Truman Orders U.S. Forces to Fight in Korean War

Truman Orders U.S. Forces to Fight in Korean War

On July 19, 1950, in a radio and television address, President Harry Truman announces to the world that America will intervene in the Korean conflict in order to stem the spread of communism.

On This Day: Truman Orders Troops Into Korea

Following World War II, the Korean Peninsula, which had been under Japanese control, was divided along the 38th parallel, with the United States overseeing the South and the Soviets occupying the North.

Over the next several years, Kim Il Sung established a communist government in the North and American-backed nationalist Syngman Rhee was elected president in the South. The two governments each aspired to control the entire peninsula and their armies frequently skirmished along the 38th parallel.

On June 25, 1950, the North launched an invasion of the South, overrunning the poorly armed Southern forces. The United Nations Security Council immediately voted 9-0 to pass a resolution condemning the invasion. The Soviet Union could have vetoed the resolution, but it was boycotting the Security Council after it excluded the People&rsquos Republic of China.

Two days later, President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. naval and air forces into Korea to enforce the Security Council resolution. &ldquoThe attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war,&rdquo he declared.

&ldquoThus the complexion of the Korean situation was changed overnight,&rdquo wrote Anthony Leviero in The New York Times. &ldquoYesterday officials were inclined to see South Korea, with her small, poorly equipped forces, as good as lost. &hellipToday the view was that American air and naval forces could assure overwhelming superiority to South Korea and bring victory, unless, of course, Russia similarly aided North Korea.&rdquo

Truman was careful not to antagonize the Soviet Union in his speech. Before committing troops to Korea, the U.S. had privately asked the Soviets to use its influence over North Koreans and end the fighting, a move described by Leviero as &ldquoat once a possible face-saving device for Russia in a showdown crisis and a feeler to determine her intentions.&rdquo

Truman made no mention of the Soviet Union, blaming only &ldquocommunism.&rdquo According to the National Archives, &ldquoDean Acheson later explained, the administration sought to give the Soviets a &lsquograceful exit&rsquo and not provoke open confrontation with Russia.&rdquo

Korean War From A to Z

On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced that he had ordered United States air and naval forces to fight with South Korea’s Army, two days after Communist North Korea invaded South Korea.

The invasion had prompted the Security Council of the United Nations to call for a ceasefire and for all combatants to return to their former positions on either side of the 38th parallel, which divides the two Koreas.

President Truman emphasized the action by the United States was taken as a member of the United Nations. He released a text statement that said, in part, the “attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that Communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.”

Mr. Truman also took steps beyond Korea to stem the march of Communism. He asked the Chinese Government on Formosa (now Taiwan) to cease all attacks against mainland China, and directed the Seventh Fleet to protect Formosa. He also ordered additional assistance to French forces fighting to keep Communist China out of Indochina.

The New York Times article from June 27, 1950 reported that, “the complexion of the Korean situation was changed overnight. Yesterday officials were inclined to see South Korea, with her small, poorly equipped forces, as good as lost.”

On July 8, 1950, President Truman appointed the 70-year old Gen. Douglas MacArthur to command the U.N. forces in Korea. On July 13, the New York Times reporter Richard J. H. Johnston filed a grim report from the battlefield on “the sober realization there that at best the United States troops face a long and costly campaign to drive the invaders from South Korea and that at worst we are facing a military disaster in which the American troops … can either be driven to the sea or bottled into rugged mountain passes and soggy rice fields for annihilation.”

However, in September 1950, U.N. forces successfully landed in the Western port city of Inchon, and recaptured the capital city of Seoul about two weeks later. But Chinese and Soviet Union forces came to the North’s aid, and the U.N. was pushed back into the South. Though the two sides pushed and pushed back, they ended up settling on a truce where the war began: at the 38th parallel. The Korean War finally ended on July 27, 1953.

There have been many smaller skirmishes between the two nations in the ensuing six decades. The most recent serious episode occurred in November 2010, when North Korea launched an artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing four and provoking a retaliatory South Korea artillery attack. The island lies in disputed territory in the Yellow Sea, which had been the scene for conflicts in 1999, 2002 and March 2010, when a North Korean attack sank the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46.

‘They thought black soldiers couldn’t fight’

T wo years before President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order to desegregate the armed forces, a black World War II veteran in uniform was pulled from a bus in Batesburg, S.C., and severely beaten by a police chief violently swinging a nightstick.

Isaac Woodard, who was accused of talking back to the bus driver, lost consciousness in the assault and was permanently blinded.

“Negro veterans that fought in this war . . . don’t realize that the real battle has just begun in America,” Woodard, who was attacked Feb. 12, 1946, hours after he had been honorably discharged, told the Chicago Defender newspaper.

Months later, two black veterans and their wives were forced out of a car near Monroe, Ga., tied to trees and executed by a white mob. Their skulls were cracked, and their bodies were riddled with more than 60 bullets.

At the White House, Truman was disturbed by news of the increasing attacks on black veterans across the country. Near the end of World War II, hundreds of black veterans returning home from war were assaulted and lynched — some simply for wearing uniforms.

