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Beyond collective amnesia: a Korean War retrospective (1).

For nearly three decades after the end of the Korean War, American veterans of the conflict--along with increasing numbers of historians and other scholars--bemoaned the fact that Korea had become a "forgotten war." In fact, in the United States there were signs that the war was being forgotten even as it was being fought. After fifty years of retrospection, however, it has become readily apparent that the Korean War marked a great watershed in Korean and Cold War history, not to mention a sea change in U.S. history. Why, then, was there this early popular and academic amnesia toward a conflict that killed more than 34,000 Americans and several million Koreans and Chinese?

As with all such sweeping historical dilemmas, the explanation of such phenomena is at once complex and multi-faceted. First, it is helpful to view the Korean War as one that was wedged tightly between the "good war" and the "bad war"; that is, between World War II and the Vietnam War. (2) Occurring less than five full years after the end of World War II, the Korean War was often and perhaps unavoidably compared with and subsumed by the myth and memory of the Second World War. On the surface, at least, the Korean Conflict seemed to have emerged like an unwanted mutation from a linear, Darwinian-like process that seamlessly linked World War II with the Cold War and its early evolutionary process. Thus, from the start, the Korean War became a prisoner of the rigid mentality and ideology of the early Cold War and furthermore seemed to have been denied the full internal and external processes of memory and myth that Paul Fussell saw as such an integral part of the history and memory of World War I. Perhaps on the one hand the Korean War "inherited" too much myth from World War II. And on the other hand, perhaps it "generated" too little myth of its own. As a result, the war and its generated--and regenerated--myths never became "part of the fiber of our own lives," as Fussell put it. (3) And if that had not been bad enough, America's growing quagmire in Vietnam began in earnest and in large scale only ten years AFTER the Korean armistice. Vietnam, of course, would quickly overshadow any lingering doubt--not to mention lessons learned or unlearned--from America's first war of communist containment on another artificially-divided Asian peninsula.

Second, it is imperative to examine structures of power and hegemony and how they worked at various levels in order to understand how and why the Korean War was fought and how the memory and history of the conflict have been thus far constructed. Indeed, the discourse of the war and its immediate aftermath begs to be studied and interpreted more fully. Recently, adherents of discourse theory and the new cultural history have suggested the use of Michel Foucault's methods to understand that "the power to shape the symbolic systems of language and meaning is the power over `knowledge' and `reality.'" (4) If this is the case, then it seems only logical to extend that theory to include the shaping of myth and memory, which are inextricably linked to "knowledge," "reality," and "history" in the Foucauldian sense. Much more remains to be done from this perspective, both from a domestic and geopolitical vantage point. Understanding the discourse and structure of the war's representation from the standpoints of myth, memory, and reality is the key to unlocking the historiographical vault surrounding the Korean War. As far as hegemonic constructs are concerned, the Korean War fit a forgettable trajectory of American Cold War foreign policy that kept certain nations--like West Germany and Japan--within America's sphere of defense dependency. As Bruce Cumings has written, "In Korea, the United States picked up the glove of the Japanese empire and sought to keep South Korea and Taiwan within Japan's historic economic area ... [similarly] in Vietnam [it] picked up the French glove." (5) In the same fashion, the American involvement in the Korean War fit into a larger schema that viewed Northeast Asia as an integral part of the United States' imperative to maintain and expand liberal capitalism around the world. In this sense too, Japan (and by extension Korea) lay at the epicenter of America's sphere of economic dependency in Asia. As reductionist as this may appear on the surface, it is nonetheless important to understand the history, memory, and legacy of the Korean war from a hegemonic, international perspective.

