(The KOREAN WAR – continued)

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The KOREAN WAR (4 of 8)

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UN Troops to the Yalu River

President Truman responded to Kim Il-sung's invasion of South Korea by giving additional support to the French in Vietnam and by sending the Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan. Mao Zedong and his associates in Beijing, China, were concerned. Their regime was less than a year old, and they were concerned that new US aggressiveness would encourage Chinese "reactionaries." Concerning Taiwan, they saw what they called US imperialism interfering in China's internal affairs. They wanted to demonstrate to China's masses that they were able to protect China's prestige and interests, while they kept on hold their plans to "liberate" Taiwan.

In the US a debate had erupted over whether the UN forces should move north of the 38th parallel. In the State Department, George Kennan thought this too risky. Others in the State Department disagreed. John Foster Dulles argued that the 38th parallel was never intended as a permanent political boundary. The Pentagon agreed and argued that stopping at the 38th Parallel would leave military instability on the Korean peninsula. General MacArthur was on the side of those who wanted to cross the 38th parallel, and South Korea's President Syngman Rhee was ecstatic over the opportunity to unite Korea.

Truman agreed to the UN forces moving into North Korea, despite his worry that it might bring the Soviet Union or China into the war. Some others were worried that the war in Korea was just a feint by Moscow to divert US energies – that the communists might be planning a bigger assault elsewhere.

Entering the Korean war and facing up to the military might of the United Nations forces was an issue over which Mao and the Chinese Communist leadership agonized. After the Inchon landings and North Korea's reversals in September 1950, two high-ranking representatives from North Korea had arrived in Beijing asking the Chinese to send troops to Korea. On October 3, through India's ambassador to Beijing, K.M. Panikkar, China informed the world-at-large that if the United States crossed the 38th parallel China would intervene. Confident people in the US State Department, Dean Rusk among them, believed that the Chinese would not dare attack US forces in Korea. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, believed it was a bluff and was concerned that a greater risk would arise if the US showed any "hesitation or timidity." A report by the Central Intelligence Agency dated 28 September 1950 held that China had missed its opportunity to intervene. That opportunity was described as when UN forces were almost defeated and within the Pusan Perimeter. The report claimed that China was not about to intervene now. And a CIA report for October 12 argued that intervention by China was unlikely because it would jeopardize China's domestic program and economy, encourage China's anti-Communists and endanger the Communist regime. Acheson agreed, saying it would be "sheer madness" for Beijing to enter the Korean war when they had numerous other problems.

By October 9, 1950, China had already massed four armies and three artillery divisions on the Yalu River – the force's commander, Peng Dehuai, complaining that he could use 700 more trucks and 600 more drivers. On October 10, in Moscow, Stalin and representatives from China met and discussed Korea. The Chinese were trying to get as much help from the Soviet Union as possible. Stalin complained that North Korea was about to be defeated. The Chinese pretended hesitation about intervening, but Stalin encouraged them, countering that the US was a menace to China's security and would be especially so if UN forces reached the Yalu River. Stalin said that the Soviet Union could not send troops because the Soviet Union, in 1948, had committed itself to an agreement to withdraw from North Korea. Besides, he claimed, his border with Korea was too small. But, he said, the Soviet Union would provide the Chinese sufficient military equipment and war material – weapons and ammunition left over from World War II. The People's Republic of China was, however, to pay the Soviet Union for all military supplies, which created some bitterness among the Chinese Communist leadership that was to last for years to come.

Mao was expecting the Soviet Union to supply air cover for China's forces, and after receiving a telegram from Moscow, Mao sent an urgent telegram of his own, ordering that his armies on the Yalu river put their operations on hold and concentrate on training. The commander of China's forces, Peng, threatened to resign. Stalin was holding to the position that the Soviet Union was not ready for a confrontation between his and US air forces. note17 

US Military intelligence was aware of the Chinese troops across the Yalu River and described them as five divisions probably intending to protect China's hydroelectric generating plants. On October 15, 1950, MacArthur met President Truman on Wake Island. He assured Truman that victory was won in Korea and that the Chinese would not intervene. The Chinese, he said, have 300,000 men in Manchuria, "but only 50 to 60 thousand could be gotten across the Yalu River." They have no air force, he said, "and if they tried to get down to Pyongyang there would be the greatest slaughter." There, on Wake Island, Truman awarded MacArthur his fifth Distinguished Service Medal.

During the Wake conference, US and other UN forces were charging into North Korea. They entered Pyongyang on October 15. Mao and his associates worried that the UN forces would soon be at the Yalu River, and they decided to send their armies across the river, near the Chinese city of Dandong and a hundred miles upriver, near Manpo. It was a hush-hush operation, with the first of the Chinese troops dressed in North Korean uniforms.

MacArthur could have halted his troops at Korea's narrow neck – around 100 miles wide and 100 miles or more south of the Yalu River border. This would have left the UN forces with 90 percent of the Korean population and Pyongyang. This is what Winston Churchill, opposition leader in Britain, preferred that MacArthur do. A demilitarized zone could have been proposed between this line and the Yalu River. But MacArthur didn't want it. He headed for a 400-mile wide border. He split his forces, sending US troops up the west side of the peninsula and other US troops up the east side, with mountains between them. The Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon had ordered that only Korean forces be sent to the Yalu, but MacArthur was doing it his way and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were acquiescing. And MacArthur was confident enough that he was sending what he thought were spare supplies and ammunition back to Japan.


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