“My very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten,” Truman said, according to papers at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

Truman ordered the FBI to investigate the lynchings and appointed the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which would issue a revolutionary report in October 1947. It condemned segregation, proposed anti-lynching laws and urged action “to end immediately all discrimination and segregation based on race, color, creed or national origin in all branches of the Armed Services.”

On July 26, 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981, declaring that the policy “shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes­ without impairing efficiency or morale.”

The order was met with immediate resistance. Full integration of the armed forces would not happen until the Korean War, when the need for troops on the ground trumped discrimination based on color.

Seventy years after Truman’s executive order, black veterans say the memories of racism and discrimination in the armed forces still sting. The transition to the military’s full integration would prove as difficult as integration in the rest of society.

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Jr.

‘There will be no change’

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Jr., 92, who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, remembers the day the order was issued.

“Commanders were directed to read the order to their personnel,” Becton said in an interview in Fairfax, Va. “I was on reserve duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground when the post commander read the order, and then he said, ‘As long as I am the commander here, there will be no change.’ ”

Becton was surprised by the defiance. “I didn’t believe what I heard. This was the commander in chief saying this is what it’s going to be. But here was a commander saying nothing would change.”
Black soldiers were labeled with stereotypes, Becton recalled. “They thought black soldiers couldn’t fight — that they were not trustworthy and had no leadership skills.”

Black troops have fought with valor in every war since the American Revolution. Still, Becton said that during World War II, they were treated unfairly by U.S. forces and even their prisoners of war.

“During my training in 1944, when I was in an all-black unit at MacDill Army Airfield,” near Tampa, Becton recalled, “some of the service areas were run by Italian prisoners of war. . . . I could walk into the shoe repair, and even though I had been the first in line, I would be the last person served because the fellow behind the counter, although he was a POW, he was white.”

A year after Truman’s order, Becton led a platoon in a segregated 3rd Battalion “in the otherwise all-white 9th Infantry Regiment. That’s what passed for Army integration in 1949,” according to the Outpost, a column in the Army magazine.

On June 25, 1950, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur “ordered his ill-equipped, understrength occupation forces­ to deploy and try to stop the North Korean onslaught, it did not go well.” MacArthur requested reinforcements, and Becton’s platoon responded. “MacArthur needed troops,” according to the Outpost. “He didn’t ask their skin color.”

Becton would go on to earn the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts in Korea.

“When our regiment lost men and needed replacements, it didn’t matter if the new soldiers were black or white,” Becton said. “Our colonel said to put them where they were needed, and this led to the integration of the 9th Infantry Regiment. . . . Whatever their color/complexion had nothing to do with how well they could fight.”

Retired Sgt. Sam Graham

‘They fought it tooth and nail’

When Sam Graham, who was born in Cottonwood, Ala., was growing up in the segregated South, he read stories in black newspapers about the lynchings and attacks of black veterans returning from World War II.

“There were so many terrible, terrible things that happened to black veterans in those days,” said Graham, now 87, a retired Army sergeant. “But what could you do about it? There was nothing you could do about it. That’s just what it was like back then.”

Graham served in the Army from 1948 to 1954. “I got out, but I couldn’t find a job,” he said. So he rejoined that same year, continuing to serve until 1968.

Graham felt as though Truman’s order had no immediate effect on his time in the service, where he constantly faced racism.

“Mr. Truman, he took a stand, and he meant well,” Graham said. “But it was the commanders — it was up to them, and they fought it tooth and nail.”

Graham remembers being called names by white soldiers. “There were always remarks made,” Graham said. “But what are you going to do? I was used to it.”

For black soldiers, racism was rampant. “The things we had to overcome as black soldiers in a white Army,” he said. “You could either adjust to it or fight and wind up in the stockade.”

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Charles Felder

Seared into his memory

Five years after Truman’s executive order, Charles Felder joined the Marines at 17. Felder grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where he saw racism that still makes him cringe.

Felder said that his uncle, a World War II veteran, tried to talk him out of joining the military.

“He hated the military,” Felder said. “He was a mechanic. He told me about an incident in Italy. They got up in the mountains in the Alps. The trucks constantly ran out of gas. They attached 55-gallon cans of gasoline to the backs of the black soldiers. That is the way they made it up the mountains.”

In 1954, Felder was sent to Korea, where he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division. One incident is seared in his mind.

“When we got to a forward position, my rifle was missing,” Felder recalled, sitting in the community room of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington. “It could have happened to any Marine. But he laid this punishment on me. He told me he did not ever want to see me without my weapon. He made a sling for the weapon.”

Felder was required to wear the weapon day and night. “He would come into the tent at night and make sure that weapon was with me. At the dining hall, I would take the weapon and put it on my lap. He would walk up and say, ‘Felder, where does the weapon belong?’ ”

“ ‘On my back,’ ” Felder replied. “He just pushed it. This officer was a white Southerner.”

