MacArthur and the Pusan Perimeter: Facts That Ollie Left Out
Ollie North’s “War Stories” documentary on the desperate fighting at the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War that aired on the Fox Network, Sunday, July 3, included some damning comments about General Douglas MacArthur’s command decisions before and during the war. Frequent ACG forums participant, Romulo “Mo” Ludan thinks there are some facts that Ollie left out. Here is his web article he hopes will set the record straight.
For more on the life and career of Douglas MacArthur be sure to read the November 2005 issue of Armchair General, featuring our Battlefield Leader article on the controversial general.
Commentary on TV documentary: “The Desperate Battle for the Pusan Perimieter” War Stories, narrated by Host Ollie North and aired on Sunday 7/3/2004, Fox Channel
Let me, if I may, clarify a few points on this otherwise fine TV documentary:
Point #1. The reason why MacArthur thought that chances of Red China entering the war were “very little” was simply logical. Any attacking Communist commander must face the probability of being annihilated by a quick and massive retaliation by the U.S. This was a virtual certainty unless, of course, the enemy was tipped off that there would be no such devastating response to follow, which was exactly the course Truman took against the advice of his field commander in Korea.
As Frazier Hunt pointed out in “The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur”: The enemy commander would logically think that if a large invasion force struck the U.N. armies, MacArthur would then be permitted to use his air arm, with its deadly potential of atomic bombs and radioactive waste. Within a matter of hours this unwrapping of his air would mean the destruction of the bridges over the Yalu, of enemy airfields, troop concentrations, supply lines and every important base and target in Manchuria (note that at the time, U.S. enjoyed superiority over the Soviets in air and naval power, strategic bombers, and atomic arsenal ).
Point #2. MacArthur’s intelligence knew that there were 400,000 Chinese Communist troops in Manchuria and another 200,000 camped along the Yalu. The criticism that he did not know or underestimated their strength was therefore incorrect. What he did not know was that Truman would countermand his order to bomb the bridges across the Yalu, all six of them, which could have ended the war (Frazier Hunt, ibid.).
Point #3. TV documentary failed to mention the extent of Soviet infiltration of the Truman administration (Ann Coulter, “Treason”). How it enabled the notorious Cambridge trio of master spies Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess to use their sensitive positions in the British Foreign Service to pass on every U.N. battle plan to the Soviets, who then relayed it to the Chinese. One notable exception was Operation Chromite code name for Inchon Landing. Suspecting security leaks in Washington, MacArthur deliberately delayed sending his final battle plan for several hours. As a result, the enemy was caught completely by surprise (William Breuer, “Shadow Warriors: The Covert War in Korea”).
Point #4. TV documentary tried to blame MacArthur for the sorry state of his 8th Army, now reduced to only 4 divisions of mostly green recruits. The fault however lay squarely with the Truman administration and its so-called “budget economy.” In just a span of 5 years after WW2, Truman, known for his cost-cutting days in Congress, cut the defense budget from $15 billion requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to $6 billion. Between 1945 and 1950 until the outbreak of the Korean War, his administration downsized the army from 8 million to 592,000, marines from 480,000 to 75,000, and aircraft carriers from 40 to 11 (William Triplett II: “Rogue State: How a Nuclear Korea Threatens America”).
Gen. of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, United Nations Forces, Korea, guides visitors around the fighting front. Included are Eighth Army commander, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway (left) and I Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Frank W. Milburn (right rear). (National Archives)
More appalling was Truman’s failure to equip South Korea, against pleadings by MacArthur, to counter Soviet arming of the North. To compound his error, Truman decided in June 1949 to transfer responsibility for the South’s civil and military affairs from MacArthur’s Tokyo-based Far Eastern command to Washington’s U.S. State Department, leaving behind a token force of 472 peace-keeping personnel. MacArthur was effectively cut off from any policy-making role over Korea. (Wm Breuer, op. cit.).
Host Ollie North failed to mention that in a speech before the National Press Cub in January 1950, Secretary of State Acheson excluded Korea (and Formosa) from America’s line of defense, which he defined as “running along the Aleutians to Japan, and then goes to the Ryukyus (Okinawa), and from there to the Philippine Islands.” 5 months later, North Korean forces struck. The bloody Korean War had begun.
