soldier with rifle american civil war THE
SESQUICENTENNIAL
EDITION

 

 

Reminiscences

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

Frustration in Korea

It was early morning Sunday, June 25, 1950, when the telephone rang in my bedroom at the American embassy in Tokyo. It rang with the note of urgency that can sound only in the hush of a darkened room. It was the duty officer at headquarters. "General," he said, "we have just received a dispatch from Seoul, advising that the North Koreans have struck in great strength across the 38th Parallel this morning."

Manila HotelI had an uncanny feeling of nightmare. It had been nine years before, on a Sunday morning, that a telephone call with the same note of urgency had awakened me in the penthouse atop the Manila Hotel. It was the same fell note of the war cry that was again ringing in my ears. It couldn't be, I told myself. Not again! Not again! But then came the crisp, cool voice of my fine chief of staff, General Ned Almond, "Any orders, General?"

Note: MacArthur, writing in the first person, is writing dramatically; the darkened room, the invoking of the Jap attack on Manila, placing himself in the "penthouse," and introducing the man who he would put in command of the 1st Marine Division and allow him to send it to the Chosin Reservoir.

How, I asked myself, could the United States have allowed such a deplorable situation to develop? [In 1945, Army chief of staff George Marshall said] "Never was the strength of American democracy so evident nor has it ever been so clearly within our power to give definite guidance for our course into the future of the human race." But in the short span of five years this power had been frittered away in a bankruptcy of leadership toward any long range objectives. Again I asked myself, "What is US policy in Asia?" And the appalling thought came, "The US has no policy in Asia."

Note: MacArthur, like a novelist, is writing the set up here. He is establishing himself as the general in the field, facing the "enemy," while the politicians running the Government are frightened rabbits scurrying about. He is saying that American military power has been deminished by incompetent political leaders.

Query: Who or what exactly does MacArthur, the general, have in mind when he uses the word "enemy?" Does he mean a particular people, a particular country, or something abstract like "communism?"

Note: At the conclusion of WWII, the Soviet Union occupied most of the old Hapsburg Empire: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and eastern Germany. It had blockaded access to Berlin from June 1948 to May 1949. From the politicians' point of view, the Soviet Union's massive armies might challenge the US militarily for possession of western Germany; indeed, it might invade France.

In 1943, at Cairo, Roosevelt had agreed with Stalin that the territories which Japan had occupied during its buildup of empire, which included Formosa (now Taiwan), would be returned to their original status. Which meant, at the time the agreement was made, that the "Republic of China" (i.e., the "Nationalist Government" of Chiang Kai Shek) would be handed the island when the U.S. "and its allies [which included the Soviet Union]" defeated Japan. But, then, as the war ended, Chiang's army had been defeated by Mao's, and Chiang fled with it to Taiwan, and the Government of China became the "People's Republic of China."

At the newly created "United Nations" the "Republic of China" was seated as a member of the Security Council, but its seat was being challenged by the "People's Republic of China." In the course of the period 1945-1953, Republicans and Democrats were warring with each over the issue of who was weak on Communism and the resolution of which Chinese government was to hold the Security Council seat was a major issue between them.

At the same time that the Soviet Union occupied eastern Europe, it occupied the northern portion of Korea which had been a province of Japan from 1910 to 1945, and the U.S. installed Syngman Rhee's goverment in exile as the government of South Korea while the Soviet Union installed Kim II Sung as premier of the North Korean government. Suddenly, the United States and her allies found themselves braced militarily by the Soviet Union in eastern Europe and Mao's government on the Asian mainland facing Japan off its shore. A complicated world picture, indeed.

The South Koreans had four divisions along the 38th Parallel. They had been well trained, and the personnel were brave and patriotic, but they were equipped and organized as a constabulary force, not as troops of the line. They had only light weapons, no air or naval forces, and were lacking in tanks, artillery, and many other essentials. The decision to equip and organize them in this way had been made by the State Department. The reason given for this, was that the U.S. did not want the South Koreans to attack the North Koreans [which Rhee certainly was champing at the bit, just as was Sung, to do]. It was a vital and fatal error not to prepare South Korea to meet an attack from the North.

