When back in June 2015 Donald Trump announced he was running for president, he said during his speech, “I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur. I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work.”
Since then, Trump has frequently mentioned Douglas MacArthur in his speeches. It is worth discussing his importance in American history, especially as we are approaching the 66th anniversary of Battle of Inchon. While MacArthur’s greatest achievement was the creation of modern Japan, the Inchon landing on September 15, 1950, was his finest hour.
It reversed nearly three months of defeats from June 25, 1950 when 89,000 North Korean troops invaded South Korea and took Seoul in just three days. The South Korean Army’s biggest problem in that horrible summer was that they had no means to stop the Soviet-built T-34 tanks. They had no tanks or anti-tank weapons because the Department of Defense believed the mountainous terrain would make it impractical for the South Koreans to need tanks.
The Truman administration drastically cut defense spending following America’s victory in World War II from $83 billion in 1945 to $13.7 billion in 1950. It was only clear in hindsight that the cuts went too far.
It was only after America was caught unprepared at both Pearl Harbor (1941) and in Korea (1950) that the American military realized that it couldn’t afford to play catch up anymore. Eisenhower talked about this problem in his 1961 farewell address. He mentioned that in the past we had no armaments industry in peacetime. This was no longer acceptable. Eisenhower warned:
“But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment.”
While he warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” it was clear that we could also not afford the other extreme of how unprepared we were at the beginning of the Korean War.
The lack of a sufficient defense budget in Korea meant that there weren’t enough tanks and artillery to hold the line in the summer of 1950. Our troops were forced into costly rearguard actions as the Americans retreated to the Pusan Perimeter.
Defense spending was increased to $52.8 billion by 1953, but it would take time for the spending increases to have an impact. It was General MacArthur’s leadership that was essential to victory at Inchon.
On July 23, 1950, General MacArthur presented a plan for an amphibious assault on Inchon in front of Army Chief of Staff, General J. Lawton Collins, and Admiral Forrest Sherman, who was the Chief of Naval Operations. Collins and Sherman believed that the high tides would make Inchon too dangerous. They thought Kunsan was a more logical target.
MacArthur believed the element of surprise was in our favor. More importantly, MacArthur believed Inchon had value because the North Koreans supply lines were stretched too thin. By September, they could only send one meal per day to the 98,000 North Korean troops in South Korea. Inchon was the ideal spot to cut off their supply lines because most of the North Korean troops were 150 miles away.
By the time the North Koreans realized the Americans landed, there would be no way their troops could get there in time. Once MacArthur cut off their supplies, the T-34 tanks would run out of gas and the North Korean troops were without food.
Thanks to his persuasion and vision, the Seventh Fleet sent over 200 ships so that MacArthur could land 70,000 troops at Inchon. The X Corps consisting of 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division took Inchon in four days. Seoul was retaken two weeks after the landing and the North Koreans were in full retreat.
It was one of the most decisive victories in American history. This victory still has many lessons for our two presidential candidates.
Lesson 1: Defense cuts today can result in American casualties tomorrow.
The defense cuts between World War II and Korea went too far. Today, we face a similar problem with the sequester plans to cut $500 billion dollars over the next ten years. Our defense budgets are going down due to the growing fiscal challenges of paying for the Baby Boomers’ retirement, our enormous national debt, and the continued growth of other domestic programs.
In 2013, the Bipartisan Policy Center issued a paper showing substantial cuts in our military. If the sequester is not stopped, the Army will be cut from 10 active divisions in 2012 to 6 division by 2021. The Air Force will be cut from 1,493 fighters/attack aircraft in 2012 to 1,157 by 2021. The Navy will be cut from 275 ships in 2012 to 228 ships by 2021.
While the United States still has the strongest military in the world, we have lost ground to our main adversaries in recent years. From 2011 to 2015, the United States cut its defense budget by 21 percent while the Chinese increased their defense spending by 38 percent and the Russians increased their defense spending by 40 percent.
Lesson 2: Weakness Invites Aggression
The North Koreans invaded South Korea because they believed Secretary of State Dean Acheson when he said that South Korea was not in America’s “defense perimeter.” President Kennedy, who was a big fan of MacArthur, said in his inaugural address, “For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” The Korean conflict was preventable and we shouldn’t forget that.
The Obama administration has shown weakness to our adversaries by cutting America’s defense budget since 2011. This sequester has been followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea, Syria’s use of chemical weapons, a flawed Iranian nuclear deal, and North Korea continuing to test both its missiles (2013, 2014, and 2016) and its nuclear weapons (2013 and 2016) in violation of UN resolutions.
Lesson 3: There Is No Substitute for Good Intelligence
The failure to see the North Korean attack in June 1950, or the Chinese invasion later that year, should remind us that we need to invest in our intelligence capabilities.
Arthur Herman’s new biography of MacArthur provides more insight on the Chinese invasion. While many people believe the Chinese only invaded because the U.S. crossed the 38th parallel, this is simply not true. The Chinese archives show that the Chinese Politburo met on August 4, and Mao told them that they would have to intervene in order to prevent the U.S. from defeating their North Korean comrades. This was over a month before the Battle of Inchon.
We completely missed that. Nor can we be apologetic about how we acquire intelligence.
The former head of the CIA Michael Morell, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, agrees with Trump that waterboarding, and other enhanced interrogation methods, helped the U.S. gain valuable intelligence.
In 2014, former CIA Directors George J. Tenet (1997-2004), Porter J. Goss (2004-2006) and Michael V. Hayden (2006-2009), and former CIA Deputy Directors John E. McLaughlin (2000-2004), Albert M. Calland (2005-2006) and Stephen R. Kappes (2006-2010), wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in effect concurring with Morell that enhanced interrogations helped capture key al-Qaeda leaders, disrupt terrorist plots, and added enormously to what they knew about al-Qaeda.
The lack of good intelligence cost us dearly from the Korean War to attacks of the 9/11. We should never have to apologize to the bad guys when we need to get information out of them.
Lesson 4: No Substitute For Victory
General MacArthur famously said, “There’s no substitute for victory.” This is the most important lesson for the next president. We should not enter conflicts, and risk American lives, unless we intend to win.