HST and the Cold War in the Far East

If Harry Truman had had his way he would have continued being a senator from Missouri instead of presiding over the Senate as Vice President of the United States.  One rainy afternoon on April 12 1945, while Truman was gathered with Democratic bigwigs in the Speaker of the House’s office for a drink and some gossip,  he received a message to call the White House as soon he could.  He made the call and was told told to get to the Executive Mansion as fast as possible.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died in Hot Springs, Georgia.  Harry Truman was now the President of the United States.  In a few minutes he had gone from the presiding officer of the United States Senate to Commander in Chief of American armed forces worldwide.

Truman would be president for the last four months of World War II.  He would be the one who made the decision to drop two atom bombs on Japan to bring the war to a sudden close.  To the west of Japan, the Korean peninsula, which had been under control of Japan, was liberated in the north by the Soviet Union and in south by the United States.  The Americans and the Russians agreed on the 38th parallel as the border between South Korea and North Korea.  Both countries withdrew their troops in 1948, the same year Harry Truman pulled a political upset and beat New York governor  Thomas Dewey in a close presidential election. The president wanted to get the United States off the war footing where it had been for the last nine years.  He thought it was time for federal government to spend money on the domestic front:  housing, schools, etc.  After his election, Truman submitted a budget that cut the military expenses by a lot.  Most of the defense dollars went to support the American military in Europe, where the Russians had gained control of Eastern Europe and closed the border between East and West Germany  (with British, French, and American sectors of occupancy).  By this time the Russians had successfully tested their own atom bomb, causing the men who advised the president on national security to pause and reflect the course the nation was taking with its foreign policy.

So soon after the close of World War II, the President of the United States did not have the security advisers the occupant of the White House does today.  The National Security Council was only three years old in 1950, and this period was before  the likes of Henry Kissinger,  Zbigniew Brzezinski, and other global security experts. The  United States and its western allies had won World War II along with the Soviet Union, who had taken  over Eastern Europe and as Winston Churchill had said famously in the speech had gave at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘Iron Curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia;...”(1)

Two years later, the Chinese Communists sent the Nationalists high tailing to Formosa, thereby winning the Chinese Civil War.

Even though the United States had been involved in the liberation of  South Korea from the Japanese, that part of Korea was not included in the nation’s defense plans.  At this point, the United States had it’s hands full governing Japan as part of its occupation duties, so President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson decided to leave South Korea to the United Nations, who wanted to hold elections across the entire country, both north or south.  The Communists in the north opposed this as they had in eastern Europe.   The chief executive of the Republic of Korea, Syngman Rhee, agreed with the UN, and threatened to invade the People’s Republic of Korea, so when the United States withdrew their troops from the south, they left the South Korean leader with limited arms for his army.   One volume of the  Foreign Relations of the United States for 1950(2) describes the status of the Republic of Korea (ROK) from the point of the United States Department of State in the six months prior to the start of the Korean War.

The correspondence between the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Department of State personnel  revealed two problems causing dissension   between the two countries:  inflation in ROK and that nation’s movement  away from democratic processes. (3)   In April 1950, the focus changed markedly when Secretary Acheson received a communication from Korea describing the Korean Army ‘s victory over an estimated 600 North Korean trained guerrillas near the border. (4)

In a May issue of U. S. News and World Report, Senator Tom Connelly (D. Tex), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the United States would eventually abandon South Korea to the Communists.  The Secretary, Mr. Acheson, and others in the State Department fought back, denying that Connelly’s opinion was the policy of the United States government.   President Rhee told Ambassador John Muccio he resented the United States’ reluctance to supply his armed forces with surplus F-51 planes, particularly when the North Koreans were building their armed forces. (5)   Within weeks the American Embassy in Seoul sent recommendations for furnishing F-51s to the South Koreans. (6)

Throughout May 1950, Ambassador Muccio tried to get the Secretary and other top officials of the State Department to mention Korea in speeches and other communications with the press and invite people from other government departments to visit Korea when they were in the Far East. (7)

On June 23,  the State Department received a recommendation from the embassy to reduce personnel in KMAG (U.S. Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea) because the ROK Army was doing so well on its own. (8)  Early the next morning the North Korean  Army attacked across the 38th parallel.

My next blog:  “HST and Korean War”

(1) William Manchester and Paul Reid,  The Last Lion:  Defender of the Realm, p. 960.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950: Korea, Documents 1-58 https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/comp1

(3)Documents 1-24.

(4)Document  25

(5) Documents 31- 33, 35-38.

