Biography

Truman, Harry Simpson
[President d-Mo]

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Photograph of President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office after presenting three Korean War veterans with the Medal of Honor: (left to right) Lt. Carl Dodd, the President, Sgt. John Pittman, Master Sgt. Ernest Kouma, Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall. 10 May 1951

 

Truman,-- President Harry Simpson Truman; Harry S. Truman "The Buck Stops Here," "Plain speaker," "Give 'em hell" -- all conjure up images of Harry S. Truman, the U.S. president remembered for his doctrine of communist containment -- as well as his decision to end World War II by unleashing the atom bomb on Japan.

Born on a farm near Lamar, Missouri, on May 8, 1884, Truman graduated from high school in 1901 and held a variety of jobs before fighting in France as a lieutenant in the National Guard. After the war, he and a friend opened a haberdashery store, but the economy was bad and the business failed. At age 38, with the help of Kansas City political boss Thomas J. Pendergast, Truman won a country judgeship.

Truman attended law school at nights, lost re-election in 1924 and was elected to another term in 1926. In 1934, with Prendergast's help, he was elected to the Senate and was branded a "Pendergast" senator upon his arrival in Washington. He was a reliable "New Dealer." His hard work, diligence and fairness to all earned the respect of his colleagues. In his second term, which he won without the help of Pendergast, he enhanced his reputation by chairing the Special Committee Investigating National Defense, exposing graft, waste and corruption and saving the United States much money.

In 1944, Truman became the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket. Only a few months after coming to office, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died (April 12, 1945) and Truman was sworn into office having only met with the president twice since their election. He was virtually unbriefed in world affairs.

Less than two weeks after taking office, Truman finalized the arrangements for the U.N. charter-writing meeting in San Francisco. After Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, Truman attended his only Allied conference in Potsdam (July 17-August 2), where he met with Stalin, Churchill and new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to help shape the world -- though much was left undecided.

While in Potsdam, he learned of the success of the atomic test at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Less than three months after taking office he authorized the use of the atomic bomb, first on Hiroshima on August 6, and then, three days later, on Nagasaki.

Japan officially surrendered on September 2. After World War II, signs of increasingly troubled relations between the United States and the Soviet Union became evident. The inability of the two countries to reach agreement on key postwar issues and the growing wariness of his advisers contributed to Truman's hardening stance toward the Soviets.

The "Truman Doctrine"

On March 12, 1947, Truman proclaimed that

"it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures"

and proceeded to request $400 million to help fight communist insurgents in Greece and Turkey. In June 1947, Secretary of State George F. Marshall offered U.S. economic aid to European countries to help stave off hunger and desperation, which the Truman administration believed provided the breeding grounds for nascent communist movements. Four months later, State Department official George F. Kennan's "Mr. X" article, which urged containment of the Soviets, appeared in Foreign Affairs.

Truman stumped the country and lobbied Congress to approve the Marshall Plan. Thus in several ways he attempted to "contain" communism. Domestically Truman worked for civil rights legislation and reformed the foreign affairs apparatus. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 professionalized the Foreign Service. The National Security Act of 1947 created the CIA, the National Security Council and the present-day Defense Department, with civilian control over the military.

Re-elected in 1948, Truman continued to press domestically for civil rights and to contain communism abroad. He signed off on the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 and the Paris and Bonn conventions, which helped bring West Germany into the allied camp under the aegis of the European Defense Community. A treaty was signed on 27 May 1952, but the EDC plan never went into effect.

In Asia, however, Truman's policies were less successful. He was unable to assure the success of the Nationalists over the communists in the conclusion of the Chinese civil war.

 

KOREA

Then, on June 25, 1950, the communist North Korean army invaded South Korea. Two days later, Truman committed U.S. armed forces under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Truman later fired MacArthur for publicly challenging Truman's orders, thereby asserting the primacy of civilian control over the military. In 1952, Truman announced he would not seek a third term. He returned to private life, wrote his memoirs and built his presidential library. He died at age 88 on December 26, 1972, and was buried in the courtyard of his library in Independence, Missouri.