Another incident occurred on a weekend. “I’ll never forget this,” Felder recalled. “We had had a few. I might have had more than I could handle. I went to my bunk. I heard the [noncommissioned officers] in the area. They were talking. Before I could get to sleep, I heard somebody say, ‘That’s a god‐‐‐‐ n‐‐‐‐‐ jet pilot right there.’ ”

Felder jumped up. “It got to me. I said, ‘What did you say?’ ”

The Marine denied it. “My memory is not where it should be,” Felder said. “But I will never forget that.”

Truman Orders U.S. Forces to Fight in Korean War - HISTORY

Integrating the Armed Forces

Digital History TOPIC ID 100

Today, many Americans consider the U.S. Army the country's most successful effort at racial integration. Colin Powell, now the country's first African American Secretary of State, has become a symbol of the Army's relative openness. He rose through the Army's ranks to become the first black head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Yet the integration of the armed forces is a relatively recent development. As recently as the end of 1950, when the Korean War was entering its seventh month, African American troops were trained at a segregated facility at Fort Dix, New Jersey, near New York City. Even later, in the fall of 1954, an all-African American unit, the 94th Engineer Battalion, was stationed in Europe.

African Americans have participated actively in the country's wars. An African American minuteman, Prince Easterbrooks, a slave, was wounded at the battle of Lexington, and, altogether, some 5,000 African Americans fought for American independence during the Revolution despite British promises of freedom to any slaves who defected to the Loyalist side.

It was not until the Civil War that African Americans were required to fight in racially separate units. In 1869, Congress made racial separation in the military official government policy. This policy remained intact through the Spanish American War, World War I (when two African American divisions participated in combat), and World War II.

It was during World War II that the policy of racial segregation within the military began to break down under pressure from African American leaders, who pointed out the contradiction of a country fighting Nazi racism having a segregated military. In March 1943, the War Department ordered the desegregation of recreational facilities at military facilities. In mid-1944, the War Department ordered all buses to be operated in a non-discriminatory fashion.

Military necessity helped to shatter racial barriers. In December, 1944, 250,000 German troops launched a massive counteroffensive, later known as the Battle of the Bulge, in Belgium. With only 80,000 Allied troops available in the area to resist the German forces, black troops were invited to volunteer to fight alongside white troops. Some 2,500 African American troops volunteered. Although black and white troops served in separate platoons, this experience helped the Army break with its usual practice of placing African American troops in separate units and assigning them to non-combat duties.

In February 1948, President Harry S. Truman directed the U.S. armed forces to desegregate as quickly as possible. In July, he issued Executive Order 9981 calling on the military to end racial discrimination. It would take several years - and another war - before the military actually ended segregation. Three factors would ultimately lead to integration: the growing recognition that segregation undercut the United States' moral stature during the Cold War the need to reduce racial tensions within the military and the manpower needs produced by the Korean war.

Following President Truman's Executive Order, two boards were established to make recommendations about integration. A presidential commission chaired by Charles Fahy recommended an end to discrimination in jobs, schooling, assignment, and recruitment. An Army board headed by Lieutenant General S.J. Chamberlin called on the Army to remain segregated and retain racial quotas. In the end, the Army agreed to open all jobs and military training schools on a non-segregated basis. There were isolated examples at unit-level integration, including at Camp Jackson, South Carolina in early 1951.

It was the Korean War that finally led to the desegregation of previously all-white combat units. After six months of fighting, insufficient white replacement troops were available and black enlistments were high. In February 1951, the Chamberlin board was asked to reexamine its conclusions. Although it acknowledged that integrated units had fewer racial tensions than a combination of segregated units, it continued to call for a 10 percent Army quota of African Americans. At this time, 98 percent of the Army's black soldiers served in segregated units. In May, General Matthew Ridgway requested permission to desegregate his command.

In March, 1951, the Army asked Johns Hopkins University's Operations Research Office to analyze the impact of integrating its forces. Extensive surveys of troops and analysis of combat performance in Korea revealed that:

Integration raised the morale of African American soldiers and did not reduce that of white soldiers

Integration was favored by black soldiers and was not opposed by most white soldiers

Experience in integrated units increased white support for integration Integration improved fighting effectiveness.

An essential finding is that integration reduced racial tensions within the military. In December 1951 the Chief of Staff ordered all Army commands to desegregate.

Advancing to Chosin

Underestimating the fighting ability of the CPVF, MacArthur ordered Almond to advance inland with the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry divisions to the Chosin Reservoir. From there the two divisions would move west toward Kanggye, a mountain mining town where the Chinese and North Korean armies seemed to be concentrating—a maneuver that would place the X Corps north of and behind the CPVF armies facing the Eighth Army. MacArthur’s scheme required an 88-km (55-mile) advance over a single unpaved road through the heart of the T’aebaek Mountains in freezing weather and blinding snowstorms. Smith told Almond the plan was rash, but Almond, operating directly under MacArthur, ordered the Marines forward.

