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Why did the USA and the UN get involved in Korea?

  • China had fallen to communism in 1953 – fear of growing Red influence in the east.
  • In line with Truman’s policy of containment – Marshall Aid in Europe…and beyond
  • Because the USSR had boycotted the UN – it had an opportunity to act without fear of the veto.
  • To ensure democracy remained in South Korea – the North had invaded after all
  • What happened in Korea?

    Stage 1: Background

  • Founded on the proud cultures of the Qing dynasty , Korea was ruled by Japan from 1896 after years of war. After Japan was defeated in WW2, Korea gained independence again. However, Soviet forces occupied the North, and US forces the South.
  • To avoid confict, it was decided at Potsdam that the country would be divided at the 38th parallel.
  • Elections were held in each half of the country; in the North the Communist Kim Il Sung came to power, and in the Souththe nationalist Syngman Rhee.
  • Stage 2: Northern Invasion

  • Seeking to unify Korea,, Kim il-Sung received support from Communist China and the USSR and invaded South Korea in June 1950.
  • The South Koreans were pushed right back down to Pusan.
  • Stage 3: UN Reaction

  • The Security Coucil was immediately summoned and met the same day as the invasion! The USSR was not present as they were boycotting the UN for not recognizing Mao's government in China. Therefore, there was no veto to block any US-led initiative
  • 9 out of 11 countries on the Security Council supported the US motion that North Korea was acting illegally.
  • In June 1950, America called on the United Nations to use force to get rid of the North Koreans as they had ignored the Security Council Once again this was passed owing to the USSR's absence.
  • The UN then drew up battle plans. Their forces would be headed by an American - Douglas Macarthur; one of the most famous generals of his time. This went down well with the US public.
  • Stage 4: Battle

  • In September 1950, United Nations troops landed at Inchon. By doing this, they divided the North Korean army in two and pushed them out of South Korea. MacArthur sought a quick end to the war and pushed even further into the North. The Chinese had no option but to defend their buffer zone and so launched an invasion back in January 1951.
  • By throwing men at the situation, the Chinese pushed the UN forces back; their one advantage was their numbers!
  • The Americans, under the UN, landed more troops. They used bombers. The Chinese admitted to losing 390,000 men - UN sources put the figure at up to a million Chinese and half a million North Koreans dead. The Americans drove the Chinese back, but lost 54,000 American soldiers dead doing so. MacArthur reached the 38th parallel in March 1951.
  • After an argument with President Truman, MacArthur was sacked and the war became bogged down; neither side wanted to lose more men.
  • Stage 5: Solutions

  • In 1953, a ceasefire was agreed at the 38th parallel ... where it had all begun.
  • What were the consequencs of the Korean War?

  • Mixed results were had as a result of the war; on the one hand, the UN had avoided becoming what the LON was, by taking quick action against North Korea. The South had, after all, been protected.
  • Nevertheless, it was obvious that this had happened by freak chance; The USSR could easily have blocked it. In fact, the USSR had rejoined the UN in order to block many more resolutions.
  • To solve this issue ‘Uniting For Peace’ was introduced. This was a document that claimed that if the Security Council vetoed any initiative that was considered important for maintaining peace, the General Assembly should take over to and have the vote. The USSR refused to listen to it though.
  • So angry were the Soviet's with the UN's behaviour that they refused to back the Secretary-General (Trygve Lie) who was forced to resign.
  • Finally, it was obvious to the world that the United Nations was heavily influenced by America – nearly 90% of all army personnel, 93% of all air power and 86% of all naval power for the Korean War had come from America.
  • How successful was the UN in Korea?


  • Led by the USA for USA’s containment purposes – puppet
    • 90% of all army personnel, 93% of all air power and 86% of all naval power
    • $12bn from US alone
    • It was Truman who fired MacArthur
  • Accused of bias by USSR –
    • didn’t agree on Uniting for Peace motion
    • accused of acting too quickly
  • Huge Korean (North and South ) casualties
    • US = c.35 000 battle deaths
    • PVA (China)= 400 000
    • N.Korea= 500 000
    • Civilians = 2m
  • Led to resignation of Trygve Lie
    • Showed the secretary-general could be manipulated by USSR and USA
  • Failed to give N.Korea free elections.
    • They’re still waiting


  • Acted very quickly
    • N.Korea attacked in June, United Nations forces were in by July!
  • Prevented fall of S.Korea
    • Division at 38th parallel was fair.

