Who Was President During the Korean War?

Bust of Harry S. Truman the 33rd American President. Editorial credit: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com
Bust of Harry S. Truman the 33rd American President. Editorial credit: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

The Korean War was fought between North Korea and South Korea. The Soviet Union and China supported North Korea while the United Nations supported South Korea with the United States being the principal supporter. About 21 nations contributed military personnel to the UN forces with the US providing approximately 90% of the military personnel. President Truman was in office when the Korean War broke out on June 25th, 1950.

Onset of the Korean War

The Korean War was a result of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, and it started following a series of confrontations along the border. Korea had been divided into two different independent states in 1948; North Korea was established as a socialist state under the communist leader Kim II-sung while South Korea was established as a capitalist state an anti-communist under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. Each of the two states of Korea claimed to be the legitimate government of the entire Korean Peninsula, and none recognized the border as permanent. The disagreement between the two states escalated into a full-on war. The military from North Korea under the support of China and the Soviet Union crossed the border into South Korea. The Security Council of the UN authorized the dispatch of UN forces to Korea to repel the North Korean invasion.

Leaders During the Korean War

North Korea: Kim Il-Sung

Kim II-Sung was North Korea's first leader who was at the helm of the leadership in the country since it was established in 1948 until 1994 when he died. From 1948 Sung was the country’s premier until 1972, and from 1972 to 1994 he was the president of North Korea. Sung came to power after the end of the Japanese rule in Korea in 1945 and became the longest-serving non-royal head of government in the 20th century having stayed in the office for more than 38 years. He presided over North Korea as a communist country, and he established a publicly planned and owned economy, known as Juche ideology. Sung established close political and economic ties with the Soviet Union, and in the early 1960s, North Korea was enjoying a relatively higher standard of living compared to South Korea. However, in the early 1970s, South Korea had become stable politically and began to establish itself as an economic powerhouse which was underpinned by the American and the Japanese investments together with military assistance and internal economic development. North Korea received aid and subsidies from the Soviet Union until the fall of the USSR in 1991. As a result, it affected the economic situation in North Korea resulting in widespread famine experienced in 1994.

South Korea: Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee was the first head of state of the provisional government of the Republic of Korea and later from 1948 to 1960 he was the president of South Korea. He served for two terms, and his leadership was affected but the tensions of the Cold War in the Korean Peninsula particularly between the US and the Soviet Union. Rhee was the leader of South Korea throughout the Korean War, and his leadership came to an end after he resigned following the protest against the disputed elections. He was an anti-communist leader, and he was a dictator as well as an authoritarian, and it is believed to have ordered extrajudicial killings of thousands of civilians who were suspected of being communists during his early years as the leader of South Korea and particularly during the Korean War. He died in exile while in Honolulu, Hawaii.

United States: Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman was the 33rd US president, and he was in office between 1945 and 1953. Truman referred the war as an act of policing because the country did not formally declare war against its opponents, but rather carried out under the backing of the UN. It was President Truman who ordered the US military which includes the air force and the navy forces to help South Korea. The Soviets accused the US of engaging in armed involvement in aid of South Korea. The Korean war has been known as one of the unknown wars or the forgotten wars due to the publicity it received after or even during the war in contrast to World War II which preceded it or the Vietnam War which came after.

The Aftermath of the War

Both leaders from North and South Korea wanted a united Korea under their respective governments, but they were not successful. After the war, a new stage was set for the Cold War between the two superpowers of the US and the Soviet Union which has been known as the proxy war where the two countries fight in a third country. The same scenario was played during the Vietnam War and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. It was a similar case also in Angola and Greece among other regions in the world. The Korean War was the first case where the UN participated outside the Western World. The war significantly affected the two countries where it led to massive losses and damage to the infrastructure and the economy as a whole.


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