The X Corps’ first objective, the village of Hagaru-ri, rested near the southern tip of the reservoir, a narrow mountain lake that provided hydroelectric power to the mining industries of northern Korea. The lake’s proper name is the Changjin Reservoir, but, during Japan’s annexation of Korea (1910–45), its name had been changed to Chōsen, the Japanese name for Korea. Through successive translations and hurried mapmaking, the reservoir became known as Chosin and remains so to this day for American veterans of the Korean War. By any name it was a cold barren battleground where deep foxholes could be dug into the frozen earth only with the help of explosives and bulldozers.

With its supplies moving by truck, the 1st Marine Division established battalion-sized bases at Chinhŭng-ni and Kot’o-ri, villages along the Main Supply Route (MSR), the X Corps’ name for the road to the reservoir. The division began its final march to the reservoir on November 13, with two of its reinforced regiments, the 7th and 5th Marines, in column and moving cautiously. Each regiment was a regimental combat team with attached artillery battalions, a tank company, engineers, and headquarters and service units. On November 15 lead elements of the 7th Marines reached Hagaru-ri. From there the regiment prepared for its next advance, west of the reservoir to Yudam-ni, 22 km (14 miles) away, while the 5th Marines moved cautiously up the reservoir’s right bank.

General Smith, unhappy with this risky deployment, persuaded Almond to allow the Marines to concentrate at Hagaru-ri and replace the eastern force with a unit from the 7th Infantry Division. Almond ordered General Barr to form a regimental combat team of two infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and other troops. The 31st Infantry Regiment, commanded by Col. Allan D. MacLean and known as Task Force MacLean, numbered 3,200 Americans and Koreans. It replaced the Marines east of the reservoir on November 25. Smith used this operational pause to strengthen the defenses of Hagaru-ri and build a rough airfield for emergency resupply and medical evacuations. A battalion of Marines manned the most vulnerable part of the perimeter, but much of the position had to be manned by noninfantry units. The Marine Corps’ investment in making “every Marine a rifleman” would soon pay dividends.

More Comments:

Tim Sydney - 8/8/2009

Amazon lists a book "Doomsday Men" by P.D.Smith (Described here )

Jerry J. Monaco - 1/20/2005

I read the above comments. What Cummings says about the use of napalm, the fire bombing of civilian populations and the destruction of dams towards the end of the Korean War is undisputed, though little known by U.S. citizens. Technically, the bombing of dams, indiscriminately drowning thousands of people, is a war crime. But does anyone among the intellectual caste of professional historians’ care?

Dropping of napalm on civilian populations was just a matter of course for these we call "leaders" and "generals." At least someone should mention that this has moral implications for us today. But does anyone care? Does anyone care that we as a people have never come to terms with the atrocities we have committed, and not only in Korea and Vietnam.

A. J. Muste used to say that after a war the problem for humanity is always with the victor. The leaders of the victorious nation believe that they have learned a lesson that violence and destruction "works" and is profitable. The willingness to use violence to achieved the ends of power is no longer deterred by the thought that it may have unforeseen consequences. This has been a continuing problem of U.S. foreign policy, the leaders believe that force, violence, and destruction is the first and most useful tool to achieve their ends. Only the limits placed on the unbridled use of power by world opinion and by those of us in opposition in the U.S. prevent a similar use of U.S. power today.

Arguing over sources is not irrelevant but it is a deliberate diversion from what is uncontested in the article and largely unknown by even most people who fancy themselves historians. Perhaps those who can find a small source taken out of context, or the fact that it wasn't mentioned in the article that one of the cities obliterated by napalm contained industrial installations can then ignore asking themselves about the moral implications of U.S. policies. That is certainly an easy way out.

Andrew D. Todd - 1/15/2005

A radiation belt of the type proposed by MacArthur is going to have inherently amorphous boundaries. A material sufficiently finely granulated to be stirred up by marching boots and inhaled is also going to be blown by the winds. Now, the attacker can march his men through the belt in a few hours at most, and if they are slated for a human wave attack anyway, the net _differential_ effect of the radiation belt might be minimal. On the other hand, the defender has to keep his troops in the vicinity of the radiation belt for months to years.

If the defender's troops are not in fairly close proximity to the radiation belt, the attacker can probably find means to go around it. Alternatively, he might dig tunnels through the belt, supplied with compressed air from outside, similar to the practice in an underground coal or metal mine. Or he might fit a few trucks up with some kind of rudimentary NBC protection, and use them to ferry large numbers of troops for short distances, through the worst of the radiation belt (say, three or four turns per hour).

It seems likely that such a belt might have killed far more American than Chinese troops.

William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/14/2005

Strontium did, as I remember from when I was a little critter, get into the milk we drank from test fallout. We didn't need vast conspiracies with Emperor Ming-like figures at their heads back then.

"So long Mom,
I'm off to drop the bomb,
So don't wait up for me. "

William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/14/2005

Good point. In offlist communications with friends who've either been involved in weapons research and/or in the Air Force,this issue came up immediately. But at the time, neither military nor intelligence organizations were reluctant to expose GIs to toxic materials or environments and at the end of the war, the safety civilian workers in plants processing weapons-grade material was also downplayed.

