, General MacArthur, had no instructions from Washington to defend South Korea against a North Korean attack and had made no plans for such a contingency. He had publicly outlined the limits of his defensive responsibilities in early 1949, marking a line extending from Alaska's Aleutian Island chain to Japan, to the Ryukyu Archipelago, and down to the Philippines. This same line was confirmed by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in a public speech on January 12, 1950. Since the limits did not include Korea, little intelligence had been devoted to the North Korean army, Korea's terrain, or the country's road system. In sharp contrast to the Communists, the Americans had neither planned nor prepared for the coming clash.

Once the war began, American leaders anxiously pondered every possibility, from the potential for Chinese intervention to the chance of reaching into North Korea and toppling Kim's government. As early as July 7, 1950, only two days after American troops first made contact with the onrushing North Korean army, MacArthur informed his military superiors that his forces, properly supported by reinforcements, might defeat the invaders. But he warned that intervention by either the Chinese or the Soviets would create a wholly different situation. A few days later, the U.N. commander declared that he could prevent Chinese intervention by mounting operations in North Korea. His troops would have to occupy all of the Korean Peninsula but would not have to move into Manchuria. On July 17, President Truman requested that the National Security Council consider policy choices once the North Koreans had been driven back north of the thirty-eighth parallel, the pre-war North-South border.

On September 11, four days before MacArthur's landing at Inchon, the president approved an NSC-recommended policy concerning operations in North Korea. Presidential approval would have to be obtained for troops to cross the thirty-eighth parallel, but no such move would be made in the event of a major Soviet or Chinese intervention. MacArthur's troops were forbidden to cross the border into Chinese or Soviet territory but might go up to the border. The ultimate policy objective was aimed at the unification of Korea through U.N.-supervised elections.

Strangely, there is no indication that MacArthur was ever informed of Truman's decision to unify Korea until September 27, twelve days after the landing at Inchon. As a result, U.S. forces were unprepared to proceed into North Korea. The First Marine Division and Seventh U.S. Army Division had not been charged with extending their lines from Seoul eastward so as to cut off North Korean forces fleeing South Korea. The senior field commander, Lt. Gen. Walton Walker, stated on September 29 that his Eighth Army was planning to regroup at the thirty-eighth parallel, presumably to await further orders. Meanwhile, Walker's best pursuit force, Colonel William C. Westmoreland's 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, had been assigned the mundane task of mopping up stranded North Korean troops throughout the Kimpo Peninsula.

When Washington finally ordered MacArthur north, his headquarters stitched together a hasty, complex, and logistically questionable plan in twenty-four hours. The scheme had the Marines and the Seventh Division backing out of the Seoul-Inchon area and mounting an amphibious operation into the northeastern part of the peninsula. Eighth Army, at the same time, was to fight its way north from the Pusan Perimeter. Paratroopers were hurriedly collected and staged for an airdrop above the North Korean capital in western North Korea. All this took time--too much time. By not allowing MacArthur an opportunity to prepare for the conquest of North Korea, the Truman administration forced hasty planning in late September and early October in order to prepare for the coming winter and delayed the U.N. northward advance by about seven days.

Despite a number of warnings, additional American lives were lost when the U.S. intelligence system failed again in October 1950. Crossing the thirty-eighth parallel and attacking north, U.S. forces and their civilian and military leaders in Korea, Tokyo, and Washington were acting on the basis of a flawed prediction by the CIA that the Chinese would not attack. This prediction stood unchanged from the time U.S. troops crossed the thirty-eighth parallel on October 9 until the first solid clash between U.N. and Chinese forces in North Korea on October 25. The CIA forecast was that Chinese intervention in the war "was not probable in 1950." Rarely have American servicemen and women been so tragically ill-served by their government. National-level intelligence was dangerously inadequate, and the coordination between policy makers, military strategists, and commanders was appallingly shoddy.

Of all the historical interpretations of the Korean War, however, few are as wrong-headed as the so-called "Check and Warning" notion. This is the favorite of those who insist that the United States provoked China, the Reluctant Dragon, into defending its borders, and that Mao moved troops across the Yalu River in late October 1950 in order to check U.N. forces and then withdraw.

