Truman Administration Adviser Counseled Surrender of Korea to Reds

Eleven months before the North Korean invasion of the South (June 25, 1950) and six months before Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivered his famous National Press Club speech in which he excluded South Korea and Formosa from the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia, Acheson’s éminence grise for Asian policy called publicly for Korea to be written off as a lost cause:

The Daily Compass (NY), Sunday, July 17, 1949


By Owen Lattimore


Washington (ONA) – It is a foregone conclusion that the Truman administration and the Department of State are going to have a rough time with their Korean policy.  By the same token, Republicans in Congress, together with Democrats who are critical of United States policy in Asia, are going to have a field day sniping at the official presentation of the policy of granting President Syngman Rhee’s South Korea $150,000,000 for a “recovery program.”

As the record stands, it is now revealed that Secretary of State Dean Acheson made a strong appeal for the $150,000,000 grant before a closed session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Unless South Korea gets the money, he warned, it will fall within three months.

Simultaneously with this urgent appeal, however, it is also revealed that evacuation of American occupation troops from South Korea, where they have been sitting on the lid ever since the end of the war with Japan, has now been completed.  All that remain are about 200 officers and men who have the dismal and unpromising mission of attempting to train an anti-Communist and anti-Russian defense force.

There is an ominous comparison between the mission and the MAGIC force, or Military Advisory Group in China, which found itself completely baffled by corruption and personal warlordism in Chiang Kai-shek’s China.

Yet, there is logic to the course of action advocated by Secretary Acheson.  It is, moreover, a perfectly convincing logic.  What makes the utterances of the Secretary of State sound absurd is not the logic of U. S. policy, but the fact that the policy is now conducted under rules of protocol which have become as rigid as tribal taboos.

For the logic, we must go back to the sad precedent of China.  The truth is that Gen. George C. Marshall, on his mission to China in 1946, before he became Secretary of State, became convinced of several unpleasant things which, because of the state of political opinion in America, could not be stated out loud.

First, he was convinced that the Kuomintang would not be able to triumph over the Chinese Communists unless it took American advice.

Second, he was convinced that politically and militarily America could not handle the situation in China by taking the Kuomintang by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and making it behave.  Yet he could not, as a statesman, advise what seemed sensible to him as a general—that the United States simply pull out and abandon an untenable position.

As a compromise, American policy took a course of relative inaction.  As it became more and more obvious that Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang were doomed, the conduct of American policy became increasingly delicate.  The problem was how to allow them to fall without making it look as if the United States had pushed them.  Such a policy never succeeds completely, and critics have done their best to make the public believe that the United States did push Chiang and the Kuomintang over the cliff.

Korea is another chapter in the same unhappy story.  I have yet to meet an American who knows all the facts and believes that Syngman Rhee is either a popular or a competent President of South Korea.  In spite of high-pressure elections, his Legislature is more badly split against him than China’s was against Chiang Kai-shek.

The thing to do, therefore, is to let South Korea fall—but not to let it look as though we pushed it.  Hence the recommendation of a parting grant of $150,000,000.


Concerning Lattimore’s recommendation, Senator Joseph McCarthy wrote on pp. 127-128 of his 1952 book, The Fight for America:

In this connection, it should be noted that nearly a year before the Korean War started, Congress voted $10,300,000 military aid for South Korea.  This was not done upon the recommendation of the State Department.  The Congress was entitled to believe that this $10,300,000 was being spent rapidly for airplanes, tanks and guns for South Korea.  However, whenever a member of Congress asked the State and Defense Departments how the $10,300,000 was being spent, the answer was, “We cannot tell you for security reasons.”

After the war in Korea began, Senator Knowland put into the Congressional Record (August 16, 1950,  p. 12600) the facts which showed that the State Department had succeeded in keeping the expenditures for the arming of South Korea down to $200, which was spent for loading some wire aboard a West Coast ship which never reached Korea.

Thus did the State Department plan to “let South Korea fall” into the Communist hands without letting the Congress or the American people know that “we pushed it.”