Some years ago Robert Williams, then of Washington University, St. Louis, treated the question of civilian exposure with regard to the Mallinkrodt Chemical Company facility on the St. Louis riverfront, where early bomb components were refined I do not have a citation immediately at hand because the text of a lecture he gave about it, subsequently published in edited form in The Washington University Magazine, was one of the items I left behind when I expatriated.

Another matter is the potential metereological distribution of contaminants. I recall southern Korea as a very dusty place, and assume the north is, too skeptical dittoheads in Florida might recall the dust that accumulates there can be substantially African in origin!

But I must say the moral issues outweigh the technical. If the use of contaminants was considered along with what? nearly 30 A-bombs? that's a serious problem, folks, and we haven't even delved into the firebombing of Japanese, Korean, and yes, German cities. Appeals to "war" and its alleged demands don't cut any ice. At least not with me.

Don Williams - 1/13/2005

one has to wonder who would have suffered most
from MacArthur's order to shovel out radioactive cobalt--
the Koreans or his own men?

I have never heard of this. In para 9.110-9.112 of
"The Effects of Nuclear Weapons"[1964], Samuel Glasstone discussed radiological warfare, the nature of radioisotopes needed,etc. He indicated that pre-made powder was impractical (for the threat to one's own soldiers,among other things) and that radiological warfare only became practical with the development of weapons with high fission (not Fusion) yields in which the radioactive contaminent is produced by the fission process.

The 1977 edition of Glasstone is less forthcoming on this subject than the 1964 edition but is available online at Princeton's site --see

Earlier, in 9.44, he indicated that fusion weapons can be made "dirty" if salted with certain materials but that fission weapons are inherently dirty--especially if detonated close to the ground.

William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/13/2005

Thanks. In my annoyance at Right, writing in haste I didn't made clear I meant no cobalt fusion bomb in Korea but Mr. Lederer has also opened the door wide to real madness: Not just A-bombs, but cobalt "spread from wagons, carts, trucks, and planes?" Good God.

Don Williams - 1/13/2005

1) MacArthur would not have needed Los Alamos clearance to know about cobalt bombs-- Leo Szilard had published
a public article on the concept in 1950.
2) One has to ask what was at stake in Korea --for the USA -- for MacArthur to propose such action, given the strong motivation it gave the Soviets to make a massive nuclear buildup and to ally with China.
3) The USA was by far the most powerful nation in 1951 -- and emerged from the ruins of WWII with the largest economy. Hence, it had far more to lose in a nuclear conflict.
4) Something worse than cobalt was strontium -90, with a half life of 27.7 years. While not as intensely radioactive as cobalt, strontium has a long biological half-life. That is , it is chemically similar to calcium, is water soluble, can be absorbed from the soil by plants, become concentrated in the milk of cattle, and --when ingested either in the form of vegetables or in dairy products --becomes deposited in the bones where roughly half of it remains over the next 18 years. Once there, it's radioactive emissions destroyed bone cells and marrow, leading to bone cancer and leukemia.

Because of this, "it has been estimated that a body content of 10 microcuries. of strontium -90 in a large proportion of the population would produce a noticeable increase in the occurrence of bone cancer". [Ref: Samuel Glassstone, "The Effects of Nuclear Weapon", 1964, para 11.178- 11.185, pages 612-615. ]. The detection of a spike in strontium 90 being deposited worldwide from nuclear tests was what led the USA and USSR to agree to ban above ground testing of nuclear weapons.

A salted strontium weapon smuggled into the American Midwest could have rendered a large chunk of farmland unusable for decades.

William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/13/2005

Look at the context, please. A less powerful bomb that produces cobalt 60 locally must be pretty nasty therefore.

You read selectively and in a querulously picky way, like many on the Right do. It has from another realm been all-too-graciously been called "legalistic" thinking. It can be done across the board both ways, by commission and omission, and so I call it the Chambless Fallacy, in honor, oh dubious honor indeed, of Jack A. Chambless, who teaches--God help his students--economics at Valencia Community College in Orlando, FL.

Chambless, an occasional op-ed scrivener for the Mousetown's daily, wrote in its January 6 edition (quite correctly)"the U.S. Constitution has no provision whatsoever for using taxpayer dollars to aid foreign nations." But he's also very, very wrong about the contextual authority to do so.

He was protesting assistance to South Asian nations devastated by the recent tsunami nowhere does the Constitution authorize the incineration of Asian schoolchildren to promote the delusions of megalomaniac and morally challenged generals, though Chambless does say the Constitution provides for "defense." By fire and water, as they say. And they're only Asians, mostly Muslim, too, and those people have replaced the antlike hordes of godless oriental Communism as our enemies.

Your reading of Cummings, a kind of Gotcha! legalism, does in no way vitiate the message of his essay. Your major problem is that the minions of the US can and have done evil your slightly lesser one, not a diminishment of status, which in all authoritarian worldviews I know of has sustained evil--so is it a character flaw shared by those on the Right, since it certainly pervades the practice of those not in "the reality based community"?--is to falsify by finding any way to smugly appropriate the illusion of truth in an attempt to "make the worse appear the better cause." It's not even good sophistry. To call it "legalism," in my worldview, is to compound the sin.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/13/2005

Fascinating. And thank you, and John above, for doing more research on this.

