The Atlantic

When Words Risk Provoking War

Even if threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” wasn’t intended as an ultimatum, its consequences could be serious.
Source: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

In 1949, the United States withdrew its military forces from the Korean Peninsula. Secretary of State Dean Acheson then gave an important speech defining American national-security interests—which notably excluded Korea. Today, few people recall the military retrenchment by the Truman administration, which sent a powerful signal that America was narrowing its scope of action. It’s not the drawing down of U.S. forces but rather Acheson’s speech that is of American abandonment of South Korea. Words matter: Acheson didn’t cause the Korean war, but his words are remembered as the provocation.

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