January 5, 1950 (Thursday)



American Caesar



National Security Council convened to resolve the issue. The council's mood was dovish. Some participants even wanted to abandon all U.S. military positions in the western Pacific, retreating to Hawaii, if necessary.

The Chiefs submitted MacArthur's appraisal but reported that they were opposed even to sending Formosa a U.S. military mission. Acheson agreed that MacArthur should be overruled, reasoning that the American military establishment lacked sufficient force to defend Formosa while meeting commitments elsewhere, and truman took this line on January 5, 1950:

"The United States has no desire to obtain special rights or privileges or to establish military bases on Formosa at this time. Nor does it have any intention of utilizing its armed forces to interfere in the present situation. The United States Government will not pursue a course which will lead to involvement in the civil conflict in China. Similarly, the United States Government will not provide military aid or advice to Chinese forces on Formosa."

In the ensuing tumult, MacArthur continued to hold his tongue.

Privately he told his staff that he believed America had suffered a grave defeat, but, for the present, at least, he kept his temper.

A public quarrel would have been devastating to American interests, disclosing that in one respect Acheson was right:

the U.S. armed forces, less than five years after the great Allied victories of 1945, were far weaker than its adversaries suspected.

"In the Far East," Robert D. Heinl, Jr., writes, "thanks largely to the wise of Douglas MacArthur, the position of the United States appeared strong."

On paper, Walton H. Walker, who had succeeded Eichelberger as commander of the Eighth Army, led one regimental combat team and four divisions: the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry. In fact, his units were undermanned and flabby; they had, in the later words of William F. Dean, one of their commanders, become accustomed to

"Japanese girlfriends, plenty of beer, and servants to shine their boots."

Altogether, Walker proconsulship would field less than eighty thousand soldiers. Aircraft were few and obsolescent.

SCAP's naval forces comprised just one light cruiser and four destroyers. None were fit, because no one dreamed that they would ever be needed. MacArthur himself, in withdrawing the last of his troops from Korea in the early summer of 1949, had observed that the country was

"not a proper place for the employment of American troops"

because stationing

"United States ground troops in continental Asia" involved "inherent dangers." If left there, he said, "they might be trapped." [163]




The Forgotten War



19500105 0000 53fw0
The Forgotten War : America in Korea, 1950-1953 Clay Blair Naval Institure Press, 219 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland

Meanwhile, tension along the 38th Parallel was extreme; the border area was like a war zone. Almost nightly the North Koreans infiltrated South Korea with strong infantry patrols, probing ROK positions, taking prisoners, or simply wounding and killing. The ROKs retaliated with their own patrols. Often the opposing patrols met in the dark and had firefights. Both sides were heavily engaged in numerous clandestine activities, infiltrating intelligence agents, assassins, and political provocateurs into each other's territory. Not infrequently both sides engaged in heavy artillery duels, as if preparing for a full-scale invasion. In the last six months of 1949 KMAG had officially logged an astounding 400 "border incidents."[2-61]

Even so, the ROK Army remained almost casually disposed and ill equipped to meet any threat from the north. While Roberts's KMAG made some progress, by early 1950 it was clear that his training schedule could never be met. Then came a series of public statements - bombshells - from Washington that seriously undermined the morale of KMAG, the Rhee government, and the ROK Army.

[on the 5th, 12th and 19th]
The first was President truman's emphatic declaration, delivered on January 5, 1950, that the United States had adopted the hands-off Formosa policy.

To Rhee and his Sŏul government, Chiang represented the most militant indigenous anti-Communist force in this sector of the Far East.

Rhee did not doubt that Peking would now soon move militarily against Formosa. Once Formosa had been taken, it was not unlikely that Moscow or Peking, or both, would goad the NKPA into attacking South Korea. In that event, would Washington also abandon South Korea?

The answer to that question appeared to have been contained in a second bombshell, delivered a week later by Dean Acheson. At a press conference, principally called to explain and clarify the hands-off Formosa policy [1/5/1950] , Acheson, who tended to be theatrically professorial (and at times patronizing), unwisely digressed to describe publicly the concept of America's offshore strategic defensive perimeter in the Far East. Although he did not specifically mention South Korea, his remarks contained the clear implication that it lay outside the perimeter.[2-62]

The third bombshell came one week after Acheson's remarks [on the12th]. In a gesture apparently designed to "punish" truman (or maneuver for a bargaining position), the China bloc in Congress, which had consistently backed the Rhee government, voted down a small ($10 million) supplemental economic aid bill for South Korea. This action by his former stout supporters in Congress bewildered and dismayed Rhee.

However, it proved to be but a short-lived crisis. After intense administration lobbying the bill was reintroduced - and passed - the following month, after it had been "sweetened" with a rider granting further (but small) economic aid to Chiang.
Then came the worst bombshell of all: a published Q and A interview with Democratic Senator Tom Connally, who was a friend of the administration and who held the prestigious position of chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Asked by the editors of U.S. News & World Report if the United States would seriously consider abandoning South Korea, Connally replied: "I am afraid it is going to be seriously considered because I'm afraid it's going to happen, whether we want it or not." In response to a follow-up question asking if Korea was not an "essential" part of America's defensive strategy, Connally replied: "No. . . . I don't think it is very greatly important."[2-64]

The Connally interview caused such great dismay in Sŏul that Acheson and Muccio were compelled to make public statements containing implied denials that Washington would ever abandon South Korea. But these statements did little to calm the Sŏul government. Rhee bitterly and sarcastically complained privately to the American charge d'affaires in Sŏul that Connally's remarks were "an open invitation to the communists to come down and take over South Korea." He wondered how a man "in his right senses" could make "such an irrational statement."[2-65]







At the same time, Kenworthy noted the effect of successful integration on the local commanders. Freed from the charges of discrimination that had plagued them at every turn, most of the commanders he interviewed remarked on the increased military efficiency of their units and the improved utilization of their manpower that had come with integration. They liked the idea of a strictly competitive climate of equal standards rigidly applied, and some expected that the Air Force example would have an effect, eventually, on civilian attitudes.[16-37]







Shortly after the request for aid was sent to Washington, the United States made public an important decision that could not fail to influence the course of events in the Far East. On 5 January President Truman announced that the United States would take no military action, direct or indirect, to help the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek hold Formosa against the expected attacks of the Chinese Communists.




U.S. Air Force


The next most favorable period would come in April-May 1950. On 5 January the KMAG repeated that the North Korean government had set March-April 1950 as the time to invade South Korea, and on 10 March it gave warning of a report that the invasion would take place in June 1950




Notes for Thursday January 5, 1950