Harry S. Truman photo

Special Message to the Congress Reporting on the Situation in Korea.

July 19, 1950

To the Congress of the United States:

I am reporting to the Congress on the situation which has been created in Korea, and on the actions which this Nation has taken, as a member of the United Nations, to meet this situation. I am also laying before the Congress my views concerning the significance of these events for this Nation and the world, and certain recommendations for legislative action which I believe should be taken at this time.

At four o'clock in the morning, Sunday, June 25th, Korean time, armed forces from north of the thirty-eighth parallel invaded the Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea was established as an independent nation in August, 1948, after a free election held under the auspices of the United Nations. This election, which was originally intended to cover all of Korea, was held only in the part of the Korean peninsula south of the thirty-eighth parallel, because the Soviet Government, which occupied the peninsula north of that parallel, refused to allow the election to be held in the area under its control.

The United States, and a majority of the other members of the United Nations, have recognized the Republic of Korea. The admission of Korea to the United Nations has been blocked by the Soviet veto.

In December, 1948, the Soviet Government stated that it had withdrawn its occupation troops from northern Korea, and that a local regime had been established there. The authorities in northern Korea continued to refuse to permit United Nations observers to pass the thirty-eighth parallel to supervise or observe a free election, or to verify the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Nevertheless, the United Nations continued its efforts to obtain a freely-elected government for all of Korea, and at the time of the attack, a United Nations Commission, made up of representatives of seven nations-Australia, China, El Salvador, France, India, the Philippines and Turkey-was in the Republic of Korea.

Just one day before the attack of June 25th, field observers attached to the United Nations Commission on Korea had completed a routine tour, lasting two weeks, of the military positions of the Republic of Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. The report of these international observers stated that the Army of the Republic of Korea was organized entirely for defense. The observers found the parallel guarded on the south side by small bodies of troops in scattered outposts, with roving patrols. They found no concentration of troops and no preparation to attack. The observers concluded that the absence of armor, air support, heavy artillery, and military supplies precluded any offensive action by the forces of the Republic of Korea.

On June 25th, within a few hours after the invasion was launched from the north, the Commission reported to the United Nations that the attack had come without warning and without provocation.

The reports from the Commission make it unmistakably clear that the attack was naked, deliberate, unprovoked aggression, without a shadow of justification.

This outright breach of the peace, in violation of the United Nations Charter, created a real and present danger to the security of every nation. This attack was, in addition, a demonstration of contempt for the United Nations, since it was an attempt to settle, by military aggression, a question which the United Nations had been working to settle by peaceful means.

The attack on the Republic of Korea, therefore, was a clear challenge to the basic principles of the United Nations Charter and to the specific actions taken by the United Nations in Korea. If this challenge had not been met squarely, the effectiveness of the United Nations would have been all but ended, and the hope of mankind that the United Nations would develop into an institution of world order would have been shattered.

Prompt action was imperative. The Security Council of the United Nations met, at the request of the United States, in New York at two o'clock in the afternoon, Sunday, June 25th, eastern daylight time. Since there is a 14-hour difference in time between Korea and New York, this meant that the Council convened just 24 hours after the attack began.

At this meeting, the Security Council passed a resolution which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and for the withdrawal of the invading troops to the thirty-eighth parallel, and which requested the members of the United Nations to refrain from giving aid to the northern aggressors and to assist in the execution of this resolution. The representative of the Soviet Union to the Security Council stayed away from the meetings, and the Soviet Government has refused to support the Council's resolution.

The attack launched on June 25th moved ahead rapidly. The tactical surprise gained by the aggressors, and their superiority in planes, tanks and artillery, forced the lightly-armed defenders to retreat. The speed, the scale, and the coordination of the attack left no doubt that it had been plotted long in advance.

When the attack came, our Ambassador to Korea, John J. Muccio, began the immediate evacuation of American women and children from the danger zone. To protect this evacuation, air cover and sea cover were provided by the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in the Far East, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. In response to urgent appeals from the Government of Korea, General MacArthur was immediately authorized to send supplies of ammunition to the Korean defenders. These supplies were sent by air transport, with fighter protection. The United States Seventh Fleet was ordered north from the Philippines, so that it might be available in the area in case of need.

