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Which Way the Trolley: America’s Hot Wars During the Cold War, Part 1

The contrast between the two Koreas at night is stark in this 2012 NASA image.

We should note here that the Korean War was mostly devalued and mocked by the hugely popular and funny TV series M*A*S*H. The shows, which ran eleven seasons, consistently implied that the war was a waste, producing only carnage. The vocal patriots who were anti-Communist were portrayed as jerks. In one episode, a North Korean MIG fighter pilot lands by mistake in an American airbase and is paraded as a defector. After stating that the war was based on the mistakes of politicians, he flew back to North Korea. This is a gross distortion of not only the war, but of a real incident in which a North Korean pilot actually defected to South Korea after much planning and danger.


The Korean War as trolley parable

Truman pulled the lever for the track that led to the child, not to the stalled van. That is, he made war on the North Koreans, assuming that some or even many civilian casualties would result, but more persons would ultimately be spared from massacre and loss of freedom.

He did so because, like most Americans, he was informed of the facts of past and recurring Communist massacres and genocides. He and informed Americans knew about the forced Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 which killed four to five million Ukrainians, the fearsome purges which decimated Soviet Russia, largely destroyed its Christian heritage, and made that unfortunate country into a tyrannical terror state. Thus for Truman and most of the American public, Communism was a moral evil that was similar to Nazism, and there was a similar moral imperative to oppose it.

In 1947, he proposed the “Truman Doctrine” in reference to Greece and Turkey. In his initial policy declaration, he promised those countries economic and military aid in resisting Soviet pressure and Communist insurgencies. Greece in particular was in immediate danger of falling to Communist insurgents. Those insurgents were being supplied mainly through Yugoslavia, already a Communist state.

The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.[34]

This was the public opening of the Cold War. Truman was buttressed in his confrontation of Communism by the overwhelming support of the American people. Christians in America understood that Communist regimes systematically persecuted Christians, and anti-Communism and American Christianity were firmly allied.[35] Reinhold Niebuhr, then at the height of his popularity and prestige, propagated his insights about the necessity of the use of force to counter evil to the post-War struggle against Communism in print and in the media.[36]

In fact, fighting Communism was seen as a crusade. Its purpose was to help other people as well as safeguard ourselves from a hostile Communist world in the future. General Dwight Eisenhower, the celebrated Allied commander in Europe in WWII (later two term president) wrote an influential memoir in 1948 of the European military campaign against Nazism called, Crusade in Europe, which spelled out the idea of the recent Just War against the Nazis as a crusade.[37] In the 1950s most Americans regarded the struggle against Communism in the same way.

Opposition to the Korean War was a decidedly minority opinion led by leftist American academicians and intellectuals. Many of these were in denial of Stalin’s genocides and purges, and still considered Soviet Communism (and its North Korean ally) a way to prosperity and social justice.[38] For this minority, Communism and its ideology offered hope in a better, more equal future, and an elaborate intellectual structure that claimed to be “scientific.” Its illusion worked splendidly as long as the facts were not checked.[39]

Truman and his generation were further informed by witnessing the debacle of the Munich agreement between Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain a year before the outbreak of World War II. They witnessed Chamberlain attempt to avoid war with Hitler by sacrificing a part of Czechoslovakia, but all that did was delay the war while strengthening Hitler’s army. Thus Truman’s generation understood that not going to war could be moral cowardice (in the trolley parable, Jane not pulling the lever).

That is not to say that Truman automatically decided on war. He and his advisors considered sending American troops to reinforce Chang Kai-Check and his Nationalist Chinese Army in their fight against Mao’s Red Army (1946-1949).[40] Truman assisted the Nationalist Army with arms and supplies – all short of American troops. But the better equipped Nationalist Army was corrupt at its officer corps, exhausted from fighting the Japanese, and was consistently outfought by the Communists peasant troops who were much better motivated by the mythologies of a promised land reform and socialist paradise.

Truman’s decision not to send an American ground army into China probably avoided a long war what would have been a Vietnam-type war writ large.[41] Today, that decision is mostly viewed as the wise course of action. On the other hand, Mao and his Chinese Communists went on to rank among the greatest mass murderers in history, killing perhaps 45 million of their own Chinese people.[42] That tops both Stalin and Hitler. A U.S Army intervention in 1948-1949 might have prevented that great genocide.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2016

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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