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9-08-2015, 22:20

CRISIS IN ASIA – WAR IN KOREA

There are regions in the world where conflict is endemic. Between the latitudes of 35˚N and 40˚N and 125˚SE and 130˚E a mountainous, heavily forested peninsula extends southwards from Manchuria. Its lands border on China and Russia in the north and, across the Straits, with Japan in the south. The people call their country ‘Choson’, ‘Land of the morning calm’. It expresses their longing rather than reality, for Korea’s strategic importance and potential wealth have attracted covetous neighbours since the second century BC. Korea became the pathway along which Chinese culture reached Japan, which in turn invaded Korea. The Korean peoples were usually too weak and divided to resist more powerful neighbours. But in the struggles ancient and modern against foreign invaders a sense of Korean identity was formed, as was pride in a Korean culture and tradition. Since ancient times too the fate of the Korean peoples was dependent on the development of their neighbours in Asia. Their country was repeatedly invaded, rent by factional struggles and its people oppressed. Paradoxically, for much of the nineteenth century the Koreans successfully resisted half-hearted Western attempts to open the country and were able to maintain their isolation. It was the Japanese once again who forced Korea to yield in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. But the Chinese too wished to reassert their ancient rights. In modern times three wars of global significance were fought for control of Korea. The first, between China and Japan in 1894–5, ended in a Japanese victory. With the close of the nineteenth century Russia became a new contender for Korea. The second war was therefore between Japan and Russia; once more, in 1905, Japan was victorious, and for the next forty years it occupied and ruled Korea. But despite Japan’s repression a strong movement for Korean independence developed. Both wars over Korea, especially the Russo-Japanese war and its outcome, had worldwide repercussions. Checked in Korea, tsarist Russia turned its attention back to the West, with the result that its concerns in the Balkans were to contribute to the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. Korean independence remained a dream. But that dream at last looked realisable to politically minded Koreans in 1945 with the defeat of Japan. The Allies had promised at the Cairo Conference in 1943 that a unified, free and independent Korea would be established. But a period of trusteeship was envisaged. With Russia’s entry into the war against Japan on 8 August 1945, an old contender for influence in Korea came back on the scene. The suddenness of Japan’s surrender left a large Japanese army still in effective occupation. The Russians were closest and were able to enter Korea from the north on 12 August. American troops could not be brought there for another three weeks. Working with Korean communist and nationalist resistance movements, the Soviets, who had promised to respect Korean independence. Their ostensible task was merely to disarm the Japanese and occupy the country north of the 38th parallel. Under Soviet auspices the Korean People’s Republic was proclaimed on 6 September 1945. To avoid a power vacuum in the south, meanwhile, the US ordered the Japanese military command to maintain authority until US forces arrived, which they did on 8 September. The Americans were in fact doing exactly what the British had done in French Indo-China. The Korean People’s Republic was opposed by the exiled Korean provisional government, which had been supported by the US and by Kuomintang China. With the Russians north of the 38th parallel and the Americans to the south, the partition was supposed to be temporary. The stark fact was that the Korean people north and south were not to be given the complete democratic choice over the future of their country that they had been promised. More than half a century later Korea remains divided still. There were parallels with occupied and divided Germany. In both Korea and Germany the military zonal frontiers became the frontiers of separate states. In both Germany and Korea, the Russians hoped that by building up a strong communist embryonic government they could attract the larger population in the rest of the country by pursuing popular-front tactics with the left dominating. The Americans in Korea were also following popular-front tactics, so to speak in reverse, in trying to bring together a coalition of the right, the moderates and the left under right-wing predominance. This coalition General John Hodge, the commanding US general in South Korea, hoped would attract the moderates of the North. The Soviet and American strategies therefore involved building a sound pro-Soviet or pro-Western political base in each of their zones prior to unifying Korea, which could then be expected to conform to their views. The Koreans, in the more