Although the Korean War only lasted for just over three years, it was still a bitter, bloody conflict that claimed the lives of over 33,000 American troops. To a considerable extent, the bitterness of the war was down to its ideological edge. This wasn’t just a conflict between different nations, but a struggle between two rival, incompatible ideologies: Western liberal democracy and Communism.
There was also a nationalistic edge to the Korean War on the part of the North Korean Communists. They believed that the divided Korean peninsula should become one country, united under Northern leadership. In their propaganda, they and their Chinese allies portrayed the Americans as imperialists hell-bent on using Korea as a launchpad for further territorial expansion.
When General MacArthur drove North Korean forces back over the 38th Parallel, it seemed that the Americans were going to unite the peninsula by force, using their allies in the South Korean government as proxy rulers. However, the intervention of the Communist Chinese in support of their North Korean allies totally wrecked this offensive strategy. Instead, the United States had to remain satisfied with keeping the North Koreans out of the South.
In the event, the more limited defensive strategy was successful, not least because Truman had fired MacArthur for insubordination, making a long, destructive war with the Chinese less likely. With MacArthur out of the way and the war descending into a stalemate, it finally became possible to envisage some kind of peace treaty to end the conflict. It duly came on July 27, 1953, and though the South Koreans gained extra territory as a consequence of the treaty, the Korean peninsula looked remarkably similar at the end of the war to what it had been at the start.