Aside from these theoretical and philosophical explanations, there are other more concrete--but certainly no less important--reasons why the Korean War received so little attention in the immediate postwar decades. The fact that the war was a stalemate and appeared inconclusive to the adherents of Communist "rollback" did nothing to advance the cause of memory and history. Furthermore, Americans were not conditioned to fight limited wars with vague and shifting goals. Without an unconditional victory, Americans preferred amnesia to self-doubt or introspection. The Korean War was also highly politicized in the United States--but in a most peculiar and destructive way. The politics of early 1950s anti-communism and the toxic politics of McCarthyism offered criticism of the war and its outcome from a harrowingly narrow perspective. Indeed, criticism or vocalized frustration over the war from a perspective other than that of the prescribed anti-communist. Right was considered anathema and may well have resulted in any number of serious and negative repercussions. By 1951, American culture--not to mention the Korean War--had become viciously politicized. In the early 1950s, the political climate unleashed by the war in Korea equated social reform, racial justice, and measured criticism with political subversion--if not outright treason. History focused on conformity and consensus. So is it any wonder, one should ask, that a conflict like the Korean War was quickly consigned to the outer reaches of the American psyche and memory? (6)

In spite of the relative paucity and mono-dimensional nature of the early historiography of the war, the decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a veritable deluge of new and important studies of the Korean War. Increased distance from the war and a changing political climate no doubt fueled this trend. But so too did the release of U.S. documents in the State Department's series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the J.C.S. Historical Division's volumes analyzing the Joint Chiefs' role in Korean War decision-making, and the opening of Great Britain's archives. (7) Even more significantly, documents released in the 1990s dealing with the Soviet and Chinese roles in the war have resulted in a quantum leap in the study and understanding of the war from the Communist perspective. Especially helpful in this regard has been the work of the Russian history specialist Kathryn Weathersby, who has translated and interpreted scores of Russian documents mainly through the Bulletin of the Cold War International History Project and the working papers issued by the Woodrow Wilson Center. In fact, in November 1998, the Wilson Center announced that it had uncovered Russian documents that proved that Chinese and North Korean germ warfare charges were a bona fide propaganda hoax. Also significant is the recent spillage of Chinese sources, especially Mao Zedong's wartime correspondence, which has generated a new wave of work by Zhai Zhihai, Hao Zrifan, Zhang Shu-guang, Chen Jian, and Michael Hunt. This spate of new and important scholarship has served to illuminate the many mysterious crevices of Korean War historiography and has made the "forgotten war" forgotten no more.

With this outpouring of new scholarship it has now become almost axiomatic to view the Korean War as a pivotal turning point in modern Korean history. Indeed, the relationship of the Korean people with the United States and other East Asian nations can be fully understood and appreciated only through the lens of the Korean War in all of its dimensions. Furthermore, while the Cold War may have been declared "over" in the early 1990s, it is clear that the remnants of that titanic struggle linger on the Korean Peninsula--in the north as well as the south. As well, U.S. relations with China, Taiwan, Cuba, and the two Koreas are to this day still profoundly affected by the history and discourse of the Cold War, long after the old bipolar phase of that conflict supposedly ended. Thus, the Koran Conflict continues to inform American foreign policy in the region, not to mention intra-Asian relations to this very day. It is my contention that the Korean War so dramatically changed the course of the Cold War--not to mention the history of its chief protagonists--that to view it as anything less that one of the great historical catalysts of the last half century is to misunderstand the entire evolution of the Cold War. It was indeed the beginning salvo--the "Alpha" event--that irrevocably changed the trajectory of the Cold War. The Korean War was a great watershed not only for the people of the Korean Peninsula, but for the American people as well. The conflict greatly affected American foreign policy, national security policy, military policy, and domestic policy. In mm, given the preponderance of American power and global hegemony at the time, America's involvement in the war also profoundly affected America's allies and adversaries alike, from the European continent to East Asia.