populous South, proved not to be so amenable. In the American-occupied South the rightist Dr Syngman Rhee emerged as the dominant Korean politician. He was not only violently anticommunist but also an ardent nationalist determined on the reality of an independent unified Korea. A tough and formidable leader, he had spent most of his adult life from 1912 to 1945 in exile in the US championing Korean independence. Now with Japan defeated, Rhee was in a hurry to get the Russians and the Americans out of his country and to defeat, if necessary by force, the communists in the North. He was suspicious of the bargaining of the Russians and the Americans over the future of Korea. Despite their concern over Rhee’s extremism the Americans could not do without him since he clearly dominated the weaker moderate and left political groupings in the South. In North Korea Russian aid between 1945 and 1950 built up a militarily powerful state which the military weaker South could not hope to overrun. Strong guerrilla activity might then destabilise South Korea, and the partitioned country would be plunged into civil war, which the better prepared North would be expected to win. But Stalin took care to avoid any overt direct Russian involvement. Kim Il Sung, the autocratic, independent communist leader, was imposing his own brand of Marxist society on the Korean people; his thoughts were to have equal validity with those of Mao and Lenin. He was no mere puppet. Having built up the North the Russians withdrew in December 1948, leaving behind military advisers. This placed increasing pressure on the Americans to leave the South. The Americans were eager enough to withdraw. The South had become a bed of nettles. But how to extricate themselves? When the US military advisers looked at the strategic situation they concluded that South Korea was not a suitable base for the defence of Western Pacific interests. Japan and the Pacific islands, including the Philippines, formed the best defensive arc. A divided Korea, with the south looking to the West, was a perfectly acceptable solution. But there was the commitment to a unified Korea. The Russians and Chinese were willing to see a unified communist Korea come into being, the Americans a unified pro-Western, anti-communist Korea. No wonder the Russians and Americans could never agree at their joint meetings as trustees. Completely free elections throughout Korea would have put the communists into a minority, especially with the rightist South Koreans rigging the elections. So the Russians resisted that. Meanwhile in the part of the country under its control the American military government was being assailed on all sides to hand over to South Korean politicians. The Americans, at a time when they were championing the free world against communism, found the authoritarian Rhee an embarrassing ally. This intractable problem was handed to the United Nations at the end of 1947. The UN was Western-dominated, so this involved no complete abandonment of South Korea. The UN was supposed to organise elections throughout Korea preparatory to unifying the country, but this was obviously a pipe dream. No elections could be held in 1948 in the North, and in the South they were sufficiently corrupt with thousands of arrests to raise doubts whether the UN could accept the election as valid. The UN nevertheless did so and Syngman Rhee became the first president of the Republic of Korea, claiming to speak for all Korea. He was promptly recognised by the West. In June 1949 the Americans followed the Russians in pulling their troops out. In the North, the Democratic People’s Republic under Kim Il Sung was recognised by China, the Soviet Union and the communist satellites. With the Russians and Americans no longer in direct control, civil war had come a step closer. The sparring, mainly verbal, continued until the summer of 1950. Between 1948 and 1950 the East–West balance in Asia was radically altered. Communism in various national forms was spreading fast over the mainland. At the same time from 1948 to 1949 in Germany the US and Britain were facing down the Russians over Berlin. The Russians and Americans each exercised sufficient restraint to avoid escalation into war. Similar restraint was shown by the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese during the climax of the crisis in Asia from 1949 to 1950. Attention had focused on China before June 1950 rather than on Korea. American efforts on the Asian mainland had been limited, ambiguous and largely unsuccessful. Chiang Kai-shek had collapsed with his corrupt regime in China and the Americans had refused to make an all-out effort to save him; US help to the French in Indo-China had also been limited. American troops were not engaged in fighting anywhere, and it was to be hoped that the withdrawal of the Russians and Americans had reduced East–West tensions on the Asian mainland too. The Truman administration had to decide early in 1950 what constituted the free world