10 PM 6/24

ON Saturday, June 24, 1950, I was in Independence, Mo. It was a little after 10 in the evening, and we were sitting in the library of our home when the telephone rang. it was the Secretary of State calling from his home in Maryland. "Mr. President." said Dean Acheson, "I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea." My first reaction was that I must get back to the Capital. Acheson explained, however, that details were not yet available and that he thought I need not rush back until he called me again with further information. In the meantime, he suggested that we should ask the United Nations Security Council to hold 2 meeting at once and declare that an act of aggression had been committed against the Republic of Korea. I agreed.

1130 AM 6/25 Central Time

Acheson's next call came through around 11:30 Sunday morning. Additional reports had been received from Korea. There was no doubt that an all out invasion was under way. Some decision would have to be made at once as to the degree of aid or encouragement which our government was willing to extend to the Republic of Korea. I asked Acheson to get together with the service secretaries and the Chiefs of Staff and start working on recommendations for me. I was returning to Washington at once.

1230 PM Central Time

The crew of the Independence had the plane ready to fly in less than an hour from the time they were alerted, and my return trip got under way so fast that two of my aides were left behind. They could not be notified in time to reach the airport. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, no small nation would have the courage to resist threats and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors. If this were allowed to go unchallenged it would mean a third world war, just as similar incidents had brought on the Second World War. It was also clear to me that the foundations and the principles of the United Nations were at stake.

Sunday June 25, East Coast

Secretary of State Acheson was waiting for me at the airport as was Secretary of Defense Johnson. We hurried to Blair House where we were joined by Secretary of the Army Frank Pace. & Secretary of the Navy Francis Matthews; Secretary of the Air Force Thomas Finletter General of the Army Omar N. Bradley; the Army Chief General Collins; the Air Force Chief General Vandenberg; and Admiral Forrest Sherman Chief of Naval Operations.

Dean Acheson was accompanied by Undersecretaries Webb and Rusk and Assistant Secretary John Hickerson and Ambassador- at-Large Philip Jessup. It was late and we went at once to the dining room for dinner. I asked that no discussion take place until dinner was ended and over and the Blair House staff had withdrawn.

Earlier that Sunday evening. Acheson reported, the Security Council of the United Nations had, by a vote of nine to nothing, approved a resolution declaring that a breach of the peace had been committed by the North Korean action and ordering the North Koreans to cease action and withdraw their forces.

I then called on Acheson to present the recommendations which the State and Defense Departments had prepared. He presented the following recommendations for immediate action:

I) That MacArthur should evacuate the Americans from Korea --including the dependents of the military mission —and, in order to do so, should keep open the Kimp'o and other airports, repelling all hostile attacks thereon. In doing this, his air forces should stay south of the 38th Parallel.

2) MacArthur should be instructed to get ammunition and supplies to the Korean army by airdrop and otherwise.

3) That the Seventh Fleet should be ordered into the Formosa Strait to prevent the conflict from spreading to that area. We should make a statement that the fleet would repel any attack on Formosa and that no attacks should be made from Formosa on the mainland.

At this point I interrupted to say that the Seventh Fleet should be ordered north at once, but that I wanted to withhold making any statement until the fleet was in position. After this report I asked each person in turn to state his agreement or disagreement and any views he might have in addition.

Two things stand out in this discussion.

One was the complete, almost unspoken acceptance on the part of everyone that whatever had to be done to meet this aggression had to be done. There was no suggestion from anyone that either the United Nations or the United States could back away from it.

The other point which stands out was the difference in view of what might be called for Vandenberg and Sherman thought that air and naval aid might be enough. Collins said that if the Korean army was really broken, ground forces would be necessary.

I expressed the opinion that the Russians were trying to get Korea by default gambling that we would be afraid of starting a third world war and would offer no resistance. I thought that we were still holding the stronger hand, although how much stronger it was hard to tell.

8PM 6/26 Wash. DC

Throughout Monday the situation in Korea deteriorated rapidly. MacArthur's latest message was alarming;

"... our estimate is that a complete collapse is imminent."

