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The goals of the United States were to prevent North Korea from taking South Korea and unifying the two countries under a communist regime. This was part of the larger American policy of containment: to stop the spread of communism into areas where it did not exist.
The war began when troops from North Korea crossed over the 38th Parallel (which divided the two countries.) A secondary plan was to force American troops in South Korea to withdraw. President Harry Truman saw this as an attempt by the Soviet Union to spread its own influence as well as expand the communist bloc. In a speech to Congress, he stated:
The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.
The Korean War was actually a United Nations "police action," although the United States was a major participant. The plan was to force the North Korean troops back across the 38th Parallel and maintain the stability of the area. The war ended when President Dwight Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons, and the Soviets (as well as the Chinese, who were now involved) backed down.
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