in Asia, how it could be defended and how, above all, any misunderstanding had to be avoided that could turn the Cold War into a ‘hot war’. The communists in China and the Soviet Union had to learn which vital Western interests the Americans would defend with their military might. An era of post-war uncertainty would then be ended. For both the Russians and the Americans the priority was Europe, where no further alterations in spheres of power and interest would be tolerated: there the frontiers were firmly set. Asia was too vast for America or Russia to control. The transformation from empire to independence, the rapid changes taking place in many societies and internal conflicts were all creating uncertainties about the future in a manner that was bad news for the West, which was identified with imperialism. In this respect, the West was at a disadvantage in the face of the ‘liberating’ claims of the various communist and socialist movements. The future of much of southeast Asia still seemed to hang in the balance, American resources were not limitless, and Western Europe was still in a perilous condition. At least the Americans controlled the prize of Japan. The Truman administration’s military advisers were reasonably consistent from 1947 to the summer of 1950: in eastern Asia the line of defence that could be, and would have to be, defended lay in the Pacific short of the Asian mainland. Truman, more concerned with Europe, accepted their advice. But on one significant point he adopted the views of Secretary of State Dean Acheson rather than those of the chiefs of staff. Acheson thought that the Chinese communists could be encouraged to follow a line independent of Moscow’s. They should therefore be conciliated now that Mao had proclaimed the Chinese People’s Republic in October 1949. The sore point was the island of Taiwan (Formosa), to which Chiang Kai-shek had withdrawn with close on half a million still loyal troops. Although Mao claimed Taiwan as part of China, the US continued to give aid to Chiang Kai-shek, though no American combat units were sent to support him. In a conciliatory speech on 5 January 1950 Truman publicly declared that the US would not intervene in the Chinese Civil War and that Taiwan was Chinese. If Mao had been strong enough to invade the island, the Americans would not have prevented it, but they knew that he was not. To emphasise that the US was not about to embark on an appeasement policy, Dean Acheson delivered an important and trenchant speech a week later on 12 January, intended both for Moscow’s ears and for public opinion at home. The US would defend its vital interests in the Pacific, its essential line of defence running from the Aleutians to Japan, to the Ryukus and the Philippines; mainland China, Acheson pointed out, had been lost by Chiang’s defeat, not by the Americans themselves, who could have done nothing to prevent Mao’s victory. It was notable that South Korea and Taiwan were both omitted from Dean Acheson’s statement. The assumptions behind his and Truman’s policies in 1949 and early 1950 were half right and half wrong. The view that the Chinese communists had national interests not identical with Russia’s and should not be driven into Russia’s arms was a sophisticated perception that was soon lost, not to be revived until the Nixon–Kissinger initiatives three decades later. Wrong was the belief that the speeches would bring about a reduction of tension. US support for the Kuomintang on Taiwan was too obvious for Mao not to be indignant that America was protecting his arch-enemy. The non-recognition of communist China by the US also denied to the People’s Republic its rightful seat on the UN Security Council. To add insult to injury, the rump Chinese government in Taiwan continued as permanent member of the Security Council until 1971, with all the power accorded to this status. In the US the signature of the Chinese–Soviet Friendship treaty in February 1950 seemed to prove that Acheson was wrong, and pressure against the Truman administration, which was accused of having ‘lost’ China, overcame attempts to formulate more subtle policies. The decisive shift in America’s Red China policy occurred on 25 June 1950, the day the North Koreans launched their invasion. In response to aggression by ‘the communists’, the Chinese being included in the general global conspiracy, Truman ordered the US Seventh Fleet to the Formosan Straits to prevent a communist Chinese invasion of Taiwan. In a show of ostensible even-handedness Truman declared that the US fleet would also prevent any attempt by Chiang (highly improbable) to invade the mainland again. In contravention of his earlier pronouncement, Truman had now intervened in the Chinese Civil War. Communist Chinese and Americans were to remain frozen in mutual hostility. There were no further US attempts to normalise relations with the new China, and the communist Chinese for their part now regarded the US as their principal enemy. The formation of