There was now no doubt! The Republic of Korea needed help at once if it was not to be overrun. I directed the Secretary of Defense to call General MacArthur on the scrambler phone and to tell him in person what my instructions were. He was to use air and naval forces to support the Republic of Korea with air and naval elements of his command, but only south of the 38th Parallel.

6/27 Wash. DC

Meanwhile the Security Council of the United Nations met again and adopted on June 27 the resolution calling on all members of the U.N. to give assistance to South Korea. That same morning, Tuesday, I asked a group of congressional

biography

June 25, 1950

Given the desire of the Truman administration to reduce the American military to a broken-token force, and the U.S. Air Forces belief that the next war would be an atomic action effected primarily by them against the U.S.S.R, an untrained, ill equipped and under strength United States military found themselves in a conventional war, 3,000 miles from home within 72 hours of the opening of hostilities.

June 25, 195

biography

The North Korean invasion of the republic on 25 June 1950 and the inability of South Korean forces to check it prompted an abrupt reversal of the American position. Behind the change was a belief that the invasion was not simply an extension of a local jurisdictional dispute but a break in the wider cold war. Viewing the attack in this light, President Harry S. Truman and his principal advisers concluded that it had to be contested on grounds that inaction would invite further armed aggression, and possibly a third world war.

biography

The immediate American response was to label the invasion as a threat to world peace before the United Nations. This step was not taken primarily to produce troop and materiel support, although such support was forthcoming. The ease and speed with which the North Korean invasion force was driving south made clear that there was not enough time to assemble a broadly based U.N. force.

Only the United States could commit troops in any numbers immediately, these from occupation forces in Japan. Nor were North Korean authorities, who anticipated a quick victory, expected to submit to U.N. political pressure. Rather, the United States sought the moral support of the United Nations and the authority to identify resistance to the North Korean venture with U.N. purposes.

Resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council on 25 [Res-82] and 27 [Res-83] June 1950, worded almost exactly as American representatives offered them, gave the sanction and support desired.

June 25

John J. Muccio, US ambassador to South Korea, relayed to President Harry S. Truman a South Korean request for US air assistance and ammunition. The UN Security Council unanimously called for a cease-fire and withdrawal of the North Korean Army to north of the 38th parallel. The resolution asked all UN members to support the withdrawal of the NKA and to render no assistance to North Korea.

June 25, 1950

On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, touching off the Korean War. American wartime mobilization agencies, including the recently formed National Security Resources Board (NSRB), were dormant.

June 25, 1950

On the first day of the invasion, President Syngman Rhee, Ambassador Muccio, and KMAG notified United States authorities of the need for an immediate flow of military supplies into Korea for the ROK Army. [05-20] General MacArthur with Washington's approval, ordered Eighth Army to ship to Pusan at once 105,000 rounds of 105-mm. howitzer, 265,000 rounds of 81-mm. mortar, 89,000 rounds of 60-mm. mortar, and 2,480,000 rounds of .30-caliber ball ammunition.

June 25

John J. Muccio, US ambassador to South Korea, relayed to President Harry S. Truman a South Korean request for US air assistance and ammunition. The UN Security Council unanimously called for a cease-fire and withdrawal of the North Korean Army to north of the 38th parallel. The resolution asked all UN members to support the withdrawal of the NKA and to render no assistance to North Korea.

June 25, 1950
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, touching off the Korean War. American wartime mobilization agencies, including the recently formed National Security Resources Board (NSRB), were dormant.

 President Truman attempted to use the NSRB as the nation's military mobilization agency. The president quadrupled the defense budget to $50 billion, and the NSRB placed controls on prices, wages and raw materials.

Inflation soared and shortages in food, consumer goods and housing appeared.[3]

[3] Hogan, A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954, 1998; Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command, 1997; Pierpaoli, "Truman's Other War: The Battle for the American Homefront, 1950-1953," Magazine of History, Spring 2000; Vawter, Industrial Mobilization: The Relevant History, 2002.

June 25, 1950

June 25: North Korea invaded South Korea. Simultaneously, North Korean troops made an amphibious landing at Kangnung on the east coast just south of the 38th parallel. North Korean fighter aircraft attacked airfields at Kimp'o and Sŏul, the South Korean capital, destroying one USAF C-54 on the ground at Kimp'o.