Point #5. The TV show chided MacArthur for being aloof and insensitive to his men, e.g., Lt. Col. “Brad” Smith whose “Task Force Smith” had bought time for MacArthur in Pusan to prepare for the Inchon counter-attack. On the contrary, MacArthur had always admired acts of daring and gallantry. Following the success at Inchon on September 15, 1950, MacArthur proudly proclaimed: “Say to the fleet: the Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning” (Wm Manchester, “American Caesar”).
Point #6. TV Host Ollie North closed with the statistic that “36,000 U.S. troops” died in the war. The actual figure was 54,246 dead, 103,284 wounded (Dean Acheson, “Present at the Creation”). In fact, the U.S. suffered more casualties after MacArthur left his post (Wm Manchester, ibid.).
CONCLUSION: Let’s hear it from the leading combatants themselves. Curiously, none of these sentiments were aired on TV.
General Jim Van Fleet, outgoing commander of U.S./U.N. forces in Korea: “We could have beaten the Communists in the spring of 1951. Our offensive caught the Chinese by complete surprise. We could have followed up our success, but that was not the intention of Washington. Our State Department had already let the Reds know that we were willing to settle on the 38th Parallel” (Wm Breuer, op. cit.).
Far Eastern Air Force General George Stratemeyer: “You get in war to win it. You do not get in war to stand still and lose it, and we were required to lose it” (John F. McManus, “Changing Command”).
Gen. James Gavin, famed airborne hero of ETO (European Theatre of Operation) and Pentagon’s specialist in Korea: “I have no doubt whatever that the Chinese moved confidently and skillfully into North Korea, and, in fact, I believe that they were able to do this because they were well-informed not only of the moves Walker (8th Army commander) would make but of the limitations on what he might do. I am quite sure now that all of MacArthur’s plans flowed into the hands of the Communists through the British Foreign Office” (Wm Manchester, op. cit.).
Red Chinese General Lin Piao: “I would never have made the attack and risked my men and military reputation if I had not been assured that Washington would restrain General MacArthur from taking adequate retaliatory measures against my lines of supply and communication” (Wm Manchester, ibid.).
General Mark Clark, the last commander of U.S./U.N. forces in Korea (he signed the armistice in Panmunjom on July 27, 1953): “Perhaps the Communists had wormed their way so deeply into our government on both the working and planning levels that they were able to exercise an inordinate degree of power in shaping the course of America. I could not keep wondering and worrying whether we were faced with open enemies across the conference table (at Panmunjom) and hidden enemies who sat with us in our most secret councils” (Mark Clark, “From the Danube to the Yalu”).
Although not a combatant but observing the events in Korea very closely, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Britain’s leading soldier and Montgomery’s WW2 superior,* gave this estimate: “The decisions MacArthur finally arrived at as regards the war in Korea were, I think, based on a Pacific outlook and, as such, in my opinion were right. He has been accused of taking actions without previous political approval, but he had been unable to obtain the political policy and guidance he had sought. To my mind a general who is not prepared to assume some responsibility on his own, when unable to obtain political direction, is of little value. Underscoring provided (Douglas MacArthur, “Reminiscences”).
General MacArthur was at his home in New York’s Waldorf Astoria when he learned of the signing of the armistice. Said the General rather prophetically: “This is the death warrant for Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, and … Vietnam).” Wm Breuer, op. cit.
Note: For further discussion, 1) read Dr. Jerry D. Morelock, Col. (ret.) “Why Truman Really Fired MacArthur” p. 26, Armchair General, May 2005 issue, 2) visit www.armchairgeneral.com click on Truman MacArthur Controversy, 3) Visit our discussion forums where you can discuss this article, as well as any part of military history.
Contributed by Armchair General Forum Participant Mo Ludan, July 4, 2005, firstname.lastname@example.org
*The Field Marshal, chief architect of Operation Overlord (code name for Normandy Landing), was quoted as saying that Inchon Landing was the greatest strategic counter-stroke “in military history of the 20th century.” In the TV program, host North opined that Inchon Landing was only the greatest strategic move “since WW2″ i.e., Normandy Landing.