Report To The American People On Korea History Essay
The “Report to the American People on Korea” is the transcript of a radio address made on 11 April 1951 by the President of the United States, Harry Truman, a democrat elected in April 1945. The same year, World War II was over, but the Cold War (1947-1991) soon began. The World was divided in two blocks, led by the USSR and the United States. Although there was no major conflict between the two potencies, from the mid-fifties Cold War became a bit different, as direct conflicts appeared, even if they stayed circumscribed. There was an active opposition against communism on the international level, which started with Truman and his Doctrine. Under his presidency, a certain number of events created fear outside the country: because of the fall of China to communism in 1949, without any military intervention from the United States, many Republicans accused Truman of having lost China. He was attacked on all fronts on being “soft on communism”. Moreover, Soviets had detonated their first atomic bomb (September 1949) and South Korea had been invaded by the communist troupes of North Korea in June 1950. During his second term, Truman had to deal with several foreign-policy issues.
In the “Report to the American People on Korea”, Truman justifies the American intervention and presence in Korea, saying the aim is to prevent a third world war. He claims it is necessary to fight communism thanks to the help of peace-loving countries. How does Truman’s justification of his Far East policy, imbued with the typical Cold War rhetoric, turns into a political defense? To answer that question, it will be necessary to study first of all the dangers of communism, then the necessity and the means to preserve peace, before pointing out the fact that this address looks like a political defense.
In a first part, the dangers of communism will be dealt with.
First of all, Truman uses a rhetoric making communism appear as a danger. The word “aggression”, with his semantic field (aggressor (l.5) , aggressive (l.24)) nearly has ten occurrences in the report. The word “threat” also appears more than five times. It contributes to the creation of a lexical field of danger. The repetition of the exact same words is an oral way to make sure that those words pervade the listener. Like in the usual Cold War rhetoric, communism is presented as evil. Communism is only referred to with derogatory words such as “monstruous conspiracy” (l.8) or “cruel and selfish rulers” (l.26).
Then he wants to show that there is an intensification of the dangers of communism.
Truman clearly explains that there is a progression in the communist threat, with the use of two superlatives in the same sentence: “The aggression against Korea is the boldest and most dangerous move the Communists have yet made.” (l.32-33). It shows there is an intensification of danger. Indeed, during the communist move in China, there was no American sphere of influence in the country, whereas Korea, after the end of World War II, had been divided in two spheres of influences, and South Korea was in the hands of the Americans. It was sure that the United States would defend their sphere of influence in the country if the communist North Korea attacked the South. The Communists were then bolder than ever when deciding to attack South Korea, it showed nothing could afraid them, that is why they were appeared as even more dangerous.
Truman also alludes to the domino theory to show the dangers of the expansion of communism when he quotes some communist’s words: “In order to successfully undertake the long-awaited world revolution, we must first unify Asia .... Java, Indochina, Malaya, India, Tibet, Thailand, Philippines, and Japan are our ultimate targets ....” (l.42-44). Truman had already formulated the domino theory in his address of March, 12 1947 when talking about the progression of communism in Greece that could lead to an expansion of it in Turkey and then in all the Middle East. In the domino theory, preventing one country from falling in the hands of communists is essential to preserve the rest of the countries. It is exactly what Truman wants the American to think about when listening to this enumeration of future conquests of the communists thanks to the domino effect. With this sentence, dangers appear as being multiplied, it gives the impression of a geographical progression.
In fact, Truman clearly wants to convince the Americans that there is a kind of conspiracy of the communists, to conquer the totality of Asia: “The attack on Korea was part of a greater plan for conquering all of Asia.” (l.32), “part of a carefully prepared plot” (l.37). He wants to show that Korea is not just an isolated case, and that the communists plan to dominate many other countries.
To support his arguments, Truman resorts to proofs coming from CIA reports: “I would like to read to you from a secret intelligence report which came to us after the attack on Korea” (l.33-34), “I have another secret intelligence report here.” (l.40-41). It is a way to show that the United States infiltrated the Soviet Union, that they were checking the progression of communism and that it represented a real danger. Of course the aim was to give credibility to his words. Nevertheless, the American people could not know if everything was true because of course they did not have access to such reports. Moreover there are no names, no dates and no real details in what he explains, whereas he says “The report shows in great detail...” (l.36). It looks like McCarthy’s rhetoric about domestic anticommunism, because he said he had a lot of proofs and did not give any names.