John J. Muccio, US ambassador to South Korea, relayed to President Harry S. Truman a South Korean request for US air assistance and ammunition. The UN Security Council unanimously called for a cease-fire and withdrawal of the North Korean Army to north of the 38th parallel. The resolution asked all UN members to support the withdrawal of the NKA and to render no assistance to North Korea.

Maj. Gen. Earle E. Partridge, who was commander, 5th Air Force, but serving as acting commander of Far East Air Forces (FEAF), ordered wing commanders to prepare for air evacuation of US citizens from South Korea. He increased aerial surveillance of Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. The 20th Air Force placed two squadrons of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing (FIW) on air defense alert in Japan.  [note]

KPAFAC Yak-9 1 x C-54 destroyed 7 out of 16 ROKAF trainers destroyed

 

June 29, 1950

NOTE: President Truman's two hundred and twenty-ninth news conference was held in the Indian Treaty Room (Room 474) in the Executive Office Building at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 29, 1950.

See Truman Press Conference June 29, 1950

 President Truman attempted to use the NSRB as the nation's military mobilization agency. The president quadrupled the defense budget to $50 billion, and the NSRB placed controls on prices, wages and raw materials.

Inflation soared and shortages in food, consumer goods and housing appeared.

 Its role was later eliminated when its responsibilities were transferred to the Office of Defense Mobilization in June 1953.

June 25, 1950 1100 2100 East Coast

Early on the evening[2100]  of Saturday, 24 June 1950,press news flashes informed Washington that the North Korean People's Army had crossed the 38th parallel in an invasion of the Republic of Korea.

biography

PRESIDENT Harry Truman was in Missouri, and in the first hours Washington policy makers hoped that the South Koreans could withstand the invasion. When the situation worsened, Truman flew back to Washington for a Sunday-evening dinner meeting with the secretaries of state and defense and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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For some time Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, chief of staff USAF, had feared that an outbreak of war was going to come somewhere in the world. He also knew that after the postwar demobilization, the US Air Force was, in his words, "a shoe string air force."

June 25, 1950 1120

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At about 9:20 P.M. [3-June 24th] Acheson telephoned Truman, who was in Independence, Missouri, to say that while the reports were still fragmentary, the news from South Korea appeared to be "serious." He suggested that as a first step the United States should summon the United Nations Security Council into emergency session the following day, Sunday, and press for a condemnation of North Korea, together with a demand for a ceasefire and an NKPA withdrawal to the 38th Parallel. Truman approved this suggestion, and later that night Acheson set the machinery in motion at the Department of State.[3-2]

[3-Why do they make a point out of who's idea it was, if Stalin had said no, there would not have been any invasion.  Period.]


The news came as a shock. Believing that communism was a worldwide monolith controlled by Moscow, Washington assumed that North Korea would not invade South Korea except on the specific orders of Joseph Stalin. Up to this point in the cold war Stalin had not resorted to overt military hostilities to achieve the apparent Kremlin aim of communizing the world. What did this resort to force portend? All-out war? If so, why begin in South Korea? Was the invasion merely a military feint designed to draw the West's military forces into the maw of Asian mainland? Would the real Soviet move come in Western Europe? The Middle East?[3-3]

June 25, 1950 1126 - 2126 East Coast Time

Early on the evening of Saturday, 24 June 1950,* press news flashes first informed Washington that the Communists had broken the peace in Korea.
 
At 2126 (9:26 PM) [2126+1400=3526-2400=1126] hours the State Department received the first official word from Sŏul. A telegram from Ambassador Muccio stated that the North Koreans had apparently launched an all-out attack against the Republic of Korea. The State Department promptly relayed this information to the Defense Depart-ment, to President Harry S. truman at Independence, Missouri, and to United Nations Secretary General trygve Lie at his residence in Forest Hills, Long Island.#71
 
The report from Korea sounded like a major violation of the United Nations charter's ban on military aggression to Secretary General trygve Lie, and he informed the State Department that he was prepared to bring the Security Council together to consider the matter. Before making a formal recommendation to the Security Council, however, Lie preferred to obtain a report from the United Nations Commission on Korea.
 
