Making good on his most dramatic presidential campaign promise, newly elected Dwight D. Eisenhower goes to Korea to see whether he can find the key to ending the bitter and frustrating Korean War.
During the presidential campaign of 1952, Republican candidate Eisenhower was critical of the Truman administration’s foreign policy, particularly its inability to bring an end to the conflict in Korea. President Truman challenged Eisenhower on October 24 to come up with an alternate policy. Eisenhower responded with the startling announcement that if he were elected, he would personally go to Korea to get a firsthand view of the situation. The promise boosted Eisenhower’s popularity and he handily defeated Democratic candidate Adlai E. Stevenson.
Shortly after his election, Eisenhower fulfilled his campaign pledge, though he was not very specific about exactly what he hoped to accomplish. After a short stay he returned to the United States, yet remained mum about his plans concerning the Korean War. After taking office, however, Eisenhower adopted a get-tough policy toward the communists in Korea. He suggested that he would “unleash” the Nationalist Chinese forces on Taiwan against communist China, and he sent only slightly veiled messages that he would use any force necessary (including the use of nuclear weapons) to bring the war to an end unless peace negotiations began to move forward. The Chinese, exhausted by more than two years of war, finally agreed to terms and an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Almost 40,000 Americans died in action and more than 100,000 were wounded in this “forgotten war,” and the U.S. spent nearly $70 billion. The most frustrating war in U.S. history had come to an end. America’s first experience with a “limited war,” one in which the nation did not seek (and did not obtain) absolute victory over the enemy, did not bode well for the future. Conflict in Vietnam was just around the corner.
READ MORE: Why the Korean War Hasn't Officially Ended