The faulty assumption here is that Beijing's considerate, responsible action would give Washington notice that a U.S. threat to China's soil would not be tolerated. A subsequent American reaction, according to the Reluctant Dragon theorists, would have been to back off, to allow China to control a reasonable buffer zone south of the Yalu River, and thereby to avert war between the two powers.

Documents released by the Chinese government in 1997 disprove the Check and Warning thesis. On October 2, 1950, twelve days prior to Chinese troops moving into North Korea, Mao sent Stalin a message alerting the Soviet leader that China was jumping into the war to drive the Americans out of Korea and assist the expansion of communism. Beginning on October 14, the Chinese put 180,000 troops across the Yalu.

General Peng Dehuai, commander of China's forces in Korea, believed that due to Communist guerrilla activity, advancing U.N. forces would be kept to only about three U.S. and three Republic of Korea (ROK) divisions. He estimated the size of each American division to be twelve thousand troops, and that of each ROK division to be six thousand soldiers. Therefore, his 180,000 troops would be fighting about fifty-four thousand U.N. troops--a better than a three-to-one advantage. On October 21, 23, and again on October 25, Mao ordered Peng to surround ROK units in order to attract American forces farther northward where they could be defeated.

Within three days, Mao's orders had been obeyed. Three ROK regiments were all but destroyed, and one U.S. regiment, the Eighth Cavalry, had been roughly handled. But the Chinese, often in the open and exposed to U.S. firepower, had suffered as well. Peng reported to Mao on November 4 that he had been forced to call off his attacks and pull back. The general said that U.N. forces had retreated in time to avoid most of his planned traps. He also stated that his troops had become very fearful of U.S. air attacks. He described his soldiers as ill-supplied, cold, fatigued, and in need of reorganization before resuming the offensive.

Documents recently released also throw light on the November Lull episode, a lull in the fighting that occurred throughout the peninsula. Reluctant Dragon historians later interpreted this pause as an unstated Chinese offer to America of a truce in exchange for a protected Communist sanctuary in the northern reaches of North Korea. We now know that the mysterious November Lull was nothing more than a case of exhausted, cold, hungry, and battered Chinese troops in need of rest, resupply, and reorganization before resuming their efforts to annihilate U.N. forces and push the Americans out of Korea.

Historians writing from the 1960s to '80s, however, had not been the first to speculate on the reason for the lull. By November 9, 1950, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were considering the mystery and concluded there were three possible reasons for the Chinese behavior. The first was that China was merely protecting its territory by establishing a buffer zone in the northern reaches of North Korea (the Reluctant Dragon theory). Second, they thought the type of action taken might merely signal a tactic: The Chinese intended to drain American military strength without risking much of their own. Finally, they considered the possibility that China was bent on driving U.N. forces from Korea and was merely regrouping. The Chiefs, however, did not believe the latter theory was credible.

Obviously alarmed about the late October--early November clash between Chinese and American troops, and perhaps influenced by the JCS's first choice of possibilities, the president took action. On November 16, Truman publicly reassured the Chinese Communist government that the U.N. command would not violate China's territory: "We have never at any time entertained any intention to carry hostilities into China." Thus, America's commander in chief and his top uniformed advisers might be described as charter members of the Reluctant Dragon school of thought.

Learning that the U.N. was going to resume its offensive before his troops were fully rested, and spurred on by Mao's repeated urgings to defeat MacArthur's forces, Peng withdrew his forces farther north in mid-November to set a trap. He called a meeting with his commanders and chided them for their recent performance, criticized them for failing to infiltrate U.S. and South Korean positions, and scolded them for relying on costly frontal attacks. His exhortations paid off. MacArthur's Thanksgiving offensive drove deep toward the Yalu. Some advance U.N. elements, who had been moved too rapidly, became separated from supporting units and were subjected to assaults by waves of Chinese attackers streaming down from snow-covered hills. The U.N. command was battered, and MacArthur's troops began rapidly withdrawing from a bitterly cold North Korea.

