Harry S. Truman
April 13, 1951
…In the simplest of terms, what we are doing in Korea is this: We are trying to prevent a third world war.
I think most people in this country recognized that fact last June. And they warmly supported the decision of the Government to help the Re-public of Korea against the Communist aggressors. Now, many persons, even some who applauded our decision to defend Korea, have forgotten the basic reason for our action.
It is right for us to be in Korea. It was right last June. It is right today…
The question we have had to face is whether the Communist plan of conquest can be stopped without general war. Our Government and other countries associated with us in the United Nations believe that the best chance of stopping it without general war is to meet the attack in Korea and defeat it there.
That is what we have been doing. It is a difficult and bitter task. But so far it has been successful…
So far, by fighting a limited war in Korea, we have prevented aggression from succeeding, and bringing on a general war. And the ability of the whole free world to resist Communist aggression has been greatly improved.
We have taught the enemy a lesson. He has found out that aggression is not cheap or easy. Moreover, men all over the world who want to remain free have been given new courage and new hope. They know now that the champions of freedom can stand up and fight and that they will stand up and fight…
We do not want to see the conflict in Korea extended. We are trying to prevent a world war—not to start one. The best way to do that is to make it plain that we and the other free countries will continue to resist the attack.
But you may ask, why can’t we take other steps to punish the aggressor. Why don’t we bomb Manchuria and China itself? Why don’t we assist Chinese Nationalist troops to land on the mainland of China?
If we were to do these things we would be running a very grave risk of starting a general war. If that were to happen, we would have brought about the exact situation we are trying to prevent.
If we were to do these things, we would become entangled in a vast conflict on the continent of Asia and our task would become immeasurably more difficult all over the world.
What would suit the ambitions of the Kremlin better than for our military forces to be committed to a full-scale war with Red China? […]
I believe that we must try to limit the war in Korea for these vital reasons: to make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted; to see that the security of our country and the free world is not jeopardized; and to prevent a third world war.
A number of events have made it evident that General MacArthur did not agree with that policy. I have therefore considered it essential to relieve General MacArthur so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.
It was with the deepest personal regret that I found myself compelled to take this action. General MacArthur is one of our greatest military commanders. But the cause of world peace is more important than any individual.
The change in commands in the Far East means no change whatever in the policy of the United States. We will carry on the fight in Korea with vigor and determination in an effort to bring the war to a speedy and successful conclusion.
We are ready, at any time, to negotiate for a restoration of peace in the area. But we will not engage in appeasement. We are only interested in real peace…
In the hard fighting in Korea, we are proving that collective action among nations is not only a high principle but a workable means of resisting aggression. Defeat of aggression in Korea may be the turning point in the world’s search for a practical way of achieving peace and security.
The struggle of the United Nations in Korea is a struggle for peace. The free nations have united their strength in an effort to prevent a third world war.
That war can come if the Communist rulers want it to come. But this Nation and its allies will not be responsible for its coming.
We do not want to widen the conflict. We will use every effort to prevent that disaster. And, in so doing, we know that we are following the great principles of peace, freedom, and justice.