NATO, in 1949, though confined to Europe, led them to conclude that this Western alliance signified the coming of a global struggle between communism and imperialism. It is against this background of the developing Cold War that the reactions of both the US and China to the North Korean attack on South Korea on 25 June 1950 become intelligible. Acheson’s omission of South Korea as vital to the defence of the US encouraged Kim Il Sung. Kim’s invasion of the South was approved in Moscow, but Stalin had no intention of risking a war with the US. His support was secret; Soviet officers assisted in the military planning of the aggression, thinly disguised as a defensive counter to an alleged attack from the south. Though Beijing knew of Kim’s ambitions, the Chinese were not in on the final plans. They came as a total surprise to Washington, whose intelligence services had failed to provide any warning. The reaction of the Truman administration was nonetheless swift and decisive. Because of the world time difference, the news of the North Korean invasion reached Washington at 10 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, 24 June. The president had just finished a quiet family dinner hundreds of miles away at his home in Independence, Missouri, where he had gone for the weekend. There he received Acheson’s urgent telephone call telling him about the invasion. The following day the president returned to Washington. The earlier American policy of involving the United Nations in the search for a solution to Korean problems now provided the Truman administration with a card to play. The US would not need to react alone to safeguard its Asian interests but could do so in the name of the UN Charter and at the request of the Security Council. This would have been impossible but for one fortuitous circumstance. A country’s membership of the UN requires a two-thirds approval by the General Assembly on a Security Council recommendation, with a power of veto exercisable by any of the five permanent members. When communist China was not allowed to replace Chiang Kai-shek’s regime on the Security Council, the Russians refused to attend the Security Council meetings. This proved a huge tactical blunder. Had the Soviet Union been present and cast its veto, or had Mao’s government been represented on the Security Council, the Security Council would have vetoed military action. The Soviet Union had thrown away the very safeguard – the veto – it had fought so hard to secure when the UN was founded. Dean Acheson rapidly masterminded America’s diplomatic reaction. The Security Council met on Sunday, 25 June and called on North Korea to halt the invasion and to pull back its forces to the 38th parallel. Truman independently authorised the use of the US air force in Korea south of the parallel to evacuate 2,000 Americans, and General MacArthur was placed in command of operations in Korea. Truman also ordered equipment and arms to be sent from US bases in the Pacific to help the South Korean army. These unilateral American decisions anticipated a second, tougher resolution of the Security Council adopted on the night of Tuesday, 27 June and drafted by the US ambassador to the UN. This called on members ‘to render such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security to the area’. The first week of the Korean War brought another reversal of US policy. The headlong flight of the South Korean army made it essential to send reinforcements if they were to be saved from total defeat. Chiang Kai-shek’s offer of soldiers was rejected but in his capacity as US commander-in-chief Truman ordered American ground troops to move into Korea. Militarily, the US was unprepared, because Truman’s ‘economy budget’ had slashed defence spending to the bone. Although the National Security Council in Washington had earlier that year drawn up plans for a massive increase of defence spending and a rapid expansion of the armed forces, they had not yet been acted on. Truman, nevertheless announced during the first days of the Korean War that, to meet the threat of Asia, the US would defend Korea and Taiwan and help the Philippine government and the French in their anti-communist campaigns. This was contrary to earlier strategic planning: on the assumption that Moscow was following a global strategy, US strategists had come up with the concept of regions of prime importance to be defended and those of less importance. Defence would not be diverted from prime regions by Moscow’s attempts to distract the US from its goals. This strategic thinking was overridden by Truman in the summer of 1950. For Truman and Acheson the engagement in Korea was motivated by the premise that communists must not be permitted to expand and overthrow independent nations anywhere. If not checked when they struck, wherever that might be, even in strategically less important Korea, then what faith would the allies in Europe have in America’s readiness to resist aggression? For MacArthur, on the other