What were the similarities and differences between the impacts of the Korean War and the Vietnam War on the presidency?

  • Created by: pinderj
  • Created on: 12-12-16 10:12

What were the similarities and differences between the impacts of the Korean War and the Vietnam War on the presidency?


  • Both Korea and Vietnam were examples of how the Cold War had shifted Presidential attention away from domestic policy, to focus more on international affairs. All domestic policy had to go through Congress whereas presidents had more freedom to act alone in foreign affairs.
  • Both wars were a fight against communism.
  • In both cases, the president came under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to scale up the war effort to take a harder line against communism.
  • Also, the behaviour of various parts of the government during the wars contributed to the disillusionment with the presidency and government in general
  • The US suffered heavy losses (both in terms of men/resources and credibility) in both wars - arguably more so because of their involvement in the Vietnam War because this was the first war in which the USA had suffered defeat.
  • The  Vietnam War created similar defence budget concerns as the Korean War. Spending on the war is said to have contributed to the rising inflation of the period.


  • The Vietnam War began when the French were driven out of Vietnam by communist Vietnamese rebels in 1954. The UN intervened to divide the country into a Democratic South and a communist North. By contrast, rather than entering into a full-blown war, Truman was keen to fight a ‘limited war’ keeping North Koreans in North Korea. Therefore, Truman stressed that it wasn’t the US going to war but the UN (this haunted him throughout the war as he was criticised for not doing enough. The events occurred at the time of America’s Second Red Scare and Truman wanted to stop mass hysteria and calls for an all-out-war.
  • The USA did not lose the Korean War, although it would be inaccurate to claim either side made significant gains - whereas the USA definitively lost the Vietnam War. People were relieved the USA was out of the war, but they were also humiliated to have fought a ‘dirty’ war, lost it and left it in such a scramble, leaving many South Vietnamese in the lurch.  Vietnam was the first war that the USA had lost, and the first which was seen by so many to have been fought less than honourably and ended humiliatingly.  Many people were now likely to look more critically at the role and behaviour of the president in any future wars.
  • The USA was fighting a guerrilla war in Vietnam, where often it couldn’t distinguish enemies from allies – where some of the population were involved in helping the rebels and some were not. The final withdrawal from Vietnam came in 1975, troop withdrawals having started in 1969.
  • There was a significant loss of credibility for the government and the presidency as they introduced unpopular policies as the Vietnam War escalated out of control. For example, one of the most unpopular policies was the draft – on the 1st of December 1969, a lottery was held to select men aged 18-26 to fight in Vietnam.

Overall comparison

Korean WarAs a result of US cooperation in the Korean war, control of domestic policy-making began to shift back towards Congress.As the Second World War ended, Republicans grew tired of being part of a co-operative Congress – they wanted to become a real opposition force again and this feeling intensified as they lost seats in the 1949 elections. Truman lost some key Republican allies in Congress and a combination of the Second Red Scare and Truman’s handling of the Korean War presented an opportunity to the Republicans. The Korean War marked a change in the way that the media dealt with the presidency. The media began by promising Truman support, expecting the kind of access and information from the president that they had experience under Roosevelt during the Second World War. However, Truman made the mistake of holding back the media, so to not inflame the anti-communist feeling. The media, desperate for news, took their information from other sources, including Republicans – they became more critical and indulged in pure speculation. On the 7th of July 1950, headlines announced that the president wanted to increase troops (true), using the draft (not true) and was considering using the atomic bomb (not true). Vietnam War


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