Douglas Macarthur and the Inchon Term Paper

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His flexibility in this regard as an expert communicator is amply demonstrated by the wide range of high-level leadership positions over the course of his lengthy military career. According to Grandstaff (2007), "Army General Douglas MacArthur is a prime candidate for the study of leadership. The son of Army General Arthur MacArthur, he spent more than 70 years serving in a variety of leadership positions, including Superintendent of West Point, Chief of Staff of the Army, Field Marshall of the Philippines, Supreme Allied Commander of the Pacific during World War II, Military Governor of Japan during its occupation, and as a presidential hopeful as well as public administrator and businessman" (p. 128). While MacArthur has been criticized for his lack of communication with the Joint Chiefs of Staff prior to and during his prosecution of the Inchon landing and thereafter, the man's prestige and ego went a long way in ensuring that whatever the general said, people would listen. In this regard, Grandstaff emphasizes that, "His famous victory following the Inchon landing during the Korean War is a classic in the annals of military strategy. President Harry S. Truman's later dismissal of MacArthur also provides an important lesson in civilian control over the military. The general's famous speech to the Congress in 1951 belies his main point -- far from fading away, MacArthur's star continues to rise in the pantheon of 'great leaders and generals'" (Grandstaff, p. 128).

3. Why was Inchon the "right" decision?

Like many decisions that require a "right or wrong" determination, whether the decision to land at Inchon was the "right" one or not depends on who is asking and who is being asked. As Dorschner (2003) points out, "Douglas MacArthur's admirers and detractors alike admitted to his uncanny predilection for victory, never so evident than at his landing at Inchon in the Korean War, code named 'Operation Chromite.' The Inchon landing offered the promise of relieving battered United Nations defenders on the Pusan Perimeter, soundly defeating the North Korean People's Army and rapidly ending the Korea War" (p. 37). While this promise provide to be elusive for MacArthur after the Inchon landing and while historians continue to debate the correctness of MacArthur's Inchon decision, the reality of the situation was that the U.S. was woefully unprepared for the virulence of the North Korean response to the various border incidents and imposition of a U.S.-sponsored leader in South Korea that had been taking place for several months prior to August 1950. According to one historian, "The Communist invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, caught America by surprise. 'Where is Korea?' asked one officer stationed in Japan upon hearing that North Korean forces had crossed the thirty-eighth parallel, the line separating the country into two parts" (Demick, p. 58). In reality, though, this response should not have come as such as surprise to the American leadership. According to Kim (2007), "The official American history is that the Korean War started on June 25, 1950 when the North Korean forces suddenly attacked the South under Stalin's order. This is a gross misrepresentation of the origin of the War.... The truth is that the Korean War really started in 1945 when the U.S. suppressed the KPR government and imposed its military rule in the southern part of Korea" (p. 2). Likewise, there had been a number of hostile encounters between South and North Korean forces prior to the invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces. For instance, Kim reports:

In addition to the widespread guerrilla warfare in the South, major battles also broke out between the North Korean (DPRK) and South Korean (ROK) armies along the 38th parallel line in 1949. The first major battle, initiated by the ROK troops near the border city of Kaesong, took place on May 4, 1949, lasting four days with hundreds of dead soldiers. The fighting also occurred in June 1949 in the Ongjin peninsula, the same area where the official Korean War would 'begin' one year later. Then another major battle also broke out in August 1949. Thus, when the armed clash broke out in June 1950, it was more or less a continuation of the past conflicts. It was certainly not a surprise attack (emphasis added) (pp. 3-4).

In this environment, formulating a rapid and effective response assumed enormous importance and MacArthur believed he knew what to do but was thwarted time and again by a lack of resources and - from his perspective - cooperation from his higher-ups. For instance, in his book, Macarthur as Military Commander, Gavin (1998) reports that, "MacArthur had been planning a decisive counter-stroke aimed at cutting the communications of the North Koreans ever since early July. But one by one the fresh formations that he hoped to employ in this venture had been drawn into the Pusan perimeter" (p. 27). Despite these setbacks, MacArthur believed he had sufficient forces, especially since he had succeeded in securing the promise of a Marine division already, to successfully prosecute his plans at Inchon. According to Long (1998), "Intelligence estimated the North Korean strength round Inchon and Seoul as about 6,500, perhaps about 2,500 being at Inchon itself. This proved fairly accurate. The X Corps was 70,000 strong off Inchon on the I5th" (p. 208). The North, though, was much better prepared and determined than the Americans believed and perhaps even more so because of the perceived support they enjoyed from their Communist allies in China and the Soviet Union. In this regard, Halberstam reports that, "In the North, Kim Il Sung had been installed with a good deal more foresight by his sponsors from the Soviet Union, who had had their eye on Korea for a much longer time.... By the spring of 1950, Kim had been in power for almost five years; and, for at least two of them, he had been pushing, with ever greater aggressiveness, for his right to invade the South" (p. 70).

By claiming a basic "right" to invade South Korea in order to reunify the two countries under his political leadership, Sung was also seeking to legitimize his regime in the North. Given these circumstances, it would be gracious to forgive the leaders in Washington and MacArthur's own missteps along the way in his prosecution of the war in Korea, had it not been so costly and taken so long and ended so miserably. In the final analysis, it is difficult to argue with the success of the Inchon landing decision and it was likely impossible to argue with MacArthur, at least according to some historians. For instance, in Part 2: Program Management, the editors report, "MacArthur's bold stroke paid off fully when Seoul was captured on September 22, and the demoralized remnants of the North Korean army fell backward after the Inchon landing forces linked up with the Eighth Army four days later" (p. 296). Likewise, the Inchon landing served at a very minimum in stopping the North Korea juggernaut for the time being, giving U.S. leaders and United Nations forces time to gather their collective wits. According to a prominent article in Life magazine from October 1950, "When General MacArthur's X Corps struck at Inchon behind the Red forces in South Korea, the course of the war was reversed. Now, from a series of scrambling retreats followed by the desperate, dangerously fluid defense of the Pusan perimeter, the pattern had suddenly shifted to a general U.N. offensive aimed at wiping out the North Korea army" (p. 23).

4. MacArthur did not keep the JCS well informed. What are the arguments for and against this? Was he right in not keeping them informed? Does this create an ethical dilemma?

Although it is easy to damn MacArthur for his failure to completely communicate his plans for the Korean conflict to the Joint Chiefs of Staff today, it remains unclear whether he would have been successful in acquiring and organizing the minimum resources he needed to do the job otherwise. The general appears to have possessed a keen sense of what it was going to take to do the job he had in mind in repelling the North Koreans, and what tactical methods he should use to accomplish his goals - both militarily and personally. According to Gavin, "On 29 July, after not only the 1st Cavalry Division but the 2nd Division and 1st Marine Brigade had been allotted to Pusan, he informed the Joint Chiefs that he proposed to use his only remaining force -- the 7th Division -- 'along a separate axis in mid-September'. His mind was now firmly set on a landing at Inchon which if successful would lead to the recapture of Seoul and the severing of the roads and railways…

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