The Navy Department Library
Chapter 2: Policy and Its Instruments
History of US Naval Operations: Korea
Part 1. Divided Korea
Part 2. Unified Defense
Part 3. The Estimate of the Situation
Part 1. Divided Korea
In one important sense the second coming of the Americans resembled the first. Again the arrival marked the culmination of a great thrust overseas; again, even as the shores of Korea were reached, the tide was beginning to turn. Shufeldt's treaty had been greeted with massive disinterest by an America absorbed in internal development; by the time Hodge led his corps ashore at Inchon demobilization had begun and domestic concerns were again uppermost in the American mind. For the next five years American policy in Korea would be dominated by the desire to fulfill the wartime commitments as quickly and economically as possible, and to get out and go home.
The Cairo Declaration had promised a unified, free, and democratic Korea. The 38th parallel, however, promised some difficulties in the achievement of these aims. Although originally proposed as an administrative convenience to facilitate the surrender of Japanese forces this arrangement soon acquired other overtones. In view of the interallied frictions which had already developed in Europe the dividing line seemed to derive virtue as a barrier to further Soviet advance, as a cover for the American position in Japan, and as providing the United States with a position of strength from which to press for Korean independence. In this last context, a country which habitually saw the resolution of political disputes as a function of voting strength could look with satisfaction on the fact that almost two-thirds of Korea’s thirty million inhabitants lived south of the parallel.
But whatever the virtues of the 38th parallel, division of the country between the two new elder brothers created a situation which called for serious diplomatic preparation. This, however, seems not to have been forthcoming. In the State Department the question of the divided peninsula appears to have been looked upon as little more than a minor nuisance, while for American public opinion the question hardly existed. The democratizing of Japan under the shining leadership of General MacArthur effectively monopolized the public consciousness; compared with this the liberation of Korea by a simple corps commander excited little interest.
No political guidance and little information had been provided General Hodge. No military government teams were available to accompany his corps. Whether the Koreans were to be regarded as liberated friends or as the inhabitants of a corner of a conquered empire remained obscure. In this situation Hodge and his officers had to improvise policy as best they could, maintain order, and somehow administer the country, while awaiting directives from home. American Military Government was consequently imposed on South Korea, and a successor Korean government which had sprung up in the wake of the Japanese defeat was refused recognition. But this policy, reminiscent of the wartime trusteeship proposals, antagonized important native elements and made the position of the American command more difficult.
The end of the war found Korea approaching economic collapse. The country was beset by a spiralling inflation, and by acute shortages of raw materials, tools, and capital. A generation of Japanese occupation in which all managerial posts had been retained in the hands of the conqueror had resulted in a woeful lack of administrative personnel. To add to the difficulties of an exploited economy, now suddenly bereft of its managerial staff, the division at the 38th parallel had separated fields on the south from fertilizer in the north, and the larger cities and the majority of the population from the sources of hydroelectric power and of coal.
Obvious first steps in reconstruction were to permit freedom of movement between the two zones, and to unify at least the administration of the Korean economy. Proposals to this effect were made by General Hodge, but the Russian commander was unresponsive. The problems of unification were perforce transferred to a higher plane, and at Moscow, in December 1945, a joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. committee was established to prepare, in consultation with the Koreans, for a democratic government of Korea. At the moment, perhaps, this step appeared promising; in fact it merely marked the disappearance of the Korean question into those proliferating procedural jungles which, in the postwar period, so obfuscated points at issue between Russia and her western allies. The details of the work of the Joint Committee need not concern us here: suffice it to say that disputes over terminology concerning the proposed trusteeship led to adjournment in May 1946. Some progress had by this time been made by the two military commands in accomplishing a limited exchange of certain commodities. But on political matters progress was nil and Korea remained divided.
It was possible of course to consider that the Korean question should be settled on its own merits. Such presumably was the view of the Koreans, such had been the viewpoint of Americans in the eighties and nineties, and such was the attitude of General Hodge and of others on the spot. But Korea was but one facet of the world-wide problem of adjustment between the Soviets and the West which followed the collapse of Germany and Japan. Difficulties had developed even before the shooting stopped, as in the problem of the Polish boundary; as the months went by the situation was exacerbated by squabbles over German reparations and the communization of the Balkan states; internal strife in China made it evident that the defeat of Japan had not ended the war for East Asia. In March 1946, the month that the Korean Joint Committee convened to begin its deliberations, the darkening picture was dramatically presented in Winston Churchill's speech at Fulton, Missouri. In these circumstances only an extreme optimist could conceive of a resolution of the Korean question in simple local terms.
Throughout the year interallied relations remained difficult, and spring of 1947 came in an atmosphere of increasing crisis. The month of March brought the breakdown of the Moscow Conference and the signing of the Treaty of Dunkirk. It brought also, as a result of Soviet pressures on Turkey and of Communist guerrilla warfare in Greece, the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine. In June the depressing possibilities presented by the economic dislocation of western Europe produced the Marshall Plan for cooperative reconstruction with American support. One month later an influential American periodical published a disillusioned article on "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" under a pseudonym carefully selected to make unmistakable the official nature of the analysis.
In such an atmosphere of hardening American policy it was unlikely that much would come of bilateral discussion of Korean problems. Following a second abortive effort by the Joint Committee in the summer of 1947 the United States proposed a four-power conference on Korea, and advanced procedural suggestions which were extremely sensible if considered simply from the Korean point of view. But the Russians declined to cooperate. The fact that the great majority of the Korean population lived within the American zone, that South Korea had the votes, had come to mean that unification on any democratic basis would be equivalent to an American victory and to a retreat of the Soviet frontier. If a way existed of compromising this question while maintaining a decent regard for the Koreans themselves, it was not discovered. With Russian rejection of the American proposals all serious effort to reach a solution through negotiation came to an end.
But to the United States the occupation of South Korea was a costly and troublesome business. The expenses of relief were high; the continuation of military government lent itself to propaganda about fascism and colonialism. In September 1947 a Joint Chiefs of Staff study concluded that Korea was of little strategic importance, and that in view of the current shortage of operating forces the divisions locked up in the peninsula would be better employed elsewhere. As in the earlier period of Foote and Foulk and Sill the cost of a forward policy in Korea seemed greater than any promised reward, and as frustration increased the search for a solution to Korea's problems gave way to an attempt to disengage.