    Was the UN just a puppet of the USA during the Korean War? Yes: · 90% of all army personnel, 93% of all air power and 86% of all naval power was from the USA · $12bn from USA alone · It was Truman who fired MacArthur, not Trygve Lie · There was no reason for the UNO to get involved in N.Korea – the USSR argued it was a civil war and, as N.Korea were not even permitted a seat in the UN General Assembly, they were not within the UN’s remit. · Acted incredibly fast – within a month – this seemed an indication of US urgency. · Failed to hold elections immediately after WW2 No: · Trygve-Lie had to act quickly in order to show the UN was not the LON · The North Koreans had attacked the S.Koreans—this was a breach of peace

    IGCSE history; cold war; korean war, 1953

    Montage of pictures from the Korean War [source: US Federal government, public domain]

    IGCSE history; cold war; korean war

    Fighting with the 2nd Inf. Div. north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out Communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20,1950. Pfc. James Cox. [source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration ]

    IGCSE history; cold war; korean war;

    G.I. comforting a grieving infantryman in Korean War. Photo by Sfc. Al Chang, U.S. Army. [source:Good Free Photos ]

    IGCSE history; cold war; korean war;

    Map showing the 38th parralel [source:Wikimedia ]

    IGCSE History; CIE revision notes; Containment;

    The development of the Cold War

    Arms Race and Berlin Wall

    Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) - the term given to the idea that because the two superpowers had equally powerful weapons, neither would attack the other, for both would be destroyed if they did.

  • 1945 – USA tests and drops the first atomic (A) bombs
  • 1949 – USSR tests A bomb
  • 1952 – USA tests its first hydrogen (H) bomb
  • 1953 – USSR tests its first H bomb
  • 1957 – Britain tests its first H bomb
  • 1957 – USSR tests Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) capable of carrying the H bomb from USSR to USA.
  • 1958 – USA Places ICBMs targeted on USSR in NATO countries in Europe. Both sides could now launch direct attacks on each others’ cities
  • 1960 – USA launches first nuclear powered submarine capable of firing a Polaris missile from underwater.
  • The Berlin Wall

    · Built by the USSR in 1961, E.Berlin to totally cut it off from the West and to stop ‘brain drain’ from East to West. (3m by 1961)

  • The excuse was it was an ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampant’
  • Initially wood and fencing, but then soon became concrete
  • 140km long. Guarded by: guard dogs, guard towers, trenches to prevent vehicles ramming the walls, open space in front of the walls (to see people coming)
  • Mines were placed in the open space (known as ‘death strip’)
  • Slippery pipes went along the top to stop climbers
  • Final walls were up to 12ft high, laced with barbed wire or rows of nails
  • Only one main entrance in and out: Checkpoint Charlie
  • Knicknamed Schandmaur, the "Wall of Shame” by W. Germans
  • Any ‘deserters’ could be shot on site. They were.
  • It fell in 1991, over a miscommunication: Berliners were told they could go on holiday… they took this as a sign they could destroy the wall. They took to it with hammers.
  • IGCSE history, cold war, arms race, containment

    The detonation of 'Ivy Mike' H-Bomb by the USA, 1952 [source public domain:Wikimedia]

    IGCSE history, cold war, berlin wall

    East Berin, from the Berlin Wall, 1963. [source: Roger W]

    The Cuban Missile Crisis


    The first real test of this post-Stalin/Truman era came in Cuba in 1963 ruby fortune casino. The Cuban Missile Crisis - as it came to be known - can be split into different sections, starting before the 60s with the Cuban Revolution.

    First, it is important to understand that Cuba was Communist. Lying just 90km from the US, Cuba had become Communist under Fidel Castro and ruby fortune live chat. Before him, General Fulgencio Batista ruled as a dictator. He was very unpopular but had close relations with the United States, who used Cuba as a playground for their rich and famous. Cheap casinos and big houses for the US, but shortages and hardship for the locals.

    In 1953, Castro attempted to overthrow Batista by invading the army barracks with a small band of men. He failed. Epic Failure. This was followed by an 18 month jail stint... and then another attempt...and more failure.

    By 1959 his guerrilla tactics won out casino instant play and he toppled the government. He - along with Che Gueverra - quickly unhooked Cuba's reliance on the USA by signing a sugar trade agreement with the USSR, which gave him thousands of military supplies too.. He drew up plans to nationalize all of the country, and evicted the rich Americans that lived there. America had a Communist neighbour.