Throughout Monday, June 26th, the invaders continued their attack with no heed to the resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations. Accordingly, in order to support the resolution, and on the unanimous advice of our civil and military authorities, I ordered United States air and sea forces to give the Korean Government troops cover and support.

On Tuesday, June 27th, when the United Nations Commission in Korea had reported that the northern troops had neither ceased hostilities nor withdrawn to the thirty-eighth parallel, the United Nations Security Council met again and passed a second resolution recommending that members of the United Nations furnish to the Republic of Korea such aid as might be necessary to repel the attack and to restore international peace and security in the area. The representative of the Soviet Union to the Security Council stayed away from this meeting also, and the Soviet Government has refused to support the Council's resolution.

The vigorous and unhesitating actions of the United Nations and the United States in the face of this aggression met with an immediate and overwhelming response throughout the free world. The first blow of aggression had brought dismay and anxiety to the hearts of men the world over. The fateful events of the 1930's, when aggression unopposed bred more aggression and eventually war, were fresh in our memory.

But the free nations had learned the lesson of history. Their determined and united actions uplifted the spirit of free men everywhere. As a result, where there had been dismay there is hope; where there had been anxiety there is firm determination.

Fifty-two of the fifty-nine member nations have supported the United Nations action to restore peace in Korea.

A number of member nations have offered military support or other types of assistance for the United Nations action to repel the aggressors in Korea. In a third resolution, passed on July 7th, the Security Council requested the United States to designate a commander for all the forces of the members of the United Nations in the Korean operation, and authorized these forces to fly the United Nations flag. In response to this resolution, General MacArthur has been designated as commander of these forces. These are important steps forward in the development of a United Nations system of collective security. Already, aircraft of two nations--Australia and Great Britain--and naval vessels of five nations--Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands and New Zealand--have been made available for operations in the Korean area, along with forces of Korea and the United States, under General MacArthur's command. The other offers of assistance that have been and will continue to be made will be coordinated by the United Nations and by the unified command, in order to support the effort in Korea to maximum advantage.

All the members of the United Nations who have indorsed the action of the Security Council realize the significance of the step that has been taken. This united and resolute action to put down lawless aggression is a milestone toward the establishment of a rule of law among nations.

Only a few countries have failed to support the common action to restore the peace. The most important of these is the Soviet Union.

Since the Soviet representative had refused to participate in the meetings of the Security Council which took action regarding Korea, the United States brought the matter directly to the attention of the Soviet Government in Moscow. On June 27th, we requested the Soviet Government, in view of its known close relations with the north Korean regime, to use its influence to have the invaders withdraw at once.

The Soviet Government, in its reply on June 29th and in subsequent statements, has taken the position that the attack launched by the north Korean forces was provoked by the Republic of Korea, and that the actions of the United Nations Security Council were illegal.

These Soviet claims are flatly disproved by the facts.

The attitude of the Soviet Government toward the aggression against the Republic of Korea, is in direct contradiction to its often expressed intention to work with other nations to achieve peace in the world.

For our part, we shall continue to support the United Nations action to restore peace in the Korean area.

As the situation has developed, I have authorized a number of measures to be taken. Within the first week of the fighting, General MacArthur reported, after a visit to the front, that the forces from north Korea were continuing to drive south, and further support to the Republic of Korea was needed. Accordingly, General MacArthur was authorized to use United States Army troops in Korea, and to use United States aircraft of the Air Force and the Navy to conduct missions against specific military targets in Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel, where necessary to carry out the United Nations resolution. General MacArthur was also directed to blockade the Korean coast.

The attacking forces from the north have continued to move forward, although their advance has been slowed down. The troops of the Republic of Korea, though initially overwhelmed by the tanks and artillery of the surprise attack by the invaders, have been reorganized and are fighting bravely.

