Delanie Tarvin: How the British Felt About the Korean War and US Decision-Making

In “Presidential Decision Making in the Korean War: The British Perspective,” Michael A. Lutzker  details the course of the war, focusing primarily on the British perspective.

To start, Lutzker discusses the “series of paradoxes” within this conflict (Lutzker, 979). First is the American narrative, one that says “the UN Security Council, led by the United States, acted decisively to repel aggressive expansion by Moscow-directed world communism” (Lutzker, 979). Countering this, Lutzker cites the release of previously private documents that have “strengthened the view that the Korean conflict was essentially a continuation of a civil war” that had been going on for years, supporting this claim with the statistic that “Koreans suffered more than 100,000 casualties before… the war officially broke out” (979). Additionally, the author rejects the notion of the “collective” coalition of the American-led UN, arguing the conflict “became anything but collective when the U.S. changed its objective from one of repelling aggression to one of rolling back communism by seeking to unify Korea by force” (Lutzker, 979). Finally, Lutzker rejects the standard notion that this conflict was “Moscow-directed,” explaining that recent Soviet archive show the Soviet Union as a reluctant supporter at best that had to be persuaded to help.

Following these revisions, Lutzker outlines the war, focusing on British perspectives. The British, per Lutzker, did indeed share with America the conviction to contain communism and the fear that the Soviets were behind this aggression; however they became “sharply critical of many U.S. actions” throughout the course of the war (Lutzker, 979). There were many U.S. decisions made that the British opposed – namely, the administration’s order of the Seventh Fleet to patrol along the Chinese border, their rejection to recognize Mao’s regime, their “decision to destroy the North Korean regime by crossing the 38th parallel,” and their refusal (and inability) to control actions that might expand the war, specifically those of General MacArthur (Lutzker, 985, 991). Additionally, the British increasingly felt like a “junior partner” to the U.S., as their input was scarcely taken seriously (Lutzker, 991). Truman’s famous press conference, in which he declares the use of atomic bombs was always a consideration, is an example of this. The British voiced their outrage following this, as they had never been consulted on the use of atomic bombs. Though Truman consequently assured them the U.S. would never use the bomb without consulting them, “it was never entirely clear whether consultations meant the partners had a veto” (Lutzker, 988). Lutzker concludes by stating the British ultimately followed the U.S. on many decisions out of their commitment to containment; however, they felt America’s objective changed from containment to the forced unification of Korea (Lutzker, 991). Additionally, they increasingly disagreed with America’s decisions and actions, specifically those that sought to expand the war.

Lutzker’s revisionist approach offers an unconventional narrative of the Korean war. As an ally, Britain’s views may easily be assumed to be in line with America’s, but Lutzker refutes this by explaining the many reasons for British reluctance and discontent. Additionally, Lutzker revises the narrative in a more general sense by rejecting the notions of a very unified and fast acting United Nations as well as the Soviet involvement in North Korean aggression.

I enjoyed reading Lutzker, as this perspective offered a refreshing and more thorough story of the Korean War. As it is the “Forgotten War,” the Korean War is not given much discussion in the American narrative. Moreover, the American account is largely focused on America, leaving out the many other national perspectives that are part of the actual story.  Lutzker’s account sparked my interest in exploring the war from the views of the other nations involved.

 

Source:

Michael A. Lutzker, “Presidential Decision Making in the Korean War,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, 26, no. 4, Wiley ( 1996): pp. 978-995.

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27551665

Word Count: 589

 

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