Truman vs. MacArthur

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army streamed across the 38th parallel attacking the poorly equipped Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers, driving them southward.  With the backing of the United Nations Security Council, President Harry S. Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur to send  members of the 8th United States army, then on occupation duty in Japan,  to reinforce the South Korean troops in their fight against the Communists.

Truman was Franklin Roosevelt’s choice  to run with him as the Vice Presidential candidate in 1944.  At that time Truman was a senator representing Missouri, chairing a committee looking into waste in the war effort.  He served in World War I with the Missouri national guard.  After the war Truman was a businessman and a machine politician before being elected to the United States Senate in 1935. Roosevelt and Truman won the election, but Truman was only vice president for 81 days, when FDR had a stroke and died on April 12 1945.

Douglas MacArthur’s father  had served in the United States Army in the Civil War.   MacArthur  won an appointment to West Point.   After graduation, he was posted to the Philippines, where he won a Medal of Honor.  Before his service in World War II, he served in Europe in the Great War, he was superintendent of West Point, and  in 1930, he became Chief of Staff of the United States Army.  While he was in Washington, President Hoover assigned him to drive the Bonus Marchers out of Washington, D. C. in 1932.   MacArthur retired from the United States Army in 1937 and he was appointed military advisor to the Philippines’ Army.   After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur was recalled to active duty and by the end of World War II, he had earned his fifth star.  When the United States occupied Japan at the end of the war, MacArthur was put in charge of the country.  He was still in that position when North Koreans invaded the south on June 24, 1950.

Because MacArthur was known as a loose cannon to politicians, it was suggested to the President he be specific in any orders he gave the general.   Truman already had  issues with the general, particularly when he entered the Republican Presidential primary in 1948 without resigning his commission. (1)  On the other hand, MacArthur had little respect for President Truman, whose only wartime experience was in World War I.   Also, MacArthur was virtually running occupied Japan without bothering to pass his actions through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which were above him on the chain of command.

When fighting started on the Korean Peninsula in June 1950 and MacArthur was put in charge of American forces, it did take not long for the general to come into conflict with the JCS and civilians in the Defense and State Department, as well as the President, who was  the Commander in Chief.   The North Korean Army pushed ROK troops and elements of the 8th American army into a perimeter around Pusan in southeast Korea.   MacArthur suggested UN forces attack the Communists behind their lines with an amphibious landing at the west coast port city of Inchon.   Despite fears Inchon would be a failure, it was a success and UN forces counterattacked  from the Pusan perimeter and drove the Communists north toward the 38th Parallel.

Crossing that line was a political decision as well as military one.  On September 21, President Truman, in response to a reporter’s question, stated the decision as to whether or not to cross the 38th parallel was in the hands of the UN. (2)  Before the end of the month, the Chinese Communist government  warned that if the ROK and UN allies went north of  the 38th Parallel, the Chinese would enter the war.

Truman and the general had never met, so the president and his advisors thought it might be a good idea to have MacArthur brief Truman in person in either Hawaii or Wake Island.  The meeting took place on the seabound atoll in the middle of the Pacific  Ocean on October 15,  1950, with the general making no bones about being beckoned by Truman to a political conference when he had more important things to do. In the course of the meeting, Truman asked MacArthur whether or not he thought the Chinese would join the fight in Korea.  MacArthur downplayed this by saying he planned to withdraw American forces from Korea by Christmas.  A few weeks later, the Chinese joined the fray and ruined the general’s plan. (3)

The basic difference was between the president’s containment policy in Korea and MacArthur’s plans to expand the war (police action).  In December, the Joint Chiefs  sent a order to MacArthur reminding him that the security of the Eighth Army was paramount, because it was the only defense Japan had, and, if necessary it should  be withdrawn from Korea. Furious, the general made his feeling known:  He suggested blockading China, using naval bombardment to diminish the Chinese capacity to wage war, and to use the Chinese nationalist army in Korea.  Before the end of the year the President ordered MacArthur to pass any statements, speeches, etc. through the JCS for approval.

Throughout the winter and the early spring of 1951, MacArthur, ignoring Truman’s order, made statements either to the press, political leaders, or to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that made clear he wasn’t agreeing with his superiors as to policy on the Korean peninsula.  By April President Truman had had it with MacArthur’s efforts to join with Republican politicians and newspapers that opposed him. The last straw, according to Truman, was when the House Minority Leader, Joseph Martin of Massachusetts, read a letter  into the record from MacArthur in which he suggested turning the Chinese Nationalists loose on their rivals on the Chinese mainland.

