Military history


The U.N. Cloak

We see, therefore, that war is not merely a political act, but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.…

— From the German of Karl von Clausewitz, ON WAR.

AT THE UNITED NATIONS, Secretary-General Tryve Lie had already established a tradition that was to last and that perhaps would eventually allow the world body to survive. As the first man to hold the office of Secretary-General, the Norwegian Lie considered that he was no mere lackey of the member powers, great or small, nor even an executive agent at the Council's beck and call. He considered himself an executive, much as the President of the United States is an executive, and as such, he might place questions in consideration before his legislature, composed of the Security Council and the General Assembly. Like the President, his power must stem from those legislatures' consent—but like the President, also, he could propose, direct, and ask for support.

From the moment he was informed of the Communist assault upon the Republic of Korea, Trygve Lie saw the immediate crisis and inherent danger to the future of the U.N. A body like the U.N. had been formed to keep the peace of the world—perhaps a hopelessly ambitious gesture—and each breach of peace inevitably carried it to the edge of the abyss. If the U.N. succeeded, it merely bought a little more time. But if it failed completely, then it was dead in the hearts of men, and its formal death, like that of the League of Nations, was only a matter of time.

A native of a small and powerless nation that in his lifetime had been brutally treated by a more powerful neighbor, Trygve Lie believed deeply in the purposes and necessity of the United Nations. If the U.N. proved it could not offer at least some protection to the weak, then it was useless, and would disappear.

And Lie, who as Secretary-General had helped set up the U.N. Commission on Korea, which had brought the Taehan Minkuk into vigorous life, also took the bald Communist assault as a personal affront.

Moving swiftly, and with the complete backing of the United States—whose own feelings were affronted—Lie convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council at 2:00 P.M. 25 June, New York time. With unprecedented swiftness—for there was only one "neutral" on the Council in 1950—that body proposed, debated, revised, and adopted a resolution on the Korean crisis.

But for all his determination and swiftness of action, only one fact allowed Lie to succeed: the Soviet Union, which with the other four great powers enjoyed the veto, was not in attendance. On 10 January 1950, the Soviet delegate had not only pulled one of the now famous Soviet walkouts but had also continued to boycott the Council meetings over the issue of seating Red China.

If Andrei Gromyko or his ilk had been in New York on Sunday afternoon, the U.N. would not have taken action on the Korean question. And the U.N. might not have enjoyed another dozen years of life.

Taking advantage of the Soviets' tactical mistake, Lie and the Western powers passed a strong resolution stating that the armed assault upon the Republic of Korea constituted a breach of the peace. The resolution called for:

1. an immediate cessation of hostilities, and

2. the authorities of North Korea to withdraw their forces back to the 38th parallel, and

3. all members to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution and to refrain from giving assistance to the North Korean authorities.

Voting for the resolution were Nationalist China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, France, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. At the time both Cuba and Egypt, untroubled by revolution, were in the Western bloc. Only Communist Yugoslavia, which hated Americans because they were capitalists and Russians because they were Russians abstained.

Shortly after 6:00 P.M. the resolution was released.

A few hours afterward, in Blair House across from the White House—which was undergoing repairs—President Truman met with the "guts" of his Administration, the important members of Defense and State.

Here, by 10:30 P.M. American policy in the Far East had solidified. The real, if uneulogized, foreign policy of the Truman Administration was the containment of Communism, and there was general agreement that the United States had better begin containing.

While the immediate security of the United States was not threatened, its political order in the world was. China had disappeared into the hostile camp, provoking great unease not only among Americans but also among many of the Cabinet who had not dared act, for with its loss the balance of power in Asia had shifted. Now, if Korea were lost, Japan would hang by a thread—and if Japan went, America would be back where it was after Pearl Harbor.

By teletype, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized General MacArthur, Commanding General, FECOM, to send ammunition and military equipment to Korea to prevent the loss of the Seoul-Kimpo area, and to provide requisite air and naval cover to assure its arrival, to provide ships and aircraft to evacuate American civilians from the peninsula, and finally to dispatch a survey party to see the situation at firsthand and to decide what aid the Republic of Korea might require.

