White House Publicity Operations During the Korean War, June 1950–June 1951


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. I would also like to thank the Truman Library and the University of London Central Research Fund for the award of travel grants, as well as Randy Sowell, Dennis Bilger, Liz Safly, and Lisa Sullivan at the Truman Library for their helpful assistance.

Steven Casey is a lecturer in international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War against Nazi Germany, and is currently preparing a book entitled Selling the Korean War.


Truman was the first modern president to face the challenge of selling a limited war. Based on a wide range of primary sources, this article explores the impact that the Korean War had on Truman's publicity operations. Whereas all wars place important new demands on presidents to speak out more frequently and forcefully, limited wars place significant constraints on what presidents can say and do. During the Korean War, Truman refused to go public at key moments, often employed rhetoric that was more restrained than at earlier moments of the Cold War, and shied away from creating new structures to coordinate the official message. Such actions also had important consequences. In 1950-51, they hampered the task of effective presidential communication, and contributed to the war's growing unpopularity. For the longer term, they demonstrated the difficulties of selling a limited war, and hence place into sharper context the problems that beset Truman's successors during the subsequent conflict in Vietnam.