ANGELO CODEVILLA ON THE TIPPING POINT:
Truman, on advice of his counselors, had resisted bipartisan calls for a declaration of war. Such a request would have forced his administration to define and submit its objectives to a vote by both Houses of Congress. But by creating the fiction that the war was by, of, and for the United Nations, Truman et al. believed they were gaining flexibility, which is of great strategic value—but only to leaders who know what they’re doing. But Truman and his advisors did not, so their flexibility and disunity acted like a sail in the winds of events.
Truman, after convening the National Security Council, also chose not to answer MacArthur’s request for orders. “This present telegram is not to be taken in any sense as a directive. Its purpose is to give you something of what is in our minds.” U.S. troops’ successful resistance would demonstrate that aggression does not pay and would encourage others to believe in America’s pledges of assistance. “We recognize, of course, that continued resistance might not be militarily possible with the limited forces with which you are being called upon to meet large Chinese armies…if we must withdraw from Korea, it [must] be clear to the world that that course is forced upon us by military necessity.” Translated from bureaucratese, the message was: hold on with the forces and restrictions you’ve got, regardless of how many American lives it costs.
And cost it did. Some three fourths of the Americans killed in Korea died after the U.S. government stopped trying to win the war. Since Truman’s decision taught the world that no-win wars were now the American ruling class’s modus operandi, the cost of three later generations’ wars, including the incalculable toll of domestic decay resulting from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, should also be added in.
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The November 1950 elections had repudiated Democratic foreign policy. Democrats retained narrow majorities on Capitol Hill, but lost 28 seats in the House and five in the Senate. On March 20, 1951, Douglas MacArthur had answered a private letter from Republican Representative Joseph Martin, the House minority leader, seeking his views on opening a Chinese Nationalist front against China’s effort in Korea. On April 5, Martin read MacArthur’s answer from the House floor. The Truman Administration chose to see this as something akin to a military coup, and fired MacArthur in the name of civilian supremacy. In fact, however, MacArthur had become a clear and present danger not to the U.S. Constitution, but to the preferences and reputations of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy apparatchiks, and to Truman’s ego—domestic politics writ small.
MacArthur returned from Korea to a conquering hero’s reception: ticker-tape parades and a speech to a joint session of Congress. The pledge he made and kept to “just fade away” belied the contention that he had tried to usurp the Constitution, and bolstered the two warnings he left his fellow citizens. First, “In war, there is no substitute for victory.” Forgetting something so very basic had been no mere mistake, but a symptom of moral decay. Hence his other warning: “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”
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