    Bay of Pigs

  • In 1959 Castro took control of Cuba
  • The USA broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba
  • In August 1961, Kennedy supplied arms, equipment and transport for 1400 antiCastro Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow him
  • The exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs. They were met by 20 000 Cuban troops armed with tanks
  • Castro killed or captured the exiles within days.
  • Kennedy was seen as weak
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Kennedy had been humiliated with the Bay of Pigs incident, but the heat was to be turned up a notch in October 1962 when US U2 spy-planes photographed a shocking secret: Nuclear bases were being built on Cuba.
  • If that wasn't bad enough, Kennedy's advisers claimed they could be ready in 7 days, AND U2 spy-planes saw 20 Soviet ships on their way to Cuba. Ruby Fortune has got over 415 unique video games including likes like Black jack, Roulette, Casino poker, Progressive Goldmine Slots and, of course, an impressive collection of 4 and some Reel Spots. If nothing was done, Cuba would be going nuclear.
  • Kennedy quickly assembled his Security Council - which included his brother - and decided on blockading Cuba. They would allow Soviet ships to come within a 800km radius of Cuba, but no further. If they did come closer, nuclear war would erupt. Kennedy also sent a letter to Khrushchev demanding the demolition of the nuclear bases (Letter 1)
  • Khrushchev's response is to play for time. He tests Kennedy by ignoring the letter and the blockade. Kennedy prepares to ready nuclear war until, at the last moment, Khrushchev turns the ships round.
  • Nevertheless, the sites in Cuba are till being built, whilst Khrushchev sends two letters (Letters 2 and 3), firstly negotiating the missile situation and secondly ordering the removal US bases in Turkey in exchange. After a US spy-plane is shot down over Cuba, Kennedy is left embarressed. He decides to ignore Letter 3 and go with Letter 2. The Turkish missiles remain but Khrushchev complies and the missile sites are removed.
  • Why did the USSR put missiles on Cuba?

  • To get rid of USA’s missiles – if they had missiles on Cuba, then they could get the USA to remove theirs from Turkey in exchange
  • War – Khrushchev may have wanted to draw the US into a direct war as they felt they had the upper hand in the arms race, and needed an excuse to use them. They knew they could not go on much longer spending on armaments like they did.
  • To test the President – Kennedy was new to power (1961) and was young. He had failed at Bay of Pigs. Khrushchev saw a chance to win over hardliners in his own party.
  • To defend Castro – Communists had to stand up for communists and it was clear that the USA had attacked Cuba in 1961. This was the chance to show solidarity.
  • To achieve arms race superiority – Khrushchev was running out of money and grew concerned about the missile gap between the USSR and the USA. Having arms on Cuba would allow him the first strike and breathing space.
  • IGCSE history, cold war, cuban missile crisis, fidel castro

    Fidel Castro on a visit to Washington, 1959 [source: US Dept State Source]

    IGCSE history, cold war, cuban missile crisis, bay of pigs

    A map of Cuba, including the Bay of Pigs [source: public domain Wikimedia]

    IGCSE history, cuba, missiles, cuban missile crisis, containment

    The range of proposed missiles on Cuba [source public domain: Defense Intelligence Agency, DID Graphics:Wikimedia]

    IGCSE History; CIE revision notes; Containment;

    The global Cold War: Vietnam


    The Cuban Missile Crisis had rocked the USA. Meanwhile however, over on the other side of the world, in Vietnam, another epic struggle was taking shape. The spotlight of the Cold War would move to the Far East.

    Whilst Cuba had been the spotlight for some time, Vietnam had also been given attention by the USA. After China became Communist in 1953 the Domino Theory became part of Containment strategy

    Domino Theory: The belief that if one country fell to Communism, others would quickly follow. Containment was needed to therefore ensure Communism did not spread. This belief made the Cold War global but ensured figting did not erupt within already-Communist countries. First came to play under President Eisenhower and the Korean War.