In terms of American foreign policy, the impact of the Korean War is hard to overemphasize. Between 1945 and 1950, the United States oftentimes struggled to formulate a consistent, coherent foreign policy that would keep the Soviet threat at bay, protect vital national interests, and expand liberal, free-market capitalism. And although the Truman administration had decided to "contain" communism even before the concept was articulated and later expanded upon by George Kennan in 1946 and 1947, it is clear that the United States adhered to this containment mechanism--until war broke out in Korea in 1950. Prior to the Korean War, initiatives such as the IMF, the Marshall Plan, GATT, and even NATO would feature economic and political--rather than military--containment of the Soviet Union. The shock of the North Korean invasion and the American decision to intervene in Korea led to the militarization of containment and resulted in a sustained, if sometimes episodic, militarization of American foreign policy. Vowing that there would be "no more Munichs," President Truman picked up the gauntlet in June of 1950 and greatly expanded American's commitment to fight perceived communist aggression. As a consequence, America's traditional ideological trilogy of anti-militarism, isolationism, and antistatism was forever banished to the history books. This is not to say, of course, that the United States uniformly abused its military power during the Cold War. But it is hard to deny the fact that America misapplied its power during critical junctures especially in its attempts to unify Korea by force after the Inchon Landing. Such are the vicissitudes of a militarized foreign policy and a hair-trigger containment policy. Even after Korea, the United States resorted to risky and unwise uses of military force, especially in its efforts to dislodge Fidel Castro's communist junta, and also at various stages during the Vietnam War. This tendency, to be certain, began in earnest during the Korean War, and like any bad habit, it was a very difficult one to curb. (8)

When Harry Truman committed American forces to battle in June 1950, he unveiled a veritable Trojan Horse for American foreign and defense policy. Only hours after he decided to draw the line in Korea, he dispatched the U.S. Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Straits, formally committing the United States to the defense of Taiwan and Jiang Jieshi's Kuomintang government. This move no doubt greatly antagonized Mao Zedong's regime on the Chinese mainland, further soured U.S.-Chinese relations--even before the Chinese intervention in Korea--and ensured a separate and semi-independent Taiwan that would prove repeatedly to be a source of contention between the United States and the PRC. Indeed, 50 years after Truman's fateful decisions vis a vis Taiwan, the issue still remains a potential flash point in Sino-Taiwanese and Sino-American relations. Of course, after the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in November 1950, relations between the United States and the PRC were permanently frozen, not thawing at all until Richard Nixon decided to engage China nearly a generation later in the early 1970s.

The impact of the Korean War on U.S. foreign policy was certainly not limited to the "two Chinas" and the Korean Peninsula, for the conflict led the Truman administration to reassess in total its foreign policy and defense commitments all around the world. After the outbreak of the war, the United States increased significantly its aid to France, which at the time was fighting its own war in Indochina. Fearing a regional or even a world-wide Communist insurgency, America stiffened its resolve to fight communism throughout Asia. This decision would have profound implications down the line. Slowly and steadily, beginning in 1950 and 1951, the United States committed itself to stopping the Communist insurgency in Vietnam. Thus, for the United States, the Korean War was the Alpha event that led to its eventual descent down the slippery slope of war in Indochina. The effects of the Korean War certainly did not go unnoticed in Japan, either. Japan was used as a major staging area during the conflict, and wartime spending rehabilitated the war-ravaged Japanese economy. Furthermore, the United States would now view Japan as the economic and political engine of American-style liberal capitalism in East Asia. After the Korean War, Japan would become to Asia what West Germany would become to Europe. On the European continent, the Korean War gave the Truman administration the perfect pretext for fully militarizing the nascent NATO alliance. In December 1950 the president substantially reinforced American troop deployments in Europe, named General Dwight D. Eisenhower as NATO's first Supreme Allied Commander, and set the stage for the eventual rearming of West Germany and its full participation in NATO. The fears unleashed by the war in Korea in 1950 made possible in Europe what would have been anathema--especially to the French--only months earlier. The decision to bring West Germany fully in NATO's fold and to allow it to contribute militarily to the defense of Europe was indeed a powerful legacy of the Korean War in Europe.