The idea to explain that there were CIA reports could also be seen as a way for Truman to emphasize that all these information were in the United States’ possession thanks to the creation of the CIA, which took place under his own presidency. Indeed the Central Intelligence Agency was born thanks to the National Security Act signed by Truman on July 26, 1947.
Finally, there is a progression in Truman’s arguments about the dangers of communism, as it goes from the international dangers of communism that we saw to the internal dangers of communism. There is a risk for the entire world, but also more specifically for the United States. Through sentences such as “If they were to succeed, the United States would be numbered among their principal victims.” (l.9-10) or “In other words, we must unify the people of Asia and crush the United States."(l.45-46) Truman creates a domestic fear, necessary to make the Americans aware of the necessity of an intervention.
In a first part, we saw then that Truman was laying emphasis on the dangers of communism with a typical Cold War rhetoric, the idea that there was a progression of the danger, and that he was making his arguments even firmer with proofs coming from CIA reports and the creation of an internal fear. As communism was becoming “a dear and present danger to the security and independence of every free nation.” (l.20-21), Truman wanted to convince the Americans of the necessity of an intervention to restore and preserve peace.
To begin with, Truman explains he learnt the lesson from the History: “If history has taught us anything, it is that aggression anywhere in the world is a threat to the peace everywhere in the world.” (l.18-19). Through this parallelism, Truman seems to allude to the Second World War. Indeed it began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, which led France and Great Britain to declare war on Germany. Germany also invaded the URSS in 1941, Japan, which was a member of the Axis, like Germany, attacked the fleet of the United States in the Pacific Ocean. Between the potencies of the Allies and the Axis, it became a global conflict; the war was fought on almost every continent. And it all started with on only invasion similar to what happened in Korea, so potentially if nothing was done there were risks of a Third World War. The fact to refer to History is an authority argument. Truman doesn’t only focus on what happened but of what could have been avoided: “If they had followed the right policies in the 1930's—if the free countries had acted together to crush the aggression of the dictators, and if they had acted in the beginning when the aggression was small—there probably would have been no World War II.” (l.15-17). When talking about the dictators, Truman refers to Hitler’s nazism and Mussolini’s fascism. Here it refers to the appeasement policies which did not work at the time. An appeasement policy is when you make concession to a country to avoid war. European democracies used it in the 1930s because they wanted to avoid what had happened with Germany and Italy during the First World War. The British Prime Minister of the time, Chamberlain, tried by all means to avoid war with the two countries, because he wanted to secure peace. But it only allowed the dictators to follow their ambitions. As there has always been a link between communism and fascism in the Cold War rhetoric (communism was called “Red fascism”), since it was a foreign phenomenon, linked with one party, it is easy to make the parallel between this and the situation with USSR. Truman clearly refuses to deal with communist aggression thanks to an appeasement policy in Korea.
On the contrary, in Korea, Truman wanted to stop the invasion since the beginning: “The best time to meet the threat is in the beginning. It is easier to put out a fire in the beginning when it is small than after it has become a roaring blaze.” (l.12-13). Through this metaphor, he points out the necessity to act before communism could spread and became uncontrollable.
In accordance with the usual Manichean vision of the world, the United States is presented as the good one, with positive terms such as “peace-loving nations” (l.14) or “free nations” (l.23). The United States is clearly shown as the leader of the world, as Truman always places his country first in his words, there is always “we” first, and then the others nations, as in “we have been putting that lesson into practice—we have been working with other free nations” (l.24-25). What is striking is that Truman places the United States as part of the “peace-loving nations”, but when he criticizes the inaction of this kind of nations, he no longer says “we” but “they”: “If they had followed the right policies in the 1930's—if the free countries had acted together to crush the aggression of the dictators, and if they had acted in the beginning when the aggression was small (l.15-17)
Truman’s tactic to show the importance of the United States on the international stage consists also in transcribing the words of the “enemy” (the communists) to show that they somewhat fear the United States: “The United States is the only obstacle on our road for the liberation of all the countries in southeast Asia.” (l.44-45). It is a way to give even more importance to the country, to lay emphasis on the image of power it shows.
Following the traditional Cold War rhetoric, he presents the United States as the protector of peace: “We are trying to prevent a third world war.” (l.3). Thanks to the sentence: “the United States cannot—and will not—sit idly by and await foreign conquest.” (l.10-11), with a clear link between duty and action, we understand that Truman feels that the United States have to act, they don’t have the choice. It is linked with the “Manifest theory”, the feeling that the USA has a real mission: to preserve freedom, democracy in the world. If they did not intervene, they would fail in their mission of saviors. The parallelism of the last sentence “This is the basis of peace in the Far East, and it is the basis of peace everywhere else.” (l.51-52) shows that Truman wants to extend the peacemaking action of the United States to the whole world.
