The Korean War, 1950–1953

A Historiographical Summary

Authored by: James I. Matray

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415888479
eBook ISBN: 9781135070991
Adobe ISBN: 9781135071028


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On July 27, 1953, an armistice halted the fighting in Korea. Coincidentally, interpretive peace also was taking hold among historians and political scientists on the causes, course, and meaning of the Korean War. Serious debate did not begin until scholars had rejected the credibility of an orthodox judgment that for almost two decades dominated accounts of the Korean conflict. Prior to the 1970s, few histories challenged President Harry S. Truman’s public declaration on June 27, 1950 that the North Korean attack on South Korea proved that “communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.” 1 To date, sharp differences persist on almost every critical issue, but with two notable exceptions. First, Korean War scholars have reached agreement that this conflict marked a watershed in postwar international affairs, militarizing the Soviet-American competition and extending the Cold War to the entire world. Second, a consensus now prevails that the origins of the Korean conflict date from at least World War II. By contrast, the most important question that has constituted for some time the great divide in the literature on the Korean War is whether it was more an international conflict or a civil war.

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