It is also worth noting the effects that the war had on the United Nations and on foreign policy bipartisanship in the United States. The outbreak of war in Korea marked the first significant "test" of the United Nations' resolve and efficiency in the face of crisis. But it is clear that the test was to a significant extent "rigged" from the start, first by the Soviet boycott of the UN in protest of that body's refusal to seat a People's Republic representative, and second by the overt American maneuvering to strengthen the UN's authority in order to achieve its own geopolitical ends. Realizing that the Soviet could not be counted on to boycott the UN during future crises, the United States moved to ensure that if the Security Council could not take action, then the General Assembly (which provided no veto power, unlike the Security Council) could pass resolutions asking UN members to act collectively, including the use of force. The so-called "United for Peace" resolution passed in October 1950 and dramatically changed the UN. It meant, among other things, that the United States could theoretically mobilize the United Nations even with a Communist-bloc veto and, more importantly perhaps, it marked a shifting of power away from the Security Council and toward the General Assembly. (9) The Korean War also poisoned--at least temporarily--the well of foreign policy bipartisanship. Truman's decision to send troops to Korea and more troops to Europe without Congressional approval sparked a heated debate in Congress that resulted in the so-called "Great Debate" of late 1950 and early 1951. In the end, the Truman administration won the battle against those who accused him of everything from usurpation of congressional prerogative to outright despotism, but it was a Pyrrhic victory to be sure. As the war grew more unpopular and then stalemated, the president's foes--which were by then legion--attacked and criticized him at every turn. By mid-1951, the Korean War had indeed become "Truman's war" and he was forced to go it largely alone, navigating the desolate political wilderness of an unpopular, limited war by himself. In the end, Truman, like Lyndon Johnson a decade and a half later, became a virtual prisoner of the war he set in motion. In 1952, as in 1968, foreign policy miscalculations, misapplied military power, and an unpopular war would bring down a sitting president and repudiate his political party.

The Korean War also marked a distinct turning point in American Cold War geostrategy, national security policy, and--predictably enough--military policy. The changes wrought in these areas are perhaps less dramatic than those in the foreign policy arena, but they are nonetheless critical to understanding the catalytic nature of the conflict. Clearly, Korea forced the Truman administration to equilibrate America's foreign policy goals and commitments with its military capabilities, something it had been heretofore unable and unwilling to do. Put under great pressure by a series of perceived Cold War and foreign policy reversals that began in 1949, the most alarming of which included the surprise Soviet detonation of a nuclear bomb and the so-called "loss" of China to the communists in the fall of that year, President Truman remained steadfast in his determination NOT to engage the United States in a major military buildup. By January 1950, however, the president partially acceded to these pressures by authorizing the development and eventual deployment of the hydrogen bomb. But in April 1950, when he was first shown the NSC-68 recommendations, he refused to authorize their implementation, knowing full well that doing so would have meant engaging the nation in a Herculean and astronomically costly military rearmament program. In the end, Truman reluctantly agreed to implement NSC-68 only AFTER the outbreak of war in Korea, and did so without much regard for its costs or likely effects on the American system. Be that as it may, this sudden reversal brought on by the Korean War finally brought America's military capabilities in-line with its ever-widening and far-flung foreign policy and military commitments. (10)

If the decision to implement NSC-68 balanced American commitments with the nation's capacity to fulfill them, it also unleashed a torrent of short-term and long-term repercussions, many of which were unforeseen and would result in permanent alterations to the political and economic scenes. The impact of the decision obviously affected U.S. military and mobilization policy. Most of the NSC-68-inspired military buildup was earmarked NOT for the war in Korea, but rather for a much broader, sustained, and vaguely indefinite Cold War buildup. What the United States was to witness beginning in the fall of 1950 was in fact a "mobilization within a mobilization." That is, the Truman administration engaged the nation in an immediate buildup in order to fight the hot war in Korea while at the same time it began to gird the nation to wage a far-flung and protracted Cold War. Thus, the massive, Korean-era military rearmament program became the nation's de facto Cold War readiness program, designed to outlast the war in Korea and to enable the nation to fight--at minimum--two regional, Korea-sized wars simultaneously with enough reserve to maintain an adequate defense of the homeland and the NATO allies. A monumental effort, to be sure, the Korean rearmament program provided for the construction of a permanent, institutionalized mobilization base to ensure that the United States would never again be forced to mobilize from scratch. While the monetary costs of such a buildup were indeed enormous, the program also engendered fears that the United States would turn itself into a virtual "garrison state," evolving perhaps into a sort of mirror-image of its great nemesis to the East. Building the Cold War mobilization base resulted in profound changes to the nation's political economy and political culture. Not only that, but it flew in the face of the nation's traditional abhorrence of high "peacetime" defense budgets, intrusive government bureaucracies, and large standing armies. But in those seemingly perilous years rife with political bombast, misperceptions of a monolithic communism, and American chauvinism, such costs were deemed a small price to pay for freedom and peace, at least in an Orwellian sense. (11)