Note: Whether MacArthur has stated the objective reality, who can know without digging deep into the record of the times? The whole point is, that here we have stand-ins for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union (which at this time has a semi-cool relation with Mao's government). If one stand-in attacks the other, will their principals—their puppet masters—be drawn directly into the resulting military struggle? And, if they are, will a second front between them develop in Europe? Will the world suddenly be at war again?

MacArthur's First Orders

MacArthurI was directed to use the Navy and the Air Force to assist South Korean defenses by whatever use I could make of these two arms. I was ordered also to isolate the Nationalist-held island of Formosa from the Chinese mainland. The United States 7th Fleet was turned over to my operational control for this purpose, and I was specifically directed to prevent any Nationalist attacks on the mainland, as well as to defend the island against [Chinese] attacks.

Note: Here we are, seventy years later, and the situation of 1950 remains the status quo. The Commie Chinese Government threatens to use military force to bring Taiwan under its political control. The population of the island is now about 26 million. The Commies will have to move an infantry force, much as we did at Normany, across the strait between the mainland and the island, under cover of its air force, and overpower the Taiwanese defenses and suppress resistance to the point the population surrenders. Does the 7th Fleet interpose itself in the strait as the Commies make their preparations? Does the US challenge the Commies for control of the air space over the strait? To do this, the US must land military forces on the island in anticipation of the Commie attack. Will the Commies gamble that the US will not challenge them in their endeavor? Will they win the gamble? It seems obvious that we have reached the point when it's time for the Taiwanese people to make up their minds: Are they an independent nation, or not? If not, then they must give themselves up to the Commies. If yes, then they must declare their independence and stand up to the resulting fight.

I could not help but be amazed at the manner in which this great decision was being made. With no submission to Congress, and without even consulting [me], the [President] agreed to enter the Korean War. All the risks inherent in this decision applied then just as much as they applied later.

In the rhetoric of the times, Truman's language is couched in terms of Democracy vs Communism, rhetoric that was repeated thirteen years later with Nam, instead of in terms of a people fighting among themselves over the issue what form of government will rule over them. Unlike with Nam, however, with Korea an outside force—the Soviet Union in conjunction with the Commie Chinese—were giving aid to the North Koreans in their effort to dominate the South Koreans; and this fact explains why the US countered with aid to the South Koreans, aid this rapidly resulted in US armed forces taking the place of the South Korean armed forces in the field. With Nam, the Commie Chinese supported the North Vietamese with supplies but Chinese armed forces did not get involved, in contrast to the Americans.

TrumanOn June 27, 1950, President Truman addressed the nation thus: "On Sunday, June 25, Communist forces (i.e., North Koreans) attacked the Republic of Korea (i.e., South Koreans). This attack has made it clear that the international Communist movement (i.e., the coalition between the Soviet Union and China with the North Koreans their stalking horse) is willing to use armed invasion to conquer independent nations (Rhee's Government, like Sung's with the Soviet Union, was a puppet of the US at this time). An act of agression such as this, creates a very real danger to the security of all free nations. (Hardly is this so.)

NewspaperGeneral Douglas MacArthur is the commander of the combined force of the United Nations. We know it will take a long, tough fight to halt the invasion. The job ahead of us is long and difficult. The fact that Communist forces have invaded Korea (i.e., South Korea) is a warning that there may be similar acts of agression in other parts of the world. We must increase our military strength and preparedness immediately. We need to send more men and equipment and supplies to General MacArthur. We need to build up our army and navy and air force. Free nations now face a world wide threat. It must be met with a world wide defense. The American people are united in detesting Communist slavery."