At the same time orders were received by the Seventh Fleet to sail from its bases in the Philippines and Okinawa to Sasebo, Japan, there to come under the operational control of Commander United States Naval Forces, Far East.

MacArthur immediately sent his radiogram to Colonel Wright, KMAG Chief, at the time on the road from Seoul to Sihung, telling him to be of "good cheer."

A few hours later three Russian-built YAK fighters, sighting American Air Force planes over Inch'on, opened fire on them. The Americans were over Korea only to provide air cover against attack on the evacuating civilians and dependents—but with the bullet holes in their wings, the American pilots declared open season. They shot down all three YAK's.

A few hours later, four more YAK's were shot out of the skies over Seoul. That day the 68th and 339th All-Weather Fighter Squadrons, and the 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Fifth Air Force, flew 163 sorties from Japan. The ancient YAK fighters of the Inmun Gun proved no match for the F-80 and F-82 jets.

Americans, unknown to the public at home, were already engaged.

The interests of the United States demanded action, and now two things had occurred that would permit the Administration to act: the United Nations had taken a hand, which gave the United States an international sanction it could not have had otherwise in protecting its own interests—and the Communists had this time used overt, brutal armed force against a peaceful people, provoking immediate disapproval among the American public, among liberals, leftists, conservatives, and mugwumps alike.

Truman, who liked to say, pointing to his desk, "The buck stops here," was not a man to shirk a decision. He had acted—not intemperately or rashly, no matter how intemperate or rash he might be on other things—on the decision to drop the nuclear bomb. He had bought the Marshall Plan, and proclaimed the Truman Doctrine in Greece and Turkey. Harry Truman, however confused his ideas on domestic matters might become, never passed the buck or dropped the ball.

The Government of the United States, realizing completely the importance of halting Communist encroachment not only in Europe but everywhere in the world, resolved to assist the Republic of Korea. For whatever the truth might be, the world regarded Korea as an American protégé, and American prestige in Asia hung in the balance.

But at 10:30 P.M. on 25 June 1950, Washington time, no one knew how hard it was going to be to help the Taehan Minkuk.

In Seoul, in the early hours of 28 June, even while "Momentous decisions were in the offing," Colonel William H. S. Wright, KMAG Chief of Staff, was having his difficulties.

Since 0100, when the ROK's decided to blow the Han bridges, officers on duty at ROK HQ had tried to reach him. They wanted to tell him that the ROK HQ was leaving Seoul, and wanted to know if KMAG should also leave.

But the officer taking Wright's calls determined to let the Old Man sleep, and it was not until a KMAG officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Vieman, went personally to Wright's quarters and routed out Wright's houseboy that the message got through.

Once Wright was awake, Vieman briefed him on the chaotic situation at ROK Army HQ. He had just finished when the Han bridges blew. After the great flash of orange and thunderclap of sound from the south, Wright, exhausted as he was, was fully alert.

He immediately got all the American officers together, found trucks, and started them in convoy for a bridge on the east side of Seoul. They were almost there when ROK troops informed them that this bridge, too, was gone. The convoy turned back to a KMAG housing compound in the Sobingo area near the river to wait for daylight.

Parts of Seoul were aflame; firing was heard continually as the retreating ROK's battled the NKPA within the city, and the city was in confusion. In the dark, disorganized ROK soldiers were falling back to the river, firing at anything that moved.

At dawn, KMAG sent out a small recon party, which soon reported back that the ferries just east of the blown highway bridge were still in operation. This party also made contact with Lieutenant Colonel Lee Chi Yep, an officer who greatly liked Americans. This was a fortunate break, for Lee said he understood their plight and would help them to get across the river.

Along the banks of the Han this Wednesday morning, Colonel Wright and his group found complete chaos. ROK soldiers and civilians were milling about the ferry, fighting each other, shooting at the boatmen who were trying to retain possession of their craft. Colonel Lee Chi Yep ordered a ferryman to carry the KMAG party across. When the Korean refused to bring his boat alongside the milling crowd on the riverbank, Lee shot a hole in the man's shirt.

