Colloquium on Contemporary History Project

General Discussion

Benis M. Frank
Head, Oral History Section
U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center

Q. Mr. Henry Shaw. Marine Corms Historical Center. Dr. James, to what extent do you think that the contingency plans of MacArthur influenced the Washington decisions on Korea? On JCS planning?

A. Dr. D. Clayton James. MacArthur was not in the habit of giving the JCS any indication of what he was doing in advance. It was like a dentist pulling teeth in World War II and in Korea to get any information from MacArthur about operational plans or where he intended to go next. The reason was obvious, because MacArthur intended to keep his options open as far as possible. He considered himself to be under the United Nations, not under the JCS solely. He moved these dual hats back and forth rather skillfully and frustratingly from the JCS point of view. If you are talking about the period from September to December 1950, MacArthur told Washington little about what he was going to do. As far as June 1950 contingency plans, I don't know that we had any, frankly. I think I've been through everything that was available when I did my work, which was from the mid-60s to the mid-80s.

What we so desperately need today and what I desperately needed when I wrote is the Chinese point of view. But, more important, I needed the intelligence community, especially CIA and State intelligence people, who knew the records and were free to speak. I still don't know anybody who knows the real story on that. Every once in a while some documents seep out, but, again, it's like pulling teeth. Willoughby, like his boss, was very reluctant to send anything to Washington or very reluctant to allow anyone into his intelligence arena in the Far East. So, to answer you briefly, I don't think any contingency plans of any significance went forward from Tokyo to Washington either preceding the North Korean invasion of June 25 or preceding either the first or second phase of the Chinese attack. If they did, I'm not aware of it.

Q. Mr. Benis Frank. The attitude of Willoughby and MacArthur reminds me of the story told about B. Kittridge, the famous Shakespearean academic at Harvard, who never got a Ph.D or even a Master's Degree. He was rather a rascal. His students gave him a birthday party one day. One of his students deigned to ask, "Mr. Kittridge, how come it is that you never studied for your Ph.D?" Mr. Kittridge answered back, "who is to examine me?" So I think that applies to Willoughby and MacArthur.

A. James. I'm not going to respond.

Q. Dr. Wavne Dzwonchyk. JCS Historical Office. Dr. James, you suggested that perhaps Truman was fishing for something at the Wake Island meeting. Don't you think that MacArthur, making this statement that Chinese intentions and capabilities were a political matter outside of his bailiwick was a form of setting up an excuse for himself in advance, in case something happened?

A. James. Let me ask you something in turn. In 1943 if Eisenhower had been asked, "What is Franco up to? How do we know whether he's going to let German troops come in behind us in Spanish Morocco? What is Sweden up to, sending ore to Nazi Germany?" I think Eisenhower and his intelligence people probably would have said that it is not quite our primary responsibility and that you could look elsewhere. Of course, we didn't have a CIA then; we didn't have really a good State Department intelligence involvement there. I think 50 years from now when the documents are opened and we know what went on in State and CIA intelligence, I think we'll have a better understanding of the 1950 questions. No, I don't think MacArthur was fish-tailing on that. I think that his was a very honest response. I don't know if you can tell me of any theater commander involved in a major war with that kind of political intelligence. Now this has been pictured as not a major war. To me it was. When you've got hundreds of thousands of troops involved on each side, it's getting out of the minor or police-action category. Some day we'll call it what it is; it was a war. I don't know of any major commander of a theater in war, who was given intelligence responsibility on nations that at the time were not belligerents and then held responsible later almost in the category of a scapegoat for not having answered correctly on this matter. How was Willoughby to know these things? I'm not quite certain. Was he to have infiltrated more than his small element of South Koreans into the north before the war? Do you remember who from 1948 onward had responsibility for South Korea? It wasn't MacArthur, and it wasn't the Far East Command. It was the United States Department of State.

