The Deadly Parallel
By LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I SHALL never forget the dramatic occasion in the Labour Cabinet when the Prime Minister
(Mr. C. R. Attlee) reported that the President of the United States (Mr. Harry, S. Truman) pro- posed, subject to the United Nations, to take military action to resist the aggression of the North Korean Communists against South Korea. He asked for the support and the active
* KOREA: THE LIMITED WAR. By David Rees. (Macmillan, 50s.) David Rees is on the staff of the Spectator.
co-operation of the British Government. The Prime Minister advised that we should agree; and this advice was readily accepted. In one way it was fortunate that at the moment the USSR was boycotting the Security Council, so that, in their absence, no veto was cast.
And that is what this book* is about. It may be thought that 521 pages is spreading the story out, but Mr. Rees has not spread things out; indeed, every page of the book holds one's in-.
terest. After all, it is a big subject. There is the beginning, the landings of troops, Marines, mili- tary equipment and aircraft. Military successes; notably at Inchon, which Mr. Rees describes as the impossible brilliant victory of General MacArthur and his men. Had the Americans had to deal with the North Koreans only it would all have been a much quicker affair, but Mac- Arthur—who in fairness must be recognised as
a great general with a great record in the Pacific War—wanted to get to the Chinese frontier per-
haps too quickly, and even into China itself.
But whilst it is possible that the Chinese Com- munists would have come in anyway, MacArthur gave them the excuse. When this happened, the United Nations Command (Americans, British Commonwealth and others) found themselves up against opposition forces that were greater in numbers, though not superior in equipment (but the USSR did materially aid them with equipment), though clever at guerrilla warfare, camouflage and surprise attacks in numbers great and small. So MacArthur experienced setbacks Which made him more than ever determined to have a go' at China and the Chinese.
This state of mind was not looked upon With favour by the President, the British, and a
good many other people. Indeed, it was said by one distinguished American general that it might bring Russia into the war; and that whilst Ameri- can forces could, over a period, defeat China from the air, they Could not then defeat a
combination of China and the Soviet Union. So gradually, Mr. Rees tells us, there emerged a state of friction and distrust between the Presi- dent and MacArthur. Now this was a difficult situation for both of them. For MacArthur, be- cause if he defied, evaded or set aside the orders of the President or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he risked charges of indiscipline and even of revolt against the Constitution of the United States; but this does not appear much to have worried the determined General, who had something of a political mind as well as a military one. (There is a film coming along, Seven Days in May, which tells a story of Soldier versus President in another way.) The difficulty for the President was that Mac- Arthur was understandably very popular among the American people; that his dismissal, which was certainly within the constitutional power of the President, would bring about a first-class political rumpus and very extensive condemna- tion by many Americans. However, in the end it had to be (bone. But that was after serious military setbacks and some degree of demoralisa- tion among the troops. Truman himself said afterwards that he really ought to have dismissed MacArthur tivo years before. And during this hard fighting in the spring of 1951 the Glouces- ters distinguished themselves for 'their gi'eat bravery and endurance.
However, in all this MacArthur had his argu- ments and if he had succeeded in his military plans (which I do not think he could have done) we might have been saved a lot of Communist- inspired trouble. Still, the essential point was that the President was not only the President but Commander-in-Chief of all the United States Forces and that he had a sworn duty to safeguard the United States Constitution.
MacArthur denied that he had any desire to become President; that was reserved for another general—Eisenhower—and he was not a very good President. But there were political elements on the right in the United States who would , like to have seen Truman impeached and dis- missed and MacArthur take his place. However, this did not happen. And, indeed, Truman ' turned out to be one of the great Presidents of the US. So the dismissal took place, accompanied by very extensive political and, indeed, popu- lar indignation: Truman stands out as a man of political courage both in entering the Korean operation and in dismissing MacArthur. As did President Kennedy in stopping the Russians from sending nuclear weapons to Cuba.
At the time of all this political conflict in the US the war was going on. Considerable numbers of United Nations troops were being killed and wounded with a much larger number of Chinese and North Korean casualties. This, however, did not prevent American Congressional democracy
going ahead on Capitol Hill. The Congressional Joint Committee proceeded to have hearings about the dismissal of MacArthur and the con- duct of the war in Korea; important persons from the forces and Administration (including Secretary of State Dean Acheson) were exten- sively examined in the hearings. And 'a good time was had by all,' though not by the men who had to conduct the war or the Government that had to deal with the United Nations. All this is graphically described by Mr. Rees.
