The Cold War between the Communists and the Western Worlds began in earnest at the end of World War II. In order to maintain political prestige among the uncommitted nations of the world, neither side could allow the other any advantage or concession. The Soviets tried to blockade Berlin, and the West answered with the Berlin Airlift (1947-49). In Korea, the armies of both the U.S. and USSR withdrew, but each side armed their respective section of the country. The North Koreans clamored for unification and fomented several armed uprisings in the South in the late 1940s. However, South Korea did not collapse, but grew stronger. This may be why North Korea launched a massive surprise attack against the South on June 25, 1950.
The result of the Korean War was a stalemate, ending not far from where it began. Was the war a loss for the UN and the United States? Many viewed it as such, even while the war was still being fought. General Douglas MacArthur, World War II hero and commander of the UN forces in Korea, wanted complete victory in Korea and advocated attacking bases inside Communist China that were supporting forces in North Korea. But U.S. President Harry S. Truman and other leaders of the UN forces feared that attacking China would lead to a larger conflict that could easily plunge the entire world into World War III. These leaders felt that the human misery and political humiliation associated with pursuing a limited war was preferable to the much greater loss and doubtful outcome of a global war. As it was, Truman was President and Commander-in-Chief; MacArthur was his subordinate. When MacArthur persisted in his opposition to Truman's political and military objectives, Truman replaced MacArthur with a general willing to pursue a limited war.
The Korean War, the first shooting conflict of the Cold War, remained confined to the Korean peninsula. The fact that it did not expand into a wider war helped confirm the West's policy of containment of Communism, a policy which dominated most international relations during the Cold War. Was containment a misguided policy? On the one hand, it prevented a major war. On the other hand, it led to a seemingly endless string of small, bloody battles all over the world: Cuba, Central Africa, South East Asia, Afghanistan, and many others. Containment also led to massive infusions of economic and military aid by leading nations of both the Communist and Western worlds into developing nations considered to be of strategic importance, while others were bypassed. Repressive political regimes were supported in many poor nations in the name of containment. The debate over containment continued through armed conflicts in the 1960s, nuclear stalemate in the 1970s, and on into the present.