Q. Dzwonchvk. By the Wake Island meeting, you've already got operations going on; you've got a lot of indications of Chinese interest. I don't want to get off into something that's very far afield. But, I think that as far as I'm concerned using the Eisenhower Spain example was an unfortunate one, because I happen to have some familiarity with those records and I know they were very concerned about possible Spanish intervention and they drew up contingency plans to deal with them.

A. James. Well, I also know a little about that myself. That's why I used it as an example. I don't think Ike would have tolerated being made a scapegoat if the Germans had moved down through Spain. I don't think he would have bought that as a primary responsibility.

Q. Dzwonchvk. Preliminary steps were taken to deal with it, in case that happened. It wasn't just a question of making an excuse. Plans were made to deal with it in the event that it did take place.

A. James. Well, I'm not going to change your mind on this, and obviously vice versa is not going to occur either. But, I would in this case say that we would do far better to look for MacArthur's main flaws elsewhere than here. Having lived with those records as long as I did, I don't personally blame him on this one.

Q. Dzwonchyk. I agree with your general thrust that there was plenty of blame to go around to all authorities.

A. Marolda. I would just like to reinforce what's been said about this area of intelligence; that in general American intelligence was woefully inadequate in regard to what the Chinese might do; what their capabilities were. MacArthur was always focused on because of his fall later on, but there were others who were in the same boat. They had very little regard for Communist fighting abilities. I found while doing this paper that there was the perception that because they had fought the Nationalists and basically had their way with them throughout the mainland campaign and seemingly took over these offshore islands with little trouble, that they were not faced with an enemy equipped with modern arms. There were those down in the trenches in CIA and naval intelligence and other activities who had a closer look at what the other side could do and had done. I have to say that they were impressed with what they saw. The Hainan operation was a case in point. It was remarkable how they put it together. They had only thirty or forty naval vessels but they put together a 3,000-vessel fleet of junks, and freighters, and things that float. They armed them with small arms, mortars, and small guns. They had a 200,000-man force gathered for this Hainan invasion and they carried it out despite heavy casualties. They practiced their amphibious skills; how to coordinate naval vessels and troops and they overcame the Nationalist opposition, which was, at least initially, fairly stout. So they were no forces to be discounted. Lin Piao's and Chen Yi's troops were veterans and had fought throughout the mainland campaign. I think we just underestimated what they could do. I'm not going to absolve MacArthur in this regard. I think he did not have a good idea of what was on the other side of the Yalu or their ability to carry out an invasion of Taiwan. At one point he stated that if the Communists tried a waterborne invasion, it would be the bloodiest victory for us in Far Eastern history, or words to that effect. That was not, in my opinion, an accurate analysis of the other side's strengths.

Q. Mr. Robert Sherrod. Since I am the only person here who was at Wake Island, I would make one point. The essential plan for the Wake Island conference was the occupation of North Korea; the war was over. MacArthur had assured them that the war was all done, so the military aspect of it really didn't constitute the main thrust. It was more or less an offhand question when Truman said to MacArthur, "suppose the Chinese come in? " And he just said, "my air will take care of it." That's why there were a number of civilians along on the three planes that went out there. To say, "what do we do now with North Korea, now that the war is over?" The military aspect of it wasn't the main purpose of this meeting. Of course, there are those who say that the main purpose was Truman's desire to get some of MacArthur's reflected glory. Remember, after Inchon MacArthur was the greatest hero in history. And for the purpose of politics; the election was coming up in about three weeks. MacArthur complained that this was all a political ploy and there was some truth to that, I think. The military aspect really was secondary at the Wake Island meeting. I asked Truman in Pearl Harbor on the way out. I said, "well, what are you going out for?" He said, "well, I never have met General MacArthur. I want to give him a medal." Margaret Truman has written and a number of people have written since then that Truman really hated MacArthur; He called him Mr. prima donna and all that. I think that's an exaggeration. He had written these things in his diary about MacArthur before then. But, he was perfectly willing to benefit from MacArthur's status as the number one hero in all history. That was one of the purposes of the Wake Island meeting. The military aspect was not the essential thrust of the Wake Island meeting which is something that is always forgotten now, since the military did become the prime factor, of course.