On December 4, Mao urged Peng to pursue. The commander of Chinese forces in Korea complied, but informed Mao that while the South Korean troops were running south too quickly to catch, the Americans were proving more difficult to handle. He said U.S. forces were good at fighting, which was why more Americans were killed than captured. On the same day, Peng was instructed to recapture Seoul and destroy the ROK army, an essential step in convincing the Americans to leave the Korean Peninsula. There is no known communication between Mao and Peng about the establishment of a buffer zone in North Korea.

Some historians, while belonging to either the Reluctant Dragon or to the Red Conspiracy camp, have also taken the position that Mao and his generals practiced the revolutionary warfare doctrine in Korea that they had developed and written about during the Chinese Civil War. These interpreters, advocates of the so-called "Inscrutable Doctrine" notion, tout this military theory as a well-designed antidote to the industrialized world's use of mechanized warfare. Usually, historians of this school have portrayed MacArthur and his lieutenants as helplessly incapable of discerning what they were fighting against. One popular history of the war has it that the November Lull easily could have been foreseen if only U.S. military leaders had read Mao's On Protracted War, a 1930s-era book that, among other techniques, encouraged drawing in and then destroying an opponent: "enemy advances, we retreat....enemy tires, we attack." These analysts usually cite protracted warfare, the deliberate selection of a strategy of exhaustion, as Mao's choice for the overall prosecution of the war.

The new scholarship, however, has undercut this theory as well. As Mao's instructions to General Peng in the first two months of China's intervention indicate, the Chinese leader insisted on a strategy of annihilation, not exhaustion. We now know China only accepted protracted warfare much later--and then only reluctantly.

Mao's orders to quickly destroy the U.N. forces continued well into 1951. On December 13, 1950, about a week after he had instructed Peng to destroy the South Korean army, he urged his commander to push his troops across the thirty-eighth parallel to allow no time for the retreating U.N. forces to reorganize. On December 31, the Chinese launched a major offensive in temperatures that reached twenty degrees below zero. General Matthew B. Ridgway, now commanding the U.N. forces, directed the abandonment of Seoul and the second withdrawal south of the city. His forces escaped encirclement and drew the Chinese farther away from their supply bases. When Ridgway's forces struck back on January 27, 1951, the Chinese were taken by surprise. They sustained heavy casualties and pulled back toward the thirty-eighth parallel. Peng radioed Mao suggesting a cease-fire, but the Chinese leader dismissed his subordinate's plea and ordered another offensive aimed at annihilating twenty to thirty thousand American and ROK troops. The offensive failed, and Ridgway resumed his steady march northward. In March 1951, rushing reinforcements to Peng, Mao stated that it was essential to avoid a stalemate; thus, the new troops had to be used in an offensive to recover lost ground. The Chinese general was instructed to destroy ten thousand American troops.

The planned Chinese offensive came in April. To Beijing's surprise, Ridgway's forces stood their ground. In May, the U.N. staged another surprise offensive, killing or capturing more than sixteen thousand Communist troops. Since crossing the thirty-eighth parallel in December 1950, Peng's forces had staged five offensive campaigns, none of which achieved the desired results.

Mao now abandoned his strategy of annihilation, dramatically scaling down campaign objectives on May 26, 1951. He acknowledged that past efforts had not only failed to destroy a U.S. division, Chinese forces had even failed to eliminate any known American regiment. He remarked that American units exhibited confidence. The new battle aims, he told Peng, would be to destroy one or two battalion-size U.S., British, or Turkish units. He said that Chinese units would have to be rotated in and out of the front so as to always maintain numerical superiority at any point. Mao then said that Peng's soldiers would have to be galvanized for a protracted and arduous war. General Peng Dehuai called his commanders together for a three-day conference (June 25-27, 1951) during which he told them that there should be no more expectations of a quick victory. The object now was to wear the enemy down. The new Chinese strategy was clearly not Mao's first choice.