    Vietnam: A Brief History

  • Formerly an empire in the South East Asian region - under the Lê Dynasty
  • Vietnam then suffered colonisation by the French in the 1800s.
  • Although this was not popular, French rule continued until WW2 when Japan swept through the region and took control of Vietnam.
  • The Japanese were even more hated than the French and resistance - led by rebel leader Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh - helped flush out the Japanese.
  • Nevertheless, the French returned after Germany was defeated, albeit in a weakened state.
  • The French, though, were having huge domestic problems and were not the empire they were before the war. They continued to fight Ho Chi Minh and set up a military branch especially for this, but once China turned Communist (1953) Ho received even more funding.
  • The French were being beaten back and faced their last, humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu where Ho Chi Minh triumphed.
  • The Geneva Accords then decided a settlement, where the North (Ho Chi Minh) and South (Ngo Dinh Diem) of Vietnam would be temporarily divided until elections the following year.
  • Fearful of the Domino Theory, the USA (under Eisenhower) started to back Diem and elections never occured. Vietnam was the new Cold War arena.
  • Key moments of the Vietnam War

  • Dien Bien Phu – General Giap led the Vietminh army to victory against the French when he surrounded their forces and bombarded their position. The French were pinned down and unable to get adequate supplies through because the Vietminh had been supplied with anti-aircraft missiles, and moved quickly through the jungle. Such was the embarrassment in France that the government resigned!
  • The Geneva Accords 1954 – this was the promise that there would be free elections in Vietnam once order was restored and the French had left. The country was temporarily divided into 2, with Diem holding the South and Ho Chi Minh the North. The USA began to back Diem and blocked elections.
  • The Strategic Hamlet Program – this was an operation by joint US and South Vietnamese forces to divide communist guerrillas from villagers. The idea was to provide peasants with new housing, education and healthcare which they would then appreciate and show loyalty toward the US. The peasants though, hated being moved from their ancestral homelands –an important part of Buddhism – and were never really given the promised reforms
  • 1963 Assassination of Diem – the puppet of the US, and ruler of S. Vietnam was killed off in a coup organized by the USA. Gulf of Tonkin Incident and Resolution - this was the incident that gave Johnson the excuse he needed to increase troops in Vietnam. US warships were supposedly engaged in combat by N. Vietnamese ships, in S. Vietnamese waters. This was seen as an act of war. Johnson therefore passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which promised assistance to any South East Asian country under attack from Communists.
  • Tet Offensive 1968 - The Tet Festival was an important Vietnamese holiday, signaling the beginning of the year. On January 1968 VietCong forces poured into Saigon and the surrounding countryside. Over 80 000 Communist troops stormed South Vietnam, catching the North Vietnamese and USA by surprise. They took the US embassy in Saigon. The USA—under General Westmoreland—soon regrouped and inflicted heavy casualties on the North Vietnamese. Estimates vary from 10 000-37 000 were killed. President Johnson began scaling back troop involvement as a result.
  • My Lai 1968 - In March 1968 ‘Charlie’ Company massacred a hamlet at Mai Lai, including women and children. The event was only uncovered in 1969. Led by Lieutenant Barker (overall command) with William Calley and Captain Medina (on the ground). After Tet Offensive, Barker ordered Calley to eradicate all Vietcong—they went into Mai Lai, found only villagers but rounded them up, abused, raped and killed them, before mass burying them. Even animals were slaughtered. Only Officer Hugh Thompson and his crew protested: he flew his helicopter between US troops and Vietnamese civilians, and helped children out of the area. Between 300-500 civilians were murdered. The USA was horrified and the press began to step-up anti-Vietnam sentiments. Only Calley was charged, and even he was let off after 3 years.
  • Nixon Doctrine – this was President Nixon’s way of scaling back and then ending involvement in Vietnam. The idea was that the USA would begin to leave, and train up the South Vietnamese in a process known as ‘Vietnamization’, whilst peace talks would go on.
  • Operation Menu 1969 – this was the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos by the USA by President Nixon. It was aimed and ensuring Communism was contained only to Vietnam, not the neighbouring countries.
  • Easter Offensive 1972 – this was an enormous attack by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong on the South. Initially it looked as though the South would fall until the USA conducted a large bombing campaign known as Operation Linebacker.
  • Paris Peace Accords 1972 – this was the ceasefire between the two sides. However it didn’t last long; by 1975 Vietnam had totally become Communist.
  • Why did the USA get involved in Vietnam?

