Was Truman’s Decision to defend South Korea Ethically defensible

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MacArthur and Truman competing in an “Awesome Hat” contest

Applied Ethics in and emerging branch of political theory that aims at evaluating the actions of political leaders when it comes to foreign policy. In his Essay, The situational Ethics of States Craft, Robert H. Jackson goes into great detail in describing this ethical theory, which he appropriately calls the Ethics of statecraft. Thought his work his main goal is to outline the criteria that would deem a foreign policy decision by a political leader Ethically defensible or not. Through the normative lens outlined in his work, this essay will aim at evaluating president Truman’s decision to compromise American forces in Korean.

According to Jackson, the key to understanding applied ethics is to fully comprehend the circumstances surrounding a situation. In order to fairly evaluate the decisions made by president Truman, for example, a scholar must know what is like to be in his shoes. Jackson accurately points out that circumstances limit the pool of choices people have, and this is specially the case in foreign policy.[i] On top of the limited options most circumstances present, most often than not, these options aren’t great. In describing foreign policy decisions Arnold Wolfers accurately describes it as “ the best moral choice that circumstances permit.”[ii] This is why Jackson refers to applied ethics as a situational rather than a universal ethic. Because of a given situation, statesman must go for the best choice given the circumstances, or the least bad choice.

When evaluating a statesman decision a scholar must also look at their moral qualities in relation to the given situation they were put into. Jackson’s essay detail a number of qualities a statesman must posses, among them, the most important prudence. Jumping into a choice rapidly because of personal sentiments or passion is dangerous and is something Jackson warns against. In order for a statesman to make the best choice among a limited set of options requires sufficient preparation and a clear understanding of the issues at hand. This is why a statesman must have a clear insight into the dangers and opportunities each choice may present in the future. With prudence also comes conviction in the choices you have made. A statesman must stick by his choices no matter the political consequences this may entail or the outside pressures it may bring. Aside form prudence and conviction, the most practical quality a statesman must posses is experience. When it comes to issues concerning foreign policy, experience builds up judgment and character, which are essential in choosing the best option when a situation arises.

If we seek to evaluate president Truman’s choice, we must first look at the circumstances surrounding the issue in Korea. During the Second World War, Korea was occupied by the Soviet Union in the North and The United States in the South.  Both countries decided to separate Korea along the 38th parallel while the United States waged war against Japan in the Pacific. After the Japanese surrendered rising tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States made it difficult for both countries to come to an agreement on how to unify the occupied sectors politically. In the north the Soviets promoted a communist regime headed by Kim Il Sung and in the south American occupying forces held free election in which Syngman Rhee was elected president. By mid 1949 but the U.S and the Soviet Union pulled their forces out of Korean territory leaving Korea completely divided. South Korea especially weak, it had more people but less industry in comparison to the north. It was also politically weak, with a government that was know to collaborate with the Japanese during the war.[iii] Additionally, when U.S forces pulled out of South Korea they left behind a poorly trained and ill-equipped army that was no match to north Koreas large and well-trained forces.

Truman and his advisors knew that economic aid was needed to better protect South Korea, but the problem laid in the fact that the United States simply didn’t have the resources to have a strong presence in both Europe and Asia. After years of large military expenditure and the cost of the Marshall plan, both the senate and the presidency pushed to lower America’s defense budget drastically. After extensive negotiations, only 13 to 15 billion dollars were allocated to the army for the 1950 fiscal year.[iv] The plain fact was that before 1950 American presence in Asia was not a priority of the president or the state department.  In 1947 the us army didn’t deem it necessary to have troops in Korea, and even Dean Acheson, Truman’s Secretary of state, told the Senate Foreign Relation Committee that there was “no reason to doubt that South Korea could survive and prosper.”[v]

The world’s state of affairs drastically changed in October 1, 1949 when the People’s Liberation Army succeeded in defeating the Nationalist in China.  The fall of Chiang Kia-shek’s regime came as a surprise to Washington although intelligence reports had predicted this outcome since 1948.[vi] With China under anti-western communist control attentions were quickly shifted toward Japan as a buffer to soviet expansion. Japan had the industrial capabilities to be a major treat to U.S security and the state department the state department feared that another soviet victory in the Asia could mean the collapse of all non-communist powers in the region. [vii] When it came to Korea, even after Sino-Soviet Pact, the territory was not of high priority in comparison to Japan, Formosa, and the Philippines. Knowing this, Kim Il Sung Secured military aid from both the Soviet Union and China to invade and unify South Korea under his regime. President Truman well aware of North Korea’s military capabilities by the summer of 1950. In his memoirs he confessed to having intelligence reports detailing the possibility that North Korean aggression could turn from scattered raids to a full pledged attack.[viii] Truman hesitated in taking any action them because he feared getting involved in an armed conflict with Soviet Allies, especially after the Soviet Union had tested its first atomic weapon the previous year.  In the hopes that Soviet Union and it allies would eventually collapse from within, the presidency’s policy was containment instead of war.

In June 25, 1950, North Korean Troops invaded South Korea, Putting extreme pressure on the Truman to act quickly. If North Korean Aggression were to succeed, it would damage America’s military position in Asia, which could threaten the security of Western Europe where measures like the Marshall Plan were just taking effect.[ix] Instead of acting hastily by immediately dispatching troops to South Korea, Truman was prudent in taking his case to the United Nations where it’s Security Council ordered the North Koreans to retreat back to the 38th parallel. When this order was ignored, Truman sent Air Support and aid to the South Koreans upon the request of the United Nations.[x]

 

 


[i] Jackson, 18***

[ii] Arnold Wolfers, “Statesmanship of Moral Choice,” in Discord and Collaboration (Baltimore: John Hopkins University press, 1965), p. 51. 

[iii] Combs book***

[iv] Source 1****

[v] source 1

[vi] Combs book**

[vii] combs book

[viii] Source I

[ix] Source 1

[x] document 6

Image

tumblr_mzgkesDtSA1sq3g2zo1_500The G-class was developed as a military vehicle from a suggestion by the Shah of Iran (at the time a great shareholder) to Mercedes and offered as a civilian version in 1979.