Despite the new revelations coming from Moscow and Beijing, the flawed Reluctant Dragon version of the Korean War will likely persist for some time. The third wave histories that began appearing in the 1990s has been published in small runs by university presses or in academic journals. Mass-market, popular histories have yet to incorporate the more reliable information. This is unfortunate in view of the great impact this conflict had on the subsequent conduct of the Cold War and on the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

The historians of the 1950s were right. There was a Red Conspiracy to invade and conquer South Korea. This war was a product of planning and coordination between three Communist leaders--Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Kim Il Sung--during 1949-50. China, with responsibilities to further world revolution in Asia, was involved from the beginning. Mao provided Kim with almost one-third of the initial invasion forces. Mao's actions were not driven by the need for breathing space between China's border and General MacArthur's troops. The Check and Warning notion is wrong. Instead his actions sprang from the goal he announced to Stalin: Eliminate the American presence on the Korean Peninsula.

The November Lull was no signal. It was no assertion of China's right to a buffer zone in North Korea. The lull was an essential pause in fighting to allow General Peng Dehuai to rearm, rest, and reorganize his troops after their first brutal and bloody exposure to American firepower. Those still adhering to the Reluctant Dragon thesis are mistaken.

The Inscrutable Doctrine thesis is also wrong. From the very start, Mao urged his subordinates to use a strategy of annihilation, the doctrine furthest removed from protracted warfare. He only accepted a prolonged war when his own strategy failed in five costly offensives. Protracted war, as it was portrayed in Mao's book, depended on extensive guerrilla operations in the enemy rear. While there were guerrilla actions in South Korea, they were put down by effective ROK and U.S. counterguerrilla operations. During the Korean War, Chinese operations initially resembled the conventional maneuvers of World War II. Later, Peng's forces fought as if they were on a World War I battlefield.

Until the Vietnam War, the conflict in Korea was many times called the only war the U.S. ever lost. But a comparison of conditions before the war with those after it clearly points to the Communists as the losers. The Soviet, North Korean, and Chinese leaders had badly miscalculated. Before China's attempt to seize South Korea, the United States had lost its nuclear monopoly and headed a smaller and much weaker military alliance than the one it opposed.

After the Korean War, America expanded its network of alliances. Within five years the United States had concluded mutual defense treaties with more than thirty nations. The Eisenhower administration established an effective national security structure that coordinated foreign policy with military plans and preparations. Of utmost significance, the United States rearmed West Germany, reawakening Moscow's darkest fears. If Stalin supported the invasion of South Korea in order to drain Western strength in Europe, he failed beyond any measure. For more than three decades thereafter, the Soviet Union was surrounded by nations dedicated to containing communism. Moscow had been far better off before the Korean War.

It was the same in Asia. Defying most of the Communist leadership's estimates, the United States had entered the war almost immediately after Kim Il Sung launched the invasion. Spoiling the North Korean leader's plans, MacArthur used air transport to put enough of the U.S. Twenty-fourth Infantry Division into Korea to fatally delay Kim's planned conquest. China's support of the war was as ill-rewarded as Stalin's aid. Beijing awoke one morning to discover the U.S. Seventh Fleet standing between itself and its long cherished goal: the recovery of Taiwan. Steadily, the Communist Chinese dream of taking control of this great prize faded away as the American-supported Nationalist Chinese armed forces grew in strength. And, in the end, a devastated North Korea not only failed in its attempted conquest, it ended the war with less of its own soil than it had gained from the South.

Most of all, the war initiated the West's Cold War policies that carried the seeds of communism's demise. The first few weeks of this conflict proved beyond a doubt that the United States armed forces were in desperate need of strengthening. These grim days and China's subsequent entry into the war also demonstrated to America's leaders that they could not trust the new U.S. national intelligence organization, the CIA, for an adequate warning of war.

Before the conflict was over and for many years later, U.S. officials believed they were facing a potentially well-coordinated and enormous threat, one whose actions could not be predicted. These beliefs resulted in a quadrupling of America's defense budget in only three years. And, for the next thirty-five years, the United States remained armed to the teeth. This unprecedented phenomenon--an enormous and ever-improving peacetime American armed force--drove the Soviet Union, the linchpin of world communism, into an arms race it could not win. It was a race that ended in Moscow's bankruptcy and the triumph of the West.

Rod Paschall, MHQ's editor, is the author of Witness to War: Korea (Perigee, 1995) and The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918 (DeCapo, 1994). Korea: Reluctant Dragons and Red Conspiracies. Military History

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