Who was Owen Lattimore?  For the latest and best answer to the question, we heartily recommend Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight against America’s Enemies, by M. Stanton Evans.  Short of that, one should read his article, “McCarthyism: Waging the Cold War in America,” from which the following passage is excerpted:

Whether Lattimore was or was not an "architect" of policy, he was far from a reclusive scholar. Throughout the 1940s, he held an almost continuous series of government appointments, and had an amazing knack for showing up where there was important action: Roosevelt’s appointee as adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1941; director of Pacific operations for OWI (Office of War Information), 1942-44; companion to Vice President [Henry] Wallace (along with [John Carter] Vincent) on a fateful trek to China in 1944; advisor to the U.S. government concerning post-war policies in Japan, 1945-46; counselor to the State Department in its deliberations concerning China, South Korea and the rest of Asia, as of the latter ’40s. And, oh yes, that famous "desk in the State Department," which [Senator Joseph] McCarthy said he had, and Lattimore swore he didn’t. In the files of the IPR (Institute of Pacific Relations), the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee found a letter Lattimore wrote in 1942, in which he said: "I am in Washington about 4 days a week, and when there can be reached at Lauchlin Currie’s office, room 228, State Department Building." Add to all of this the fact that Lattimore was one of the moving spirits of IPR, editor of its magazine Pacific Affairs, had been on the editorial board of Amerasia, and was a prolific author and book reviewer, and it’s apparent that he was a major figure indeed in the fairly compact and limited world of "experts" who knew anything much about Far Eastern matters. These many Lattimore assignments and connections become the more intriguing when we note the line of thought that he consistently promoted about the Soviet Union and the Communists in general, usually couched in neutral-sounding prose just setting forth the "facts." His specialty was the peculiar "power of attraction" the Soviets supposedly exerted on neighboring countries, tribes and people. Here is a sample: "To all of these peoples (along the Russian frontier from Korea and Manchuria past Mongolia, Sinkiang and Afghanistan and Iran, all the way to Turkey), the Russians and the Soviet Union have a greater power of attraction. In their eyes . . . the Soviet Union stands for strategic security, economic prosperity, technological progress, miraculous medicine, free education, equality of opportunity, and democracy, a powerful combination." And, to make the matter even more specific: "In Asia the most important example of the Soviet power of attraction beyond Soviet frontiers is in Outer Mongolia. It is here that we should look for evidence of the kind of attraction that Russia might offer to Korea in the future. Outer Mongolia might be called a satellite of Russia in the good sense. That is to say, the Mongols have gravitated into the Russian orbit of their own accord. . . . Soviet policy in Outer Mongolia cannot be fairly called Red imperialism."  Lattimore further explained the Soviets’ power of attraction this way: "The fact that the Soviet Union stands for democracy is not to be overlooked. It stands for democracy because it stands for all the other things. . . . The fact is that for most of the people of the world today, what constitutes democracy in theory is more or less irrelevant. What moves people to act, to try to line up with one party or country and not with another, is the difference between what is more democratic and less democratic in practice." This uncanny power of attraction seemed to exert its fascination on Lattimore himself up to and including bland extenuations of Stalin’s purge trials of the ’30s. While many liberal intellectuals (e.g., John Dewey) were horrified by these, Lattimore took them well in stride. "Habitual rectification," as he smoothly described this series of murders, "can hardly do anything but give the ordinary citizen more courage to protest, loudly, whenever in the future he finds himself being victimized by ‘someone in the party’ or ‘someone in the government.’ That sounds to me like democracy." Lattimore turned an equally complacent gaze on the Communists of Asia. In a newspaper piece of 1946, for example, he opined: "Japanese Communist tactics are reminiscent of the Chinese Communists who, as Randall Gould points out in his excellent new book, China in the Sun, often appear to be extremists only because they actually set out to practice reforms which the Kuomintang has approved of and talked about for many years, but has never done much about. In fact, we may be entering a period in which, for most of the world, the Russian Communists will represent power and toughness, while the Chinese and Japanese Communists will represent reasonableness and moderation." Lattimore’s other stock-in-trade was "realism," which translated into recognizing not only the Communists’ "power of attraction," but their power in general.

In her pro-Lattimore article for Johns Hopkins Magazine, “Seeing Red,” Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson reveals that the persistently popular slur “McCarthyism,” was coined by none other than Owen Lattimore.

David Martin

June 2, 2011



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