The nearly simultaneous decision to intervene in the Korean War and to begin the implementations of NSC-68 resulted in the quadrupling of the U.S. defense budget from approximately $13 billion in June 1950 to more than $50 billion by the end of 1951. Such a dramatic military buildup undertaken in such a short period of time caused innumerable short-term and long-term dislocations to the economies of the United States and Western Europe, which was expected to follow the American lead in rearmament. Two rounds of high inflation hit the United States in rapid succession--the first one in the summer of 1950 and the second in the late fall of 1950. The second inflationary period was a direct result of the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, which forced the Truman administration to step up mobilization dramatically and led American consumers to embark on a new wave of panic buying and hoarding. Thus, by January 1951 Truman invoked mandatory wage, price, and credit controls and created a panoply of new mobilization agencies designed to carry out the exigencies of the stepped-up rearmament program and to stabilize the overheating economy. The results of these decisions were predictable: government bureaucracies grew at an alarming rate, the power of the federal government--especially the Executive branch--became more expansive, tax burdens became heavier, budget deficits ballooned, and industry and consumers alike began to bristle at the substantial increase in governmental intrusion and regulation. In short, the modern, post-World War II national security state was born during the Korean War, which was never to be largely or wholly dismantled. Massive defense spending also tightened the ties between the federal government and private enterprise as well as academia in general and the hard sciences in particular. In Europe, the Korean-era buildup resulted first in a renewed balance of payments deficit followed by several significant periods of high inflation. In fact, by 1951 the United States redirected most of the remaining Marshall Plan aid from economic recovery programs to military rearmament. The same fate, it should be noted, was shared by Truman's Point Four Program, which was essentially derailed by the war in Korea.

The decision to mobilize for the long haul of the Cold War meant that balanced federal budgets in America were no longer sacrosanct. The limited social Keynesianism that had guided American economic thinking since the late 1930s was to be wedded to the military Keynesianism of the World War II era. To be sure, however, social Keynesianism would be the decidedly junior partner in that union. After the Korean War ended and the rearmament program was largely completed, the defense budget did drop slightly during Eisenhower's first term; it did not, however, fall by more than 20% from the high-mark of the Korean War. Throughout the mid-1950s, defense allocations averaged about $42 billion per year, only to begin rising again later in the decade. What is clear is that the Korean War marked a dramatic change in the nation's fiscal ideology and policymaking. That is, instead of determining the aggregate budget and adjusting defense spending accordingly, the opposite became the norm after 1950: policy makers calculated defense needs first and then adjusted aggregate fiscal polity to meet the demands of national security. This new way of thinking was explicitly detailed in a 1952 national security report that stated: "expenditures on national security can only be determined by the nature of the threat to national security. They cannot be determined solely on considerations of ability to pay in any normal sense." (12) Such articulations were clearly music to the ears of national security planners and defense contractors. In the long run, however, the neo-military Keynesianism of the 1950s devolved into an ideology that was also frequently adapted to government programs outside the purview of defense and national security. And by the late 1960s, this new brand of economic ideology sown by the war in Korea had resulted in a flawed vision of an ever-expanding economy shackled to a government intent upon spending more than it took in. (13)

