American Defense Policy

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Again and again, U.S. forces committed piecemeal to battle were outnumbered, outgunned, and outflanked by the highly motivated NKPA.  The greatest nation on the face of the earth had committed its youth to battle, understrength, undertrained, ill-equipped, and ill-supplied.  Experienced field grade officers lamented that, "It was just criminal to commit our troops to battle, manned and equipped the way they were."  In peacetime, Army units stood at two-thirds strength, meaning that infantry regiments had only two rifle battalions instead of the usual three, around which battlefield tactics were formulated.  In practice, rifle companies were mostly 50% or more below their authorized strength of 200 men.

At the end of World War II, the United States had the greatest armed force the world had ever seen.  But now, five years later, she was hard pressed to stop a fourth-rate power, North Korea.  Why?  Why?   Traditionally, America had never been prepared for a war.  It was a dispute over a peacetime defense budget that initiated the events which led to the Revolutionary War.  The colonists wanted the protection of the British troops during the French and Indian War.  With the Crown's treasury depleted when the fighting ended, the King's minister asked the Americans to pay one-third of the cost of the twenty battalions of redcoats stationed in the colonies.  They refused, fearful that large standing armies could support oppressive governments or military strongmen who would arise.  Determined to collect some funds, the sugar tax was rigorously enforced and when that didn't work, there was the Stamp Act, and then the tax on tea, all of which brought forth "taxation without representation" which, of course, led to the revolution.

While teaching a class at the Army War Collge, which involved a crisis in American history, Colonel Harry Summers, Jr., was asked by an officer from a third world country--many of whom were in attendance--"What was the chance of a military coup?"  The American officers just laughed.  The principle of civil control is so ingrained in the military that never, never has such an act been possible in this country, although it has happened throughout the world.

Being true to form, post-war defense budgets were small.  Thinking to get more bang-for-the-buck from the Air Force, who would drop A-bombs on an enemy and win a quick victory, the Truman administration gave that branch the largest portion.  The Navy was out some, but the biggest reduction was handed to the Army.  Everyone knew the next war would be fought with push-bottons, rockets, missiles, etc...and there would be little need for foot-slogging riflemen.  This proved to be a grave mistake, costing the country numerous unnecessary casualties and some humiliating defeats.

In August 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb.  The U.S. no longer had a nuclear monopoly.  By October of the same year, the Red Chinese controlled the mainland, China became a Communist country.  Due to these changes in the international scene, the National Security Council recommended to the President (NSC-68) that U.S. ground forces would have to be built up to an unprecedented peacetime level in order to counter the threat of the huge conventional forces of the Soviet Union.  Although favorable to the idea, Truman knew that neither the Congress nor the American people would approve of spending the 50 billion dollars the plan called for, for peacetime defense.  The present budget was 13 billion.  NSC-68 remained on the shelf until the North Korean attack, at which time it was approved.

Previously, in 1948 when first elected premier of North Korea, Kim Il Sun had repeatedly asked Stalin for permission and support to invade the South.  Stalin continued to refuse, not on moral grounds, but because Kim's army was not strong enough and because of the adverse world opinion it would cause.  The Soviet leader suggested that should the South attack the North, this would justify offensive action by the NKPA.

Only after a buildup of North Korean forces and only after the change in the international situation did Stalin agreed.  At the time of the invasion, the Communists claimed the South had attacked first. This idea was propagated in the United States by well known journalist I.F. Stone. The opening of the Russian archives revealed that Stone had been on the KGB payroll.

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