Armagideon Time

Having completed my study of the 1966 to 1972 run of LIFE Magazine, cialis sale I’ve turned my attention to charting the charting the course of the Korean War as it was reported in “America’s most popular magazine.”

The periodical’s weekly publishing schedule is ideal for tracking the conflict’s multiple reverses of fortune as they unfolded in real time, psychiatrist where daily updates would be glacially incremental and monthly ones too compressed to capture the ever-fluid zeitgeist. In addition, page LIFE‘s center-right — which in many ways downright progressive in comparison to the present definition of the term — editorial stance and cultivated branding as the magazine for the masses provide glimpses of the pulse of the “American mainstream” as envisioned at the time.

LIFE‘s coverage of and commentary about the Korean War serves to chronicle the evolution of America’s foreign policy and its constituent ideologies as they encountered the reality of the Cold War’s first major incident of institutionalized bloodletting.

When the North Koreans first crossed the 38th parallel and sent the outgunned ROK and US forces staggering back to Pusan, the editorial attitude was as sanguine as it was detatched from any semblance of geo-political (or ethical) reality. The attack was viewed as an opening salvo heralding the start of World War III, and thus justfied such response fantasies as sending the Nationalist Chinese remnants to attack mainland China, arming Eastern Bloc political refugees to attack the Soviets, or lobbing a dozen A-bombs at the issue to prove America’s commitment to the anti-communist cause.

The initial stuggles of the 8th Army’s peacetime garrison force spurred talk of massive rearmament (which did indeed come to pass and has yet to truly ratchet down, sixty years and trillions of dollars later). The recapture of Seoul and the rout of North Korean forces following the Inchon landings were seen as the likely end of the conflict, though not without a certain degree of editorial salivation over the possibility of reunifying all of Korea under Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s battle flag.

That Red China might object to such a adventure was swiftly pooh-poohed with assertions that Mao’s legions of poorly equipped conscripts were no match for modern American airpower and too terrified of Chiang Kai-shek’s forces to make a move. Even when such moments of unjustified optimism were disproved, LIFE’s editors were slow in accepting the reality and proferred lopsided casualty counts and the conspiratorial spectre of Joe-Stalin-as-puppet-master to offset the new wave of reversals.

These events all took place within the first twelve months of the Korean War. The remaining two years of the conflict were spent in a bloody stalemate waged across a rough approximation of the pre-war border. Though MacArthur’s aura of exaggerated and self-serving glory — set against President Truman’s tarnished rep — did draw a degree of support for his plan to take the war to China in the form of an atomic bombardment, long months of attrition sans gain took its toll on LIFE’s enthusiasm for a worldwide military crusade against communism. “Rollback” fell by the wayside, and “containment” and “contest by proxy” became the acceptable policy buzzwords by the time President Eisenhower finally brought the matter to a close…if you mark closure by a DMZ and sixty years of overt and covert hostilities between the Koreas.

During its superficially introspective exploration of America’s new role as the Top Cop of the Free World, LIFE came to the conclusion that such a task would require a better understanding of the globe and its many peoples. Communists may have be a sinister lot united by hatred of Jesus, Coca-Cola, and white picket fences, but their appeal to the benighted masses in Not America varied depending on local conditions. Understanding these dreams and aspirations of these poor souls was important for thwarting the Reds, as was treating the Not Americans with dignity and respect so that one could better impart our better ways upon them…

…but not if it got in the way of running a choice bit of wartime levity in the magazine’s September 11, 1950 issue, of course.

America might not be too skilled in proselytizing the principles of free-market democracy, but we’re masters in spreading another enduring facet of our national character.

4 Responses to “Our Classy History: An all-American education”

  1. Sol B

    Just…wow. J(ingoist)ournalism!

  2. Matt Jeske

    Interesting that Stalin was though to be the hidden master, and their reluctance to seriously consider Mao’s China.

  3. Will

    All Communism was considered monolithic and Moscow pulling the strings, later on people will notice there are differences and work on that i.e Nixon going to China

  4. bitterandrew

    Apart from Yugoslavia’s Tito, the “marginally acceptable communist.”

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