The Korean War: Why the US Didn’t Use the Atomic Bomb

by admin - October 23rd, 2017

By Hoang Vo

Front page of the New York Times a day after President Truman’s November 30, 1950 press conference

The United States and North Korea have known to go against each other ever since the Korean War. The war that was deemed, “one of the least popular wars in American history”, which lasted “from June 1950 to July 1953” (Dunar 51). Although the war was relatively short, but did it really end? Did the Korean War bring peace to the Korean countries and unite the United States with its enemies? In recent years, the relationship between the United States and North Korea has been largely defined by nuclear weapons. In which North Korea’s development of long-range missiles capable of striking targets thousands of miles away created a tremendous amount of threats towards the rest of the world. North Korea released ongoing threats to strike the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons and conventional forces (“In Focus: North Korea’s Nuclear Threats”).

“At the end of World War II, the United States and Soviets divided Korea into zones of occupation along the 38th parallel”, in which the North is being under the control of the Soviets’ communism, and the South is under the Americans’ Democracy (Dunar 52). Not completely satisfied with being under the different types of government, North Korea with the Soviet’s support looked to take over the entire country. On Sunday, June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a surprise attack which contained “a massive, coordinated attack: 90,000 infantry troops and 150 tanks crossed the border at the 38th parallel and overran South Korean positions” (Dunar 55). The North Korean offensive eventually took over the capital of South Korea’s Seoul, and as a response, President Truman demanded “the use of American’ ground troops”, the Navy and the Air Force (Dunar 56). Curiosity arose, many were wondering why didn’t Truman employ the US’s atomic bombs. At the time, the United States was the only nation that was advanced enough to deploy multiple atomic bombs, besides the Soviet Union, who was still in the process of developing the bombs.

From what we know, the United States was considering the use of atomic bombs to quickly end the war without losing much the allies’ troops and resources. President Truman even “sent two groups of B-29 bombers to the UK and Guam in July. The planes carried atom bombs which were complete except for their fissile plutonium cores which remained in the United States. If Truman decided to resort to the bomb, the UK bomber group would target the USSR and the group in Guam would target North Korea and China” (Pierson). Later in 1950, “at his November 30 press conference, Truman terrified the world. Truman answered a question about the potential use of the atomic bomb by saying that use of the bomb in Korea had always been under ‘active consideration’”(Pierson). With a plan in his mind and a great position to deploy the bombs to his enemies, why exactly didn’t President Truman use it?

Even General Douglas MacArthur who “opposed dropping the bomb on Japan”, yet “requested atomic bombs from the Joint Chiefs of Staff” to be used against North Korea (Pierson). MacArthur’s request was denied because of it was not strategical, but there were more reasons against it. Truman had many reasons for not using the bomb in Korea. As compared to the use of bombs in Japan, they were aimed at large urban centers to force the Emperors of Japan to surrender. But in this case against North Korea, “[they] lacked urban centers to target. The atom bomb was [also] unsuited to Korea’s mountainous terrain” (Pierson). Later on, when China entered the war, they did not “mass in large targetable formations” which made it hard to employ nuclear weapons on its forces (Pierson). Finally, “Truman feared escalation, which could lead to World War Three” (Pierson). After World War II ended in 1945, it was deemed the costliest war in history, many countries including the United States were still in the recovery process. And if the Korean War escalated, many more lives would lose. Even if Truman did not admit it, the use of atomic bombs in the Korean War would make it the war against humanity.

Works Cited

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the Fifties. N.p.: Syracuse UP, 2006. Print.

Dunlap, David W. “1950 | ‘Atomic Bomb Is Not the Weapon’.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Aug. 2017. Web.
“North Korea’s Nuclear Threats, in Focus.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2013. Web.

Pierson, Charles. “The Atomic Bomb and the First Korean War.” N.p., 07 Sept. 2017. Web. war/.

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