In the summer of 1950 North Koreans forces attacked across the DMZ at the 38th parallel and handily beat the entrenched South Korean army as they advanced to the northern edge of Seoul.
UN forces under the overall command of General Douglas McArthur were sent in and stopped the North Korean invaders.
As U.S. and United Nations forces turned the tide of battle, MacArthur argued for a policy of pushing into North Korea to completely defeat the retreating communist forces. President Harry S Truman agreed but worried that China might take the invasion as a hostile act within its sphere of influence.
In October 1950, MacArthur met with Truman and assured him that it was the chances of Chinese intervention were slim. But then, in November and December 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed into North Korea and flung themselves against the American lines, driving the U.S. troops back into South Korea.
MacArthur then asked for permission to bomb communist China and use Nationalist Chinese forces from Taiwan, with the idea of pushing the Chinese/North Koreans force back to the Yalu River which divided China from North Korea.
Truman flatly refused these requests and a very public argument began to develop between the two men. Despite North Korea’s initial hostile invasion, Truman did not want to create a toe to toe confrontation with China, and possibly Russia, which shared a 300 miles contiguous border with North Korea.
MacArthur, who had beat the Japanese military and then oversaw that country’s reconstruction as a democratic republic… who had been protecting American interests in Asia most of his adult life… claimed he knew the physic of the forces he now had on the run and that the only sure course for the US was to kick their communist asses good to stop their regional expansion.
He promised Truman he could do it. Truman said he wanted MacArthur to stop at the 38th parallel to create North Korea as a buffer against China and Russia.
An arrogant MacArthur replied something along the lines of… No, I know best here.
Truman said you’re fired.
On April 11, Truman addressed the nation and explained his actions. He began by defending his overall policy in Korea, declaring, “It is right for us to be in Korea.” He excoriated the “communists in the Kremlin [who] are engaged in a monstrous conspiracy to stamp out freedom all over the world.” Nevertheless, he explained, it “would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict.”
The president continued, “I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted; to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized; and to prevent a third world war.” General MacArthur had been fired “so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.”
MacArthur , unbowed, returned home. Americans revered him as the mastermind of the victorious Pacific campaign in World War II and a quarter million people filled the National Mall and the route from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, to cheer the war hero on 19 April 1951 when he addressed a joint session of congress.
What follows are his opening remarks and the last half of his speech. I have underlined some parts. Please note his predictions if China was not punished for supporting North Korea aggression.
“Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, and Distinguished Members of the Congress: I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride — humility in the wake of those great American architects of our history who have stood here before me; pride in the reflection that this forum of legislative debate represents human liberty in the purest form yet devised. Here are centered the hopes and aspirations and faith of the entire human race. I do not stand here as advocate for any partisan cause, for the issues are fundamental and reach quite beyond the realm of partisan consideration. They must be resolved on the highest plane of national interest if our course is to prove sound and our future protected. I trust, therefore, that you will do me the justice of receiving that which I have to say as solely expressing the considered viewpoint of a fellow American….
… I have from the beginning believed that the Chinese Communists’ support of the North Koreans was the dominant one. Their interests are at present parallel with those of the Soviet, but I believe that the aggressiveness recently displayed not only in Korea but also in Indo-China and Tibet and pointing potentially toward the South reflects predominantly the same lust for the expansion of power which has animated every would-be conqueror since the beginning of time….
While I was not consulted prior to the President’s decision to intervene in support of the Republic of Korea, that decision from a military standpoint, proved a sound one. As I said, it proved to be a sound one, as we hurled back the invader and decimated his forces. Our victory was complete, and our objectives within reach, when Red China intervened with numerically superior ground forces.
This created a new war and an entirely new situation, a situation not contemplated when our forces were committed against the North Korean invaders; a situation which called for new decisions in the diplomatic sphere to permit the realistic adjustment of military strategy. Such decisions have not been forthcoming.