 
*There is a time difference of fourteen hours between Korea and Washington. For example, 0400 hours, Sunday, in Korea is the same time as 1400 hours, Saturday, in Washington. The times and dates used are those of the place where the events described occurred.

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At 2126 (9:26 PM) [2126+1400=3526-2400=1126] hours the State Department received the first official word from Sŏul. A telegram from Ambassador Muccio stated that the North Koreans had apparently launched an all-out attack against the Republic of Korea. The State Department promptly relayed this information to the Defense Department, to President Harry S. Truman at Independence, Missouri, and to United Nations Secretary General trygve Lie at his residence in Forest Hills, Long Island.#71


 
The report from Korea sounded like a major violation of the United Nations charter's ban on military aggression to Secretary General trygve Lie, and he informed the State Department that he was prepared to bring the Security Council together to consider the matter. Before making a formal recommendation to the Security Council, however, Lie preferred to obtain a report from the United Nations Commission on Korea.

June 25, 1950 1300 - 1000 PM June 24th

ON Saturday, June 24, 1950, I was in Independence, Mo. It was a little after 10 in the evening, and we were sitting in the library of our home when the telephone rang. it was the Secretary of State calling from his home in Maryland.. "Mr. President." said Dean Acheson,

"I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea."

My first reaction was that I must get back to the Capital. Acheson explained, however, that details were not yet available and that he thought I need not rush back until he called me again with further information. In the meantime, he suggested that we should ask the United Nations Security Council to hold 2 meeting at once and declare that an act of aggression had been committed against the Republic of Korea. I agreed.

2 AM 25 June Washington DC time 2AM Washington

June 25, 1950 1700

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    Sunday in Washington was a day of frenzied activity. Two hours after midnight Secretary Acheson again telephoned the President, the decision to seek action of the Security Council was made,

June 25, 1950 2200 - 0800 Washington

biography

Flying back to Washington the next morning, [6/24/1950 0900 - 6/24/1950 2200 Korea] Truman ordered an immediate conference of his diplomatic and military advisers around the large mahogany dining table at Blair House, 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, diagonally across the street from the White House. By the time they convened, there were more messages from Muccio, all of them discouraging. Among other things, a strong PA tank column was driving toward Sŏul, and  Kimp'o airport, apparently advancing at will. "South Korean arms," Acheson concluded, summing up the situation, were "clearly outclassed."

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1950/06/26 - Monday, Truman asked and received support from UN - Russia was absent because boycotting Security Council until seat given to Communist China

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Change in Policy

With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea on 25 June, new forces and new considerations were immediately brought into play. With the President's decision, on 26 June, to employ United States military forces in Korea, an emergency of serious proportions presented itself as an easily definable threat to American security. In view of the general unpreparedness of the Armed Forces, Congress acted swiftly to increase the strength and effectiveness

June 26, 1950

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In Washington the State and Defense Departments thought that the United Nations' resolution of 25 June met the needs of the immediate situation. On the preceding night Secretary Dean Acheson had told President Truman that he was not immediately needed in Washington, but at midday on 25 June [1200+1400=2600-2400=0200] he was less certain.
 


 June 26, 1950 0900

biography

Monday morning Sunday evening in Washington  [6/26/1950 0900 - [6/25/1960 2000 DC]  MacArthur's first Korean orders came in over his telecon, a form of communication comprising two typewriters and two screens;  messages punched out on the Pentagon keyboard appeared on MacArthur's tube.

Operation of all U.S., forces in Asia was now officially vested in him. His new title, added to SCAP, was Commander in Chief, Far East (CINCFE). He was instructed to "support the Republic of Korea" with warships around, and warplanes over, South Korea. He could expect broader powers as Austin applied greater pressure on UN allies.

 Already America had one foot on the battlefield. By now reports from Taejŏn had eclipsed any hope that the invaders could be swiftly driven back, and both he and Dulles were gloomy when he drove the envoy to Haneda for his flight home.