map of Korea

My most recent directive from Washington had reiterated that no action I took to protect South Korea should prejudice the protection of Japan. Could I denude this great bastion of troops without inviting the Soviet entry from the north? If I took elements of the pitifully thin American forces there and committed them in Korea, could I improvise native forces to defend Japan? Could I find the transportation to carry the troops to Korea, the munitions and supplies to sustain them in combat, the minimum equipment to create and organize a Japanese protective force? Could I, if the enemy extended their lines, cut these lines, then envelop and destroy his main forces with only a handful of troops available? I would be outnumbered almost three to one. But in these reflections the genesis of the Unchon operation began to take shape—a counter stroke that could in itself wrest victory from defeat. I immediately wired Washington:

"The only assurance for holding the present line and the ability to regain later the lost ground is through the introduction of United States ground combat forces into the Korean battle area. Unless provision is made for the full utilization of the Army-Navy-Air team in this shattered area, our mission will at least be needlessly costly in life, money and prestige. At worst, it might be doomed."

Note: MacArthur leaves out the fact he wrote in the wire that he wanted two divisions "for an early counteroffensive."

Within twenty four hours, President Truman authorized the use of ground troops. The risk that the Soviet or the Chinese Communists might enter the war was clearly understood and defiantly accepted. The American tradition had always been that once our troops are committed to battle, the full power and means of the nation would be mobilized and dedicated to fight for victory—not for stalemate or compromise. Not by the wildest of imagination did I dream that this tradition might be broken.

Note: MacArthur is setting the stage, foreshadowing what is to come. First, he is certainly correct when he tells us the politicians clearly understood and accepted the risk that the Chinese, or the Soviets, might "enter the war." But enter it where? And enter it when? As long as the American army was operating on the defensive, to push the North Koreans back across the recognized boundery line between North and South, how great was the risk? Certainly, as of the point in time MacArthur is writing about, the politicians were not thinking of attempting, by American military force, to unite the Korean nation under Rhee's government. Yet, by his language, MacArthur is expressing his view of doing exactly that; e.g., the "tradition" of "victory." Victory, here is what in MacArthur's mind?

My only chance was to commit my forces piecemeal. . . to chill the enemy into taking precautions. By this method of buying time for space I could build up a force at Pusan, which would serve as a base for future operations.

On August 30, I received a letter from the President. In it, he stated that "the action of the United States is without prejudice to the future political settlement of the status of Formosa. The actual status of the island is that it is territory taken from Japan by the victory of the allied Armed Forces in the Pacific. Like other territories, it's legal status cannot be fixed until there is international action to determine its future." This statement is not correct. At Cairo, in 1943, an agreement was made which reads: "It is the allies' purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands which she had seized or occupied since the beginning of the First World War in 1914, and that the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Formosa, shall be restored to the Republic of China." That and only that ws the reason why Formosa was given to China at the end of WWII.

Note: Japan obtained Formosa as the result of a peace treaty signed between the two countries.

It appears from the record, that Chiang's government took possession of Formosa from the surrendering Japanese forces stationed there, in 1945. In 1951, repeated in 1952, (while the Korean Civil War was in progress), Chiang's Republic of China entered into treaties with Japan by which the state of war between Japan and China formally ended, and Japan ceded sovereignty over Fomosa to the "Republic of China," the government of which was located, at that time, in Formosa. So, today, as a matter of the Law of Nations, which government "owns" the island? the Commies or the Republicans?

August, 1950, MacArthur and his Inchon Plan

I planned to use the 7th Division and the 1st Marine Division to make the Inchon landing. They were to form the X Corps under Almond. At the eleventh hour I received a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff which chilled me to the marrow of my bones. The message expressed doubt of success and implied the whole movement should be abandoned. What could have given rise to this at such an hour? Had someone in authority in Washington lost his nerve? Could it be the President? Marshall? Bradley? I immediately penciled a reply: "My plan represents the only hope of wresting the initiative from the enemy and thus present the opportunity for a decisive blow. To do otherwise is to commit us to a war of indefinite duration, of gradual attrition and of doubtful result." I waited for a reply. I asked myself, when it was all but impossible to bring the movement to a halt, could timidity in an office thousands of miles away, even if by a President himself, stop this golden opportunity to turn defeat into victory? The JCS replied that they had approved the plan and "had so informed the President." I interpreted this to mean that it had been the President who had threatened to interfere and overrule his military advisors on a professional military problem.