In this way, Lee got attention, and a few at a time, taking two hours, the KMAG party finally crossed the broad Han. Colonel Wright crossed last, insisting the command radio truck be ferried across with him. The radio was KMAG's only link with Japan. When Wright finally got truck and radio into a ferryboat, artillery fire was bursting along the riverside, and he could hear the sharp whack of tank guns close by.

On the south bank, Colonel Wright went ahead with a small advance group to Suwon. The others walked fifteen miles to Anyang-ni, where at 1500 trucks sent by Colonel Wright picked them up and brought them to Suwon.

The KMAG party had come through without the loss of a man.

At approximately 1900 hours, 27 June, MacArthur's survey party from Tokyo landed at Suwon Airfield, where it was met by Ambassador Muccio. This party consisted of thirteen officers and two enlisted men from MacArthur's GHQ, under command of Brigadier General John H. Church. After the survey party had left Japan, MacArthur received authority from the Joint Chiefs to assume command of all military personnel in Korea, and he immediately redesignated the survey party GHQ Advance Command and Liaison Group in Korea (ADCOM), giving it the added mission of assuming control of KMAG and assisting the ROK Army.

In Suwon, General Church, a slender, hatchet-faced officer in neat khakis, telephoned Colonel Wright, who was still in Seoul. Wright advised him not to try to enter Seoul that night, and ADCOM took over the Experimental Agriculture Building in Suwon to await further developments.

At 0400 the next morning, Colonel Hazlett and Captain Hausman, who had missed being blown up with the Han highway bridge by a matter of five minutes, drove their jeep into Suwon. They reported immediately to General Church.

They told him that the Seoul bridges were blown, that there were already NKPA tanks inside the city, and that the ROK Army was falling apart. They were very much afraid that the KMAG officers still in Seoul were trapped.

General Church realized he had walked into a hell of a situation, one that no one in Tokyo had understood at all. Now he ordered Hazlett to locate the ROK chief of staff, General Chae.

When Fat Chae finally came into ADCOM HQ, Church informed him that General MacArthur had taken charge of U.S. operations in Korea. He suggested that Chae move his own HQ into the same building with ADCOM. A subtle but very real change had come into American-Korean relations, for Church, listening to the complaints of KMAG officers, realized that someone had to take charge.

He strongly urged Chae to order the ROK troops still in Seoul to continue fighting, to establish straggler points south of the Han, and to put together enough troops to defend the Han Line at all costs.

Chae was able to collect about a thousand officers and eight thousand men to deploy along the river in provisional units.

Then Church, feeling as gloomy as he looked, radioed MacArthur that the United States was going to have to commit ground troops if it wanted to restore the original border of Korea. In the early evening he received a return radiogram stating that a high-ranking officer would fly into Suwon the next morning, and asking if Suwon Airfield was still operational. Church replied affirmatively.

Shortly after 0800 on 29 June, Major General Earle E. Partridge, acting commander of the Far Eastern Air Force, received a radio message from his chief, General Stratemeyer, who was already aloft in MacArthur's personal C-54, the Bataan.

The message said, succinctly:

"Stratemeyer to Partridge: Take out North Korean Airfields immediately. No Publicity. MacArthur approves."

The Far Eastern Air Force was the largest body of American air power outside the continental United States. Lieutenant General Stratemeyer had nine groups of combat planes, or a total of about 350 operational combat aircraft. Only four groups were initially in position to support the fighting in Korea, but immediate orders went out to the more distant units to close in on Japan.

And immediately, FEAF began to wreak havoc on the North Korean Air Force. The propeller-driven YAK's, and their pilots, were no match in the air for the American jets. And while Communist air was being shattered, FEAF flew hundreds of missions against the advancing ground troops of the NKPA.

In the first few hours they did more harm than good. Without groundcontrol parties, and with the situation on the ground so confused, FEAF pilots could not tell friend from foe.

Young Colonel Paik Sun Yup, trying to bring the remaining half of his 1st Division back across the Han, was struck by American air.

The U.S. planes rocketed and strafed his columns, killing or wounding dozens, sending Paik and his staff scrambling into the ditches.

When the jets, their ammunition exhausted, sighed high and away, Paik got his shaken staff together. "You see," he told them, "you did not believe the Americans would come to help us. Now you know better!"

The staff had to agree that the Americans, indeed, were in the war.