 MacArthur, as pessimistic as he had been ebullient before, now spoke darkly of writing off the entire Korean peninsula. He had just radioed Truman:

"South Korean units unable to resist determined North Korean offensive. Contributory factor exclusive enemy possession of tanks and fighter planes. South Korean casualties as an index to fighting have not shown adequate resistance capabilities or the will to fight and our estimate is that a complete collapse is imminent."

In his reply the President again cautioned him to send no fliers or vessels north of the Parallel.   [note]

June 26,1950 900

biography

MacArthur heartily approved of the administration's decision to intervene though it was an even greater surprise to him, he said, than the invasion but he had many reservations, and some of his assumptions would have alarmed the Blair House planners. He believed that they understood "little about the Pacific and practically nothing about Korea," that they were certain to blunder because errors were "inescapable when the diplomat attempts to exercise military judgment." The President's war cabinet was determined to confine the war, but the new CINCFE believed in the Thomist doctrine of just wars   believed that if the battlefield was the last resort of governments, then the struggle must be waged until one side had been vanquished. And while he scorned the military opinions of civilians, he didn't think that soldiers should shirk civil decisions; he had pointedly suggested to Dulles that he was  quite "prepared to deal with policy questions." This was more than presumption. He had made such decisions in Australia, the Philippines, and Japan. Few world leaders, let alone generals, were more experienced in governing nations. It is understandable that Washington should want only his military talents in this fresh crisis, but it was unreasonable to expect him, of all men, to leash himself.


The issue was further complicated by his stature among Americans. The GOP might not want him as a presidential nominee, • but he remained one of the most popular military leaders in the country's history. Delighted by his new appointment, Republicans regarded it as a sign that the administration might be veering away from its Europe first policies. The General, they thought, didn't share the liberal conviction that Asian unrest arose from poverty and the rejection of Western colonialism. They were wrong there, but right in assuming that he didn't believe that Peking might be detached from Moscow if the United States courted Mao by abandoning Formosa that he would not, in their words, "sell out" Chiang to "appease" the mainland Chinese. Above all, both U.S. political parties recognized SCAP as a powerful Pacific force whose views about the Far East carried great weight with his countrymen. This was to have grave consequences in the conduct of the Korean War.

Reluctant to offend him, and thereby risk accusations of playing politics while men were dying, virtually all of Truman's advisers, including the Joint Chiefs, including even the President himself, would prove timid and ambiguous in many key directives to him. That was inexcusable. By now they should have learned that if he were free to construe unclear orders, he would choose constructions which suited him, not them. Sebald, the foreign service officer closest to him, observes:

"With his sense of history, experience, seniority, reputation, and temperament, he did not easily compromise when his judgment or his decisions were questioned. . . . He was never reluctant to interpret his authority or to make decisions and act quickly arguing the matter later." [12] 

 

June 26, 1950 0900

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In any political contest with him, the President would suffer from certain peculiar handicaps. One was his own fault. In his determination to achieve what he called an "economy budget," he had rashly slashed the Pentagon budget to 13.2 billion dollars, cutting, as Cabell Phillips of the New York Times put it, "bone and sinew along with the fat." Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson became the goat for this. After events in Korea had exposed the Pentagon's vitiation, Truman fired Johnson and appointed George Marshall in his place no improvement in MacArthur's eyes, though more acceptable to the country. But the President, despite the "Buck Stops Here" sign on his desk, was the real culprit. And he hardly improved matters by attempting to intimidate antagonists by brandishing military might which no longer existed.

In those first turbulent days of the Korean crisis he impetuously announced that the United States would not only defend Rhee's and Chiang's regimes; it would, he said, also support the Philippine campaign against the Huks and the French drive against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. This was NSC-68 with a vengeance. It was also ludicrous. He lacked the muscle to back it up, and foreign leaders knew it. As MacArthur noted, five years before Korea the U.S. had been "militarily more powerful than any nation on earth," but now it would be hard put to push the fledgling In Min Gun back across the 38th Parallel. American power, SCAP said, had been

"frittered away in a bankruptcy of positive and courageous leadership toward any long range objective:"[13]

 The General believed he was a more eloquent advocate of traditional American idealism than the President. He may have been right. NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift the shining monuments of Truman's foreign policy were relatively sophisticated concepts. His constituents approved, but for the most part they were unstirred. They believed that democracy, the "American Way," was the sole answer to the world's problems. The more democratic a European nation, the more they admired it. But Europeans were prosperous. The real test, as they saw it, lay in Asia. In some mysterious way they had regarded the triumphant end of World War II as a victory for American ideals. The successful reformation of Japan and the new Philippine republic were cited as evidence of it. That was one reason the cataclysm in China had shaken them. 