Fortunately, however, the Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command was by now succeeded by another brilliant general—Lieut.- General Matthew Ridgway, who was constitu- tionally correct and more successful in the limited military objectives now agreed upon and in building up the morale of the troops. During all this time the American people had been thinking things over again; the support for Truman increased, even though a great affection for MacArthur remained. But the Chinese spring offensives of 1951, aimed at the conquest of South Korea, were defeated and the United Nations grip on South Korea made more secure than it had been. And all this had been accomp- lished side by side with very much greater casualties inflicted upon the Chinese and the North Koreans.
This, however, did not involve a revolt or mutiny by Chinese troops, although there were some signs, Mr. Rees says, of Chinese demorali- sation towards the end of the war. One of the problems of fighting with a country like China is not only that it has an enormous population, but that they do not mind dying in great num- bers, even if it is the result of the cynicism about human life practised by a totalitarian imperialist Communist government. Thus it was that when the cease-tire negotiations at long last began, the Communists coldheartedly kept them going for many months for tactical reasons, during which not only many United Nations troops but very many. more Communists were being needlessly killed and injured. Life is, indeed, held cheap by totalitarian politicians, whether Fascist or Communist.
However, a cease-fire proposal had become publicly ventilated on June 23, 1951, by Jacob Malik on the UN radio, as a USSR spokesman and, presumably, on behalf of Red China and North Korea also. It was with pleasure that I announced this and British willingness to par- ticipate, as Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. But all of us were to be exasperated by the long weary months to follow before the cease-fire was to become effective.
Dr. Syngman Rhee, President of South Korea, was very difficult about all this, especi- ally about the subsequent armistice, for he wanted the costly war to go on until the whole of Korea was liberated from the Communists (as was the original UN aim); a united and in- dependent Korea had been the ambition of his lire. He gave the UN Command plenty of head- aches. The whole sad story is set out in Mr. David Rees's excellent book.
Two matters on which I think Mr. Rees has not quite got the record straight.
One (pp. 260-1): He writes that, addressing the US Congress in January, 1952, Churchill (we
are still good friends) had said that if a prospec- tive Korean armistice were broken by the Chinese, UN counter-action would be 'prompt, resolute and effective.' Rees goes on to say that during the Labour censure motion in February, 1952, Churchill 'revealed that he was only voicing the policy agreed by the Attlee Government.' The Labour Opposition in Parliament took the view that the Churchill speech as a whole could be regarded as a declaration of possible all-out war against Communist China, a very large order. Hence our motion of censure. On this matter, however, Mr. Rees may well be summarising others.
Very different had been our agreement with Dean Acheson, then US Secretary of State (whom I trusted much more than I came to trust John Foster Dulles). He had put it to us that if the built-up Chinese Air Force was seriously injuring the UN effort and inflicting _material casualties on UN troops: ought we not to bomb the Chinese airfields from which the aircraft came? I regarded this as reasonable, provided we were consulted. My colleagues agreed.
All this was secret in accordance with practice.
It would also have been in accordance with practice if Churchill had informed me in ad- vance what he intended to say on this matter. He did not. Randolph also has his own rules of fighting. So we had to decide on the spot whether to reveal Cabinet and Foreign Office secrets (the records were not with us on the Opposition Front Bench anyway) or put up with Winston's naughtiness. Well, we put up with it. And, of course, our left .(or is it right?) wing used the Tory leader's speech against us, for even a firework is liable to frighten some of them.
Two: Aneurin Bevan's resignation from the Cabinet (pp. 237-8). Based on somewhat unre- liable sources, which he may be qudting, Mr. Rees says: 'if only the heavy-handed Morrison had not chaired those Cabinet meetings when Attlee was in St. Mary's some sort of compro- mise could have been patched up.' I am afraid this conforms to Attlee's subsequent self- regarding story.
I do not wish to be too unkind to Bevan, who is, unhappily, dead. But he was a self-confessed careerist (see his speech in the Commons on his search for power). We were faced with a situation in which both Bevan and Gaitskell were standing firm and it was made clear that either Would resign if the other got his way. The Cabinet talked plenty, but no compromise was in sight, nor was one suggested by. Attlee, who was fully informed by all concerned and who was fit enough to give advice through me to the Cabinet when I saw him in hospital, or otherwise. I was not heavy-handed. I did my best to find a way, but it was impossible. Nye was rigid and not very courteous to Hugh. It was one or the other. And a substantial majority of the Cabinet considered Gaitskell right and that his resignation Would be more serious for the Government than Bevan's.
However, these are small matters compared With the great value of Korea: The Limited War. The book is full of military and political lessons and detail. The pros and cons are fairly stated With great ability. (One small suggestion : it would help the reader if the year of events or statements Were recorded more often.)
Mr. David Rees has rendered a real service to history, the United Nations and to the prob- lems of collective security. And with all its sorrows and snags, the UN effort in Korea was worth while: it has saved much subsequent trouble, even though not all.