While no man in his right mind would advocate sending our ground forces into continental China, and such was never given a thought, the new situation did urgently demand a drastic revision of strategic planning if our political aim was to defeat this new enemy as we had defeated the old one…
…For entertaining these views, all professionally designed to support our forces in Korea and to bring hostilities to an end with the least possible delay and at a saving of countless American and allied lives, I have been severely criticized in lay circles, principally abroad, despite my understanding that from a military standpoint the above views have been fully shared in the past by practically every military leader concerned with the Korean campaign, including our own Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I called for reinforcements, but was informed that reinforcements were not available. I made clear that if not permitted to destroy the enemy built-up bases north of the Yalu, if not permitted to utilize the friendly Chinese Force of some 600,000 men on Formosa, if not permitted to blockade the China coast to prevent the Chinese Reds from getting succor from without, and if there was to be no hope of major reinforcements, the position of the command from the military standpoint forbade victory.
We could hold in Korea by constant maneuver and in an approximate area where our supply line advantages were in balance with the supply line disadvantages of the enemy, but we could hope at best for only an indecisive campaign with its terrible and constant attrition upon our forces if the enemy utilized its full military potential.
I have constantly called for the new political decisions essential to a solution.
Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes…
But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.
In war there can be no substitute for victory.
There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history’s clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier wars. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative. Why, my soldiers asked me, surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field?
I could not answer.
Some, may say to avoid spread of the conflict into an all-out war with China, others, to avoid Soviet intervention. Neither explanation seems valid, for China is already engaging with the maximum power it can commit, and the Soviet will not necessarily mesh its actions with our moves. Like a cobra, any new enemy, will more likely strike whenever it feels that the relativity of military and other potentialities is in its favor on a world-wide basis.
The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action was confined to its territorial limits. It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy’s sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation.
Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: “Don’t scuttle the Pacific.”
I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have done their bust there, and I can report to you without reservation that they are splendid in every way.
It was my constant effort to preserve them and end this savage conflict honorably and with the least loss of time and a minimum sacrifice of life. Its growing bloodshed has caused me the deepest anguish and anxiety. Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always.
I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have all since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
And with that, General MacArthur did fade away, deferring future dealings with Communist aggression in East Asia to US politicians.
And US politicians would lose every deal.
We got beat in Vietnam and now… China damn near owns our economy. Plus, separately, we pay them a King’s ransom every year in US government debt interest…. more money than most can even imagine.
Maybe more learned military historians would say differently, but to me, MacArthur’s address to the joint session of congress April 19, 1951 was a eulogy to America’s strong fighting character. His notion of “Duty, Honor and Country” and the more traditional “Don’t Tread on Me” would last as a guide-on for individual soldiers and military units, but our gov’t attitude would be more of appeasement and accommodations in their handling of our international affairs.
Maybe the atomic bomb and its potential employment in future military engagements did all this. I don’t know but we certainly lost our commitment to win every military engagement we undertook – quickly and decisively. Our diplomats and gov’t bureaucrats didn’t buy into the notion that there is no substitute for victory in war paid for with American lives.
A few months after MacArthur’s speech, Bill Lair, an enlisted veteran of the Second World War would make a less celebrated trip back across the Pacific, replacing MacArthur and Big Army in a way, to start his 1st CIA tour working with Thai police to form a paramilitary force to act as a vanguard should the communist push south towards Thailand.
His work would take two decades… and ultimately prove vital in preventing North Vietnamese invasions forces from taking Laos militarily.
Check your history books… after the war, in an act of appeasement, US gov’t officials gave Laos to the communists.
MacArthur wouldn’t have been surprised.
Story was originally published at: http://www.muleorations.com/blog/26-2
Background about the Author: James E. Parker, Jr. a.k.a. Mule
Many people dream of success and living a fulfilling life. This Bronze Star and Purple Heart awarded veteran is one of the few people to ever actually achieve those dreams. Mr. James E. Parker, Jr. fought in Vietnam as a 2LT and eventually joined the CIA where he received two Certificates of Outstanding Service, a Certificate of Distinction and the Intelligence Medal. He has decided to share his insightful experiences and through stories on his website as well as in the books he has written which are listed below. The Lint Center for National Security Studies is thankful and proud that we are able to share some of his selected stories with you in our Virtual Archive.
The Vietnam War Its Ownself (2015)
Kessler Country Homilies (2013)
Battle for Skyline Ridge (2013)
Covert Ops (1997)
Last Man Out (1996)
Codename Mule (1995)