Finally, he emphasizes the role of the United Nations to preserve peace.
First of all, he explains the importance of unity between nations: “And the best way to meet the threat of aggression is for the peace-loving nations to act together. If they don't act together, they are likely to be picked off, one by one”. (l.13-14). As for the rhetorical aspect, we can notice that Truman wants to make things very clear, a bit like a teacher. It is as if he wanted to make sure that everybody would understand: “the only question is: What is (…) the best way to meet it? The best way to meet the threat is…” (l.10-13). It creates certain insistence, which is important in a speech. Truman means that unity is necessary to face the enemy.
Then Truman defines the mission of the United Nations: “Since the end of World War II, (...) we have been working with other free nations to check the aggressive designs of the Soviet Union before they can result in a third world war.” (l.22-25). Indeed, this international organization was created at the end of World War II. Its goal was to make the cooperation easier between the different nations, above all to preserve peace in the world. Truman was not at the origin of the initiative, as the first plan for this organization appeared in 1939 under Roosevelt. Nevertheless, the United Nations Charter was signed under Truman’s presidency, on June 26th 1945 and it entered into force on October 24th 1945. Truman strongly supported its creation, and he insists on the role of the United States within the United Nations: “This is the basic reason why we joined in creating the United Nations.” (l.23-24). The word “creating” is important, as it emphasizes as always their active role.
Truman places the action of the United States under the protection of the United Nations. Indeed we know that on July 30th 1950, the troupes of MacArthur were composed of international soldiers, sent with agreement of the United Nations. He emphasizes the appropriateness of his intervention to the principles of the United Nations. Indeed the sentence “This plan of conquest is in flat contradiction to what we believe. We believe that Korea belongs to the Koreans, we believe that India belongs to the Indians, we believe that all the nations of Asia should be free to work out their affairs in their own way.” (l.49-51) alludes to the right of self-determination. It means that people have the right to determine their own political status and to decide the models they will follow. The principle of self determination was already established in 1941 between the Allies who signed the Atlantic Charter. Later on, in 1945, the United Nations Charter was ratified, which increased the importance of this right on the international level. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the desire for self-determination was already at the core of the American Revolution.
In a second part, we saw that Truman wanted to make the Americans aware of the importance of an intervention in Korea to restore peace. He bases his arguments on what could have been avoided in the History and says he learnt a lesson from that. He underlines the necessity to act quickly against communism and places the United States as the protector of peace, under the supervision of the United Nations. But Truman does not only justify the intervention in Korea, all the arguments we studied so far and the others that will come are a way to ensure his political defense.
To begin with, it is necessary to understand what Truman’s “policy in the Far East” (l.2) really was, since the intervention in “Korea” (l.1) was part of this policy.
At the end of World War II, Korea was divided in two: there was an American sphere of influence in South Korea, and a communist influence in North Korea. The partition line was the 38th parallel. But on June 1950, North Korean army struck against South Korea. In the days that followed, Truman administration, with the support of the United Nations, decided to help South Korea. For Truman, it was also a way to be cleared of the accusations of being “soft on communism” in China. In June 30th (“Last June” l3), international troupes led by General Mc Arthur were sent there with the agreement of ONU. The aim was to carry out what Truman called a “police action”. In the few months that followed, MacArthur was able to defend the South from the North invasion. But on November 1950, the Chinese communists carried out an unexpected intervention to help the Korean communists who were losing the war. Following this, General MacArthur wanted to block the Chinese coasts and to bomb China. But Truman fired him: it was a symbol that he did not want to be more aggressive.
It is revealing of Truman’s “policy in the Far East”, which means in East and Southeast Asia. Indeed he just wanted to do a “police action”. His real aim was “to prevent a third world war” (l.3), for him, the victory would have been to restore peace like the famous sentence of his speech at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, on octber 17, 1950 shows: « The only victory we seek is the victory of peace ». Truman wanted to wage only a “limited war”. He didn’t want to create an all-out war against USSR. He knew that the Soviet Union also had nuclear weapons, and in the atomic age, it was absolutely necessary to avoid another war. In fact, Truman did not want the Soviet Union to go to war. Indeed, what is quite striking in this report that he mentions the Soviet Union in itself in it. He only blames “communism”. It clearly shows his wish was to avoid a full-scale war with the Soviet Union, as he thought this could led to a global conflict. Truman then was not looking for a traditional victory, but the victory of peace. He wanted to apply containment measures.