The upshot was a new departure in American policy, and a decision to transfer the Korean question to the United Nations. This step, part of a developing effort to use this organization to mobilize pressure against the Soviets, was in some respects highly appealing. It promised to divest the United States of an expensive and onerous burden and to focus attention on Russian obstruction of Korean unification; it put those countries critical of the American administration of South Korea in a position where they would have to take some responsibility. Like so many American decisions in the years following the Second World War it appeared to answer the felt needs for economy while maintaining at least verbal adherence to previously stated goals. But unless one seriously believed in the effectiveness of "world public opinion," the transfer of the Korean question to the U.N. hardly represented a harmonizing of ends and means. No serious effort was made to gain Soviet approval of an agreed procedure, or to develop a program acceptable to all concerned. Yet the Soviets had clearly demonstrated their concern, and Russian forces still occupied North Korea.
On 17 September 1947 the United States placed the question of Korean independence on the agenda of the General Assembly, and in the next month discussion began. The trusteeship concept had by this time disappeared, and had been replaced by a plan for United Nations midwifery of an independent nation. The American proposal called for the creation of a U.N. commission to supervise the organization of an all-Korean government with representation on the basis of population; in reply the Soviets insisted that representatives of North and South Korea should participate in these discussions as equals. The General Assembly, having taken up the question under American initiative, in November adopted a modification of the American plan. A Temporary Commission on Korea was established composed of representatives of nine countries, including the Ukraine but not the United States, which would observe elections, assist the elected representatives in the formation of a Korean government, and help to arrange the withdrawal of the occupying powers.
In January 1948 the Temporary Commission, less its Ukrainian representative, reached Seoul to be greeted by cheering crowds. But no cheers came from north of the parallel, and the inability of the Commission to secure Soviet cooperation, or even to gain access to North Korea, raised the question of whether to hold elections in South Korea alone. This prospect, generally opposed by Korean politicos, was supported by the American military command. It was also supported by certain Korean leaders, of whom Syngman Rhee, now returned to his homeland and chairman of the National Association for the Rapid Realization of Korean Independence, was most prominent.
Doubtful both as to its mandate under these conditions and of the possibility of free elections in South Korea, the Commission sought counsel of the General Assembly's interim committee. Despite large scale riots organized by Korean Communists it was decided to proceed with supervised elections, and with the formation of a National Assembly in which one-third of the seats would he reserved for a North Korean delegation. This decision, which promised to bring closer the time of possible evacuation, and to liquidate the military commitment without abandonment of the political aims, was gratifying to the United States.
Elections in South Korea were consequently scheduled for May. The preparatory tasks of the Temporary Commission were complicated by more riots in March and April, by ostentatious firing exercises and fortification building along the northern side of the 38th parallel, and by "unification conferences" staged by the North Korean authorities in a further attempt to undermine the electoral procedure. Nevertheless the elections went off on schedule, with large popular participation and few noticeable irregularities. Four days later the reply from the north arrived as the Communists pulled the switches on the power lines, a move countered by the dispatch of two U.S. Navy power barges to furnish electricity until the output of South Korean steam plants could be increased.
There now followed, in both zones, a race to set up governments. On 1 May 1948 a new constitution had been promulgated in North Korea. In the south the National Assembly chose Syngman Rhee as chairman at the end of May, drafted a constitution and elected him President in July, and completed the formation of a government in early August. On 9 August President Rhee requested the occupation authorities to turn over the administration of South Korea and on the 15th his wish was granted. Ten days later an election was held in North Korea, observed only by the occupying power, and was followed by rapid ratification of a constitution. On 7 September the government of the People's Republic was established under a person calling himself Kim Il Sung, and on the 19th the Soviets announced that Russian forces would be out by year's end. Below the parallel withdrawal of American troops began in September, but this movement was shortly halted as a result of representations by President Rhee, and a regimental combat team was retained in South Korea until June of 1949.
With the establishment of an independent and freely elected South Korean government it could be argued that the decision to refer the Korean question to the United Nations had been largely justified. On the other hand, it was at least possible that disengagement and the withdrawal of occupying forces had increased rather than diminished the danger of conflict. If North Korea was a Soviet puppet, South Korea depended for its continued existence upon the United States, and there was no guarantee that these antagonistic client states would prove as responsible and as restrained as their protectors. Saber-rattling had already gone on in the north, while below the parallel President Rhee had not been backward in expressing his willingness to unify by force. The Korean situation, always an inflammable one, was now certainly no less so. Where Korea's geography had made it the oriental equivalent of the Low Countries, and its resistance to Japanese rule had given it the aspect of an Asiatic Ireland, its new situation, to those who could remember the 1930's, gave some promise that it would become a far eastern Spain.
Part 2. Unified Defense
The year 1948 opened with the United Nations overseeing the birth of the Republic of Korea and the Russians that of the North Korean People's Republic. Elsewhere the new year brought a series of crises in the relations between east and west which seemed even more dangerous than those of the previous spring. In Czechoslovakia, a country closely linked in its origins with the United States, and one whose abandonment at Munich had profoundly moved Americans, the government was taken over by the Communists, and the coup shortly followed by a second defenestration of Prague. Following close upon this tragedy an ominous dispatch from General Lucius D. Clay, USA, the American commander in Germany, reported a new atmosphere of menace in his dealings with the Russians. Where economic dislocation in Europe and civil war in Greece had earlier seemed susceptible to treatment by financial grants and military missions, these events raised the specter of full-scale war.
