Primary Sources Logo

structural tag close window

General Douglas MacArthur Writings



Consider These Questions


Excerpts of General Douglas MacArthur's writings during the time of the Korean Conflict from August 1950, October 1950, and March 1951 discuss the decision to invade Inchon, Korea, and the general situation in the Far East.

The bulk of the Reds [I said] are committed around Walker's defense perimeter. The enemy, I am convinced, has failed to prepare Inchon properly for defense. The very arguments you have made as to the impracticabilities involved will tend to ensure for me the element of surprise. For the enemy commander will reason that no one would be so brash as to make such an attempt. Surprise is the most vital element for success in war. As an example, the Marquis de Montcalm believed in 1759 that it was impossible for an armed force to scale the precipitous river banks south of the then walled city of Quebec, and therefore concentrated his formidable defenses along the more vulnerable banks north of the city. But General James Wolfe and a small force did indeed come up the St. Lawrence River and scale those heights. On the Plains of Abraham, Wolfe won a stunning victory that was made possible almost entirely by surprise. Thus he captured Quebec and in effect ended the French and Indian War. Like Montcalm, the North Koreans would regard an Inchon landing as impossible. Like Wolfe, I could take them by surprise.

The Navy's objections as to tides, hydrography, terrain, and physical handicaps are indeed substantial and pertinent. But they are not insuperable. My confidence in the Navy is complete, and in fact I seem to have more confidence in the Navy than the Navy has in itself. The Navy's rich experience in staging the numerous amphibious landings under my command in the Pacific during the late war, frequently under somewhat similar difficulties, leaves me with little doubt on that score.

As to the proposal for a landing at Kunsan, it would indeed eliminate many of the hazards of Inchon, but it would be largely ineffective and indecisive. It would be an attempted envelopment which would not envelop. It would not sever or destroy the enemy's supply lines or distribution center, and would therefore serve little purpose. It would be a "short envelopment," and nothing in war is more futile. Better no flank movement than one such as this. The only result would be a hookup with Walker's troops on his left. It would be better to send the troops directly to Walker than by such an indirect and costly process. In other words, this would simply be sending more troops to help Walker "hang on," and hanging on was not good enough. No decision can be reached by defensive action in Walker's perimeter. To fight frontally in a breakthrough from Pusan will be bloody and indecisive. The enemy will merely roll back on his lines of supply and communication.

But seizure of Inchon and Seoul will cut the enemy's supply line and seal off the entire southern peninsula. The vulnerability of the enemy is his supply position. Every step southward extends his transport lines and renders them more frail and subject to dislocation. The several major lines of enemy supply from the north converge on Seoul, and from Seoul they radiate to the several sectors of the front. By seizing Seoul I would completely paralyze the enemy's supply system–coming and going. This in turn will paralyze the fighting power of the troops that now face Walker. Without munitions and food they will soon be helpless and disorganized, and can easily be overpowered by our smaller but well-supplied forces.

The only alternative to a stroke such as I propose will be the continuation of the savage sacrifice we are making at Pusan, with no hope of relief in sight. Are you content to let our troops stay in that bloody perimeter like beef cattle in the slaughterhouse? Who will take the responsibility for such a tragedy? Certainly, I will not.

The prestige of the Western world hangs in the balance. Oriental millions are watching the outcome. It is plainly apparent that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest. The test is not in Berlin or Vienna, in London, Paris or Washington. It is here and now–it is along the Naktong River in South Korea. We have joined the issue on the battlefield. Actually, we here fight Europe's war with arms, while there it is still confined to words. If we lose the war to Communism in Asia, the fate of Europe will be gravely jeopardized. Win it and Europe will probably be saved from war and stay free. Make the wrong decision her–the fatal decision of inertia–and we will be done. I can almost hear the ticking of the second hand of destiny. We must act now or we will die.

If my estimate is inaccurate and should I run into a defense with which I cannot cope, I will be there personally and will immediately withdraw our forces before they are committed to a bloody setback. The only loss then will be my professional reputation. But Inchon will not fail. Inchon will succeed. And it will save 100,000 lives.