The decision to build and maintain in perpetuity a Cold War mobilization base and to keep defense spending at high levels resulted in several interesting developments. Constructing the mobilization base meant building excess industrial capacity and funding esoteric, defense-related research and development programs that could swing into immediate action at the first sign of crisis. These arrangements further increased the size and scope of the government and tightened the ties between the public and private sectors. Not only that, but the decision to keep the nation partially but permanently mobilized essentially created an entirely new economy within the confines of the existing one. This "new" economy, which some scholars and critics have dubbed the "military-industrial complex," greatly accelerated changes already in progress in the U.S. economy and industrial landscape. These changes included the building or relocation of defense-dependent industries in the U.S. south and west, which had an interesting "ripple" effect: First, the population began shifting toward those areas, and second, America's political power base began to tilt toward those areas as well. As a consequence, many of the nation's traditional centers of commerce and industry began a decades-long decline from which they would not begin to recover until the 1980s and 1990s. What's more, as these new industrial and commercial areas blossomed, reduced tax revenues and the drain of educated and skilled workers--the so-called "white flight"--left the older cities of the Northeast and Midwest in a terrible quandary. They became increasingly dominated by large numbers of permanently displaced, low-tech, blue-collar workers and a growing urban underclass. And lacking the tax base and resources to properly educate and train their citizenry, many of these cities fell into perpetual hard times. The monetary costs incurred by the Korean-era rearmament effort were high indeed; higher still, it seems, were the human and intellectual costs of the trends unleashed by the Korean conflict, for they are perhaps incalculable. (14)

The effects of the Korean War on the American political and constitutional systems are already well known and documented. They bear repeating here, however, because they too fit into the pattern of Korea as a great watershed event. The war in Korea precipitated three separate challenges to American constitutional governance and procedures. First, Harry Truman's decision to wage a large-scale war without a congressional mandate, thousands of miles away, in which millions of U.S. soldiers fought, was an unprecedented abrogation of congressional authority and prerogative. Yet amid the early and dark days of the Korean War, such a momentous decision went largely unchallenged. The new national security imperatives inherent in the war and the stepped-up efforts to contain and then rollback communism seemed to justify this usurpation of delegated constitutional power. To be sure, President Truman paid a high price for this, especially after the war began to go badly in late 1950. But the precedent was set and would be later followed by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, with even greater and more tragic consequences. Indeed, the Korean War set into full motion the idea of a Cold War "imperial presidency," to borrow Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s term, and it justifies sometimes unconstitutional and oftentimes covert activity carded out under the guise of national security imperatives. (15) The second challenge to American constitutional prescriptions revolved around the Truman-MacArthur controversy of 1951. General Douglas MacArthur's repeated attempts to circumvent presidential orders and to use the war to further his own specific political agenda resulted in the further politicization of the Korean War and called into question the supremacy of civilian control over the military. Truman dealt effectively with the crisis by firing MacArthur, but the episode conjured up the specter of America as a kind of Cold War Sparta, which hovered ominously over the Korean War era like Banquo's ghost. Finally, President Truman's order to seize the nation's steel mills in 1952 to avoid a strike precipitated yet another constitutional crisis involving the issue of presidential powers and national security imperatives. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the president's action unconstitutional, but the episode once more raised fears of America as a Cold War garrison state and some saw the American presidency as coming perilously close to a Cold War dictatorship.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here the impact that the war had on the politics of anti-communism, especially the noxious politics of McCarthyism. Although the Truman administration itself helped to launch the era of rabid anti-communism through its pre-Korean security and loyalty programs, no American was more responsible for taking the issue to the extreme than Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI). McCarthy began his anti-communist witch-hunt and attempted purges in February 1950, some four months prior to the outbreak of war in Korea. But there should be no doubt the war fully unleashed McCarthy and gave him a perfect foil. In fact, it is almost impossible to conceive of the era we know as McCarthyism in America without the Korean War. It is doubtful that the senator would have reached the level of prominence he did and created the political climate that bore his name had the Korean War not occurred. As a result of McCarthyism, the Korean War became instantly hyper-politicized and media and political attention focused almost exclusively on Cold War issues--both domestic and international. The Korean War and the McCarthyism it unleashed also sounded the death knell for the traditional American Left (although it was admittedly moribund by the point in any event). Be that as it may, the dramatic fall of the old Left practically assured that American media--not to mention politicians--would further de-emphasize domestic concerns in their attempts to worship at the high altar of the Cold War. Thus, for the better part of forty years, a succession of Cold War crises beginning with Korea tended to relegate entrenched social and economic problems to the back burner of media and popular attention. (16)