hand, Asia came first – and now the hot war was actually being fought in Asia. As he saw it, the military objective was to defeat the enemy and to do so by any means necessary; this might even include the use of nuclear weapons and, if China joined the war, the bombing of the Chinese Manchurian sanctuaries beyond the frontiers of North Korea. The views of Truman’s advisers on the political objectives to be achieved and the military means that could be used were different from Mac- Arthur’s from the beginning of the Korean War. Neither MacArthur nor Truman wished to provoke a Soviet or communist Chinese entry into the war. MacArthur, who saw himself uniquely able to interpret the oriental mind, did not believe that the Chinese would risk war against a victorious US army; a tough policy, he counselled, would be much more likely to deter them than attempts at appeasement. Truman, who was not so sure, vacillated, trying on the one hand to reassure communist China and on the other sanctioning a policy of crushing the North Koreans. But these differences between the commander in the field and Washington did not present an unbridgeable gulf until, in military adversity, MacArthur’s conduct posed a challenge to the president’s authority. As long as MacArthur was turning defeat into victory he had the backing of the country and the administration, even while there were nagging doubts in Washington that his mercurial temperament and self-esteem might expand US policy beyond the aim of restoring peace in Korea. In Washington the concept of a ‘limited war’ was developed and first applied in Korea. The conflict was deliberately limited in two ways. It was fought as a localised war geographically: the Truman administration would not extend it to China, even when Chinese ‘volunteers’ poured into Korea, nor would it take the risk of a Soviet entry and ensuing global war. It was also limited in that it was fought with conventional weapons: the use of nuclear arms was ruled out. The reasons for Truman’s decision to limit the war in Korea, a vital decision rightly taken, were neither understood nor approved by General MacArthur. He saw it as his duty to safeguard the lives of the men under his command and to fight for a complete and not a partial victory – yet the White House would not allow him to take up Chiang’s offer of troops. MacArthur was also instructed that it was not part of UN aims to assist the Chinese Nationalists to retake the mainland of China. His immediate task was to stop the complete rout of the South Korean army. He brilliantly stabilised a short front in July and August 1950, covering the bridgehead of Pusan, a mere Korean toehold. The North Koreans had hesitated and missed the opportunity to occupy the whole of Korea. With the best of North Korean troops concentrated on the tip of the Korean peninsula preparing to drive the growing American reinforcements into the sea, MacArthur executed one of the most audacious and successful counterstrokes in military history. In mid-September, he conducted an amphibious operation on the Korean west coast at Inchon, landing American troops with naval and air support far to the north of the Koreans fighting in the south, so cutting their supply lines. The North Korean army, in total disarray, was thrown into headlong retreat. For the American public it was a spectacular turnaround in the fortunes of war and confirmed the military genius of the 71- year-old five-star general. MacArthur, never shy of self-praise, himself described the Inchon landing as a ‘classic’. Unfortunately for the Americans and the Western cause it was not to be the last turning point of the war. Rapidly advancing to the north, MacArthur reached the 38th parallel. From a small bridgehead, military control over the whole of South Korea had been wrested from the communists in just two weeks. The North Korean armies were incapable any longer of putting up effective resistance. On reaching the parallel MacArthur paused. Instead of ending the Korean War swiftly, the South Koreans, the Americans and their allies were to suffer another defeat, heavy casualties and almost three more years of war. This was solely the result of China’s decision to devote substantial forces to the protection of North Korea. Historians have been inclined to blame MacArthur’s insubordination in ignoring an important aspect of his military orders from Washington, not to push US troops close to the borders of China and the Soviet Union, but to use only South Korean troops in such operations. MacArthur regarded this as militarily impractical, so two American armies, facing little resistance, pushed north-west and north-east to the Manchurian frontier on the Yalu River and towards the Soviet frontier. First contact was made with Chinese troops towards the end of October; then the Chinese disappeared, and in a brilliant manoeuvre their commander Peng Dehuai struck at the advanced American divisions on Monday, 27 November (local date). The American troops reeled back