I can no longer sit back and allow
Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination,
Communist subversion, and the International Communist conspiracy to
sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
General Jack Ripper
Dr. Strangelove 1963
Avoiding World War III in Asia
For a time, following the entry of Chinese troops in late November 1950, there was widespread concern in the United States that the Korean invasion was the first phase of a Soviet-inspired World War III that would soon engulf Europe as well as Asia. Planning began to simultaneously provide massive support for anti-Communist guerrillas in China and paramilitary activity in Europe. Emergency war plans were drawn up. In this crisis atmosphere, the Department of Defense urged the CIA to begin to accelerate many other war-related programs: evasion and escape planning, the build-up of supplies, training of para-military forces, increased propaganda, encouragement of Soviet defections, economic defense programs, and the like.
Truman's primary concern was preventing World War Three. by its timing, its course, and its outcome it functioned as a substitute for World War III. it helped to prevent the occurrence of an even more destructive conflict in Europe.
In the age of "nuclear holocaust" with fears of World War Three prevalent, President Truman did not want to take any unecessary chances. He was in fear of "gambling his career on an unpopular strategy, and losing." It was at this point in the war that Truman decided on a plan of limited war, i.e., limited objectives. As the fighting continued on the Korean peninsula, many senior US State and Defense officials believed that Korea was the beginning of World War Three. These officials thought that Korea was a distraction and the "real war" would entail a Soviet invasion of Europe.
World leaders' view that the escalation of the war to include atomic weapons may provoke the Soviets into the war on the side of the Chinese. Fear of a similar atomic response from the Soviets may launch World War Three. President Truman responded by announcing that only the President could authorize the use of atomic weapons, thus comforting the world with the belief that this limited war would not escalate into a total war using atomic weapons.
Truman's decision to commit American power to save South Korea from Communist aggression in late June 1950 stands as perhaps America's finest moment of the Cold War. By making a difficult commitment, by sacrificing over 30,000 American lives in the end, Truman upheld Western values and interests where they were directly threatened.
The United States and Soviet Union engaged in an arms race involving weapons of land, sea, and air. There was even a competition in space. There were crises. A few crises did become wars (e.g., Korean and Vietnam Wars). The Cuban Missile Crisis came close to igniting World War III.
Operation ANADYR, as the secret deployment of the Soviet missiles in Cuba that led to the showdown with the United States in October 1962 was code-named, proved to be the most dangerous moment during the Cold War. The two superpowers were face to face in a dispute over nuclear weapons. Had either Kennedy or his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev reacted too sharply, the crisis would have escalated into the Third World War. The US naval quarantine of Cuba was accompanied by a series of military and diplomatic moves and countermoves which were not all authorized by the political leadership of the two main opponents. Remarkably enough, Khrushchev stepped back after a week of taut confrontation.
During Vietnam, Johnson was preoccupied with the fear of war with China or even worse, World War Three and nuclear confrontation.
After two decades of skirting World War III in the Pacific, the focus turned to Europe. The Pacific theater was neglected in in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war because most war scenarios envisioned a struggle lasting no more than 30 to 60 days. As a result, the conflictis over too quickly in most scenarios for the interrelationships between the NATO and Pacific theaters to develop conceptually. However, in a long-war scenario, the Pacific theater's importance in the course and outcome of such a conflict becomes apparent. The military, industrial, and technological potential of the Pacific nations, especially China and Japan, combined with the U.S., constitute a reserve of strength capable of containing or reversing any Soviet success in a conventional conflict in Europe.
NATO and the U.S. Pacific Command seemed to be preparing for different wars. Because the conventional balance favored the Soviets in Europe, NATO held out the possibility that the allies might resort to nuclear weapons to halt a conventional attack by the Soviet Union. Thus, NATO refused to abandon a "first use" nuclear option, even though Moscow's buildup in strategic, theater, and tactical nuclear weapons had rendered NATO's nuclear threat less and less credible. US commanders in the Pacific, on the other hand, favored a conventional war because US naval forces enjoyed an edge in that area over the Soviet Pacific Fleet. In short-war scenarios, the conflict would be over too quickly for the interrelationships between the two theaters to develop conceptually. So NATO and the Pacific Command planned for two separate wars.
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