Bestirring itself to counter the threat so dimly foreseen, the government found that the national defense cupboard was bare: the reasoning which had impelled the Joint Chiefs of Staff to urge withdrawal of Army units from Korea was reemphasized in the discovery that a call for more than one division would require partial mobilization. Faced with this situation, President Truman on 17 March 1948 called upon the Congress for an immediate increase in armed strength. But the summons to arms was complicated by the issue of universal military training and by lack of any firm program: only as the congressional debate began did the armed services, now six months unified in the new National Military Establishment, undertake for the first time since the war a serious consideration of the relation between policy and its instruments. Three years earlier the United States had possessed the greatest military machine in history. Across the Atlantic, in the spring of 1945, its ground forces were reaching far into Europe; on the far side of the Pacific they were landing in strength on the island of Okinawa. Over Germany and Japan American bombers with long-range fighter escort penetrated almost at will. On the seas the United States operated an irresistible navy, which had destroyed its Japanese adversary and had demonstrated its ability to land troops against whatever opposition. But by spring of 1948 all this had gone. The armed forces had done their job too well. Since human institutions are created to answer human needs, the most successful are presumably self-obsoleting, and the American people had paid their Army and Navy the supreme compliment of assuming that the requirements which had called them into being had been fulfilled. As the shooting ended demobilization became the order of the day, and with the same vigor with which they had fought the war the armed services proceeded to disband. Within a year there was very little left.
Yet while disarming themselves along with their former enemies, the American people also undertook to reorganize their armed services in the interests of efficiency and economy by a unification of these forces in a single department of defense. Much of the pressure for this change came from the long-held Army belief in the efficacy of a single command, much from the desire of the Army Air Force for equal status, but there were other factors at work. The failure of intelligence and coordination at Pearl Harbor had led many to see a solution in terms of command unified in Washington as well as in the field; there was a widespread impression that unified procurement and planning would produce appreciable economies. In any event the pressures were strong, and the apparent lessons of the immediate past were given great, perhaps too great weight. It is proverbial that generals always prepare for the last war, but in this instance the generals had strong popular support. With the enactment of unification legislation in 1947 the presumed dominance of the heavy bomber in the Second World War was institutionalized in an independent Department of the Air Force.
This step, seemingly so natural and right, and which as a practical matter was surely unavoidable, had large implications. Although the greatest wartime successes of the air weapon had been tactical in nature, the doctrinal emphasis, based on formulations a generation old, continued to stress the centrality of strategic air warfare. Yet while emphasizing the long- range bombing function, with its implication of the separateness of air war, the theorists also insisted on the indivisibility of air power. This situation, deriving from a long standing equation of means and ends, of vehicle and mission, presented interlocking technical and administrative problems.
Revolutionary advances in military technology, the product of Mars' forcing-house, had brought the piloted bomber close to the end of the road. If World War II was not "the last war of the pilots" - the phrase was General Arnold's - it was pretty close to it, for the bomber fleets which darkened the skies over Germany and Japan ended the war in double jeopardy. At the home base the threat was of replacement by guided missiles, of which the V-2 was but the early forerunner; over the target the danger came from new antiaircraft weapons and from the jet interceptor. For a time, doubtless, it would still be possible to produce an airplane that could get through, though at a cost which could only be justified, for the bomber no less than for the prospective long-range missile, by the employment of nuclear weapons.
While technology was undermining the theory of war based on the piloted bomber, the unitary nature of that theory posed difficulties in the organizational sphere. Indubitably there were areas of aircraft employment - reconnaissance, tactical operations with ground and naval forces, air transport - where discrimination as well as guidance was necessary, and where the pilot was less easily replaced by the gadget. But while these operations, interlocking with those of the surface forces, were precisely those in which the advocates of separate air war were least interested, the monopoly theory which lumped all activities of winged vehicles together still seemed to require their assignment to the separate air force.
Clearly there were puzzles here. Improvements in air defense had made the future of strategic bombardment, and so implicitly that of the independent air force, dependent upon the use of a weapon which the United States was attempting to place under international control. The monopoly theory posed serious problems for the Army, bereft as it would be of control over instruments vital to its mission; if followed out strictly it would raise great difficulties for the Navy as well. And finally, as the development of the missile gained momentum, Army and Air Force would face difficult metaphysical questions as to the precise range at which this ceased to be the analogue of an artillery shell but became, for administrative purposes, an airplane.
If the future was thus replete with paradox, so was the path to unification. Within the military it was the Army, which had never wholly succeeded in integrating its air and ground components, which led the parade. The Army's desire for a single staff and a single command as an extension of its own organizational practices was natural enough, but its willingness to divest itself of its air arm is more difficult to understand. Some, indeed, opposed this move: in 1945 a board of Army officers recommended against the abandonment of tactical and transport aviation. But history had passed them by: a generation of Air Corps pressure for autonomy had been capped by a four- year partnership with the RAF, with concomitant representation on the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff; the genie was out of the bottle, and the proposal was overruled.
The attitude of the Army Air Force, both traditional and understandable in that unification promised its best hope of independence, was perhaps extreme, calling as it did for triplication in the name of unity and for the creation of a separate service whose cardinal strategic principle was that of freedom from outside control. The Navy, historically the most successful in the coordination of diverse forces, and which had operated surface and undersea components, aviation, and the Marine Corps in reasonable harmony and with great success, approached the wedding with reluctance.
The ardent agreement between Army and Army Air Force, earlier so long at odds, as to the desirability of unifying first and facing the problems afterward, was unnerving to the Navy. Widespread rumors that the Army hoped to abolish the Marine Corps were not reassuring. Evidence of Air Force desires to absorb naval aviation raised the frightening possibility that the fate which had overtaken the Royal Navy in 1919, and which had proved so costly when war came again, might be repeated here. To some, at least, in the naval establishment, questions of intelligence, procurement, resources planning, and the integration of military and diplomatic policy seemed of primary importance, and not simply soluble by the establishment of a single command. But the basic reason for naval reluctance lay in the fear expressed by Admiral King that the contemplated organization would permit the reduction of American "sea power" by those unfamiliar with its potentialities. Since the reorganization provided for two services whose primary concern was with war on and over great land masses, the fear was perhaps not wholly unreasonable. Since representatives of one of these services, from the time of General Mitchell, had gone repeatedly on record regarding the inutility of navies, apprehensions were not diminished.
A further reason for these apprehensions, and one largely the fault of the Navy itself, stemmed from a serious failure in communications both with the public and with the other services. Somehow, it seemed, the Navy had never fully succeeded in putting its case across, and in explaining itself and its needs even to those who were, or ought to have been, its best and most sympathetic customers. Those who, in Admiral King's phrase, were unfamiliar with these matters had been permitted to remain that way. The silent service had been too silent for its own good.
