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.

 

 

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.