Outdated 38th Parallel Political Policy Opens Doors For Peaceful Korea Reunification

In 1950, the Cold War heated up as North Korea, backed by the Soviets, invaded non-communist South Korea. Japan had been forced to give up its control of Korea as part of the Allied nations’ plans for the new post-WWII world order. The country was divided at the 38th parallel between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The United Nations unsuccessfully tried to unify the country in 1947 by supervised elections in the North and South, which the communists boycotted. Both North and South declared themselves independent nations (the North under the thumb of the brutal dictator Kim Il Sung), and both wanted to unify the country under their own banner.

North and South began slaughtering each other in a bloody civil war even before the Soviets and American intervened. But in June, 1950, President Truman made the decision to enter the conflict as North Korean troops poured across the border. The U.S. came to the support of the South, and managed to push back the North Koreans until the Chinese intervened and pushed the Americans right back. It was the first “proxy” war fought by the U.S. and Soviets, and was the first war that the U.S. fought knowing that the enemy possessed nuclear weapons. A win-at-all-cost strategy just wasn’t possible anymore.

The Truman administration decided not to pursue the grandiose goal of unifying Korea, and backed off, not wanting to risk an escalation into another world war. There were political voices in the U.S. calling for non-intervention in Korea and elsewhere, and one of them, the isolationist senator Robert Taft, wanted the Republican nomination for President.

This was more than Ike could tolerate. After all, this was a guy who believed in America’s role in maintaining stability in the world. By 1952, he had declared himself a Republican and threw his hat into the ring.

Eisenhower’s campaign slogan was “I Like Ike,” but the nation didn’t have to persuaded. In times like that, Eisenhower’s casual, folksy, Midwestern demeanor, along with his intuitive understanding of human psychology, turned out to be a good match for a nation in the thick of an existential war against communism. Americans had enormous faith in him, and he won in a landslide against Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson, who had even less hair than Ike and was described as an “egghead” by Ike’s running mate Richard Nixon.

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