A. James. For those of you who didn't hear who that was, he was Robert Sherrod. Bob wasn't here when I spoke, but I rated Ron Spector and Mike Schaller as good friends of mine who are also MacArthur despisers. Let me introduce you to the dean of MacArthur detractors [laughter]. Bob didn't sound like it in those statements, but if he ever gets out the book that I hope he will, it will make Schaller's look like a Tenderfoot Boy Scout. If you haven't met Bob, be sure to; he's a treat.

Q. Frank. Let me just make one point that gives Willoughby another smashing blow. You will recall the history of MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Command. Of course Bob knows it better than anyone else. Willoughby was the G-2 [intelligence staff officer]. He refused to allow, with MacArthur's concurrence, or perhaps MacArthur with Willoughby's concurrence, refused to allow the OSS into the theater and I don't think they allowed the coast watchers in either. In other words, Willoughby was to be the only intelligence agency source within MacArthur's command. Which I think is a little dangerous in combat. They could manufacture intelligence and I think here's a pretty good source to indicate that he did. Do you agree Bob?

Q. Sherrod. I do agree. Willoughby was a very strange character. I first met him in early 1942 in Australia, when he came out of Corregidor with MacArthur and the 13 others. He had been a good friend of my boss Harry Luce and his wife Clare. So, I had an inside track to Willoughby and had long conversations with him. At that time Willoughby's German accent, by the way, was much stronger than it became later. He was born in Germany, as you know, and his name wasn't Willoughby at all. But, he said, "this is the silliest thing in the world; this Washington policy makes no sense. We should give England to the Germans. Our war is out here." This was his belief all his life, as reflected in his book, which incidentally MacArthur edited.

A. Marolda. I would like to come to the defense of MacArthur in at least one respect. It's a sort of half-hearted defense. But, he is often been made the scapegoat for proposing actions against China that many have contended would have gotten us into World War III and involved us in action with the Chinese on the mainland and with the Soviets. I think that there is some justification with those charges but he is not alone. Others made similar proposals for action in those days of crisis and, let's be candid, panic! Remember, December 1950 and January 1951 were very tough times for U.N. forces. The possibility of U.N. forces being forced off the Korean peninsula was great. I know that at least Admiral Sherman, the Chief of Naval Operations--and I suspect General Vandenberg, the Air Force Chief of Staff was in the same boat--was proposing to mine the ports of China, set up a naval blockade, bomb the industrial facilities in China, and support guerrillas ashore; basically strong activity that he continued to propose throughout early 1951. I think that what happened was once MacArthur was relieved in April 1951--and you had the hearings following right after on the military situation in the Far East--some of the Joints Chiefs started to back-pedal to try to come out on the side of the angels, when in fact they had said many of the same things that got MacArthur in trouble.

Q. Dzwonchvk. I don't want to totally dominate the discussion. But this brings to mind the whole question that you raised in your introductory remarks. That has to do with the influence of the Korean War experience on American policy in Vietnam. It's a whole area that I think deserves a great deal of more exploration and as part of it, maybe the whole construct that you have referred to deserves a second searching look; you know, the conventional wisdom of historical interpretation that all of this was a bad idea that Bradley saying that it was the wrong war in the wrong place. Maybe all that needs to be reevaluated in light of our Vietnam experience. Maybe if the Korean War had been prosecuted to a much greater extent than it was, perhaps there would never have been a Vietnam.

A. Marolda. I'm not sure that I would go along with that interpretation.

Q. Dzwonchyk. Excuse my speculation, but I think it deserves some examination. So far as I know, no one is involved in such an examination.

A. Marolda. My research is leading in the same direction. I started with Vietnam and back-tracked to the Korean War and the Chinese side of things. I wanted to find out how we got the perception that we had of the other side; who we were really fighting. And we made little distinction between the various powers making up the Sino-Soviet bloc. We certainly still have much to learn about the other side in out recent conflicts in the Far East.

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