After consulting with his advisers, Truman asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their opinions about MacArthur and what to do about him. The chairman, General Omar Bradley, determined that MacArthur was opposed to the policy Truman had set out, and as Commander in Chief, he had the right to relieve a general in whom he no longer had faith.  The other members of the JCS agreed with Bradley, MacArthur must go. (4)  The president’s  decision  was announced at a one AM news conference on April 11, 1951.  MacArthur was ordered to turn his commands over to General Matthew B. Ridgway.

The general and his family landed in the United States a few days after his firing.  He received a ticker tape parade in New York and addressed a joint session of Congress, where he finished his speech by quoting the old barrack room ballad, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”   A shortly after his appearance before the joint session, MacArthur spent three days testifying before a combined session of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.  After MacArthur, the committees heard from Secretary of Defense Marshall, Secretary of State Acheson, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Omar Bradley.   Marshall and Bradley’s testimony, some of it behind closed doors, painted a different picture to the Senators than MacArthur’s vis a vis the state of American armed forces and the Russians and Chinese. (5)

1952 was a presidential election – Republican Dwight Eisenhower beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson – Truman retired to Missouri and MacArthur faded away.

(1) Actually, MacArthur later denied he was an open candidate, but rather supporters in Wisconsin got themselves on the state’s ballots.  It turned out  after all Harold Stassen was the state’s real favorite son, because the general only received 11 votes on the first ballot at the Republican convention and 7 on the second to Stassen’s 157 and 149.  William Manchester,  American Caesar, p. 620.

(2) Transcription of HST Press Conference, 9/21/1950

(3) Manchester suggests  having two elderly men meet  for the first time at an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when both were travel weary (Truman was seven time zones away from Washington, MacArthur was three from Tokyo), was ludicrous.  American Caesar, p. 708.

(4) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 297-98.

(5) Brands, The General vs. the President, pp. 331-369.  These pages contain an excellent summary of the committees’ hearing.

For further reading:

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War: American in Korea, 1950-1953.

H. W. Brands.  The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War.

David Halberstam.  The Coldest Winter:  America and the Korean War.

William Manchester.  American Caesar:  Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964.

David McCullough.  Truman.

On Line:

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume 7, Korea

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, Volume 7, Prt. 1, China and Korea 

Truman Press Conferences, 1950-1951 

HST AND THE “POLICE ACTION” IN KOREA

On May 15, 2017, the Asheville Citizen-Times published an article about a Blue Ridge Honor Flight taking 90 veterans of World War II and the Korean War to Washington to see the memorials dedicated to those who had died in those wars.  The Korean War veterans were greeted at that memorial by members of the Republic of Korea armed forces, who presented them with medals for their service there.  It has been 64 years since the Korean War ended in a stalemate, with nothing resolved.  Rumors of war are once again being heard from both South and North Korea.

The Koreans live either in the Republic of South Korea on one hand or the  Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea on the other, whose common boundary is the demarcation line from the Korean War that was agreed on in 1953.    For most of the first half of the twentieth  century Korea was a dependency of Japan. At the end World War II, the USSR  liberated the north from the Japanese and the United States freed the south.  Both agreed to divide the country at the 38th parallel, with the Russians occupying the north and the Americans the south.  The Americans and Russian pulled their troops out  of the country in 1948. That worked until June 1950.

In the south, an organization headed by Syngman Rhee gained control of the government.  The United States refused to give his military  heavy weapons because it was afraid Rhee was going to attack the North.  Also, the United States was cutting its defense spending, concentrating its armed forces in Europe, where the Russians dominated the eastern part of the continent and the Cold War was heating up. Meanwhile, with the backing of the Soviets and the Chinese, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, built up a strong army.  His military forces included Koreans who had fought in the Chinese Civil War on the side of the Communists.

Late in the spring of 1950, rumors were spreading in the south of an attack from the north.  The North Korean military, using a fake attack as an excuse to start a war, poured across the 38th parallel on the early morning of Saturday, June 25 , backed by Soviet made tanks and MIG fighter aircraft.   The closest American forces  were the 8th Army on occupation duty in Japan, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

As soon as word reached the United States of  the North Korean invasion,  President Truman’s administration went to the United Nation’s Security Council at the behest of Secretary of State, Dean Acheson . (1)  The Security Council met on the afternoon of June 25 and voted 9-0 to brand the North Korean action “a breach of the peace.”   That evening President Truman met with his security and military advisors to decide what steps to take next.  Gen. MacArthur was instructed to send transportation to Korea to evacuate Americans and get ammunition and other supplies to the ROK army as fast as possible. Thirdly, the 7th Fleet was to deploy at the Formosa Strait.  Two days later, on June 27, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling on member nations to support the ROK’s efforts to push back the North Koreans to the 38th parallel. (2)

The North Korean army drove the ROK army south and by the time American forces re-enforced  them, the Communists had the South Koreans and their allies hemmed in around Pusan in southeast Korea. Even as United States troops were fighting in Korea, President Truman refused to admit the country was at war.   He did, however, agree with a reporter who asked if the UN was fighting a “police action” against the North Koreans. (3)  To relieve the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur planned an amphibious  landing at Incheon on the west coast, near Seoul, behind the People’s Army lines.  American soldiers landed there on 4 September, 1950, totally  surprising the Communists.