(6) Document 41

(7) Documents 45, 54

(8) Document 58

For further reading

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War:  America in Korea, 1950-1953.   Part I,  pages 3-59

Robert J. Dovonan.  Conflict and Crisis:  The Presidency of Harry Truman

Eric F. Goldman.  The Crucial Decade and After:  America, 1945-1960.

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.  The Wise Men:  Six Friends and the World They Made.

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The Truman Presidency.

The End of Two Wars

One week from the publication date of this blog will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  While Lincoln’s funeral train was tracing in reverse Lincoln’s trip from Illinois to Washington 1861, Jefferson Davis was hiding from federal troops trying to find him.   Eighty years later, in 1945, three days from the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Franklin Roosevelt’s heart gave out  as the European war was coming to a close in Europe with  western allies closing on Berlin from the southwest and the Russians from the east.  The other part of World War II, being fought in the Pacific, against the Japanese, had a little over three months to go.

First, Lincoln and Davis! It was Good Friday, April 14, 1865.  The Civil War was over!  President Lincoln and his wife had planned an evening at the theatre; Laura Keene was performing in “Our American Cousin.”   A little after 10:13, John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the president’s box and shot him point blank in the back of head.  Lincoln lived a few hours before dying from his wound the next day while Booth led authorities on a twelve day chase before he died in a barn, set on fire by United State Army troops.  A quick investigation proved Booth had not acted alone; his accomplices were rounded up,  incarcerated awaiting trial, and for some eventual execution.

While in the north, Americans were mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was fleeing south with a price on his head.  From the time Ulysses S. Grant took overall command of the Federal forces in 1864, he decided to go after the Confederate  Army of  Northern Virginia, with a goal to destroy it, rather than capture Richmond  However, after the  Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865,  General Robert E. Lee told Davis Richmond would have to be evacuated and the president became a fugitive carrying what was left of the government’s gold. Davis started his journey by train to Danville, Virginia. After Lee surrendered, he went into North Carolina, where he hoped to meet up Gen. Joseph Johnston who was in command of another Confederate army.   He stayed in Greensboro for a while, then moved to Charlotte, as long as it was safe.  Finally, Davis went south to Georgia, where he was finally captured near Abbeville, after 38 days on the run.

Eight decades later, the United States was nearing the end of another war.¹  In the spring of 1945, the Allies were getting closer to the Japanese Home Islands.  American bombers had bases, first in China then in the Caroline Islands, well within range of Japanese cities.  Although the first bombing raid on Tokyo was that led by General James Doolittle in April 1942, launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet,  bombing of the home islands didn’t resume until  the fall of 1944 when the B-29 super fortresses performed strategic bombing raids against targets in the Japanese capital and other major cities in the Home Islands.  Meanwhile, in the spring of 1945 the Allies were preparing to invade Japan itself.  United States armed forces had invaded Iwo Jima, hopefully they would  have learned something since the bloody invasion of the tiny Tarawa Atoll, that 3300 causalities in November 1943.

 Iwo Jima was a volcanic hell with 23,000 Japanese dug in on Mount Suribachi.  It took almost 24,000 American causalities to secure the island.  Then the high casualty rate on Okinawa, an estimated 65,000 all types,  prompted the Allies’ decision to use the A-Bomb rather than  invade Japan.   When Harry S. Truman succeeded FDR in April 1945, he knew nothing about this atomic weapon. After giving his consent, two bombs were used against Japan: the first on 6 August  1945,  was dropped on Hiroshima; and the second on 9 August on Nagasaki.  The devastation and fatalities caused by these two bombs led the Japanese to surrender on 15 August.

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¹ In case you think there is no direct connection between the two wars, the American commander on Okinawa, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.  was the son of a Confederate general  and governor of Kentucky.  Buckner was the highest ranking American general officer killed in action during World War II.

Lincoln’s Assassination and Jefferson Davis

James L. Swanson.  Bloody Crimes

James L. Swanson. Manhunt

James L. Swanson and Daniel R.  The Lincoln Assassins

William C. Davis.  Jefferson Davis:  The Man and His Hour

War in the Pacific

James Bradley.  Flags of Our Fathers

Robert Gant.  The Twilight Warriors

Max Hastings.  Retribution:  The Battle for Japan, 1944-45

Robert Leckie.  Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II 

Donald L. Miller.  D-Days in the Pacific

Martin Russ.  Line of Departure: Tarawa

Ronald H. Spector.  Eagle Against the Sun

Joseph A. Springer.  Inferno