But while FEAF could quickly wipe out the small NKPA air forces, it immediately became obvious that American air power alone could not seriously affect the outcome on the ground. The NKPA took their losses and came on.

Meanwhile, an American ground force unit had already entered Korea. Designated only as Detachment X, 33 officers and men of the 507th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion had flown into Suwon and emplaced their four M-55 machine guns about the airfield. A few minutes after the Bataanflew out, this unit engaged four YAK fighters, shooting down one.

MacArthur, Stratemeyer, and a party of high-ranking officers were on the way to Suwon Airfield, which was being strafed at the moment by Russianbuilt YAK's.

As the Bataan landed on the Suwon strip, a wrecked United States C-54 was flaming on the runway.

On the ground, MacArthur, wearing his gold-braided cap, a leather jacket over his khaki uniform shirt, and his long corncob in his left hand, was met by President Syngman Rhee of Korea, Ambassador Muccio, and General Church. They all entered an ancient sedan and were driven to Church's ADCOM HQ.

Church told MacArthur that by nightfall he expected to be able to account for about 25,000 ROK troops south of the Han. MacArthur insisted upon going personally up to the river to see the situation at firsthand. On the trip, he saw enough to tighten his lean face.

Thousands upon thousands of white-clad Korean refugees were fleeing south. Among them, completely disorganized, were thousands of ROK soldiers—also moving south.

MacArthur quietly told Church that in his opinion the situation called for the immediate commitment of American ground troops. He stated he would request the JCS for such action as soon as he returned to Tokyo.

At 1800 the Bataan was airborne for Japan.

In New York, the Security Council of the United Nations convened again on the night of 27 June. By this time it had become obvious that the U.N. resolution calling for an end to hostilities was going to be ignored by the Communist nations, and also by this time the United States had become determined to halt the aggression in Korea.

The Russian delegate was still not in attendance.

In 1950 United States influence in the U.N. was still preponderant; the NATO allies and the Latin-American nations voted consistently with the Americans, and these votes could be counted on for a majority both on the Council and in the Assembly.

Now the Security Council passed a resolution commenting on its fruitless efforts to halt the war, and ending, at American urging, as folows:

…Recommends that the members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.

Bespectacled, white-haired Warren Austin, the U.S. delegate, had in essence what he wanted. The United States, which had already decided to go to the aid of Korea, now had woven a U.N. cloak under which to carry out its national policy.

In the future, this "cloak" would become both a help and a hindrance.

The Soviet Government, receiving information of this resolution, decided its own representative had better get back to minding the store. But it was already too late for effective Russian obstruction.

In Washington, as reports on the debacle of the ROK Army filtered in, tension increased. Before noon on the 29th, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson telephoned President Truman.

Of all the Cabinet, Johnson was probably the most shocked at the developments. Honestly believing that the United States would never again fight a ground war, Johnson had made it almost impossible for the U.S. Army to do so. But even Johnson did not fully understand the extent of American weakness to handle a situation of this kind—for in cutting the "fat" from the ground forces, Johnson had—along with public opinion generally—not only cut deeply into their strength but also into their morale and effectiveness.

He and other leaders met with the President during the afternoon, and at this time a new directive was issued to the Far East commander:

1. MacArthur was authorized to use Army service forces in Korea to maintain communications and supply services for the ROK's;

2. to employ Army combat troops to ensure the retention of an air and naval base in the PusanChinhae area;

3. to use both naval and air forces against military targets in North Korea—but to stay well away from the Chinese and Russian frontiers;

4. to defend Taiwan from Chinese Communist invasion, but also to prevent any attack on the mainland by Chiang Kai-shek; and finally,

5. to send whatever supplies and munitions the ROK's might need to the Korean Government.

This directive also ended with a clear statement that there was no decision to engage in war with the Soviet Union, even if Soviet forces should intervene in Korea. Already, a firm determination to limit this engagement—if possible—had appeared in Washington.