1. If MacArthur is indicative, it seems that generals are beginning to think of hitherto untested weapons as being on the assembly line. Are they?

2. MacArthur seems to be in the loop on top secret weapons development. That is certainly not how things were run during WWII. How exceptional is that? Or

3. MacArthur is not in the loop. He is assuming that we have at the ready technology--cobalt A-Bombs--that we do not have (even if we could build them). That suggests he's planning is based on leaks/scuttlebutt.

Don Williams - 1/12/2005

This web site has a timeline for nuclear-related events in Korea:

One item plus citations is the following:
24 December 1950
General Douglas MacArthur sends a list of targets to the Pentagon and asks for 34 atomic bombs to create “a belt of radioactive cobalt across the neck of Manchuria so that there could be no land invasion of Korea from the north for at least 60 years.”
—Stanley Weintraub, MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), pp. 263-264 Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War: Volume II, The Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 750 Peter Hayes, Pacific Powderkeg: American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1991), pp. 9-10.

John H. Lederer - 1/12/2005

At least according to the NYT MacArthur advocated fission bombs for airbases and radioactive cobalt spread from vehicles. Note that the NYT is a shaky source for MacArthur as the NYT had a bit of a feud with him.

“The enemy’s airpower would first have been taken out. I would have dropped
between 30 and 50 atomic bombs on his airbases and other depots strung
across the neck of Manchuria from just across the Yalu River from Antung to
Hunchun. Between 30 and 50 atomic bombs would have more than done the job.
Dropped under cover of darkness they would have destroyed the enemy’s air
force on the ground, wiped out his maintenance and his airmen. . It was my
plan as our amphibious forces moved south to spread behind us - from the Sea
of Japan to the Yellow Sea - a belt of radioactive cobalt. It could have
been spread from wagons, carts, trucks and planes. It is not an expensive
material. It has an active life of between 60 and 120 years. For at least
60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north.
The enemy could not have marched across the radiated belt.” [1]

[1] “Text of Accounts by Lucas and Considine on Interviews With MacArthur in
1954,” The New York Times, April 9, 1964, pg. 16.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2005

Leckie: "'Scuse me guys, but there's no mention of a "cobalt fusion bomb""

Cummings: "Cobalt 60 has 320 times the radioactivity of radium. One 400-ton cobalt H-bomb, historian Carroll Quigley has written, could wipe out all animal life on earth. MacArthur sounds like a warmongering lunatic, but he was not alone."

William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/12/2005

'Scuse me guys, but there's no mention of a "cobalt fusion bomb" in Cummings' essay his starting point for cobalt-sheathed cores is (or did you miss it?) a quotation from MacArthur, who wanted to spread the width of the peninsula with radioactive cobalt. There's also an implicit message lurking in the piece: If you'd been walloped savagely by Americans from the air, had the cojones to keep fighting, just what would YOUR world view be? If I were a North Korean general, I'd take one look at George II and want every bit of firepower I could get my hands on. And dare'im to come get me.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2005

The source Don Williams pointed out is actually ambiguous on to whether a cobalt fission bomb existed. In fact, it states that radiation characteristic of fusion reactions converts cobalt 59 to cobalt 60. ( However, it does not say that fission bombs could not do this on a lesser scale, and the article does indicate that a great deal of research was going on concerning strengthening the destructive power of fission bombs. So I'm willing to accept that such a bomb was considered.

However, and this tends to support you, John, Cummings clearly uses his reference to a cobalt fusion bomb to indicate the power of such weapons.

It really is unfortunate, because the central topic, our consideration of using atomic weapons in Korea, is a fascinating one. I have no doubt that we did consider it seriously, and I would like to know how seriously. One logical gauge for the seriousness of such consideration is the degree to which US/UN forces were willing to target civilians with conventional weapons.

And that, of course, makes your criticism of the account of Hungnam important.

John H. Lederer - 1/12/2005

Prof. Cumings in his past work has so often pulled things out of context, distorted them, or presented them in a misleading fashion that in my opinion he is an unreliable source.

This posting has enough of the earmarks of such practices that I similarly reluctantly disregard it. That is a shame .

Some of the earmarks that I note are the confusing erratic use of different units of measures, the lack of distinction between "incendiaries" and "napalm", the lack of explanation of what napalm was used for, etc.

To take one example, Cumings states:
"In a major strike on the industrial city of Hungnam on 31 July 1950, 500 tons of ordnance was delivered through clouds by radar the flames rose 200-300 feet into the air."

The implication is of indiscriminate area wide bombing of a city (Hungnam had a population of about 200,000), so ferocious that fires rose 200-300 feet.

Unstated was that Hungnam had been made a major petro-chemical complex during the Japanese occupation, and that it was a principal source of explosives and war materials, that the raid referred to was on this complex, and that the secondary fires 200-300' high indicate that the target was successfully hit.