Just as ominously, the Korean War-era rearmament program and the concomitant decision to implement NSC-68 had a profoundly transformative effect on the American democratic process as well. The Korean conflict institutionalized an ongoing trend in twentieth-century American history: the estrangement of the government from the governed. The process of building the Cold War national security state, which began in earnest in 1950 and 1951, resulted in a fundamentally undemocratic national security apparatus. During and after Korea, legions of unelected "experts," bureaucrats, and resurrected "dollar-a-year" men began to push aside elected leaders and other publicly appointed officials. The result was a national security and foreign policy process that became increasingly secretive and wholly unresponsive to the average citizen. Thus, decisions that affected the fundamental workings of the government and the policy making process itself became less and less informed by the will of the people, in whom the sovereignty of the U.S. government supposedly rests. More and more issues that directly affected the American citizenry were hidden from view, under the guise of national security. Decisions that in the end may have not only dictated the course of the nation's future, but the very existence of its people, were kept under wraps. And by the early 1960s, some Americans began to talk about "annihilation without representation," no doubt a concept that grew from the myriad decisions spawned by the Korean War. (17)

It should now be clear that the Korean War had dramatic and far-reaching consequences, many of which are with us still, fifty years after the war began. It is to my way of thinking an "Alpha" event that significantly transformed Korean, American, and international history. Whether one chooses to view it form a more traditional, bipolar Cold War perspective or from a Korean or East Asian perspective, the Korean War changed the perspective and discourse of confrontation and hegemony in the post-World War II era. (18) I must also point out, however, as I did in the beginning of this essay, that vestiges of the Cold War persist to this day--and nowhere is that more apparent than on the Korean Peninsula. Fifty years after the conflagration began, North and South Korea still remain technically at war with each other. And unlike Francis Fukuyama and his adherents, who view the Cold War in narrowly ideological terms and who in my view prematurely closed the curtain on the Cold War, I see the struggle as a continuing harsh reality in places like China, Cuba, and most pointedly, in Korea. (19) The Korean War, one hopes, will soon become the "omega" event of the Cold War and then, perhaps, we can truly talk about the end of the Cold War. In the meantime, we must free ourselves from the tyranny of our own recent past and the myopic ideological constructs that perpetuated that rigidity--and it seems to me that looking at the Korean War from an ontological perspective is a good way to begin that process.

If, in fact, ideology was as critical to the Cold War and conflicts like the Korean War as many historians have suggested, then perhaps ideology is the best way to end irrevocably such struggles. If liberal, free-market capitalism is the answer--if it is the key to bringing an end to the division of the Korean Peninsula--then relations between North and South must be fully opened so that democratic mechanisms and market reform can prove themselves as the only viable alternative to the last fifty rears of strife and instability. The recent high-level talks between North and South Korean--the first to be held since the Korean War--are a very positive first step in this regard. And while it is true that people of Korea have practiced the admirable virtue of patience--fifty-one years' worth to be precise--the process of rapprochement between North and South must continue with all due speed. Indeed, the sacrifices and suffering of ALL Koreans--both in the North and the South--deserve vindication. Any remaining sanctions against North Korea should be ended, just as the United States should end its fruitless sanctions against Cuba, which in my view have done little during the past 40 years except to increase the suffering of the Cuban people. If the United States and Vietnam can find common ground 26 years after the war in Indochina ended, then finding common ground with Cuba and North Korea should not be so difficult a task. In the end, when the people of North Korea, Cuba, and China are allowed to determine their own future--whatever that future may be--without intimidation, fear of retribution, and further oppression, then and only then will the Cold War truly be over.


(1) This article is based upon a lecture the author gave at Radford University in April 2001, under the auspices of the Pi Gamma Mu Lectureship Grant at Radford University. I am grateful to the Society for this opportunity and am especially indebted to Professors Charles W. McClellan and Matthew Oyos for their invitation and support.

