The U.S. continued providing Korea with defensive weapons and equipment, but Rhee knew what the commies were up to next door, and wanted offensive weaponry such as planes, tanks, and heavy artillery. He knew an invasion was inevitable; the pattern of history was playing out on his peninsula with mathematical precision. But the US refused, fearful that Rhee’s preparations for the obvious would shatter the tenuous peace that by appearances, and appearances only, was for now holding. It is a pattern of wretched denial that we have engaged in too often for survival, I have since concluded. But Washington was anxious to steer clear of foreign hostilities; America was sick of war and would rather play pretend while its wounds were still healing.
Of course, ominous clouds gathered between 1949-1950. North Korean guerrillas were doing what they could to disrupt life in South Korea. Clashes along the 38th were becoming more and more frequent, a palpable indicator of what was about to happen. And still US intelligence couldn’t bring itself to believe that an invasion was imminent. We clung to that fantasy until June 25, 1950, when assault units from North Korea overflowed into the south.
When Truman heard the news he immediately suspected that the Soviets were behind the invasion. History has since proven this painfully obvious suspicion to be true. While Kim Il-sung may have led the invasion, he was a puppet for Josef Stalin, and the trip he’d made to Moscow in January of 1950—only 4 months after the USSR detonated its first atomic bomb—confirmed what had been speculated: Kim had been firming up the details, obtaining promises and weapons, and getting final permission for the long-planned invasion of the south. Post-fall Soviet records have only clarified what all reasonable studiers of the patterns of history already knew: that the USSR was heavily involved in every aspect of the invasion and active fighting of the still-going Korean War, well beyond just tactical advice and weaponry.
Truman was in an embarrassing bind. He knew that the US could not allow the blatant aggression to continue or possibly succeed. The reasons were obvious to all critical thinkers. First, America had literally created the ROK, and if we did nothing to save it, we would lose the trust of all our allies, as they could reasonably expect that we might treat them the same way in an invasion by an enemy. Second, doing nothing sent a loud message to the communists: they could invade any free nation and the only power on earth that could stop them would do nothing to intervene. Such a message would doom freedom everywhere, for one cannot forget that communism’s goal has never changed, and that is complete and utter world domination. In spite of his foolishness in pretending that the Soviets would respect the free will of other nations and the laws laid down by the UN, deep down Truman knew that backing out now condemned the Korean peninsula—and inevitably the rest of the world—to wretched communist slavery.
With this in mind Truman began to backtrack on his horrific mistake in pulling us out of an area that was already partially devoured by the commie beast. He sent a great warrior from WWII to take over, General Douglas MacArthur, who was assigned as commander of all UN forces, as this would be the first UN-backed war, and would set the tone for all UN wars since: America leading the way in numbers sent, resources committed, and lives lost. As a nation established in the bloody losses that gain freedom, our own and that of others, we simply could not sit back and watch as an aggressor so flagrantly overtook the southern part of a country that only a few years earlier it had agreed not to touch.
Our taste of triumph in WWII, albeit hard won and at great cost as always, left us confident of a quick victory. After all, Korea was a third world country at the time, and we were firmly established as #1. But with a military that had been totally emasculated after WWII, our soldiers were stunned by defeat at the hands of zealous North Korean communists. By early august, 1950, we were facing our first wartime loss. Then in September MacArthur planned and pulled off that famous and victorious landing at Inchon, an amphibious assault so successful that it is taught to this day at the Naval War College as the perfect offensive on an enemy. We cut off the North Koreans below Inchon, who had pushed ROK and American forces all the way down to the Pusan perimeter by that point, from supplies and support and bulldozed the remaining North Korean Army (NKA) all the way back to the Yalu River. I haven’t interviewed a single Korean War Veteran (KWV) who still doesn’t marvel at the genius of this tactical assault with quiet awe and animated admiration. MacArthur was on top where he belonged, and America was back in the familiar territory of victory.
But here is where frustration over this war took its first tentative root. America and its allies had the North Koreans on the run back across the 38th and beyond. So appeared the dilemma: should we continue to push communism completely out of the country or stop at the 38th where it began? The US couldn’t pass up the opportunity to unite Korea as one nation under the Republic, since the division had only been meant to be temporary while repairing the world after WWII. This would also be a prime opportunity to send a clear message to the Soviets about the limits to what we, and supposedly the UN, would tolerate. We had just finished castrating one Totalitarian Dictator because we hadn’t nipped it in the bud before the world was set ablaze. MacArthur understood the math of history, its patterns, and wasn’t about to repeat the same mistake less than a decade after the hard end of that horrific war.
Then came another concern, in the form of the largest nation on earth.
Korea had a very puissant neighbor who was carefully watching. Would the People’s Republic of China, an enormous and powerful Communist state, tolerate US proximity?
Communist leader Chou En-lai (pronounced Choe-in-lie), number 2 in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), offered a provisional way out. Stay back, he warned. If allied forces got any closer to Manchuria, he would bring in the Chinese.
Of course, you don’t threaten Big Mac like that. A genius as a military leader, arguably the greatest this country has ever known, one of the greatest communicators, writers, and orators of his time, he was either adored or despised by Americans. There is rarely middle ground with Mac. He was known to have a God-like ego, but more often than not it was merely confidence backed up with success and calling things correctly. Mac knew the importance of stopping evil, that evil is not restrained, disciplined, nor conscience-driven; it must be confronted and stopped, every time. He knew the pattern of history—that evil can only succeed with the permission of the “silent righteous” who, by their silence, prove they are anything but. It was the ultimate lesson of Hitler’s rape of Europe—not enough had said “No” at the first prickings of carefully contrived and packaged evil. He knew history would be righteous in convicting him if he was slothful now, if he didn’t take on the dragon and stop it from consuming one more nation.
Up until that point, Mac had the NKA on the run. The most remarkable success of his jaw-dropping career had been the impossible success at Inchon, something none of the Far East Generals supported until after he gave a one-hour speech that was so perfect, so inspired, so Godly-predictive that in 60 minutes he turned the unanimous “No” into unanimous “Yes!” To MacArthur, it made absolutely no sense to stop now, victory within their reach. The troops would be “home by Christmas,” he assured. He did not believe China would enter for the sake of little North Korea, but if they did, he had a plan for dealing with this beast, knowing full well it was a mathematical inevitability.
That back-up plan would prove his undoing.