and were extricated from the North only with the greatest difficulty. Seoul was soon lost again. In December General Ridgway took immediate command of the front line under MacArthur and in January 1951 stabilised a new front line some eighty miles south of the 38th parallel. The blame for Chinese intervention needs to be attributed as much to a divided administration in Washington as to MacArthur. The Yalu was a sensitive border, all the more so because a great dam and hydroelectric installation there supplied electricity both to Manchuria and to North Korea. MacArthur had been instructed to withdraw from contact if there were signs of Chinese or Soviet intervention in the north and to refer back for instructions to Washington. He had been ordered not to use US combat troops close to the borders. But he had also received clear instructions to cross the 38th parallel, so he began his advance on 7 October 1950. He was allowed much discretion, itself an indication of military irresolution in Washington and of the political weakness of Truman, who was under much pressure at home. He was reluctant to control MacArthur closely in the general’s hour of victory. MacArthur’s success would also convincingly answer the president’s critics at home who were claiming that the administration did not have the necessary determination to roll back communism in the world. The possibility of Chinese intervention was discounted despite clear signs to the contrary. Stalin’s refusal to become involved was seen as far more important. The fighting capacities of the Chinese communists, regarded as mere Asiatics, were underestimated, and the readiness of the communist leaders to accept huge casualties was not anticipated. MacArthur did not believe they had a chance against the best-trained and best-equipped army in the world. Early newspaper reports, too, gave the impression that the Chinese offensive was being conducted by vast hordes of ill-disciplined primitives sounding their trumpets and striking cymbals. There was more than a touch of racial arrogance about all this. The Chinese victories, gained at heavy cost in lives and forcing the hazardous retreat of the US divisions, came as a shock to the Western world. China’s leaders had only reluctantly become embroiled in a war with the most powerful Western nation. Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai sought a compromise: South Korean, not American, troops could cross the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union meanwhile threw out feelers for a negotiated settlement and the withdrawal of outside forces from Korea. In Washington this was interpreted as an attempt to save North Korea from total military defeat, without which there could be no permanent peace in Korea. Truman, after earlier virulent accusations that his administration had been soft on communism and had not provided sufficient support to Chiang Kai-shek, found it politically difficult to resist MacArthur’s wish to pursue a beaten communist enemy. The day after US troops crossed the 38th parallel, Mao gave the order for Chinese intervention, thinly disguised as the action of Chinese ‘volunteers’ to maintain North Korea as a buffer. Stalin would not risk a war with the US, but urged Mao to save Kim; first promising his support, then reneging, Mao had to intervene alone. Later that year Stalin did help, sending military units and weapons to protect China and ‘volunteer’ pilots to North Korea. The invasion of Taiwan had to be postponed and the reconstruction of China itself was delayed by the need to deploy resources for the war. For China, the Korean War, coming so soon after the civil war, was a setback, but its success in retaking most of North Korea, in following a policy independent of Moscow’s and in holding a front against the American and UN troops raised its international prestige. The Korean War made it clear to the world that China was now, along with the US and the Soviet Union, a power to be reckoned with in Asia. During the winter of 1950–1 the Truman administration had to take critical decisions. American prestige was suffering in inverse proportion to China’s success. Truman now faced criticism from two opposite camps. There were those who blamed the administration for crossing the 38th parallel. And there was a vociferous minority, constantly encouraged by MacArthur himself, who called for a widening of the war and the defeat of China, at least in Korea. MacArthur sent back gloomy military reports to the effect that, unless the US was prepared to give up fighting a limited war and was ready to bomb the Chinese sanctuaries in Manchuria, a total withdrawal from Korea would become necessary. Among the plans MacArthur advocated was to sow a ‘defensive field of radioactive waste’ across the supply lines leading to northern Korea. The military successes achieved by General Ridgway in pushing the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel did nothing to modify MacArthur’s public criticisms of