Officials were still apprehensive of the role of the Soviet Union. No one could be sure that general war would not begin at any moment. Never before having accepted the idea of limited goals in war, Washington still found it difficult to follow Soviet reasoning. But as President Truman stated later, the United States Government saw absolutely no chance of forcing its will—as it had on Germany and Japan—upon the vast land masses of Russia and China, even by means of general war. They felt that such a war against these powers would solve nothing for the United States, and should as far as humanly possible be avoided. If the Communist powers held back from total war, the United States would follow suit.

But the Communists had made a strong move on the politico-military chessboard, and there was immediate determination that the Soviet gambit must not be allowed to proceed unchecked.

This directive had been out only hours when MacArthur's report of his personal reconnaissance to Korea hit Washington like a bomb. From the above directive it is obvious that the government felt that American troops would not become engaged on the peninsula except in the air or at sea, where the United States was well prepared to engage and where casualties could be expected to be light.

MacArthur's cable read:

"The only assurance for the holding of the present line, and the ability to regain later the lost ground, is through the introduction of U.S. ground combat forces into the Korean battle area. To continue to utilize the forces of our Air and Navy without an effective ground element cannot be decisive."

MacArthur further asked for permission to move a regimental combat team into Korea, to be built up later into a two-division force as needed.

The message was too hot for General J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, to handle. He called the Secretary of the Army, Frank Pace, and ordered a hot teletype connection set up with Tokyo.

Over the teletype, MacArthur reiterated that the authority he already had, to put troops into the Pusan area, would not fulfill the mission. He also asked Collins to make up his mind. "Time is of the essence, and a clear-cut decision without delay is essential!"

Collins replied he would kick it upstairs, and would reply within thirty minutes. Then he got Pace on the wire and repeated the teletype conversation. As soon as Collins had hung up, Pace called Blair House.

It was 0457, on 30 June, Washington time, but Harry Truman was already up. He listened to Pace's report.

The United States, in effect, was already committed. Its air forces were shooting down North Korean planes and bombing North Korean airfields. But no one in Washington, either civilian or military, had understood the real extent of the Communist action, or the countermoves that would be required.

Already, the Korean incident was escalating into real war for the United States, step by step. But Truman still could not anticipate at this time the true measure of the difficulty the United States faced in stemming the North Korean invasion. He could only continue to anticipate that an American breakdown now, or a failure to carry through, might tip the balance of the world fatally by the loss of all Asia.

When Frank Pace had given him the substance of the MacArthur-Collins conversation, Truman without hesitation told Pace to go ahead with the regimental combat team. He would let Pace know within two hours on the matter of the two divisions.

The word flashed to MacArthur immediately.

Then, at midmorning 30 June, Truman met with important members of State and Defense. At this time, Truman agreed to two recommended moves: two Army infantry divisions should be sent into Korea from Japan, and North Korea should be blockaded by the Navy.

Now that the Communists had moved overtly and dramatically, and the U.N.—which ironically held the emotional support of the very elements who opposed containment of Communism on moral grounds—had provided a legal and moral cloak under which the U.S. might act, the tougher members of State and Defense felt that their hands were free. Many of them had long writhed under the mistaken attack of conservatives who did not understand the government's dilemma vis-à-vis its own intellectual elements and the American public. They were ready to fight.

In using whatever means necessary to stem the attack against South Korea, the government of Harry Truman unquestionably acted in the best interests of the United States and of the world.

But characteristically, that government took action in a manner that could only make later trouble. As with every major policy decision that Administration had made, it was announced to the public only after the decision was irrevocable. With the orders already speeding to Tokyo, Truman called in the balance of the Cabinet, the Vice-President, congressional leaders of both parties, and told them what he had done.

In effect, Truman had engaged the nation in war by executive action.

Some of the leaders were understandably shaken.

In the afternoon, President Truman issued a terse statement to the press, terming the Korean venture a "police action."

At about the same time, Warren Austin addressed the Security Council in New York, and told the world that the action taken by the United States in Korea was strictly in conformity with the resolutions passed on 25 and 27 June.

Something new had happened. The United States had gone to war, not under enemy attack, nor to protect the lives or property of American citizens. Nor was the action taken in crusading spirit, as in World Wars I and II, to save the world. The American people had entered a war, not by the roaring demand of Congress—which alone could constitutionally declare a state of war—or the public, but by executive action, at the urging of an American proconsul across the sea, to maintain the balance of power across the sea.

