U.S. Geological Survey

The Korean War

In late June 1950, the uneasy peace that followed World War II was shattered by the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, and defense again became the underlying theme of national policy. The Geological Survey made an effort to continue the regular program, but of necessity the staffing of defense activities caused delays or interruptions in other programs. About three-fourths of the mineral-deposits investigations were focused on strategic minerals. The military geology program was expanded, as was the search for radioactive raw materials. The new program of urban geology was accelerated to aid in civil defense. In response to a request from the Army's Corps of Engineers, the topographic mapping program was expanded in an effort to complete mapping of about 600,000 square miles of strategic importance in 6 years. A unit newly established to investigate the quantity and quality of water required to produce various manufactured products began with an investigation of the needs of the steel industry. The Geological Survey was also given new responsibilities under the Defense Production Act of 1950, which provided for stockpiling of critical materials, including, for the Defense Minerals Administration, the evaluation of applications for loans and the preparation and enforcement of contracts for the loans. The Petroleum Administration for Defense called on the Survey to make a special geologic investigation of the newly discovered Scurry Reef in Texas to aid in planning its development. At the same time, activities in foreign geology increased in scope and tempo under the Mutual Security Act of 1951.

The Korean War heightened concern about long-term materials supply in a world that felt threatened by Soviet expansionism. In January 1951, President Truman established a Presidential Commission to make an objective inquiry into the major aspects of the problem. The Survey furnished a full-time liaison and consultant and made studies of marginal ore reserves of several mineral commodities and of exploration and discovery practices for several important minerals for the Commission. The Commission in its report in June 1952 concluded that both the Government and private citizens must be involved in ensuring a long-term supply and that the effort should be carried on "not periodically at wide-spaced intervals, but day by day and year by year."32

A cease-fire and armistice in Korea had been proposed in June 1951, 6 months after the Commission was appointed and a year before it issued its report, but the truce talks were stalemated for 2 years so there could be no complete return to peacetime conditions. When the armistice was finally concluded in the summer of 1953, a new Republican administration with a different perspective and the avowed purpose of reducing Government spending, balancing the budget, and reducing taxes had taken over in Washington. President Dwight Eisenhower called for a cooperative effort in resource development to "level off peaks and valleys"33 in the economy, but the Appropriations Committee concluded that the Interior Department should be concerned only with functions or activities that private enterprise could not or would not undertake. Progress in the development of a minerals policy was suspended.

U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior
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Last updated 04.10.00