Truman’s military and foreign policy of searching for a settlement with China. Despite repeated warnings, MacArthur continued his efforts to force a change of policy on the administration. The final straw was a letter MacArthur sent to a leading Republican congressman, which was released to undermine Truman’s policies and in which MacArthur gave his backing to the use of Chiang’s troops. The war in Korea, MacArthur wrote, had to be won: ‘if we lose the war to Communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom’. MacArthur regarded himself as above politics, as a wise guide to the free world in pointing to the dangers of the communist global conspiracy; he could not accept the change of policy in Washington, which expressed a readiness to end the war short of total victory by negotiating a compromise settlement with the aggressor. His enormous prestige and half a century of service, MacArthur had convinced himself, made him untouchable, beyond Washington’s power to limit his freedom to speak his mind. Truman, embattled at home, had no illusions about the storm that would break out if he dismissed MacArthur, nor about the use his Republican opponents on Capitol Hill would make of the differences between the civilian president and the great general on the issue of how to conduct a war. For Truman the question had become a different one. Who was to control policy, the president or the general? Once Truman had made up his mind, he did not lack the courage to see things through. There could be no doubt that he would defend the presidency. In April 1951 he dismissed MacArthur with the concurrence of the chiefs of staff and in a radio broadcast explained to the American people that the US objectives in Korea were limited. In the short term, Truman’s standing suffered. A Gallup poll showed that his popularity had dropped to an unprecedented low of 24 per cent. But it recovered. Reflection led to reappraisal, to a less emotional response and to the recognition of the dangers of getting into an all-out war with China. The Korean War, to be sure, was frustrating, as it dragged on with heavy casualties. Outright victory was preferred, of course, but not at the price of risking an even bigger war with still heavier casualties for a country few Americans took much interest in. To conduct a limited war was the crucial decision the Truman administration had taken from the start. To stick to that decision in the face of a loss of American prestige in the winter of 1950–1 required courage and wisdom. There would be no extension of the Korean War. Perhaps Truman deserved better than have Beijing reject out of hand all attempts to settle Korea by negotiation at the UN. The chance of bringing the Korean War to an end was not all that was lost. Mao’s radical turn in China prevented a new start being made in Sino-American relations with communist China taking its seat in the Security Council. Truman’s decision to defend Taiwan set the US on a course that opened an unbridgeable gulf in its relations with China for many years. In the US the Korean War had a major impact. Truman had sounded the alarm about the worldwide danger of communism since the early days of the administration. The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, support for West Berlin and NATO had all won the support of the majority of Congress and of the American people. But a new ‘red scare’ got out of hand. The revelation that a British atomic scientist, Klaus Fuchs, had passed secrets to the Russians, added to the setting off of the first Soviet atomic bomb in August 1949, had raised fears about the dangers of communist internal subversion and had created an atmosphere bordering on hysteria. Congressional investigations into subversion by the House Committee on Un-American Activities had been on the increase since 1945. The sensational trials involving Alger Hiss, a State Department official, and Whittaker Chambers, who worked for Time magazine, increased American apprehensions about the red conspiracy to new heights and divided American society. Chambers, a former member of the Communist Party, accused Hiss, codenamed ‘Ales’ by his Soviet spymasters, of having engaged in espionage. Hiss denied the accusations but was convicted in January 1950, after a second trial, for perjury. The way was open now to link the ‘loss of China’ with the ‘treacherous’ activities of key State Department personnel and their active advisers. A quiet professor, Owen Lattimore, an expert on Outer Mongolia, was suddenly thrust into the limelight as a key figure in the ‘conspiracy’. A young Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, grasped the opportunity to bring himself to national attention by making sensational and unsubstantiated accusations about communist infiltration of the US government, particularly the State Department. Dean Acheson, who refused to repudiate Hiss, was among the targets, but Truman stood up for him. Well-known actors and directors from Hollywood, trade unionists, teachers