To a degree this fact is understandable, for naval warfare is to some extent mysterious. An image, of a sort at least, of land or air war is easily put before the public: the advance of the armies is visible on the map; the flattening of cities is easily understood. But on the ocean there are no frontiers, negative results may be as valuable as positive ones, and the operations which maintain and exploit control of the seas are frequently invisible. That the presence of armies in a foreign theater and of aircraft in foreign skies testifies to a completed naval task is not always appreciated. Great successes are often obtained by a minimum of fighting, though with a maximum of effort, but to dramatize and explain this effort is a sophisticated and difficult problem. Regrettably, in an age of violence, such commodities as pressure and movement and maneuver have less public appeal than shock.
As in all human affairs there was in the unification controversy a mixture of wisdom and foolishness, and of selfishness with disinterested patriotism. If there were cannibals in the Army and Air Force who cast hungry eyes at the Marine Corps and at naval aviation, there were also naval officers who saw all future conflict in the image of the war against Japan. Nevertheless, in due course, a compromise was reached and an act was passed. And while the fact of unification reflected the initiative of those outside the Navy Department, the form of the legislation was in considerable degree the product of those within. The services, now three in number, were federated rather than merged; the same act that reordered the military establishment also created the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Resources Board. In the autumn of 1947 the Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, became the first Secretary of Defense.
The passage of the National Security Act of 1947 did not, of course, solve all problems of form and function. Not all gears could mesh at once. There were, for example, important differences in the systems of staff and command. The Army and Air Force, conditioned to large-scale continental operations, had developed highly centralized systems of management of forces in the field. But while Air Force doctrine placed the locus of command at the highest possible level, and while the Army's basic tactical unit was the division, to the Navy the part was almost as important as the whole. Naval operations were far more atomistic, and called now for a large fleet, now for a small force, now for a single ship. The lack of shipboard accommodations for large managerial organizations, the need to maintain radio silence at sea, and the necessity for continual separation and reassembly of various units for various tasks made necessary a delegation of responsibility and a decentralization of authority on the basis of agreed doctrine. And both in Washington and in the field these morphological differences had serious implications for the planning and conduct of joint operations.
Nor was this all. Under the new roof there dwelt not only different services and different practices, but also different histories. All services, in the years following the war, faced an unavoidable problem of rethinking roles and missions, and in some ways this was hardest for the Navy. The Army had gone through its period of reorientation in the late thirties, when the Nazi threat brought an end to the concept of hemispheric defense. Now, with their recent experience of the war against Germany, Army commanders made an easy transition to the new policies of coalition, containment, and the defense of Europe. The Air Force, enjoying its original monopoly of the nuclear weapon, was enabled to renew its ancient promises of quick and decisive war. But the Navy's experience was dominantly that of the war against Japan; Pacific veterans held the top positions in the Navy Department; and while the Navy's performance in the Pacific had on the whole been brilliant, that war was perhaps not the most obvious source of precedent for the situation of mid-century. It is, after all, hard to reach Moscow by boat.
Finally, in a sense, the successes of wartime came to tell against the Navy in peace. No strong hostile navy presented an obvious menace. To commanders who had crossed the seas as passengers, the passage and the amphibious assault presented no great difficulty, but were simply the prelude to the real campaign; to those whose responsibility it was to get them there the situation appeared otherwise. As in the Second World War certain leaders of the RAF had never fully understood their dependence on victory over the submarine, so now American ground and air officers would willingly deploy their forces overseas with little thought as to how their support could be assured should the new weapons not produce a quick decision. Busily at work on the superstructure of strategy, they could either neglect or assume its foundation. Concentrating as they did on the defense of Europe, possibilities elsewhere could be ignored.
In these divergent attitudes there was nothing fundamentally irreconcilable. But under the conflicting pressures of strategic need and budgetary possibility, the interservice differences became increasingly acute. In January 1948 the first budget subsequent to unification was sent up to the Congress, with a request for $11 billion for the National Military Establishment. But February, when the hearings began, was also the month of the Czech coup and of the discovery that the Army had but one uncommitted division, and March brought the telegram from General Clay. With the President's appeal for more armed strength, the military, already deeply involved in the complexities of reorganizing their vast establishment, found themselves faced with the problem of expansion. But since neither in the armed services nor in the State Department was there agreement as to the armaments needed for the support of policy, competition for the new appropriations inevitably developed. Such competition, of course, had always existed, but in the time of separate departments it had gone on in the light of day, in hearings before congressional committees. Under the new dispensation the service chiefs had to deal not with the Congress but with each other; across the table the legislator had been replaced by a competitor; the triangular nature of the new establishment promised great rewards from an alliance policy which would set two services against one.
In this situation the Navy was at a disadvantage. In the Joint Chiefs of Staff it was the minority member: although there were differences aplenty between Army and Air Force, they were successfully plastered over. In strategic formulations based on the threat to Europe it seemed to have little more than a supporting function. Increasingly it found itself forced back on the defense of its organizational integrity. And as the Air Force pressed steadily for the dominant role in the military establishment, and as competition for funds became competition for public support, open quarrelling broke out in the public press. In an attempt to head off the infighting, the Secretary of Defense convened a conference of the Joint Chiefs at Key West in March 1948. But although he there persuaded the sovereignties to recognize each other's legal existence, no real meeting of minds was gained in the areas where functions and weapons interlocked, and the high command of the Air Force remained opposed to the existence of naval aviation. Outside the military there had also been interest in these matters, and the report of the President's Air Policy Commission on "Survival in the Air Age," which effectively equated the future of warfare with the large-scale delivery by the Air Force of weapons of mass destruction, had further exacerbated the situation. Thus early in 1948 the argument was already off center, and had focussed on the air question, with emphasis on nuclear bombardment, to the detriment of any rounded approach to the development of instruments of policy. After a fashion, at least, the problems of a short and big war were being faced, but those of a small and long one had been forgotten.
Where wisdom lay among these conflicting viewpoints is doubtless a matter for the philosopher rather than the historian. At all times, inevitably, differing service preconceptions give rise to different strategic views, and a changing world will emphasize the virtues first of one outlook and then of another. But what can be noted, and indeed almost postulated as a law, is the tendency for the minority view to become the correct one. Defense planning is, after all, merely a preliminary form of strategic deployment, and strategy is a two-sided game. This fact, too often forgotten, ensures that whatever the formulations of the moment the enemy will work to circumvent them, and in time may make progress in this effort.