After the Americans captured Incheon, the other UN forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter, driving the North Koreans north.  As the Communists got closer to the 38th parallel the question was, should the ROK troops and their  UN allies follow them?  The ROK army did not hesitate to go into  North Korea and UN forces followed them.  By the end of October as UN forces approached the Yalu River, the border between Manchuria  and North Korea, the Chinese Communists attacked in force.  Despite warnings from the Chinese they would enter the war if the ROK and UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, both MacArthur  and Truman were surprised at the the Chinese actions and the allied fighters suffered heavy casualties while retreating.

At first the Chinese troops made a difference driving the UN forces south across the 38 the parallel.  That is, until Matthew Ridgway  was given command of the 8th Army early in 1951.  ( His predecessor General Walton (‘Johnny’) Walker was killed in an accident on his way to the front in December 1950.)  By the time Ridgway reached Korea to take command, UN forces were back in South Korea and Seoul was back in Communist hands.   Ridgway re-organized the 8th army at the same time the Communists were having trouble supplying their troops, forcing them to fight with not enough food or clothes.   The North Korean/Chinese morale sunk and more and more soldiers surrendered to the UN forces.   Ridgway’s responsibilities were widened in April, when Douglas  MacArthur was relieved of his command by President Truman.*    He was promoted to a  full general (four stars),  took MacArthur’s place in Japan, and governed until the occupation ended in 1952.

After Ridgway took command of the 8th Army, UN forces forced the Communists back towards the 38th parallel and liberated Seoul again.  In the summer of 1951 both sides agreed to begin cease fire talks.  Unfortunately, the bickering lasted two years, as did the stalemate on the ground, before an agreement was signed in August 1953.  By that time Dwight David Eisenhower was President of the United States.

* – More about that aspect of the Korean War in my next blog.

(1) Cabell Phillips, The  Truman Presidency, p. 288.

(2) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Korea, Volume VII , Document 130 (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1950v07/d130)

(3) H. W. Brands, The General and the President, p. 97

For further reading:

Clay Blair.  The Forgotten War : America in Korea, 1950-1953.

David Halberstam.  The Coldest Winter:  America and the Korean War.

Max Hastings.  The Korean War.

Marguerite Higgins.  War in Korea.   online at:  https://ia800303.us.archive.org/35/items/warinkoreatherep011941mbp/warinkoreatherep011941mbp.pdf

William Manchester.  American Caesar

David McCullough.  Truman.

Cabell Phillips.  The  Truman Presidency

John Toland.  In Mortal Combat : Korea, 1950-1953.

 

 

Letters to and from the front, II

Recently I was prowling the book donations at the thrift store where I volunteer  and I came across a copy of  War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll.  The Legacy Project, which is the source from which these letters came, was founded in 1998 as a gathering place for veterans and their families to donate correspondence written by members of American armed forces to and from their families while on active duty.   Since its founding  the Legacy Project’s name has been changed to  “The Center for American War Letters,” and it’s collection is housed at Chapman University in Orange. California.  War Letters was made into a documentary on PBS’s American Experience, which can be watched on YouTube.  Unless otherwise noted, the excerpts  quoted below come from War Letters which was copyrighted ©2001 by Andrew Carroll.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States armed forces were already fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic Ocean trying to protect conveys supplying Great Britain.  The Japanese aggression made it clear American service men and women would be scattered around the globe, especially after Germany declared war on the United States.  How were families who had relatives stationed abroad going to stay in touch with their loved ones?  And vice versa how were members of the armed forces going to get letters from remote parts of the world delivered to their families at home.   Confederate women who were left in charge of the southern plantations couldn’t rely on their postal service to deliver letters to their husbands in a timely fashion, but times and technology had changed immensely in three quarters of a century.

Writing from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was doing basic training, Morton D. Elevitch wrote to his mother: “This week they are teaching us to kill.  Now you probably looked away and shuttered.  Well, Mom, I don’t like the idea, either,  but we all know its for our good….By the way everything is done in double time this week .  We move in place and from place to place on the double — puff puff.”  (War Letters, p. 196)

Tracy Sugarman to his wife June, from Great Britain, March 1944:  “Reading material, Junie. Things like Reader’s Digest – Coronet, Cosmopolitan maybe. When you send them pooch – *have them in a package* – otherwise some news hungry soldier or sailor will swipe them & they’ll never get here I’m told”.¹

During World War II, the United States Post Office made it easier for service and their families to stay in touch with each other.  Victory Mail, or V Mail as it was commonly known made use of standard size stationary and microfilm to speed servicemen’s mail.²    Sugarman occasionally used VMail to write to his wife.  An example is here.

