The Korean War

How Far to Go: October 1-7, 1950

The General Assembly of the United Nations passes a resolution authorizing next steps in Korea. Reports indicate the possibility of armed intervention by the Communist People's Republic of China.

Image: Marine tank returns fire on Hill 296 near Sinchon, October 2, 1950. Source: Truman Library.

Marine tank returns fire on Hill 296 near Sinchon, October 2, 

1950. Source: Truman Library.


After the Inchon landing, General [Douglas] MacArthur [on October 1] called on these North Koreans to turn in their arms and cease their effort; that they refused to do, and they retired into the north, and what General MacArthur's military mission was was to pursue them and round them up, as he was trying to round up that part of their army that remained in the south; and as I said many times, we had the highest hopes that when you did that the whole of Korea would be united. . . .

Our hope was that the rounding up, or the surrender of the forces which started this aggression, would result in the carrying out of the U.N. resolution . . . [proposed by the British and eventually passed on] the 7th of October, which was to hold elections in the north and, under the United Nations aegis, try and bring that whole country together.

Secretary of State Dean Acheson
Congressional testimony, June 5, 1951


It was clearly understood [in 1945] at the end of the war that Korea would be restored as an independent country. The matter had been before the United Nations and the United Nations had repeatedly called for the unification of . . . Korea. They sent a Commission [the U.N. Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK)] out there [in 1948] to try to negotiate the reunification. The South Koreans cooperated, the North Koreans would not let the commission even come in to North Korea to talk about it. Well now there was possibly a mistake in this sense that when the North Korean forces found themselves hurled back across the 38th parallel, as a result of the Inchon landing they were up there, regrouping, refitting, getting ready to resume the fight, so there was a military problem. But then there was the long standing United Nations policy in favor of a unified Korea. . . .

[W]e decided, and it was possibly a mistake, on a temporary change of war aims. That while we were in that situation and there was fellas over there getting ready to resume the fight that we might as well see whether we could achieve the policy of . . . unification . . . .

Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Dean Rusk
Background interview for British Broadcasting Corporation, January 26, 1984
Miscellaneous Historical Documents Collection


Dean Rusk was the one who was following Korea, and then I tended to be, somewhat, Dean Rusk's man Friday, you might say, as far as the Korean side was concerned. . . . After the Inchon landing succeeded and we were advancing north, the first big political issue, of course, was the whole question of whether to cross the 38th parallel or not.

Now, prior to this time, you will recall that we had obtained contributions from various allies and we had what we called the Group of Sixteen. And Dean Rusk used to meet regularly with them (depending on the course of events) and discuss the situation and brief them and keep them involved. They were primarily the Ambassadors here, or the Charges; it was at the Chief of Mission level here in Washington. And I would always participate with him in those meetings with the Sixteen. Now, when the questions of going across the 38th arose, this Group of Sixteen, you might say, was the focal point for political consultations with the allies. Obviously, there were many different points of view and, obviously, it was a very, very active group at that time.

Deputy Director Office of Northeast Asian Affairs U. Alexis Johnson
Oral history interview, June 19, 1975


Surely the whole thing [the proposed U.N. resolution] contemplates it [U.N. forces crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea], but I mean nobody says it. We don't say we will now cross it; that would produce a difficulty and provoke a lot of -- All the time this was going on, there were people who didn't want you to cross the 38th Parallel, and yet there wasn't any [military] force to oppose you. Therefore, this was fuzzed over, and this was what you get in this sort of arrangement. . . .

Secretary of State Dean Acheson
"Princeton Seminar" comment, February 13, 1954
Dean Acheson Papers


That was a basic resolution which stated the aims of the United Nations, which included - as had been the aim of the United Nations since 1946 - that there should be a free, unified, independent Korea, with democratic institutions and a government selected by popular plebiscite under U.N. supervision. That was the program. But it was never the U.S. position, as relayed to us at the U.S. mission to the U.N., that it was the purpose of the United States (or of the United Nations as far as we were concerned) to unify all Korea by force. It was explicitly stated to us, by instructions from the State Department, that this was not our intention.

Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Ernest Gross
Truman Library Institute conference comment, May 1975
The Korean War: A 25-year Perspective (The Regents Press of Kansas, 1976)


My mission was to clear out all North Korea, to unify it and to liberalize it.

General Douglas MacArthur
Congressional testimony, May 3, 1951


I think the great weakness of the U.S. government's position at the time was that it wasn't clear. It wasn't clear to those of us within the government and I doubt it was totally clear to [the commander in the field, General Douglas] MacArthur.

Special Assistant to the Secretary of State Lucius Battle
Truman Library Institute conference comment, May 1975
The Korean War: A 25-year Perspective (The Regents Press of Kansas, 1976)


At the end of September, there were reports which were sent out through the Government of India that statements that had been made to their representatives by Chinese officials that if we crossed the thirty-eighth parallel they would intervene.

Those were important matters to be considered, and they were considered; and on the 3rd of October, for instance, the Chinese Communist Foreign Minister [Chou En-lai] informed the Indian Ambassador [K.M. Pannikar], at Peiping [Beijing], that if the United States forces, or UN forces crossed the thirty-eighth parallel, China would send troops to the Korean frontier to defend North Korea.

That was a cryptic statement made by him. He said that this action would not be taken if only South Korean troops crossed the parallel.

That was a matter which had to be given very considerable attention, and information to that effect was given to General MacArthur.

At the time this statement was made, the United Nations was preparing to vote on its resolution, finally adopted by the General Assembly on October 7. It was acted on by Committee One, on October 4, so that you also have to keep in mind that perhaps this statement was put out to have some effect on that vote

Secretary of State Dean Acheson
Congressional testimony, June 1, 1951


This [purported warning from Communist China] was discussed at considerable length among us, and the question was whether this was really a serious observation, whether this was supposed to affect the vote on the [United Nations] resolution--the Indians were bringing in reports that the Chinese really meant this and we shouldn't cross the 38th Parallel; the Indians had been saying this sort of thing quite consistently and continued in the future with these observations, and I don't think they were taken very seriously. . . . We thought that [India's Ambassador to China K.M.] Pannikar was not a good reporter. . . .

Secretary of State Dean Acheson
"Princeton Seminar" comment, February 13, 1954
Papers of Dean Acheson

Go to September 26-30, 1950
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Go to Wake Island meeting, October 7-16, 1950

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September 15-September 18, 1950
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