The Korean War Primary Source eText

Primary Source

American soldiers attend to a tank climbing out of a hole during the Korean War. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION. American soldiers attend to a tank climbing out of a hole during the Korean War. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION. Published by Gale Cengage NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION.

Telegram from the State Department to President Truman


By: U.S. State Department

Date: June 24, 1950

Source: Telegram from the State Department to President Truman. June 24, 1950. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: The U.S. State Department is the United States' leading foreign affairs agency. Led by the Secretary of State, who serves as the president's primary foreign affairs advisor, the department presents U.S. policies and aims to the rest of the world. The State Department maintains embassies and consulates in most nations to support U.S. travellers abroad and to promote U.S. interests and cultural exchanges with foreign countries to foster better relations.

Telegram to President Truman


By: John Foster Dulles and John Allison

Date: June 25, 1950

Source: Dulles, John Foster, and John Allison. Telegram to President Truman. June 25, 1950. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: John Foster Dulles (1888–1959) served in the Army during World War I before being appointed to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of ailing Senator Robert F. Wagner. After World War II, Dulles was tasked by President Harry Truman (served 1945–1953) to serve as a special representative to negotiate a peace treaty with Japan. He was appointed Secretary of State under the Dwight Eisenhower (served 1953–1961) administration and resigned in 1959 due to poor health. Shortly before his death later that year, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

John Allison (1905–1978) had a career in the foreign service. Throughout the 1950s he held posts as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Indonesia, and Czechoslovakia.

"President Truman's Conversation with George M. Elsey"


By: George M. Elsey

Date: June 26, 1950

Source: Elsey, George M. "President Truman's Conversation with George M. Elsey." June 26, 1950. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: George M. Elsey (1918–?) served in the U.S. Naval Reserves before joining the White House staff in the mid-1940s. From 1949 to 1951 he served as Administrative Assistant to the President during the Harry Truman administration. Later in his career, Elsey led the American Red Cross.

Address to the American People on the Situation in Korea


By: Harry S. Truman

Date: July 19, 1950

Source: Truman, Harry S. Address to the American People on the Situation in Korea. July 19, 1950. Available online at (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: Harry Truman (1884–1972) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 and then served as President Franklin Roosevelt's (served 1933–1945) vice president in 1945. Following Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, Truman was sworn in as the thirty-third U.S. president. After World War II (1939–1945), he directed the United States to become the world's dominant power in the postwar era, which led to the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.


In the closing days of World War II, the Soviet Union and United States rushed to control territory formerly occupied by Germany in Europe and Japan in East Asia. Japan, which had controlled the Korean Peninsula since its annexation in 1910, began to remove its forces to devote more of its resources to defending the main islands of Japan from U.S. assaults. Following the official surrender of Japan to the United States on August 15, 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to partition the newly independent Korea at the thirty-eighth parallel. The Soviet Union would aid Koreans in the removal of Japanese forces remaining in the northern half of the peninsula, while U.S. troops would do the same in the southern half.

Korean leaders soon emerged on both sides of the parallel, with the Soviet Union and the United States aiding the formation of national governments in the North and South, respectively. The official separation of Korea came in 1948, when the North installed a communist national structure and proclaimed itself the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, while citizens in the South developed a noncommunist government. In the months leading up to June 1950, tension increased on both sides of the demarcation as officials in the North and South,

echoed by their counterparts in the Soviet Union and the United States, proclaimed their right to control the entire peninsula. On June 25, 1950, the North initiated a full-scale invasion of South Korea.


Late in evening of June 24, 1950, the State Department forwarded to President Truman an emergency message it had received from officers in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The telegram described an "all out offense against" the Republic of Korea by communist forces from the North. On June 25, John Foster Dulles and John Allison provided analysis on the Korean conflict. The authors emphasized that the United States must be prepared to intervene if South Korean forces proved unable to defeat the Northern invasion force and that the refusal to do so would lead to world war. According to recollections by George M. Elsey, President Truman had reached the same conclusion by the next day. In terms that fore-shadowed the domino theory, Truman argued that communists in other sections of the world, especially the Middle East, would soon attack if the United States did not counter the North Korean aggression. Thus, within a few hours of the attack, influential policy makers in the Truman administration and Truman himself had concluded that the United States must immediately aid South Korea with military force.

The perspectives offered in these secret communications helped construct the president's public justification for U.S. involvement in the Korean War, given on July 19. In that address, Truman emphasized that the security of the United States and the world rested on whether the United States would enter the conflict. In the remainder of the speech, Truman described the necessity of instituting many of the policies initially supported by the National Security Council Document 68 in April 1950. The president called for massive increases in military spending, foreign aid, and domestic economic production to strengthen the United States and the global anticommunist cause. In many respects, Truman's characterization of the Korean conflict shaped the language later presidents used to persuade Americans to support intervention in Vietnam.

Primary Source: Telegram from the State Department to President Truman

SYNOPSIS: In the following document, the State Department reports to President Truman about the North Korean advance on South Korea. Even though this information is not completely digested, it appears that the invasion is well organized and can be considered to be an "all out offensive" against South Korea.