Truman was in fact victim of many accusations concerning his foreign policy. As we saw, the non intervention in China in the late 1940s was a disastrous thing for the Democrat party, because it was seen as a proof of its incapacity to win the Cold War. Truman was accused of being “soft on communism”. That is one of the reasons why he decided to intervene in Korea: he wanted to be cleared of these accusations. Republicans asked for a firmer commitment in Asia. But in fact, the Korean War also created a lot of criticisms about the Truman administration. The criticisms about this intervention are present in this report with the sentence: “Now, many persons, even some who applauded our decision to defend Korea, have forgotten the basic reason for our action.” (l.5-6). Indeed, the Korean War soon became an unpopular war. For many Americans, World War II was a bit like the model of future wars that the United States was supposed to wage. Indeed the country had been the great winner of this war. That is why they expected an all-out war against the Soviet Union, leading to a real traditional victory, with the unconditional surrender of the enemy. But as the war went on, the Americans felt that there was no significant battlefield progress. Many people, above all Republicans, who had in mind in 1952 presidential election, started criticizing Truman at a political level. The war became even more unpopular because of what happened with MacArthur. He said the conduct of the war was improper. He wanted to be much more aggressive towards the aggressor. He published criticisms of Truman’s administration policy. Truman fired him in 1951 for insubordination, and it was clearly a mistake since General MacArthur was a World War II hero, very popular among the Americans.
That is why in this report to the American People on Korea, Truman wants to ensure its political defense against the accusations of the Republicans. When he uses the repetition “It is right for us to be in Korea now. It was right last June. It is right today” (l.6-7), it can’t help making us think about his Democratic convention acceptance Speech on July 15, 1948 were he said “We will do that because they are wrong and we are right”, talking about the Republicans. The report then have a dimension of political fight, against the republicans. It is even a very personal political fight: he tries to defend himself against his opponents. It is a tactical move to oppose the Republicans, who were trying to get back to power.
Finally, to legitimate his policy in the Far East, he emphasizes on the successes of the interventions under his presidency. It is supposed to give him credibility, to remind the Americans that they could trust him because he had done great things in the past.
He alludes to the success of the intervention in Greece: “That is what we did in Greece, when that nation was threatened by the aggression of international communism. The attack against Greece could have led to general war. But this country came to the aid of Greece.” (l.26-28). Indeed, in 1947, Greece was the only country in Europe with a danger of communist uprising. The problem was that on February 21th 1947, Great Britain made an official warning: they could no longer give financial help to Greece and Turkey after the end of the fiscal year, on March 21st. The United States devised a policy to replace Britain’s economic help. It was called the Marshall Plan, and its aim was to help economically or military countries which might fall in the hands of the USSR.
He also mentions the Berlin Airlift: “Another big Communist threat to peace was the Berlin blockade. That too could have led to war. But again it was settled because free men would not back down in an emergency” (l.29-31). The Berlin Blockade that took place from June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949. At the time, Germany was divided between the winners of World War II, and it was the same for Berlin. But the Soviet Union decided to prevent the Allies from carry out supply for people in West Berlin. They wanted to have the control of the whole Berlin. The Western Allies reacted by organized what was called the Berlin Airlift: mostly thanks to the United States Air Force, Berliners could receive food despite the blockade. The Soviets finally gave up, it was the end of the blockade.
To conclude, in his “Report to the American People on Korea”, a radio address made on 11 April 1951, Truman, by using a typical Cold War rhetoric, tries to make the Americans aware of the necessity of the intervention in Korea. In order to do that, he emphasizes the increasing dangers of communism and points out the fact that the United States have to act under the supervision of the United Nations to restore peace. Nevertheless, the specificity of this report is that Truman wants to ensure his political defense following all the criticisms from the Republicans concerning his foreign policy, because the presidential elections of 1952 were really close.
In fact, since the Korean War was uppermost in the Americans’ minds, the Republican Party used it as the centerpiece of their presidential campaign for 1952. Eisenhower, who was the Republican candidate, promised that if he was elected, he would go to Korea and put an end to the conflict. He was indeed elected and showed much more aggressiveness than Truman. He made sure that the North Koreans and Chinese knew the United States were ready to use nuclear weapons if a peace agreement was not concluded soon. The armistice was concluded on July 27 1953 and the boundary was the initial one.
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