Servicemen would receive correspondence from home about siblings also in the service.  For example,  Bill Lynn’s mother wrote to him in September 1944 giving him news about his older brother Bob:  Dear Billie, will drop you a few lines as I haven’t from. and I have good news, from the last letter I sent you.  Bob will back in the States at the last of this month.  I sure was happy when I read the telegram from the government last night.  I hope you are well and O.K….well I didn’t know what to send you for xmas but you can be looking for a box, and I hope you will like it.  so write me soon.”  Lynn was killed in the Pacific in 1945, three days after his nineteen birthday.  (War Letters, pp. 222-223)

Some American servicemen were abroad when their children were born.  Lt. Walter Schuette wrote a letter to his daughter:  “You arrived in this world while I was several thousand miles from your mother’s side.  There were many  anxious moments then and since.  This message comes to you from somewhere in England.  I pray to God it will be given to you on or about your tenth birthday. I hope to be present when that is done.  It shall be held in trust by your mother or someone equally concerned until that time….With this letter you will find a war bond of $2500 maturity value, and list of names.  A list of names to you, honey, buddies to me.  Men of my company, who adopted you as their sweetheart when you came into the world.  It is these men who bought you the bond as a remembrance of when they were soldiers with your daddy…”   Happily, Walter Schuette was able to read that letter to his daughter, Anna Mary, in 1953!  (War Letters, , p. 227)

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 and the United States dropped two Atom bombs on their homeland, peace barely lasted five years.   The Cold  War was between the Communist world, primarily the Soviet  Union, its European allies, and the Chinese; and the western democracies centered around NATO.  In East Asia, counties such as Korea and Vietnam were split:  Communists to the north and NATO allies to the south.   On June 25, 1950, forces of North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea.  President Truman sent American military forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, under the auspices of the United Nations to help the South Koreans.  MacArthur’s force quickly drove the Communist North Koreans back to the border with Chinese Manchuria.  But that victory didn’t last long because Chinese forces made a surprise raid into North Korea and defeated the American and South Koreans at the Chosin Reservoir, eventually driving them back to to the 38th parallel.

In a letter to his father, Pvt. Bob Hammond describes the bitter fighting at Chosin from his hospital bed in Japan:  “Three days and nights of bitter fighting went on with heavy losses on both sides.  We were outnumbered 10 to 1. We were trapped and surrounded.  We had over 200 wounded guys.  I watched  a good buddy of mine die of wounds and lack of medicine.  I cried, I felt so utterly helpless.  On Dec. 1, 1950, we were ordered to fight our way back to the Marine Div. which was 8 miles back.  We had about 30 trucks which were carrying the wounded.  We went about 2 miles and suddenly a slug ripped thru my knee and chipped the bone.  I got into an ambulance which had 16 men in it.  We moved slowly and passed a few roadblocks and before I knew it, it was dark.  They were on all sides of us and we were masecured (sic).  Our driver was killed and the ambulance crashed into a ditch.   Machine gun slugs tore thru the ambulance killing a G.I. and Capt. sitting across from me. He slumped on me and I shoved him back in order to get the rear door open.  It was jammed, but I jarred it open in few minutes and fell out….”  (War Letters, p. 335)

In the 1950’s it was Korea, in the 60’s and the 70’s it was Vietnam.  The following  is an except from a letter from a young demoralized American Marine, L. Cpl. Stephen Daniel writes to his parents telling about the death of a close friend:    Mom and Dad:  Well its Friday morning.  Last night one more Marine died.  No one will ever here (sic) or care about it except his parents and us.  A good Marine has died and there is no nation to mourn for him or fly our flag at half mast.  Yet in this one night this Marine did more for his country than any President or Senator ever did.  His name was Corporal Lee…He was a good Marine and a better person.  He didn’t deserve dieing in a damn country not worth fighting for.  He didn’t deserve diein’ for people who won’t even fight for themselves.” (War Letters, 412-413)  Eight months later, on Easter Sunday, 1969, Daniel fell victim to a sniper’s bullet and died on the spot.

War correspondence, as we seen in the few excerpts above, dealt with many concerns.  Most important it created a lifeline to connect the service person with a touch of home when they serving far away.

¹http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05440/pageturner?ID=pm0024001

² http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/