Hungnam was used as a port by the UN (the retreat from the Chosin reservoir embarked in Hungnam), and photos from Decmber 1950 indicate the lack of widespread damage at that time (5 months after the raid referred to by Cumings).

That is not to say that Hungnam was not heavily damaged in the Korean War. It was. But most of the damage occurred in December of 1950 and later. When the UN forces were evacuated from Hungnam, explosive charges were used to destroy vast quantities of supplies that had to be abandoned and to destroy the port facilities. Ammunition dumps were blown with considerable blast effects. Heavy naval gunfire (16",8", and 5") and carrier based fighter/bombers were used to protect the embarkation from the advancing communist chinese forces.

Hungnam was badly damaged in the evacuation and subsequent bombings. But that is not exactly the way Cumings implies it was. That is the problem with Cumings stuff -- there always is some truth in it, but it is shrouded in misimplications or misstatements. Parsing his stuff is sometimes like parsing a Clinton denial -- one has to carefully watch the subjects and the precedents for the pronouns.

Hungnam is not the core of his essay -- but one is left with doubts about whether the main point is reliable when the minor points are not.

Don Williams - 1/11/2005

The author did not say that MacArthur proposed using a "cobalt H-bomb" in 1951 -- the mention of a large cobalt H-bomb was in the reference to an article written later by Carroll Quigley.

What MacArthur was talking about was radiological weapons -- in which a large layer of ordinary cobalt59 is wrapped around a nuclear bomb. Detonation of the bomb then generates a large number of neutrons which transforms the cobalt into radioactive cobalt60 --i.e., creates a large cloud of highly radioactive cobalt particles with a long half-life (5+ years). Leo Szilard noted in 1950 that this is a "doomsday device" capable of destroying all life on earth.

Obviously, a (fusion) H-bomb generates far more neutrons --necessary for creating the Cobalt60 isotope -- than does a normal atomic (fission) explosion. But the USA was testing "enhanced yield" atomic bombs as early as May 1951. These precursors to the H-bomb had a mixture of deuterium and tritium inside the hollow sphere of plutonium and generated large amounts of neutrons.

Search for the sections "fission boosting" and "Advanced thermonuclear weapons designs " at

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/10/2005

However, my credibility is having a bit of a problem with a cobalt H-bomb in 1951 as there was no H-Boomb until 1952, and to my knowledge cobalt was not used in a fission bomb.

Maybe this was an isolated mistake in an othewise good article about the hitherto understated horrors of the Korean War. But it does leave a question mark.

Truman orders US forces to Korea

Some interesting things about Korea.
South Korea was not democratic during the Korean War. It only became a true democracy in 1987. Before that, it had a rather unstable political history of being ruled by authoritarian and military leaders at different times from 1945-1987.
The first President, Syngman Rhee was more like a dictator than a democratic president. He actually called for the invason of North Korea and the unification of Korea by force, before North Korea invaded. Though, South Korea didn't really have the capability of a succesful invasion of the North.

Also, North Korea outperformed South Korea, economically until the 1970's.
In 1960, South Korea was among the poorest countries in the world. Today I think it is the 12th richest.
South Korea had a nuclear weapons program in the 1970's and 1980's but the US made them abandon the program. Though in 2000, it was found out that the South Koreans did enrich a small amount of unranium.

The Korean War: Timeline

The first true test of the Cold War erupted in 1950, and for six months combat raged up and down the Korean peninsula before settling into years of trench warfare.

CBS News

Aug. 15, 1945
An agreement following the end of World War II divides Korea - formerly annexed by Axis power Japan - into U.S. and Soviet occupation zones along the 38th Parallel. The split keeps the country's original capital city, Seoul, in the south.

May 10, 1948
In the Republic of Korea (ROK), the U.S-backed, 70-year-old Korean expatriate Syngman Rhee is elected chairman of the Korean Assembly, and later becomes president. The Communist Party in the north, led by 33-year-old Kim Il Sung, forms the People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK) - backed by China and the Soviet Union.

January 1950
U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson says that America's western defense perimeter cuts through the Sea of Japan and includes the Philippines and former WWII foe Japan, but stops short of including South Korea. Historians believe this gave North Korea a green light to invade the South and create a unified communist state.

June 25, 1950
After a year of military provocations by both sides along the 38th Parallel, North Korea sends an invasion force into South Korea. Northern forces overwhelm the ill-equipped defenders and capture Seoul in three days. The United Nations condemns the attack and creates a "police" force to help defend South Korea.

Ground crewmen load an auxiliary fuel tank on a U.S. jet plane at a base in Southern Japan for a mission against North Korean troops, June 30, 1950. AP

July 5, 1950
The first U.S. Marines - leading the U.N. force - join battle shortly after landing on the Korean Peninsula. U.S. troops suffer heavy casualties and the four American divisions are driven back into a perimeter around the southern port city of Pusan.