I regard the chance of success of the operation as excellent. I go further in belief that it represents the only hope of wresting the initiative from the enemy and thereby presenting the opportunity for a decisive blow. To do otherwise is to commit us to a war of indefinite duration, of gradual attrition and of doubtful result, as the enemy has potentialities of buildup and reinforcements which far exceed our own. Our stroke as planned would prevent any material reinforcements in buildup of the enemy in the present combat zone. The situation within the perimeter is not critical. It is possible that there may be some contraction, and defense positions have been selected for this contingency. There is not the slightest possibility, however, of our forces being ejected from the Pusan beachhead.

The envelopment from the north will instantly relieve the pressure upon the south perimeter and, indeed, is the only way that this can be accomplished. The success of the enveloping movement from the north does not depend upon the rapid juncture of the X Corps with the Eighth Army. The seizure of the beach of the enemy’s distributing system in the Seoul area will completely dislocate the logistical supply of his forces now operating in South Korea and therefore will ultimately result in their disintegration. The prompt juncture of our two forces, while it would be dramatically symbolic of the complete collapse of the enemy, is not a vital part of the operation.

The embarkation of the troops and the preliminary air and naval preparations are proceeding according to schedule. I repeat that I and all of my commanders and staff officers, without exception, are enthusiastic for and confident of the success of the enveloping movement.

October, 1950

The conference at Wake Island made me realize that a curious, and sinister, change was taking place in Washington. The defiant, rallying figure that had been Franklin Roosevelt was gone. Instead, there was a tendency toward temporizing rather than fighting it through. The original courageous decision of Harry Truman to boldly meet and defeat Communism in Asia was apparently being chipped away by the constant pounding whispers of timidity and cynicism. The President seemed to be swayed by the blandishments of some of the more selfish politicians of the United Nations. He seemed to be in the anomalous position of openly expressing fears of overcalculated risks that he had fearlessly taken only a few months before.

This put me as field commander in an especially difficult situation. Up to now I had been engaged in warfare as it had been conducted through the ages — to fight to win. But I could see now that the Korean War was developing into something quite different. There seemed to be a deliberate underestimating of the importance of the conflict to which the government had committed — and was expending — the lives of United States fighting men.

What had been the purpose of the conference was difficult to diagnose. Many regarded it as largely a political gimmick. The Congressional elections were but two weeks away, and in this way the President could identify his party with the favorable results of the Inchon victory. Such reasoning, I am sure, does Mr. Truman an injustice. I believe nothing of the sort animated him, and that the sole purpose was to create good will and beneficial results to the country. My opinion along this line was strengthened by the letter he wrote me in longhand on his return to Washington. It read:

The meeting at Wake Island was a most satisfying one to me. I was pleased with the chance to meet and talk to you about Japan, Korea, and other Far Eastern countries. I was happy to have your views on all the Asiatic situations with which we are faced.

Our meeting has had a splendid reaction here in the United States, and I think it was well worthwhile if for no other reason than that we became personally acquainted.


I replied in part:

I left the Wake Island conference with a distinct sense of satisfaction that the country’s interests had been well served through the better mutual understanding and exchange of views which it afforded. I hope that it will result in building a strong defense against future efforts of those who seek for one reason or another, none of them worthy, to breach the understanding between us.

With expressions of deep respect.

But my hope was futile. Propaganda and prejudice reigned supreme.

March, 1951

I am most grateful for your note of the eighth forwarding me a copy of your address of February 12. The latter I have read with much interest and find that with the passage of years you have certainly lost none of your old time punch.

My views and recommendations with respect to the situation created by Red China’s entry into war against us in Korea have been submitted to Washington in most complete detail. Generally these views are well known and generally understood, as they follow the conventional pattern of meeting force with maximum counterforce as we have never failed to do in the past. Your view with respect to the utilization of the Chinese forces on Formosa is in conflict with neither logic nor this tradition.

It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and we have joined the issue here raised on the battlefield, that here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose this war to Communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable; win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you point out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory.

Courtesy of the General Douglas MacArthur Foundation, Norfolk, VA.


Consider These Questions



1. What type of attitude does General MacArthur exude in his August 1950 excerpts concerning the Inchon invasion?

2. What does the correspondence between General MacArthur and President Truman reveal about communication among top U.S. government and military officials?

3. What significance does General MacArthur place upon the East Asian theater?

 close window