Note: MacArthur's syntax, here, is troubling to say the least. First, it is he, and he alone, that is the nation's "only hope" of turning defeat into victory. Second, whatever Washington decides, it is "impossible" to stop the operation. Third, it is the President who, in his "timidity" has the hubris to butt into a "professional military problem" and "interfere" with his military advisors. In other words, the military advisors decide what operation is required and it is the function of the President to rubberstamp it. MacArthur's mind-set disclosed by his written words is a mirror into the great danger to a Republic a standing professional army creates, its generals being inclined by nature to think themselves the only competent ones to decide its military policy.

MacArthur's criticism at this moment in time, is much like George McClellan's was, in May-June 1862 as he was approaching Richmond with his army. He had expected, quite reasonably, that, as he arrived in front of Richmond, Irwin McDowell's corps of three divisions would have marched down from Fredericksburg and connected to his right wing, thereby providing crucial protection to his rear and the security of his line of supply which was the York River Railroad. But, because Stonewall Jackson had marched, with two divisions, down the valley to the Potomac, routing Union detachments as he came, Lincoln decided to send two of McDowell's divisions west to the Valley, to block Jackson from retiring. Certainly this act was a stupid thing for Lincoln to do, given the circumstances; and this caused McClellan to decide to withdraw his army from the Chickahomey to the James River, which led Lincoln to do more stupid things which ultimately resulted in John Pope being routed at Second Manassas and General Lee entering Maryland. But, unlike McClellan, MacArthur had no reasonable basis to complain, as he, himself, admitted the chances of his plan succeeding was 5,000 to 1. Such a risk taking is not for a field commader to decide, but for the Commander-in-Chief.

Success at Inchon: What to do next?

Even as messages of extraordinary praise came pouring in, I began to have misgivings as to the concepts by higher authority rgarding the future of Korea. Late in September the JCS sent me amplifying instructions which stated: "Your military objective is the destruction of the North Korean armed forces. In attaining this objective, you are authorized to conduct military operations north of th 38th parallel in Korea. Under no circumstances, however, will your forces cross the Manchurian border of Korea, and as a matter of policy, no non-Korean ground forces will be used in the areas along the Manchurian border. Nor will you use air power against Manchurian territory."

BradleyOmar Bradley, Chairman of the JCS at this time, explains Washington's view of the situation: "What to do next? Should MacArthur's forces continue pursuit, if necessary crossing the 38th Parallel? Stop at the Parallel? Should we be satisfied with restoring the status quo, or should we attempt to unify all of Korea? Korea ceased being a military problem and became a political problem with delicate nuances. The US was not militarily prepared for global war. We might lose Europe if such a war resulted. If we got into a war with China we would be fighting in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong adversary."

Notwithstanding Bradley's view, certainly he and everyone concerned held the view that, the North Koreans having been the agressor, and thousand of American lives had now been lost as a consequence, the status quo would not do; The North Koreans deserved punishment and the punishment was to push them as far north into the desolute mountains as could be done with the momentum of the operations then going on.

Bradley states the JCS view: "The JCS agreed that in order to preclude another North Korean invasion, the North Korean army should be utterly destroyed. We hoped to do this in South Korea, but we beleived that MacArthur should not be restrained at the 38th Parallel. We wanted the whole country occupied, but ground operations north of the Parallel should be conducted by South Korean forces with American air support. In sum, MacArthur was authorizsed to conduct operations north of the Parallel on approval from Washington, and it was policy to unify Korea as a consequence of those operations. But the operations near the Manchurian border were to be conducted by South Koreans.