Despite all difficulties within the Defense Department, a program of a sort was worked out and presented to Congress at the end of March. This program, greatly scaled down by Secretary Forrestal from the original desires of the service chiefs, and dissented from by the Air Force, called for an increase of $3 billion in expenditures over the $11 billion already budgeted for the coming year. In the end, after the services, the Congress, and the Budget Bureau had all had their say, the decision was made by the President. No program would be undertaken which would bring future annual costs above $15 billion.
Under this presidential ceiling, in the autumn of 1948, the planning for fiscal 1950 was begun. But by now the military had begun to worry. Even allowing for the human tendency to pad the budget, the first estimates from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which called for $30 billion, would have seemed to indicate that capabilities and intentions were out of phase. By September, however, the Joint Chiefs had developed a war plan, and had painfully reduced their requests by almost half. Down to about the $20 billion mark agreed solutions were forthcoming, both in allocation of funds and in strategic planning, but at lower figures these were not obtainable. The final request for $16.9 billions, which was accompanied by the statement that the presidential limit would support only an atomic counteroffensive from the British Isles and would entail abandonment of the Mediterranean in case of war, was the product of a split vote. In this difficult situation the Secretary of Defense, who had thus far displayed a notable concern for balanced forces, now turned to concentrate upon strategic air. Under the circumstances this was wholly logical, for if the air riposte was all that could be managed it was surely desirable to strengthen it as much as possible. But the budget ceiling remained firm, and a request for additional funds for the Air Force was refused.
This presidential decision was of great importance. What had begun as a year of crisis was ending as an election year, and the complications overseas were fading from the public mind. Except for the reenactment of Selective Service, the proposed expansion of the armed forces, trumpeted in the spring of 1948, was over by fall without having proceeded very far. American military capabilities, vis-a'-vis the Soviet Union, remained limited to the atomic counteroffensive; American capabilities in other contexts had hardly been considered. But the rigidity of this military posture, so out of line with diplomatic policy, was disguised by the still sizable dollar sums allotted the Army and Navy, which while insufficient for serious wartime operations preserved a mobilization base and some appearance of a balanced establishment.
By mid-summer of 1948 two facts had become obvious. The first was that rearmament would be severely restricted by the President in terms of dollars. The second was that in the competition for these dollars the Air Force, with its long-range nuclear bombing function, enjoyed the larger measure of public and congressional support. Yet June 1948 saw the commencement of the Berlin blockade, a maneuver not easily countered by strategic bombing. It was clear that the outside world remained both dangerous and unpredictable. It was less clear that the weapons best suited to win the battle of the budget were those most useful in support of other aspects of national policy.
Throughout the year, as the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs grappled with their problems, the interservice propaganda war continued with the Air Force well in the lead. Although the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations were committed to the support of Forrestal's program, the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force remained vigorously partisan, calling at every opportunity for special treatment. Since the justification for such treatment rested upon the nuclear weapon, Navy claims to share in its delivery did nothing to calm the atmosphere. In the fall the Air Force Association, the civilian auxiliary, violently attacked the whole concept of naval aviation, and in reply an aviation admiral attacked the Air Force. Throughout these months a series of articles, bitterly critical of the Navy and of naval aviation, were being prepared with Air Force cooperation for publication in a national magazine; these would appear between November 1948 and April 1949, at the time the 1950 budget was scheduled to come before the Congress. In this atmosphere of tension the new year began, and in April the House Appropriations Committee reported out a bill providing large sums for the Air Force and reduced support for the Navy.
Increasingly, as the months passed, the defense establishment was developing along lines unsuited to a maritime strategy and alarming to senior naval officers. Increasingly, also, military policy was diverging from that of the Department of State. In diplomacy the effort was toward an ever closer grouping of alliances, especially with regard to Europe. In military matters the emphasis was tending toward the development of a capability for independent action by investment in intercontinental bombing at the expense of ground and naval strength. But to suggestions from State that this overlooked the chance of localized conflict, the reply was returned that increased surface forces were financially impossible.
In the spring of 1949 Secretary Forrestal left the Military Establishment and was replaced by Louis Johnson. There was now a firm, tactless, and economical hand at the helm, and a bill in Congress to amend the National Security Act promised that the hand would become firmer. In April, less than a month after the arrival of the new Secretary, the ax first hit the Navy, with cancellation of the construction of the aircraft carrier United States, a step supported by Army and Air Force, but on which neither the Secretary of the Navy nor the Chief of Naval Operations was consulted.
It would have been hard to think of a more dramatic blow at the naval establishment. This first postwar carrier had been designed, on the basis of wartime experience, in anticipation of the newer and heavier aircraft coming into operation, and with an eye to the use of the new weapons. Its construction had been approved by the Congress, and other projects had been abandoned to permit it to go forward under the budgetary limitations. But although the impact of the cancellation within the Navy was tremendous, it was little felt outside. The Secretary of the Navy resigned at once in vigorous protest, but Congress and public seemed little disturbed.
Once more the Navy had failed to make its case. Whatever its primary purpose, the usefulness of the great carrier would far transcend the single function of strategic bombing. But the debates on military policy had become so centered on this type of operation that the ship had been drawn into the quarrel, and suspicion of an intent to invade Air Force prerogatives was increased by a symbolism which some read into the name United States. The subject, indeed, was raised in congressional hearings, where the naval witnesses unfortunately failed to remember that a frigate of the same name had been one of the first ships of the old Navy. There was also, perhaps, a failure of subtlety here, for among the early frigates there had also been a Congress and a President, either of which names, it would seem, might have served as better defensive armament.
Within the naval establishment the fact and manner of the cancellation revived the fears that the transfer of naval aviation to the Air Force and the abolition of the Marine Corps were imminent. These apprehensions were compounded by the events of the next few months. In July a new ceiling of $13 billion was placed over the defense budget, and the scalpels of the economizers were soon poised over the carriers of the Essex class, of which the Navy wanted to maintain eight in operation, the Army considered four sufficient, and the Air Force wished all mothballed. In August the Secretary of Defense halved the strength of naval and Marine aviation by ordering a reduction of operating carriers from 8 to 4, of carrier air groups from 14 to 6, and of Marine Corps squadrons from 23 to 12. This was followed by efforts to prepare for the next fiscal year by a reduction of current expenditures, and in September the Navy was instructed to trim its current budget by $353 million, a step possible only through drastic cutbacks in the procurement of new aircraft.