From: The State Department, Washington D.C. The Secretary of State requested the following message be transmitted to the President: To the President

From Seoul To Secretary of State

No nine two five cma June two five cma one zero able mike


Sent department nine two five cma repeated information cincfe.

According Korean army reports which partly confirmed by Kmag field adciqzr reports cma North Korean forces invaded rok territory at several points this morning. Action was initiated about four able mike Ongjin blasted by North Korean artillery fire. About six able mike North Korean infantry commenced crossing parallel in Ongjin area cma Kaesong area cma Chunchon area and amphibious landing was reportedly made south of Kangnung on East Coast. Kaesong was reportedly made captured at nine able mike with some one zero North Korean tanks participating in operation. North Korean forces cma spearheaded by tanks, reportedly closing in on Chunchon. Details of fighting in Kangnung area unclear, although it seems North Korean forces have cut highway. Am conferring with Kmag advisors and Korean officials this morning re situation. It would appear from nature of attack and manner in which it was launched it constitutes all out offensive against rok.

Primary Source: Telegram to President Truman [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In this document, John Dulles and John Allison suggest that if in the event South Korea cannot defend itself and repulse the North Korean forces, the United States should be prepared to enter the conflict. They suggest that if the United States fails to act, it is possible that "a disastrous chain of events" may lead to another "world war."

Tokyo, June 25, 1950

[Received June 25, 1950, 10:35 a.m.]

It is possible that the South Koreans may themselves contain and repulse the attack and, if so, this is the best way. If, however, it appears that they cannot do so, then we believe that United States force should be used.… To sit by while Korea is over run by unprovoked armed attack would start a disastrous chain of events leading most probably to world war. We suggest that the Security Council might call for action on behalf of the organization under Article 106 by the five powers or such of them as are willing to respond.

Primary Source: "President Truman's Conversation with George M. Elsey"

SYNOPSIS: In the following document, Elsey describes the conversation he had with President Truman about the unfolding events in Korea. Though the president was concerned about South Korea, Elsey states that Truman was more worried about where the communists would attack next: the Middle East.

June 26, 1950—Monday

Subject: President Truman's conversations with George M. Elsey.

Immediately after the first statement was finished and while Charlie Ross was taking it off for mimeographing, I stayed behind to chat with the President about the significance of Korea. I expressed my very grave concern about Formosa. I said it seemed to me this was the perfect course for the Chinese communists to take.

The President walked over to the globe standing in front of the fireplace and said he was more worried about other parts of the world. He said he had ordered MacArthur to give ammunition to the Koreans, that the Air Force and the Navy were to protect the evacuation of Americans. That much was easy and clear. But what he was worried about, the President said, was the Middle East. He put his finger on Iran and said: "Here is where they will start trouble if we aren't careful."

"Korea," he said, "is the Greece of the Far East. If we are tough enough now, if we stand up to them like we did in Greece three years ago, they won't take any next steps. But if we just stand by, they'll move into Iran and they'll take over the whole Middle East. There's no telling what they'll do, if we don't put up a fight now."

The President appeared sincerely determined to go very much further than the initial orders that he had approved for General MacArthur the evening before.

Primary Source: Address to the American People on the Situation in Korea [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In the following excerpt, Truman provides his justifications for intervention and further emphasizes the need for national unity during this crisis. Before an armistice ended hostilities on July 27, 1953, more than thirty thousand U.S. soldiers, two million Koreans, and three hundred thousand Chinese would be killed in the conflict. The division between North and South Korea remained at the thirty-eighth parallel—the same as before the war.

My fellow citizens:

At noon today I sent a message to the Congress about the situation in Korea. I want to talk to you tonight about that situation, and about what it means to the security of the United States and to our hopes for peace in the world.

Korea is a small country, thousands of miles away, but what is happening there is important to every American.

On Sunday, June 25th, Communist forces attacked the Republic of Korea.

This attack has made it clear, beyond all doubt, that the international Communist movement is willing to use armed invasion to conquer independent nations. An act of aggression such as this creates a very real danger to the security of all free nations. The attack upon Korea was an outright breach of the peace and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. By their actions in Korea, Communist leaders have demonstrated their contempt for the basic moral principles on which the United Nations is founded. This is a direct challenge to the efforts of the free nations to build the kind of world in which men can live in freedom and peace.

This challenge has been presented squarely. We must meet it squarely.

It is important for all of us to understand the essential facts as to how the situation in Korea came about.

Before and during World War II, Korea was subject to Japanese rule. When the fighting stopped, it was agreed that troops of the Soviet Union would accept the surrender of the Japanese soldiers in the northern part of Korea, and that American forces would accept the surrender of the Japanese in the southern part. For this purpose, the 38th parallel was used as the dividing line.

Later, the United Nations sought to establish Korea as a free and independent nation. A commission was sent out to supervise a free election in the whole of Korea. However, this election was held only in the southern part of the country, because the Soviet Union refused to permit an election for this purpose to be held in the northern part. Indeed, the Soviet authorities even refused to permit the United Nations Commission to visit northern Korea.

Nevertheless, the United Nations decided to go ahead where it could. In August 1948 the Republic of Korea was established as a free and independent nation in that part of Korea south of the 38th parallel.