June 26, 1950 0900

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Early on Sunday evening, shortly before the President arrived in Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a teletype conference with General MacArthur. They notified MacArthur of the tentative plans made by Defense and State officials to ship supplies and equipment, which MacArthur had already started, and to extend his responsibility to include operational control of all U. S. military activities in Korea. They said he might also be directed to commit certain forces, principally naval and air, to protect the Sŏul-Kimp'o-Inch'ŏn area to assure the safe evacuation of American nationals and to gain time for action on the measures then before the United Nations. Most significantly, they alerted him to be ready to send U. S. ground and naval forces to stabilize the combat situation and, if feasible, to restore the 38th Parallel as a boundary. This action, they said, might be necessary if the United Nations asked member nations to employ military force. [04-22]

No decision on Korea could properly be made without a careful analysis of USSR intentions. The United States believed Russia to be the real aggressor in Korea, in spirit if not in fact, and effective measures to halt the aggression might therefore provoke total war. Hence, a decision to meet force with force implied a willingness to fight a full-scale war with Russia if necessary. The determinant for Korea was, then, as always: "What will Russia do?" [04-23]

The possible reactions of nations other than Russia were also important. Each alternative open to the United States was accompanied by a strong chance of alienating nations upon whose continuing friendship and support American policy was based. Inaction would be condemned by some nations as a betrayal of the ROK Government. It would gravely impair American efforts to maintain prestige in Asia as well as in other areas, and would cause such nations as Great Britain, Italy, and Japan to re-examine the wisdom of supporting the United States. On the other hand, if the United States took unilateral military measures against the North Korean attackers, Russian charges of imperialistic action and defiance of the United Nations would appear valid to many nations. The effect would be to anger these nations and to render them more susceptible to Russian points of view.

The most sensible course seemed to be a co-operative effort among members of the United Nations to halt the aggression. But South Korea needed help at once; and the United Nations could hardly act swiftly enough. Furthermore, communist members of the United Nations could be expected to oppose joint action.  

June 26, 1950 1100

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President Truman and his key advisers gathered at the Blair House in Washington on the evening of 25 June for an exchange of views. Five State Department members, the Secretaries of the military departments, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chief of Staff were present. [04-24]

At this meeting, the policy-makers discussed the major problems facing the United States in the Far East. Foremost in their minds was a consideration of Soviet intentions and American capabilities. Louis A. Johnson, Secretary of Defense, believed strongly that Formosa was more vital to the security of the United States than Korea, and at his direction General Bradley, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, read a memorandum on Formosa prepared by General MacArthur. At the insistence of Secretary of State Acheson, questions of Formosa were postponed temporarily, and the attention of the group was redirected to Korea. [04-25]

 Acheson recommended that General MacArthur furnish supplies and ammunition to the ROK at once and that he be directed to evacuate U.S. nationals by any means required. When no one offered to comment on Acheson's proposals, Johnson asked each defense representative in turn for an expression of opinion. The responses came forth, and

"A major portion of the evening was taken in the individual, unrehearsed, unprepared and uncoordinated statements of the several Chiefs and the Secretaries." [04-26] 

June 26, 1950 1200

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Throughout the morning the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Army, and the military chiefs were in conference at the Pentagon. [note]

[About noon in Korea] This opening thrust was quickly deflected, and the discussion properly turned to the larger picture: Stalin and the Kremlin. What did Stalin's decision to resort to "raw aggression" portend? Bradley speculated. He did not think Stalin was "ready" for global war; the Kremlin was probably "testing" America's spiritual resolve to its containment rhetoric. However, Bradley went on, this major escalation in the cold war was a "moral outrage" which the United States and United Nations could not countenance. To knuckle under in this test, he said, would be tantamount to "appeasement." One act of appeasement could lead to further acts and hence almost inevitably to global war. "We must draw the line somewhere," Bradley concluded, and Korea "offered as good an occasion for drawing the line as anywhere else.[3-19]