By this time the tension between the services had reached an extraordinary pitch. Although the Air Force, riding the tide of success, now moderated its propaganda activities, bitterness within the Navy continued to grow. Having been abused in the press, having been consistently out-voted in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finding themselves subjected to an antagonistic Secretary of Defense and to a doubtfully sympathetic Secretary of the Navy, many senior naval officers felt that their worst fears of unification were coming true. It seemed, as Admiral King had prophesied, that American sea power was being reduced by those who did not understand it, and the country's safety committed to an unsound theory of war.
These interservice tensions led in the latter part of 1949 to some remarkable developments. An anonymous document, produced in the Navy Department, which alleged that Air Force procurement policies were dominated by the financial interests of those in authority, was brought to the attention of the Congress. The Secretary of Defense charged in a speech at the National War College that the Navy was waging a "campaign of terror" against unification. There were reports in the press of naval officers being shadowed by detectives hired by the Department of the Air Force. In September a well-known naval aviator declared publicly that the Navy was being purposely eliminated as a factor in the defense establishment. In October the press received through unorthodox channels a copy of a letter in which a prominent flag officer expressed to the Secretary of the Navy his fear that the country's security was being jeopardized by acceptance of the theory of quick victory through strategic bombing, stated that "the morale of the Navy is lower today than at any time since I entered the commissioned ranks in 1916," and urged a congressional investigation of the fundamentals of national security. Publication of the letter forced the investigation.
In October 1949, in an atmosphere somewhat sobered by the report of an atomic explosion within the Soviet Union, the congressional hearings were begun. In these hearings the Navy labored under serious handicaps. Its new secretary was hostile to the dissidents' case, while the Chief of Naval Operations, in this extremely difficult situation, was endeavoring to mediate between his subordinates and higher authority. Preparation of the Navy brief consequently lacked official sanction and the assistance that such sanction could give, while the emotional involvement of the naval witnesses made it difficult to identify the enemy and to plan a coherent campaign. The result was that the naval testimony was somewhat scattered and uncoordinated, imperfectly prepared, and at times tactically ill-advised.
Although the basic issues went far deeper, the October hearings were an outgrowth of an earlier investigation of procedures used in procurement of the B-36 intercontinental bomber, and the B-36 remained prominent as a subject of discussion. Whatever the technical merits or demerits of this giant of the skies, it had become a symbol of current difficulties, and to most naval officers seemed to have grown horns and a tail. Yet the approach to the question was a narrow one, with too much of the naval case concentrated on the B-36 as airplane and too little on the B-36 as symbol - symbol of a strategy, symbol of domestic propaganda, and symbol of future budgetary troubles. On the other hand much naval testimony seemed retrospective, centering on the war against Japan, while clarification of the current implications of naval and amphibious capabilities was hampered by general acceptance of the concept that Russia was the one possible enemy and Europe the one possible theater. The result was that to many the arguments seemed either a disagreement of experts on technical matters or a simple case of hurt feelings; it was even possible to suggest that the Navy was aggrieved merely because the Air Force had developed a bomber of astonishingly long range. Nevertheless the hearings presented an impressive and disturbing spectacle: as the congressional committee observed, nearly the entire high command of the United States Navy appeared to protest the current policies of the Department of Defense.
Two points emerged fairly clearly from the testimony of the naval witnesses. The fact that the type of armed force embodied in the Navy and the Marine Corps was being whittled down to a dangerous level, emphasized in the testimony of three major fleet commanders, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Chief of Naval Operations, was forcefully developed. A second point, repeatedly made, was that the Navy was not accepted as an equal partner in the unification process, and while the documentation was unnecessarily weak, this contention received strong if surprising confirmation in the bitter and partisan rebuttal delivered by General Omar N. Bradley, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Some matters of central importance, however, were not made wholly clear. The fact that the budget ceiling imposed by the President on the defense establishment was too low to permit effective support of the commitments assumed by the President and the State Department was obscured by the attack on the Air Force. Perhaps the point could not have been well made under any circumstances. It is difficult to take issue with civilian judgment without seeming to attack civilian control; an outright appeal for funds opens the military man to undesirable accusations; in their economic thinking the military incline to the conservative, and to unquestioning acceptance of statements that the economy can only stand so much. In any event it was the members of the congressional committee, rather than the military witnesses, who showed the most concern over the adequacy of appropriations.
A second subject which remained somewhat obscure, and one always difficult to explain clearly, was the relationship between armament and foreign policy, and between types of armament and strategic flexibility. The discussion did indeed involve the importance of relating strategy to war aims, of differentiating when dealing with tyrants between the rulers and the ruled, and of maintaining insofar as possible the fabric of civilization in the interest of the postwar world. The implications of an intercontinental bombing strategy for a diplomatic policy of alliance, and the inconsistencies implicit in simultaneous efforts to create a North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a weapons system independent of foreign bases were touched on. Salutary emphasis was laid on the need for tactical air strength to attack enemy forces in being and their lines of communication, and for immediately available forces, with ground and air components trained and packaged together, ready for quick deployment. But the course of the hearings was such as to deprive these matters of their merited consideration.
Consideration, nevertheless, would soon be given them, although less as the result of the efforts of naval officers than of those of the North Korean People's Army. For this unforeseen war in an unexpected theater was to pose in excruciating form the strategic and tactical problems the defense establishment had not been permitted to meet. As if to emphasize the problems of balanced forces and limited war brought forth in the hearings, the Korean conflict would see the naval witnesses occupying crucial posts: Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Commander of the Fast Carrier Task Force in Korean waters and Chief of Staff and acting Commander Naval Forces Far East; Commanding General of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. The nature of the war would raise an imperative but unanticipated need for close interservice cooperation, and would keep the problem of roles and missions, so long a bone of contention in Washington, steadily to the fore. And finally, the course of the struggle on that distant peninsula would do much - at least temporary - to redress the military imbalance of 1949.