Many Americans, who had never adjusted to their country's changed position in the world, would never understand.

Harry Truman had ordered troops into action on the far frontier. This was the kind of order Disraeli might have given, sending Her Majesty's regiments against the disturbers of Her Majesty's peace. Or the emperor in Rome might have given such a command to the legions when his governor in Britain sent word the Picts were over the border.

This was the kind of war that had bleached the bones of countless legionnaires on the marches of the empire, and had dug the graves of numberless Britons, wherever the sun shone.

In 1950 there was only one power and one people in the world who could prevent chaos and a new, barbarian tyranny from sweeping the earth. The United States had become a vast world power, like it or not. And liking it or not, Americans would find that if a nation desires to remain a great and moral power there is a game it must play, and some of its people must pay the price.

Truman, sending the divisions into Korea, was trying to emulate the Roman legions and Her Majesty's regiments—for whether the American people have accepted it or not, there have always been tigers in the world, which can be contained only by force.

But Truman and the American Republic had no legions.

The President and the American people had ten Army divisions, the European Constabulary, and nine separate regimental combat teams, all of which, except the one in Europe, were at 70 percent strength. Each regiment had, instead of its normal three battalions, only two, and each artillery battalion had not its proper three firing batteries, but two.

No division had its proper wartime quota of weapons and equipment, and each had only light M-24 tanks. What equipment each division had was World War II worn, and old.

But the greatest weakness of the American Army was not in its numbers or its weapons, pitiful as they were.

The United States Army, since 1945, had, at the demand of the public, been civilianized. The men in the ranks were enlistees, but these were the new breed of American regular, who, when they took up the soldier, had not even tried to put aside the citizen.

They were normal American youth, no better, no worse than the norm, who though they wore the uniform were mentally, morally, and physically unfit for combat, for orders to go out and die.

They wore the uniform, but they were still civilians at heart.

The ancient legions, and the proud old British regiments, had been filled with taverns' scum, starvelings, and poor farm boys seeking change. They had been inducted, knocked about, ruled with a rod of iron, made into men of iron, with iron discipline. They were officered by men wholly professional, to whom dying was only a part of their way of life. To these men the service was home, and war—any war—their profession.

These legions of old, like the sword itself, were neither moral nor immoral. Morality depended upon the use to which their government put them. But when put to use, they did not question, did not fail. They marched.

In 1950 America, imperfectly understanding her position in this new world, had no legions. She had even no men in "'dirty-shirt blue," such as had policed the Indian frontier. She had an army of sorts of citizens, who were as conscious of their rights and privileges as of their duties. And she had only a reserve of more citizens to fall back upon.

Citizens fly to defend the homeland, or to crusade. But a frontier cannot be held by citizens, because citizens, in a republic, have better things to do.

In 1950, as later, President Truman and his Cabinet might have sounded the clarion call, aroused the nation to frenzy, ushered in World War III. But they saw no profit in holocaust, nor was there any.

The balance of power can be maintained short of holocaust, but only if the trumpet is not sounded. The world of 1914 learned that lesson much too well.

The foreign policy of the Administration had never been that of destroying Communism, which could not be done without Armageddon, but to contain it until the natural balance of world power was restored and there was no void imperialist Communism could fill.

By attacking the Republic of Korea, the Communist world was not proclaiming jihad; it had not sounded its own trumpet of war to the death. It was probing. It was playing the game of limited war and power politics as the kings and tyrannies of old had played them.

The American Government would have preferred not to play. But the game was thrust upon them. There was no alternative to playing, other than surrender or holocaust.

The single greatest weakness of a free people is always their moral doubts. Fortunately for the world, in 1950 the men in the United States Government overcame theirs.

Harry Truman, President, ordered the legions to the frontier. He prepared to back them up with the civilian might of the nation. He sent them not to destroy the unholy, but merely to hold the line.

But Harry Truman, President, had not true legions. He had a citizen army, backed by civilians who neither understood nor approved the dangerous game. Few of them preferred surrender; but most thought of war only in terms of holocaust. They were not prepared.

Citizens, unless they hear the clarion call, or the angel's trumpet, are apt to be a rabble in arms.

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