(2) Roger Dingman, "The Korean War at Forty," Conference panel discussion, Organization of American Historians Meeting, Washington, D.C., March 1990. See also Rosemary Foote, "Making Known the Unknown War: Policy Analysis of the Korean War since the Early 1980s," in Michael J. Hogan, ed., American in the World: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations Since 1914 (New York, 1995), 270-71.

(3) Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York, 1975), ix.

(4) See Emily Rosenberg's commentary in Ernest R. May, ed., American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC-68 (New York, 1993), 162; See also Melvyn P. Leffler, "New Approaches, Old Interpretations, and Prospective Reconfigurations," in Michael J. Hogan, ed., American in the World, 72-74.

(5) Bruce Cumings, "The Wicked Witch of the West is Dead. Long Live the Wicked Witch of the East," in Michael J. Hogan, ed., The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications (New York, 1992), 88.

(6) For a moving and cogent analysis of the politicization of American culture and discourse during the Korean War, see Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore, 1991), esp. 10, 21, 56.

(7) See Rosemary Foot's extensive treatment of the historiography and policymaking of the Korean War in Hogan, ed., America in the World, 270-299.

(8) Samuel F. Wells, Jr., "Nuclear Weapons and European Security During the Cold War," in Hogan, The End of the Cold War, 66.

(9) Walter LaFeber, The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad (New York, 1994), 515-16, 531.

(10) See John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar National Security Policy (New York, 1982), 91-93; Walter S. Poole, The History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Volume 4 (Wilmington, DE, 1980), iv-v, 38-47; Samuel F. Wells, "Sounding the Tocsin: NSC-68 and the Soviet Threat," International Security 4 (fall 1979), 116-58, Memorandum for the President, (no date) RG 304, Records of the National Security Resources Board and the Office of Defense Mobilization, Office of the Chairman, box 17, file: "National Security Council," National Archives; Paul G. Pierpaoli, Jr., Truman and Korea: The Political Culture of the Early Cold War (Columbia and London, 1999), 25-27.

(11) I deal with these an related issues in great detail in Truman and Korea, especially in chapters 1, 2, and 6; see also Paul G. Pierpaoli, Jr., "Truman's Other War: The Battle for the American Homefront, 1950-1953," Organization of American Historians Magazine of History, Volume 14, Number 3 (Spring 2000), 15-19; "Mobilizing for the Cold War: The Korean Conflict and the Birth of the National Security State," Essays in Economic and Business History XV (June 1994), 106-117.

(12) Report of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), 1952, Record Group 304, box 3, "safe" file, National Archives.

(13) David P. Calleo, The Bankrupting of America: How the Federal Budget is Impoverishing America (New York, 1992), 11-20, 49; see also Pierpaoli, Truman and Korea, 9-10.

(14) Pierpaoli, Truman and Korea, 11-12, 234-35. For a more general discussion of these trends, see Ann Markusen et. al, The Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping in Industrial America (New York, 1991), especially pp. 5-7, 230-46; and Roger W. Lotchin, Fortress California, 1910-1961: From Warfare to Welfare (New York, 1992).

(15) Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973).

(16) Gar Alperovitz and Kai Bird have offered a wider critique of these trends in "The Fading of the Cold War--and the Demystification of Twentieth-Century Issues," in Hogan, ed., The End of the Cold War, 207-216.

(17) I develop these ideas more fully in my Truman and Korea, especially pp. 233-35; see also Robert H. Wiebe, Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy (Chicago, 1995), especially pp. 206-09; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency, ix; and Michael Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy (New York, 1975), 93.

(18) For a monographic sampling of the best examples of these perspectives, see Bruce Comings, The Origins of the Korean War, 2 vols., (Princeton, 1981, 1990); John Merrill, Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War (Newark, DE, 1989); William Stueck, "The Korean War as International History," Diplomatic History 10 (1986), 291-309.

(19) Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?" National Interest 16 (Summer 1989), 3-18

PAUL G. PIERPAOLI, JR. is the Mary Moody Northern Chair in Social Sciences in the department of history at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
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Author:Pierpaoli, Paul G., Jr
Publication:International Social Science Review
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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