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Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: How we lost Korea

By Charles A. Morse
web posted October 21, 2002

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has stated that North Korea has a small number of nuclear weapons. It has now been acknowledged that the Korean communists ignored the 1994 agreement with the Clinton Administration to freeze nuclear weapons development. The stage was set for this present crisis in the early 1950's when the Korean War was deliberately and treacherously ended with a stalemate between north and south. As our government and military now prepare for war against Iraq, it is instructive to review American policies that led to the Korean stalemate.

Korea was under Japanese occupation at the time of the 1943 Cairo Conference attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek where it was agreed that a post war Korea would be "free and independent." Two years later at the Potsdam Conference, attended by Truman, Churchill and Stalin, the policy was strangely reversed with a call for Korea to be divided along the 38th Parallel with the north handed over to Stalin. The allied excuse for betraying Korea was an alleged need to reward Stalin for entering the war against Japan. At the time, Germany had already surrendered and the Soviets would be allowed to enter the Japanese theatre the week of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. North Korea and other Far East territories would be subsequently handed over to the Soviets.

Kim Il Sung
Kim Il Sung

The Soviets installed Marxist fanatic Kim Sung Chu, calling himself "Kim Il Sung" after an anti-Japanese Korean guerilla fighter, as their North Korean stooge. South Korea would elect an Assembly, which chose as President the great statesman Syngman Rhee who had headed the Korean government in exile for decades.

After fortifying North Korea with 15 infantry and 2 armored divisions, 150 T-34 tanks and 200 Yak fighter planes, the Soviets demanded that all allied forces withdraw from the south. The U.S. complied with this demand. Major General Courtney Whitney observed "The State Department made its unilateral decision to limit South Korea's defensive force to light weapons and to organize the defenders along constabulary lines." State Department official Owen Lattimore stated at the time "The thing to do is let South Korea fall, but not to let it look as if we pushed it."

After the 1950 invasion of South Korea by the north, President Truman finally authorized American military support, under U.N.command, with South Korea clinging to a toe of land around the city of Pusan. Truman refused to accept an offer made at the time by Taiwan, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, to send 33,000 seasoned troops to aid South Korea. Instead, Truman ordered the American Seventh Fleet into the straits of Formosa both to prevent Taiwan from helping Korea and from invading communist controlled Mainland China. It should be noted that in 1950, Mao Tse-tung had not yet consolidated control over China and that Chiang was still very much in a position to liberate his country from the enveloping communist jack-boot. This inexplicable action by Truman would free China up to fight in Korea without fear of an invasion from Taiwan.

General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur, the great military hero of World War II, pulled off one of the most audacious and successful military maneuvers in history with the American landing at Inchon. In a short period of time, Seoul would be re-captured, 130,000 troops taken prisoner, and the fleeing North Koreans would abandon arms, equipment and tanks on the highways. Not surprisingly, the liberating army discovered much evidence of atrocities and mass murder committed by the communist occupiers.

Truman responded to the liberation of Korea by strangely granting Red China military sanctuary in Manchuria. The book MacArthur: 1941-1951 states "This limitation upon available military force to repel an enemy attack would have no precedent either in our own history or in the history of the world. That the Red Chinese commander apparently knew such a decision would be forthcoming while General MacArthur did not, represents one of the blackest pages ever recorded." MacArthur stated in an interview he granted shortly before his death in 1965 "every message he sent to Washington during the Korean War was turned over by the State Department to the British, who, in turn, leaked it to Moscow" and that Truman refused his entreaties to investigate the leaks.

Red China stormed into Korea November 26, 1950 with the knowledge that their home base in Manchuria would be safe from attack. While the Red Chinese attacked, airfields and depots in clear view across the Yalu River in Manchuria would be free from attack. Communist MiGs could attack with impunity as retaliation was only allowed on the Korean side of the river. Air Force Lieutenant General George Stratemeyer stated (US News and World Report 2/11/55) "We had sufficient air, bombardment, fighters, reconnaissance so that I could have taken out all those supplies, those airdromes on the other side of the Yalu; I could have bombed the devils between there and Mukden, stopped that railroad operating and the people of China that were fighting could not have been supplied...but we weren't permitted to do it. As a result, a lot of American blood was spilled over there in Korea."

Chuck Morse is a radio talk show host on Salem Radio/WROL in Boston.

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