This decision presented me with problems of the gravest import. It immediately raised the shadow of Chinese intervention. Two great Chinese armies were reported moving from southern China, opposite Formosa, toward Manchuria. The 8th Army, under Walker, pressed toward Pyongyang, while the X Corps, under Almond, landed at Wonsan. Tactically, the idea of the X Corps was to bring flank pressure on the enemy, for 8th Army's capture of their capital. It was essential, also, to secure the eastern end of the peninsula, the two ends seperated in the middle by a mountain range.

map of Korea

Chosin Reservior

Note: It is plain that everyone—MacArthur, the JCS, and the President—were all equally aware of the risk operations north of the Parallel created, in the spector of the Chinese throwing their armies into Korea; if, for no other reason than to keep the Americans away from the Manchurian border. The idea Bradley attributes to the JCS, to use only South Korean soldiers to ocuppy the line of the Yalu River seems objectively ridiculous. Bradley cannot be serious when he states this. The American military commanders knew that the South Koreans were poorly trained, led by sad examples of officers, and had made it clear that, in battle, they would drop their weapons and run to the rear at the first shots. It was insane, as he did, for MacArthur to embed South Korean units inside American units, much less put them on the 8th Army's right flank.

So, the JCS knew that, if Korea was to be "unified" through military operations it would be American soldiers who would do the heavy lifting, which is why MacArthur has his man, Almond, a pathetic example of an officer in his own right, commanding X Corps and has it operating independently of Walker's 8th Army.

MacArthur Meets Truman at Wake Island

The conferece at Wake Island made me realize a curious, and sinister, change was taking place in Washington. The defiant, rallying figure that had been Roosevelt was gone. Instead, there was a tendency toward temporizing rather than fighting through. The original courageous decision of Truman to boldly meet and defeat Communism in Asia was being chipped away by the constant whispers of timidity and cynicism. This put me in a difficult situation. Up to now I had been engaged in wafare as it was conducted through the ages—to fight to win.

Note: MacArthur is posturing. He repeats the use of "timidity," he repeats the mantra of boldness and of fighting to win, of taking risk to win. And, as what happens next unfolds, this is certainly his driving mind-set, this attitude of taking the looming risk that the Commie Chinese will pour their hordes into North Korea, to overwhelm the Americans, he justifying the risk-taking on the ground of achieving, by military force, a unification of a foreign people under a government propped up by America—done under the abstraction of an idealogy called "Communism." Just ridiculous.

How many autocractic governments since WWII has our Government propped up by military force? South Korea, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Afganistan, Iraq, Israel? Why are we taxpayers allowing our Government to give billions of our dollars to a bunch of rag-head clowns pretending to run the Afgan government today? Why are we absolutely mute about this, in a presidential election year? The place is the armpit of the world. Why are we doing this, for twenty years?

I was forbidden hot pursuit of enemy planes that attacked our own. Manchuria were off limits. I was denied the right to bomb the hydroelectric plats along the Yalu. I was not allowed to bomb the supply center at Racin in northeast Korea.

Note: The JCS, with Truman's approval, gave MacArthur the authority to bomb the Yalu brigades, with the condition he bomb them toward the Korean side. MacArthur whined this was not practical; but, so what, if the bombs fell toward the Manchurian side? Furthermore, the river in its middle course where the Chinese divisions crossed, is shallow and, beginning in late November lasting through the winter, it was frozen; so that, had the bridges been bombed, MacArthur knew, the Chinese still could get across it with relative ease.

Leading elements of X Corps (a company-sized force) reached the Yalu River on November 21, but then an enemy attack against the South Koreans holding 8th army's right flank halted the advance. The most disquieting feature of the situation was the indication that three fresh divisions consisting of Chinese troops had joined the battle. Was this a Chinese reconnaissance in force made across the Yalu, or was it a committment of fresh North Korean units with a sprinkling of Chinese volunteers? Was it merely a Commie bluff? Or did it represent the jabs of a full scale Red Chinese offensive? I reported to Washington: "Recent captures of soldiers of Chinese nationality removes the problem of Chinese intervention from the realm of the academic, and turns it into a serious immediate threat."

