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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Korea and the Cold Warhomesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 8:  Lectures & Activities

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Lecture Transcript One:
Korea and the Cold War

Lecturer: Professor Jonathan Chu

Image of Jonathan Chu

This morning I would like to take a look at the Korean War and place the Korean War in the context of the Cold War. I think it helps to explain some of the pivotal moments in why America becomes involved, how it becomes involved, and how it shapes future policy. John Keegan, the gifted military historian who looks at armies and wars as examples of American character, points out that Americans are very efficient when looking at war. They tend to be very businesslike. They approach war in the same way that they build bridges and buildings. They set about to complete the task. They finish it, and they pack up and they go home.

Well, the end of World War II poses a slight problem for the United States in this regard, about going home. The United States emerges out of World War II as the preeminent military economic power in the world. It's the only nation that possesses a great weapon, the atomic bomb, but it's not sure of what this bomb means, how it can be used, what it's designed for, whether it can be used in many situations. There is a large element in the military that believes it's primarily a tactical weapon, simply a big bomb. There was evidence that some bombing on Dresden and Tokyo, where conventional weapons had been far more effective and destructive—So there is this problem of having to cope and dealing with a new weapon that may or may not alter the strategic balance of the world.

Then there is the problem of the Yalta conference, at which the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain had essentially divided up the world into spheres of influence, believing that this was one way to protect the world from a subsequent round of war. But like so much of planning and foreign policy, the devil is always in the details. There were problems with settling governments in Poland and Greece; there was the problem of rearranging the border in Azerbaijan; and questions started to mount as the Soviet Union and the United States looked at the rearrangements of governments in places like Poland.

From the American perspective, well, what was the problem with the democratic government in Poland? Why were the Soviets so interested in controlling and regulating who should be in power? Well, there is a very good reason for the Soviets. For over 150 years, whenever problems had come, it had come to them from across Poland. Why couldn't the United States, the most powerful military and industrial power on the face of the earth, be so concerned about whether Greece was socialist or not, or that—whether Turkey was neutral; whether Turkey would allow Soviet ships to pass through the Dardanelles?

All of these policies came to be seen in ways that were increasingly suspicious; that is, that governments—the United States would view the Soviet Union with suspicion; the Soviet Union would look at the United States with suspicion. Greece is, of course, the important turning point that prompts the emergence of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, promising aid to European countries to help revive their shattered economies and to move toward seeing a positive policy of containing Soviet expansion.

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