The U.S. involvement in post WWII Korea raised challenging questions within the Truman administration concerning U.S. policy in the Far East and fostered heated debates within the administration concerning wartime strategy. WWII followed Clausewitz’ idea of the total war where all of a country’s resources should be utilized in waging war since the enemy would surely do the same. Following WWII Americans were used to the idea of large armies, clear objectives, and decisive victories; however these ideas would be reconsidered in the years following WWII leading up to the Korean War. During the Korean War the idea of total war became less popular and ideas which were more in ...view middle of the document...
Once their different strategies have been clearly defined I will address several issues which made Truman’s policy the better of the two and then address a key weakness to Truman’s strategy: the post WWII world was not ready for a total war with China and the Soviet Union; total war could have escalated into a nuclear war between the superpowers; the United Nations needed to develop into a credible force to deal with international law and conflicts; and a protracted war in the long run is more costly in terms of dollars and human life.
“In war there is no substitute for victory” (Gen. Douglas MacArthur) best describes MacArthur’s strategy during the Korean War. As a veteran of two major wars prior to Korea, MacArthur developed a philosophy about war similar to that of Clausewitz. His recommendations to Truman on how to conduct the Korean War “ranged from consideration of total withdrawal to expansion of the war into Manchuria and China, and even the possible use of the atomic bomb,” but he never supported the concept of a limited war as did Truman. (Strategies of Containment, P-112) He believed “that the United States should abandon its self-imposed restrictions on military action in the Far East, blockade the Chinese mainland, make use of Chinese Nationalist manpower in Korea and elsewhere, bomb industrial targets inside China, and, if necessary, even withdraw from Korea in preparation for an offensive to be launched upon more favorable terrain.” (Strategies of Containment, P-118) In MacArthur’s opinion a limited protracted war with Korea would not achieve the American objective of stopping communist expansion throughout the Far East. MacArthur seemed to believe that the Korean War was really a proxy war, being conducted by the Soviet Union through communist China, against America and allies within Korea, and that the only way to succeed was to strike and defeat communist “Centers of Gravity” through the use of total war. MacArthur and Truman did agree on some aspects of how to wage the war, but fundamentally their ideas and strategy were different.
Compared to MacArthur, Truman believed the Korean War should be fought using strategy more aligned with the philosophy of Sun Tzu. While MacArthur’s concept of war was developed over the course of two major wars, WWI and WWII, Truman’s concept of war was mainly a continuation of George Kennan’s containment policy. Up until the Korean War Kennan’s policy of containment was well understood within Washington and throughout the world however he “never took the trouble while in an official capacity to put his complete concept of containment in writing.” (Strategies of Containment, P-89) Truman understood that there could not be a successful containment policy if it was not well defined within the law and easily applied to situations other than in Korea. To solve this problem Truman ordered NSC-68 be created as a way to “systematize...