Bombs from planes of the U.S. Fifth Air Force register direct hits on railroad bridges across the Han River southwest of Seoul, the South Korean capital captured by communist forces, on July 8, 1950. AP

Sept. 15, 1950
U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur - commander of the U.N. forces - makes a bold military move and lands an amphibious invasion force of 80,000 Marines at the port of Inchon near Seoul. The tactical move cuts off North Korean troops, while U.N. forces break out of the Pusan perimeter.

Trending News

Sept. 26, 1950
Seoul is taken by U.N. forces after two weeks of house-to-house fighting. MacArthur orders troops to continue chasing the retreating North Korean army across the 38th Parallel.

U.S. First Battalion troops move through a roadblock in Seoul as fighting raged in the Republic of Korea capital, September 1950. The battle for the city followed the capture of Inchon, the port of Seoul, on Sept. 14 and 15. AP

Oct. 19, 1950
U.N. forces capture the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which sits 90 miles northwest of the 38th Parallel.

Oct. 25, 1950
MacArthur continues to sweep confidently onward, his U.N. forces pushing North Korean troops up to the Yalu River - the water border with China. Some U.N. forces actually reach the river, where they are attacked by small groups of Chinese communist soldiers.

Nov. 25, 1950
China, issuing warnings against the U.N. that it should cease aggressions against North Korea, sets a trap to crush MacArthur's army. Chinese forces, numbering 130,000 to 300,000, invade North Korea and push U.N. troops southward in a disorganized, hasty retreat.

A group of Marines fighting its way from the communist encirclement at Chosin to Hungnam, Korea, takes a rest in the snow in December 1950. AP Photo/USMC

Nov. 7-Dec. 9, 1950
With their backs to the Sea of Japan and fighting in a brutally cold winter, U.S. Marines encircled at the Chosin Reservoir retreat to the ports Hungnam and Wonsan, where some 20,000 troops and refugees are evacuated. Known as the battle of "Frozen Chosin," the Chinese route 15,000 U.N. troops, causing 12,000 casualties of those, 3,000 are killed.

Nov. 30, 1950
U.S. President Harry S. Truman threatens to use the atomic bomb against the communist Chinese forces. By April 5 of the next year, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered atomic retaliation against Soviet and Chinese bases if more communist troops entered the war.

Jan. 4, 1951
As U.N. troops continue to retreat back across the 38th Parallel, the North Korean army recaptures Seoul. The Chinese-North Korean army is stopped by U.N. troops 30 miles south of Seoul and begin a counteroffensive by the end of January.

A Korean War orphan, with no place to go, sits among the wreckage of homes near the frontline on Feb. 16, 1951. The youngster lost both parents during a battle a few days before this shot was taken. James Matenhoff/AP

March 18, 1951
The South Korean capital of Seoul changes hands for the last time as U.N. troops recapture the battered city. MacArthur's army advances slightly north of the 38th Parallel.

April 11, 1951
Because of their disagreement in how to militarily handle the Korean War, President Truman recalls MacArthur as commander of the U.N. forces, and U.S. Gen. Matthew Ridgeway is given command.

July 10, 1951
Truce talks begin at Kaesong near the 38th Parallel. The talks, led by U.S. Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy for the U.N. side and Lt. Gen. Nam Il of North Korea, drag on with no real agreements on an armistice and exchange of prisoners. The truce site is moved to the village of Panmunjom.

November 1951
The war along the 38th Parallel becomes a stalemate reminiscent of trench warfare fought in World War I. The pattern of bloody fighting with no real capturing of territory continues for the next two years as peace talks repeatedly fail.

Men of the Turkish brigade keep a sharp lookout from their light machine gun position for signs of communist forces, along the main line of resistance in Korea on July 23, 1952. AP

Bruce Riedel

Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology

Director - The Intelligence Project

Mao Zedong formally announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949. A year after the creation of the PRC, Mao decided that China would enter the Korean War and fight the United States and its United Nations allies for control of the Korean peninsula.

The war in Korea had begun on June 25, 1950, when communist North Korea invaded the South. Within days of crossing the border, the North Koreans routed the southern army and captured the South’s capital at Seoul. In September Douglas MacArthur, a hero of World War II, stopped the North Korean advance and then launched an amphibious attack behind enemy lines at Inchon, which recaptured Seoul and led to the rout of the North Korean army.

Washington was uncertain about how to follow up Seoul’s liberation but MacArthur was determined to march north to the Yalu River and the Chinese border. Mao, for his part, decided in early October to send his army south across the Yalu River and fight MacArthur’s forces.

The American army in Korea and Japan, the Eighth Army, was poorly prepared for the war. The occupation troops in Japan who were rushed to the Korean front were not combat ready many of the officers were too old for frontline battlefield conditions. Training was “slipshod and routine.” The relatively easy victory over North Korea at Inchon had reinforced a sense of complacency among the commanders and GIs that the war was all but over. MacArthur promised that the troops would be home by Christmas 1950.

Watch the video: Αυτοί είμαστε οι Έλληνες στον πόλεμο της Κορέας 1950 1955 (January 2022).