In December 1948, the Soviet Union stated that it had withdrawn its troops from northern Korea and that a local government had been established there. However, the Communist authorities never have permitted the United Nations observers to visit northern Korea to see what was going on behind that part of the Iron Curtain.

It was from that area, where the Communist authorities have been unwilling to let the outside world see what was going on, that the attack was launched against the Republic of Korea on June 25th. That attack came without provocation and without warning. It was an act of raw aggression, without a shadow of justification.

I repeat that it was an act of raw aggression. It had no justification whatever.

The Communist invasion was launched in great force, with planes, tanks, and artillery. The size of the attack, and the speed with which it was followed up, make it perfectly plain that it had been plotted long in advance.

As soon as word of the attack was received, Secretary of State Acheson called me at Independence, Mo., and informed me that, with my approval, he would ask for an immediate meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council met just 24 hours after the Communist invasion began.

One of the main reasons the Security Council was set up was to act in such cases as this—to stop outbreaks of aggression in a hurry before they develop into general conflicts. In this case the Council passed a resolution which called for the invaders of Korea to stop fighting, and to withdraw. The Council called on all members of the United Nations to help carry out this resolution. The Communist invaders ignored the action of the Security Council and kept fight on with their attack.

The Security Council then met again. It recommended that members of the United Nations help the Republic of Korea repel the attack and help restore peace and security in that area.

Fifty-two of the 59 countries which are members of the United Nations have given their support to the action taken by the Security Council to restore peace in Korea.

These actions by the United Nations and its members are of great importance. The free nations have now made it clear that lawless aggression will be met with force. The free nations have learned the fateful lesson of the 1930's. That lesson is that aggression must be met firmly. Appeasement leads only to further aggression and ultimately to war.

The principal effort to help the Koreans preserve their independence, and to help the United Nations restore peace, has been made by the United States. We have sent land, sea, and air forces to assist in these operations. We have done this because we know that what is at stake here is nothing less than our own national security and the peace of the world.

So far, two other nations—Australia and Great Britain—have sent planes to Korea; and six other nations—Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and New Zealand—have made naval forces available.

Under the flag of the United Nations a unified command has been established for all forces of the members of the United Nations fighting in Korea. Gen. Douglas MacArthur is the commander of this combined force.

The prompt action of the United Nations to put down lawless aggression, and the prompt response to this action by free peoples all over the world, will stand as a landmark in mankind's long search for a rule of law among nations.…

For our part, we shall continue to support the United Nations action to restore peace in the world.…

Furthermore, the fact that Communist forces have invaded Korea is a warning that there may be similar acts of aggression in other parts of the world. The free nations must be on their guard, more than ever before, against this kind of sneak attack.

It is obvious that we must increase our military strength and preparedness immediately. There are three things we need to do.

First, we need to send more men, equipment, and supplies to General MacArthur.

Second, in view of the world situation, we need to build up our own Army, Navy, and Air Force over and above what is needed in Korea.

Third, we need to speed up our work with other countries in strengthening our common defenses.

To help meet these needs, I have already authorized increases in the size of our Armed Forces. These increases will come in part from volunteers, in part from Selective Service, and in part from the National Guard and the Reserves.

I have also ordered that military supplies and equipment be obtained at a faster rate.

The necessary increases in the size of our Armed Forces, and the additional equipment they must have, will cost about $10 billion, and I am asking the Congress to appropriate the amount required.

These funds will be used to train men and equip them with tanks, planes, guns, and ships, in order to build the strength we need to help assure peace in the world.

When we have worked out with other free countries an increased program for our common defense, I shall recommend to the Congress that additional funds be provided for this purpose. This is of great importance. The free nations face a worldwide threat. It must be met with a worldwide defense. The United States and other free nations can multiply their strength by joining with one another in a common effort to provide this defense. This is our best hope for peace.

The things we need to do to build up our military defense will require considerable adjustment in our domestic economy. We have a tremendously rich and productive economy, and it is expanding every year.…

We have the resources to meet our needs. Far more important, the American people are unified in their belief in democratic freedom. We are united in detesting Communist slavery.

We know that the cost of freedom is high. But we are determined to preserve our freedom—no matter what the cost.

I know that our people are willing to do their part to support our soldiers and sailors and airmen who are fighting in Korea. I know that our fighting men can count on each and every one of you.

Our country stands before the world as an example of how free men, under God, can build a community of neighbors, working together for the good of all.

That is the goal we seek not only for ourselves, but for all people. We believe that freedom and peace are essential if men are to live as our Creator intended us to live. It is this faith that has guided us in the past, and it is this faith that will fortify us in the stern days ahead.

Further Resources


Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 2, The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Hamby, Alonzo L. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Hogan, Michael J. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945–1954. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

McCulloch, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.


"Cold War." Special Reports, CNN. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).

"June 24–July 1, 1950—Outbreak of the Korean War: Week of Decision." Project WhistleStop, Truman Presidential Museum and Library. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed June 18, 2003).


The Cold War. Original release, 1998. CNN/Turner Home Video, 2002, VHS.