Korea-A Cold War Lesson

June 24, 1950, marked the beginning of the Korean Conflict, the Korean War. It was the

A special thanks to all the Korean War Veterans on this the 67th anniversary of the start of that war. The Korean War Memorial

first conflict fought under the auspices of the fledgling United Nations with General MacArthur in charge.  Over 36,000 American died in Korea including 33,652 battle deaths and 3,262 “other deaths” in the war zone from illness, accidents and other non-battle causes according to the 1994 edition of Service and Casualties in Major Wars and Conflicts. Well over 7,000 Americans remain missing. More than 400,000 South Koreans also perished during this ‘conflict.’

June 1950. As World War II fades into memory, knitting the world back together is a priority for leaders of the Western World.  Reconstruction in Japan under General Douglas MacArthur is going well, and Europe is rebounding.  A nagging question for Western world leaders is what to do about the Soviet Union and those pesky Communists sprouting a big, scary empire.  Scant attention is paid to China other than backing the ‘not-a-communist,’ Chiang Kai-shek. In Korea, the U.S. declared Syngman Rhee, the last Head of State of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, and President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960, to be ‘friendly’ and moved smartly forward.  Post-WWII, the Soviets occupied the northern half of Korea via an ill-advised and hurriedly completed agreement with the Allies.  Bad move. Stalin chose Kim Il-Sung, a former anti-Japanese resistance leader with a communist bent. Another bad move. Kim Il-Sung had eyes on the entire Korean peninsula and by 1949 ‘Kim Il Sung Thought’ became the state religion of North Korea.  None of the men mentioned in this paragraph is worthy of honor.

As 1950 showed up on Western calendars, Stalin was tiring of Kim Il-Sung, and Kim was making well-received overtures to the Chinese Communist government. The Chinese communists were consolidating power and added North Korea to their basket of allies. Kim never lost sight of his goal to rule a united Korea and was itching to use the equipment left by the Soviets to consolidate that power. Many in the U.S. political arena failed to grasp that Stalin was no longer ‘really’ calling the shots in North Korea. Kim, on the other hand, needed Stalin only to sanction a war because of the allied agreement with the Soviets. Kim did not need or want the Soviets in the fray. He had partnered with the Mao’s Chinese Communist government as his true benefactor and supporter. Mao believed “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  Kim agreed. The subtlety was lost on Washington, D.C.

However, obtaining clearance from Stalin required a lie. In a telegram from Pyongyang to Cde. A. A. Gromyko, Kim claimed the South attacked North.  “I am sending a report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs transmitted by radio on 25 June 1950″ Report of the DPRK Ministry of Internal Affairs. Early on the morning of 25 June 1950, troops of the so-called ‘army of national defense’ of the puppet government of South Korea began a surprise attack on the territory of North Korea along the entire 38th parallel. Having begun a surprise attack, the enemy invaded the territory of North Korea to a depth of one or two kilometers north of the 38th parallel in the area west of [Haeju] and in the areas of [Geumcheon] and [Cheolwon]….” The Korean War was, on June 25th, well underway.

MacArthur was determined to stuff the Korean Conflict into a bottle, claiming early, often and loudly that the North Koreans were on the run and the incursion was almost over.  The General decreed a reality and, it seems, those that surrounded him fed the delusion. Excerpted from The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam, published this month by Hyperion; © 2007 by the Amateurs, Ltd.  “…In October 20, 1950, the word was out: there was going to be a victory parade in Tokyo, and the U.S. First Cavalry Division (or Cav, as it was nicknamed)—because it had fought so well for so long, becoming the first to enter the North Korean capital of

Wounded Chaplain Reads Memorial Service

Pyongyang, and also because it was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur’s—was going to lead it….” But in the first days, the men on the front lines knew differently. From the prisoners, U.S. Intelligence learned of the depth of the Chinese involvement and sent that information to MacArthur’s HQ in Japan. “…Milburn immediately reported the new intelligence to Eighth Army headquarters. From there, it was sent on to Major General Charles A. Willoughby, Douglas MacArthur’s key intelligence chief, a man dedicated to the proposition that there were no Chinese in Korea, and that they were not going to come in, at least not in numbers large enough to matter. That was what his commander believed, and MacArthur’s was the kind of headquarters where the G-2’s job was first and foremost to prove that the commander was always right…”  MacArthur never spent a night in Korea during the conflict. His interests and legacy were in Japan. Truman finally canned MacArthur in 1951.  Unfortunately, the rest of the bad actors of the Korean War stayed on stage.

The horrors of the Korean War persisted until July 27, 1953, when a negotiated settlement between the United Nations with the U.S. as its lead, the Soviet Union, North and South Korea and China drew the line between the two Koreas at the 38th parallel. Mao, who had no desire to end the war, seized an opportunity to sit at the United Nations table as an equal to the U.S. and the Soviet Union. A new era had begun.  The U.S. continues to pay the price for MacArthur’s hubris and miscalculation as we endure yet another mad Kim at the helm of North Korea.  This one has nuclear weapons and millions of innocents in South Korea. As they would say in Ghana, that is bad juju.

Cold War Economics – That Demmed, Elusive Pimpernel

As chief spy-catcher Chauvelin chased that demmed,[1] elusive Scarlet Pimpernel to no availThe Scarlet Pimpernel Book Club 20116 in 1793, I have gone to great lengths to understand the legacy of Cold War Economics.  Until recently, Chauvelin and I were vying for first place in the ‘we-don’t-get-it’ category.  That “Aha” moment was not accompanied by a drumroll or lightning bolt, it quietly unfolded in Peter J. Boettke’s The Mystery of the Mundane  in the November issue of The Freeman Magazine.  In Boettke’s words, I was outfitted with the right lens to be amazed by the mystery of the mundane.

Cold War economics in the U.S. was a coup d’état played out over sixty years in slow motion.

Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, Commanding General, U.S. Sixth Army (left), General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, and General George C. Marshall,  Chief of Staff, U.S. Army (right)  At a field headquarters in the Southwest Pacific Area, late 1943. (Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Photo #: SC 183951)

Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, Commanding General, U.S. Sixth Army (left), General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, and General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army (right) At a field headquarters in the Southwest Pacific Area, late 1943. (Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Photo #: SC 183951)

The government toppled the people.  Using a cycle of fear and legislation, the federal government consolidated power in an ever increasing spiral over time.  General Douglas MacArthur, in his book A Soldier Speaks, said it best, “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear—kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor—with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

Robert Higgs’ research article, The Cold War Economy; Opportunity Costs, Ideology, and the Politics of Crisis published in 1994 illustrates how the Cold War forever changed the cost and use of the military.  Higgs states that:

“Before World War II the allocation of resources to military purposes remained at token levels, typically no more than one percent of GNP, except during actual warfare, which occurred infrequently. Wartime and peacetime were distinct, and during peacetime—that is, nearly all the time—the societal opportunity cost of “guns” was nearly nil. The old regime ended in 1939. The massive mobilization of the early 1940s drove the military share of GNP to more than 41 percent at its peak in 1943-44.   Despite an enormous demobilization after 1944, the military sector in 1947, at the postwar trough, still accounted for 4.3 percent of GNP, three times the 1939 share.” Continue reading