For the moment, however, the "revolt of the admirals" was inconclusive. The rebuttal testimony of representatives of the Army and Air Force was generally moderate in tone: controversial issues were skirted, sin was denied, and the Navy chided for not accepting unification. In the sequel the Navy lost one Chief of Naval Operations with the removal of Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, and gained another in the person of Admiral Forrest P. Sherman. The escape of steam during the hearings diminished pressures inside the Pentagon and produced a period of comparative interservice moderation. The report of the congressional committee was in many respects a model discussion of a highly complex matter: whatever the public thought, and despite the diffuseness of the naval presentation, the members had not missed the points at issue. Within the National Security Council, where the Russian atomic explosion had led to a review of military policy, the naval arguments may have had some weight. But so far as the all-important question of the budget was concerned, the hearings were of no effect. The ceiling for fiscal 1951 remained at $13 billion, reduction of naval strength continued apace, and even the Air Force found its plans cut back. Within the House of Representatives efforts were begun to provide the Navy with funds for new construction, although not for a new United States, but the attitude of the executive branch remained unchanged.
Yet what in retrospect seems most striking about the hearings of 1949, and what presumably would have most impressed an observer from beyond the Iron Curtain, was less the evidence of difficulties between the services than the emerging picture of American strategic thought. Almost all witnesses, of whatever service, agreed that there was but "one possible enemy." Almost all focussed their attention on the defense of Europe. Just as some of the naval testimony was nostalgic in nature, so was that of the dominant Army-Air Force wing, although with a different bias stemming from a different past. The next war, it seemed clear beyond peradventure, would begin like the last with a massive enemy surprise attack; just as in World War II, except for the use of bigger and better weapons, the reply would take the form of a strategic air offensive; the end would come on the ground with a new V-E Day. Whether the Russians were equally convinced of this was a question raised by none.
Repeated emphasis on "the" strategic plan and on the importance of long-range nuclear bombardment, together with the contemplated reductions in naval and amphibious capabilities, promised a steady diminution in ability to reply to pinpricks, or to police non-Russian aggression, or to act with strength and speed outside the European theater. The capabilities and intentions of the United States were plain. There had grown up, in effect, a mirror-image concept of strategy: the United States thinks Europe is important and has created NATO; therefore the Russians must think Europe important, and be planning to invade it. An equal rigidity on the part of the enemy was assumed, all capacity for subtlety or maneuver was denied him, and the upshot would seem to have been an invitation to war by proxy in distant places.
The situation which the hearings thus exposed was a remarkable one even for a nation not noted for flexibility or sophistication in strategic thought. The lack of clarity in the area of grand strategy evinced by the naval witnesses can doubtless be explained as a result of their immediate troubles, and of the intellectual difficulties they faced in trying to harmonize a traditionally more flexible outlook with the rigidities of the agreed strategic plan. Implicit, if not explicit, in some of their testimony, there can be found a very different point of view. But to account for the attitude of those within the military establishment who professed themselves satisfied with the situation is more difficult, for they were wrong on any reading of history. Essentially, it would seem, the fact that able and devoted men could agree along such lines stemmed from the fear of defeat by bankruptcy, and the historian of this episode must conclude that if war is too important a matter to be left to the military, it is also too important to be subjected to the budgetary treatment of 1948-50. Those skilled in the mysteries of economics had told the service heads that their country could spend no more in time of peace, and peace presumably existed until the shooting began. The President had imposed a firm ceiling, and orders were orders. Accepting the $13 billion limit and the force that this could purchase as the nation's maximum capability, the dominant members of the Joint Chiefs could think only as they did. In no other way could they continue to carry their heavy responsibilities. A broader outlook on possibilities was too agonizing to be endured.
Part 3. The Estimate of the Situation
In contrast to the alarms and crises of preceding years the early months of 1950 brought an appearance of stability in the world at large. Within the Defense Department things were quieter. In Europe Tito's defection from the Russian bloc had been followed by termination of the civil war in Greece. The Berlin blockade had ended, West Berlin remained free, and the development in the autumn of 1949 of two German governments amounted to an acknowledgment that for the foreseeable future the German question would remain insoluble. In Asia the Chinese civil war was over, the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn from Chiang Kai-shek, the Generalissimo with his remaining forces had retired to Formosa, and the Chinese People's Republic had been proclaimed. In Korea, as in Germany, agreement to disagree had been institutionalized in the formation of two governments. Although the state of the world was not one to bring entire satisfaction to American policy makers, things appeared to be settling down.
In many respects, moreover, it could be said that the United States had responded brilliantly to the challenge with which it had been faced. Far from withdrawing from a degenerate outer world, the American government had reacted with extraordinary fertility of imagination, and had accomplished some notable acts of statecraft. The Truman Doctrine had marked the turning point, and had signaled a determination to face up to the problems of mid-century, but the Truman Doctrine by no means stood alone. The vision of Secretary Marshall's Harvard speech had borne fruit in the European Recovery Program, which began operations in the summer of 1948. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the diplomatic reply to the Czech coup and the Berlin blockade, became operative in 1949, as did a Mutual Defense Assistance Program designed to give arms to those who manned the frontiers of freedom. Enactment of the Point Four program, intended to make freedom worth defending where needs were more material than conceptual, seemed in early prospect. Progress in rationalizing the defense establishment had been less obvious, but it could be maintained that the military had met with great success their only test of strength: the work of the Air Force, assisted by Navy and RAF transport squadrons, in maintaining the Berlin airlift, had not only led to diplomatic triumph but had presented to the world a picture of a United States that was determined, restrained, and possessed of extraordinary operational capabilities.
Nevertheless it should be noted that the successes of American policy were largely European: in Asia the settling dust revealed a situation at variance with all earlier hopes. The principal effects of Communist success in China were perhaps two: to increase the importance of Japan as the pivot of American policy in the Orient and, since Europe seemed more amenable as well as more important, to reemphasize the European orientation of diplomacy. Two countries, Germany and Korea, were divided by the frontiers of the divided world, yet while American divisions were held in Germany the last American troops were withdrawn from Korea in June 1949. That the defense of South Korea was now a matter for the South Koreans themselves could be assumed from the tendencies in American military policy brought out in the October hearings, as well as from speeches by General MacArthur and Secretary of State Acheson which drew the American strategic frontier through the Korean Strait.