All fourteen men present, including most emphatically President Truman and Dean Acheson, were of like mind. All the prior policies set forth in various position papers, reached after years of careful study - that South Korea was of little strategic importance and should not be a casus belli - were summarily dismissed. On June 24, 1950, South Korea had suddenly become an area of vital importance, not strategically or militarily (as Acheson would write in his memoirs) but psychologically and symbolically. Stalin had chosen that place to escalate cold war to hot war. The line would be drawn. South Korea would be supported, not because its conquest would directly threaten America's vital interests but because a failure to meet Stalin's challenge there would be so morally derelict it might fatally damage America's prestige and lead to a collapse of the free world's will to resist Communist aggression in places that really counted.

The conferees next wrestled with these questions: How much help? What form should it take? There was a stingy approach to the problem: Minimize, not maximize, the commitment. Finally, they agreed on the following steps, to be carried out with utmost haste under the "guise of aid" to the UN, which that day had condemned the NKPA invasion and invited "all members" to help the ROKs.

 

MacArthur would proceed (as he was already doing) with sending "ammunition and equipment" to the ROKs in order to help "prevent the loss" of Sŏul.

MacArthur would rush a "survey party" to South Korea to find out what other military aid the ROKs might need to hold Sŏul.

MacArthur would provide "such naval and air action" as was necessary to prevent the loss of Sŏul partly under the guise of ensuring "safe evacuation of United States dependents and noncombatants."

The Navy's Seventh Fleet, then at Subic Bay in the Philippines, would proceed to Sasebo, Japan, to augment MacArthur's thin naval forces.[3-20]

June 26, 1950 12:30 PM

6/25/50  10:30 PM Washington 6/26/50 12:30 PM

[About noon, Monday, in Korea,] Truman returned to Washington that Sunday evening, June 25. En route he summoned his chief Pentagon and State advisers to a meeting that night at Blair House, the president's temporary home and office during the renovation of the White House. Thirteen senior officials gathered at Blair House for a fried chicken dinner and urgent talks. Of the thirteen, the majority - eight - were from the Pentagon. These included Louis Johnson and Omar Bradley, returned from the aircraft carrier demonstration in Norfolk, the three service secretaries - Frank Matthews, Frank Pace, and Tom Finletter - and the three military chiefs - Collins, Vandenberg, and Sherman.[3-17]

Confident that the ROK Army would push back the NKPA, the Pentagon contingent had a larger Far East worry that night: Formosa. Recently the Chinese Communists had taken Hainan Island and had amassed 200,000 troops on the mainland opposite Formosa. The Pentagon advisers believed that the NKPA invasion in Korea might possibly be a feint to divert attention and resources from a Chinese Communist invasion of Formosa. Johnson and Bradley, armed with a long and eloquent study paper from MacArthur urging American support for Formosa, took advantage of the crisis atmosphere to push for a reversal of the Truman-Acheson hands-off Formosa policy. On Johnson's instructions, the ailing Bradley read the entire MacArthur paper, and Johnson recommended (as the JCS had the previous December) that an American survey team be authorized to go to Formosa to find out what was required to maintain the security of the island.[3-18] 

June 26, 1200

biography   biography   biography

General Bradley summed up the prevailing opinion. He said that the United States would have to draw the line on communist aggression somewhere-and that somewhere was Korea. He did not believe that Russia was ready to fight the United States, but was merely testing American determination. President Truman agreed emphatically. He did not expect the North Koreans to pay any attention to the pronouncement of the United Nations, and he felt that the United Nations would have to apply force. [04-29]

2230 Washington 1300 Korea

Before the meeting adjourned at 2300, President Truman approved the actions proposed by Secretary Acheson and already set in motion by General MacArthur.

June 26, 1950 1200

biography

1950/06/25 10pm- Sunday, Truman returned to Blair House from Independence, MO, and met with NSC - ordered U.S. Navy and AF into SK to stop invasion (but no Army ground troops)