and many others were brought before the committee for questioning. Guilt by association was sufficient. Regarded as bad risks, their chances of employment were blighted for years. Immigration was tightened to exclude alleged subversives. There was no McCarthy, fortunately, in Britain, where the excesses of the senator were causing public concern about the lack of balance being shown by the country’s principal ally. While McCarthy could uncover no spies in the State Department, apart from Hiss, there actually were three in the Foreign Office, two of them in Washington at that time transmitting information to Moscow via London. Kim Philby was first secretary of the British Embassy in Washington; the second secretary was Guy Burgess; and the American Department at the Foreign Office in London was headed by another spy, Donald Maclean. Philby tipped off Burgess and Maclean that the Security Service, MI5, was on their trail and they defected in May 1951. Philby maintained his cover until 1963 before he also escaped to Moscow. How much harm they did has remained a secret. In the depression years of the 1930s, and while the communists could claim in Spain and elsewhere that they were leading the fight against fascism, the Communist Party attracted many, including intellectuals, who were idealists and wanted to create a better world. Newspapers and books were at that time revealing the concentration camps and brutalities of Nazi Germany. The horrors of Stalin’s Russia, the chain of forced labour camps, the Gulag, were carefully hidden from view. The Soviet Union was shut off from the West – unlike Nazi Germany – and a few naive visitors, including the Dean of Canterbury, were shown only the country’s happy face and then returned to the West to write ecstatic accounts of what they had seen. The admiration for the Red Army and the Soviet people, officially blessed by Allied propaganda during the Second World War, persuaded others into temporary support of communism. For most of these Western communists, disillusionment set in steadily after 1945 with the growing evidence of the Soviet suppression of freedom in Eastern and central Europe. By the time of the crushing of the Hungarian rising in 1956 no illusions could remain. Many communists of the 1930s had left the party by then; substantial numbers had fallen for the propaganda of one of the communist front organisations only when young, in their student days. There were indeed thousands, and some had entered government service. McCarthy thus could build up fears on a basis of fact. But these men and women were not automatically disloyal to their country or subservient to foreign masters. The few who were frequently served Moscow for gain or out of twisted psychological motives. There will always be spies and traitors as long as nations are locked in hostile confrontation. The evil result of McCarthyism was to smear everyone with the same broad brush, whether there was good, flimsy or no evidence. The senator appealed to low instincts of envy, of dislike for the intellectual establishment, and so struck a chord of meanness and worse. An atmosphere of fear began to prevail, which eroded civil liberties. Truman condemned McCarthy in forthright language. McCarthy, after MacArthur’s dismissal, even called for Truman’s impeachment; he next attacked General George Marshall, arguably America’s architect of military victory during the Second World War and later Truman’s secretary of state, as part of ‘a conspiracy so immense, an infamy so black, as to dwarf any in the history of man’. The Truman administration tried to meet public worries aroused by McCarthyism about communism by introducing loyalty checks on public employees. In the Senate opposition to McCarthy diminished as his power grew. It reached its zenith in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration. McCarthyism represented the exaggerated reaction of all those who hated the New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal and civil rights legislation. They believed that America was succumbing to creeping socialism and creating an allembracing federal state hostile to the sturdy individualism on which (as they saw it) America had grown to prosperity and power. McCarthyism also provided an outlet for the frustration provoked by the realisation that the world could not be shaped in the image of the US. Communism had made enormous advances and was a potent force for change: the US had failed to halt its progress and had, in the McCarthyites’ view, ‘lost China’. They railed against the limitations of America’s global policies and claimed that the limitations were self-imposed, because the policies themselves had been inspired from within by communists. Setting aside the evils of the McCarthyite smear tactics, what many Americans found hard to accept was that the Second World War had not settled global problems, had not proved to be the war that ends all war.

 

 

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