Despite the transfer of responsibility for Korean unification to the United Nations and the withdrawal of American troops, the Republic of Korea remained a problem for American policy makers. Since 1945: American aid to Korea had annually exceeded the sum of $100 million, and the economy of the Republic was wholly dependent on congressional appropriation and the ECA. Similar circumstances doubtless obtained above the parallel, but the steady southward flow of refugees, which did nothing to simplify the economic problems of the Republic, gave evidence of a less tactful and less generous protecting power.
There was also a military problem. In the north the Russians had set up a military academy in 1945, and three years later had activated the North Korean People's Army, three divisions strong. In the course of time the North Koreans were provided with Soviet tanks; by 1949 three more infantry divisions had been activated; a rapid expansion in the spring of 1950 raised NKPA strength to ten infantry divisions, a number of infantry regiments, and an armored brigade. An aviation unit had been created in 1946; in 1948 the obsolete Japanese aircraft used for training began to be replaced by newer types received from Russia; by 1950 the number on hand was approaching the hundred mark. The People's Republic boasted a navy of some 45 small craft, including a few 60-foot aluminum-hulled Russian torpedo boats; at Najin, in the northeast, the Russians administered a training program for Korean naval personnel; there and at Chongjin and Unggi the Soviet Navy enjoyed the use of base facilities.
In the Republic of Korea the situation was otherwise. Following the withdrawal of American fighting forces the United States had provided, at the request of the Korean government, a small Korean Military Advisory Group, and military supplies for a force of 50,000 men were left behind. But while an impressive quantity of small arms, vehicles, ammunition, and artillery was transferred, along with some 20 training planes, and while further deliveries were scheduled under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, the capabilities of the South Korean Army remained somewhat limited. As a result of the belligerence of Syngman Rhee, who seemed quite prepared to attempt a forcible unification of the peninsula, this army was given no tanks, no medium or heavy artillery, and no military aircraft.
By 1950 the strength of the ROK Army was approaching the 100,000 mark and eight divisions had been organized. Small unit training had made good progress, but experience in large-scale maneuvers was lacking and there had been no training in defense against tanks. Nevertheless, the Military Advisory Group was optimistic, and its confidence that ROK forces could handle the threat from the north was apparently accepted on the higher levels.
The Republic's navy, somewhat larger than its northern counterpart, had been established in 1948 on the foundation of the coast guard set up during the American occupation. Its strength in 1950 was something over 7,000 men; its headquarters were in an office building in Seoul and its principal base facilities at Chinhac on the south coast; its ships were large ex-United States YMS types and ex-Japanese minesweepers and picket boats. Some advice and assistance had been provided in the early years by former United States Coast Guard personnel attached to the KMAG, but money and material had been sadly lacking, ships had been kept in operation only by cannibalizing, morale had been low, and defections had taken place. In 1949, however, prospects had brightened with the receipt of a shipment of spare parts from the United States, and Rear Admiral Sohn Won Il, ROKN, the Chief of Naval Operations, had gone to America to bring back four ex-U.S. Navy 173-foot steel-hulled PCs. Something, too, had happened to morale, for the money to purchase one of these vessels had been provided by subscription of the officers and men, an unusual event in any navy.
So the Far East still presented problems, and not only in Korea. The Communist success in China had become a major subject of domestic political dispute; a large proportion of American ground strength remained on occupation duty in Japan; inevitably the American posture in the Orient was kept under review. General J. Lawton Collins, USA, the Army Chief of Staff, had visited Japan in the autumn of 1949, and June of 1950 saw a renewal of high-level travel to the Far East. The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff flew to Manila for discussions with Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble, Commander Seventh Fleet; John Foster Dulles, consultant to the Secretary of State, paid a visit to Korea; all then proceeded to Japan for talks with General MacArthur. While at Seoul Mr. Dulles had addressed the Korean National Assembly, and had assured his audience of the strength and resolution of the free world and of the support of the American people. Intended as a diplomatic counter to North Korean threats, the speech proved unsuccessful, and photographs of Mr. Dulles peering across the 38th parallel were shortly featured in the Communist press as it hailed him as the strategist of South Korean aggression.
By the time these visitations took place the ostentatious military preparations in the north had alarmed the Rhee government, and had led the U.N. Commission to establish a system of border observers. For some time, also, reports of increasing North Korean strength had been available to the intelligence section of the Far East Command in Tokyo. An appreciation of December 1949, which considered it axiomatic that the Russians would be unwilling to permit the survival of a non-Communist Korean state, had commented on the arrival of reinforcements from Manchuria and suggested that spring would bring a period of danger. In January it was reported that March and April had been designated as the time for an attack on South Korea. In March it was noted that recent evidence pointed to an invasion in June. Subsequent information indicated that the inhabitants were being evacuated from the border zone north of the parallel, and that North Korean regular divisions had been deployed along the dividing line. In the last weeks of peace word was received of minor clashes along the parallel, of conferences of North Korean commanders, of guerrilla infiltration of South Korea, and of North Korean receipt of Soviet aircraft. But all this information received negative evaluation in the Far East Command: the March report of a prospective June invasion was forwarded with the comment that civil war was unlikely, although the reasons for this view remained unstated, and this judgment was repeated in subsequent appreciations.
One of the principal conclusions of the Pearl Harbor investigating committee had concerned the failure of evaluation and action despite the availability of intelligence, and this aspect of that tragedy had provided one of the chief arguments for postwar efforts to coordinate diplomatic, military, and intelligence activities. Yet this war like the last was to begin with a failure of intelligence, and if the immediate damage to the United States was less, the performance of the new apparatus seems if anything to have been worse than that of the old. Once again the information was available, this time in even more detail, but the ability to use it was still more notable in its absence. Once again it was clear how imprisoned men are in their own frames of reference, and how difficult it is to believe in unpleasant possibilities. Again, perhaps, there can here be seen the influence of the agreed strategic plan. Whatever the secret agents say, the evaluating authorities will believe only what they wish to believe.
[End of Chapter 2]