Topo map of Korea

Note: MacArthur skips the time period Nov. 1 to Nov. 21, during which much was going on between him and the JCS. Bradley picks the story up: "There was a final meeting on November 21. This was our last chance to stop MacArthur's proposed ground offensive. But by now we were unanimously in favor of letting him go ahead. Most of our discussion focused on how far north MacArthur should be permitted to go. Our concern was to avoid a clash at the border which might widen the war. Despite our deeply felt concern, we took no further action."

It is plain, therefore, that despite the heap of criticism dumped on MacArthur for what happens next, the Joint chiefs of Staff knew the Chinese had massed three hundred thousand soldiers on the Yalu, had crossed it, and that these masses were moving south through the mountains in MacArthur's front, in sub zero winter weather. The JCS, therefore, were responsible for accepting the risk all of them foresaw that the war with China was directly in front of them, on the table about to happen. The crown they were reaching for, was the establishment of one Government over Korea and that Government was Rhee's The result would be the loss of the lives of some ten thousand young Americans..

map of korea

map of chinese attack

There were but three possible courses, I could go forward, remain immobile, or withdraw. If I went forward, there was the chance that China might not intervene in force and the war would be over. If I remained immobile and waited, it would be necessary to select a defense line and dig in. But there was no terrain with natural obstacles to take advantage of (Gen. Lee would have found them.), and with my scant forces it would be impossible to establish a defense in depth against the overwhelming numbers of Chinese. They had enough divisions to surround the army if it remained stationary, and every day they would increase their force by fresh divisions from Manchuria. This would mean the ultimate annihilation of our entire command. If the Chinese intended to intervene, this is exactly what they would want me to do. If I withdrew, it would be in contradiction to my orders and would destroy any opportunity to bring the Korean War to a successful end.

Note: MacArthur states the "chance" in the negative; i.e., that the "chance" was the Chinese would not attack him vs the "chance" was that they will. Prudence in war suggests, given the strategic and tactical situation, that the Americans not move further north, on November 25, but, between November 21 and 25, retire southward toward their bases of supply and dig in deep, bringing into support as much artillery as was available, and build air fields to extend their air cover, and stand on the defensive through the four months of winter. By Spring, MacArthur would have more force on hand, his troops fresh and organized and ready to resume the offensive and push up against the enemy through the mountains and reach the Yalu. Instead the JCS and Truman gave him the dice, and he threw them.

If I went forward and found the Chinese in force, my strategy would be to immediately break contact and withdraw rapidly, so as to lengthen and expose the enemy's supply lines. I would withdraw X Corps to Pusan by sea, when it had completed its covering of the right flank of 8th Army, build up my commuications and estimate the new situation that would develop.

Note: It is impossible to believe MacArthur thought himself in a dream world. He must have known that it would be impossible for the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir to withdraw to the coast "rapidly." The division was operating on a single lane dirt road which wended through a narrow mountain valley, with hair pin turns and several bridges, which if blocked or destroyed would make the movement extremely difficult to achieve. MacArthur, as field commanders must do, made a decision to take the chance the 1st Marine Division would be annihilated—the risk worth the objective of unifying Korea under American control.

image of solldiers marching

I reviewed my orders from Washington: "In the event of the open employment of major Chinese units, you should continue the action as long as, in your judgment, action by forces under your control offers a reasonable chance of success." I concluded to go forward.

Note: MacArthur does accurately state the text of his orders. The JCS, with the approval of the Commander-in-Chief, had accepted the plain and immediate risk the Chinese would thrown their masses at the Americans, for the chance the Americans might gain the Yalu River border unscathed, leaving the ultimate decision whether to try it, to their field commander. That their gamble cost but ten thousand American lives is a wonder.

Joe Ryan