  • Fear of the Domino Effect / The French had Failed - Eisenhower had stepped in in 1954 after Dien Bien Phu, to support the French because he feared losing Vietnam would mean losing the whole of South East Asia; loss of markets for the USA. China had turned Communist in 1949.
  • Lyndon Johnson was a new President (1964) Kennedy had succeeded against Khrushchev in Cuba, Johnson was seen as a ‘domestic’ President who wanted reform at home but needed to show he was committed to fighting Communism
  • To support the Vietnamese government The USA had pumped vast amounts of money in Vietnam and could not afford to see it fall. Kennedy therefore upped the amount of ‘advisors’ to 2300
  • As a bargaining chip in the arms race In 1957 the USSR tested ICBMs capable of carrying an the H bomb from USSR to USA; Vietnam could be used as a valuable missile base in the future: a US Cuba.
  • Gulf of Tonkin When N. Vietnamese patrol ships fired on US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, Johnson was furious. He passed the ‘Tonkin Gulf Resolution’ which allowed him to escalate Vietnam to a full-scale war—3500 marines in 1965
  • IGCSE history, cold war, containment, vietnam war

    [source: Report of Army review into My Lai incident, book 6, 14 March 1970, source]

    How was the war in Vietnam fought?


  • Guerrilla Tactics - (170 000 soldiers led by Ho Chi Minh. Stuck close to the enemy to avoid heavy bombs, attacked quickly and then disappeared into jungle. Indistinguishable from normal peasants. Built underground bases with booby traps. Terrorized any S.Vietnamese who helped Americans. Had high casualties but stuck to this plan. ‘The people are the water, we are the fish’)
  • Traps (these were to be found around the jungle and in hidden tunnels – built about 240km worth of tunnels!). Wore down US morale.
  • Funding from China and USSR - Ho Chi Minh received a lot of money from his Communist allies, as well as equipment and tactical advice
  • USA

  • Search and Destroy — tactics based on fast strikes on Viet Cong villages, using helicopters and machine guns. Mai Lai is good example. Westmoreland’s idea.
  • Helicopters — 3,500 helicopters were used for transport and aerial attack.
  • Heavy Bombing - B52 bombers and ‘carpet bombs’ used. 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder: this was to bomb N. Vietnamese factories and cities. More bombs were dropped on N.Vietnam than on Germany and Japan in the entire Second World War.
  • Chemical Weapons - Agent Orange was used. This was a highly toxic weedkiller designed to get rid of the jungle. They used 82million litres of it!!
  • Napalm – produced from jellied petrol – was used in flamethrowers and bombs. It caused extensive and horrific burns.
  • IGCSE history, cold war, containment, vietnam war

    Chinook's, similar to those used extensively in the war in Vietnam [source: US Army, CCBY 2.0 flickr]

    IGCSE history, cold war, containment, vietnam war

    Civilians sort through the ruins of their homes in Cholon in the Vietnam War. Photo by Meyerson, Joel D. [Public Domain: Source: Good Free Photos

    IGCSE history, cold war, containment, vietnam war

    Vietnam War Protest in Washington, D.C. by Frank Wolfe, October 21, 1967 (NARA) cc-by-sa-2.0. [Public Domain: Source: Flikr

    IGCSE History; CIE revision notes; containment;




  • Kennedy had prevented missiles from being placed in Cuba – the ships had turned round
  • Kennedy had come out as a stronger President; he had stood up to USSR
  • War was avoided, but the USSR had been taught a lesson
  • It caused a thaw in cold war relations – both sides realized they had almost caused nuclear war so a ‘hot-link’ direct telephone line was set up between USA and USSR and a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed then next year
  • The USA was now ahead in the arms race
  • Vietnam

  • Showed the USSR that the USA would get involved around the globe
  • Focused the struggle in an area far from the USA
  • Ensured USSR kept spending money on arms.
  • Unsuccessful



  • Cuba remained Communist – Castro was still in power and it was still in ‘Uncle Sam’s Backyard’
  • Relations between Cuba and America were still frosty
  • The USA had to remove their missiles from Turkey—they did this secretly though to avoid embarrassment
  • Vietnam

  • Created Domino Effect! - Laos and Cambodia both fell to Communism
  • Vietnam remained Communist and took S.Vietnam
  • Lost the ‘moral’ war
  • Led to propaganda disaster and a more isolationist approach
  • Cold war, containment, IGCSE History, Khruschev, Kennedy, USSR, USA

    Kennedy and Khruschev at a meeting in Vienn, 1963 [source: Tretick, Stanley, Photographer (NARA record: 3951647): National Archives Catalog, USA]

    IGCSE History; CIE revision notes; containment;

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