United States forces, as they have arrived in the area, have fought with great valor. The Army troops have been conducting a very difficult delaying operation with skill and determination, outnumbered many times over by attacking troops, spearheaded by tanks. Despite the bad weather of the rainy season, our troops have been valiantly supported by the air and naval forces of both the United States and other members of the United Nations.

In this connection, I think it is important that the nature of our military action in Korea be understood. It should be made perfectly clear that the action was undertaken as a matter of basic moral principle. The United States was going to the aid of a nation established and supported by the United Nations and unjustifiably attacked by an aggressor force. Consequently, we were not deterred by the relative immediate superiority of the attacking forces, by the fact that our base of supplies was 5,000 miles away, or by the further fact that we would have to supply our forces through port facilities that are far from satisfactory.

We are moving as rapidly as possible to bring to bear on the fighting front larger forces and heavier equipment, and to increase our naval and air superiority. But it will take time, men, and material to slow down the forces of aggression, bring those forces to a halt, and throw them back.

Nevertheless, our assistance to the Republic of Korea has prevented the invaders from crushing that nation in a few days--as they had evidently expected to do. We are determined to support the United Nations in its effort to restore peace and security to Korea, and its effort to assure the people of Korea an opportunity to choose their own form of government free from coercion, as expressed in the General Assembly resolutions of November 14, 1947, and December 12, 1948.

In addition to the direct military effort we and other members of the United Nations are making in Korea, the outbreak of aggression there requires us to consider its implications for peace throughout the world. The attack upon the Republic of Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that the international communist movement is prepared to use armed invasion to conquer independent nations. We must therefore recognize the possibility that armed aggression may take place in other areas.

In view of this, I have already directed that United States forces in support of the Philippines be strengthened, and that military assistance be speeded up to the Philippine Government and to the Associated States of Indo-China and to the forces of France in Indo-China. I have also ordered the United States Seventh Fleet to prevent any attack upon Formosa, and I have requested the Chinese Government on Formosa to cease all air and sea operations against the mainland. These steps were at once reported to the United Nations Security Council.

Our action in regard to Formosa was a matter of elementary security. The peace and stability of the Pacific area had been violently disturbed by the attack on Korea.

Attacks elsewhere in the Pacific area would have enlarged the Korean crisis, thereby rendering much more difficult the carrying out of our obligations to the United Nations in Korea.

In order that there may be no doubt in any quarter about our intentions regarding Formosa, I wish to state that the United States has no territorial ambitions whatever concerning that island, nor do we seek for ourselves any special position or privilege on Formosa. The present military neutralization of Formosa is without prejudice to political questions affecting that island. Our desire is that Formosa not become embroiled in hostilities disturbing to the peace of the Pacific and that all questions affecting Formosa be settled by peaceful means as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations. With peace re-established, even the most complex political questions are susceptible of solution. In the presence of brutal and unprovoked aggression, however, some of these questions may have to be held in abeyance in the interest of the essential security of all.

The outbreak of aggression in the Far East does not, of course, lessen, but instead increases, the importance of the common strength of the free nations in other parts of the world. The attack on the Republic of Korea gives added urgency to the efforts of the free nations to increase and to unify their common strength, in order to deter a potential aggressor.

To be able to accomplish this objective, the free nations must maintain a sufficient defensive military strength in being, and, even more important, a solid basis of economic strength, capable of rapid mobilization in the event of emergency.

The strong cooperative efforts that have been made by the United States and other free nations, since the end of World War II, to restore economic vitality to Europe and other parts of the world, and the cooperative efforts we have begun in order to increase the productive capacity of underdeveloped areas, are extremely important contributions to the growing economic strength of all the free nations, and will be of even greater importance in the future.

We have been increasing our common defensive strength under the treaty of Rio de Janeiro and the North Atlantic Treaty, which are collective security arrangements within the framework of the United Nations Charter. We have also taken action to bolster the military defenses of individual free nations, such as Greece, Turkey, and Iran.

The defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty area were considered a matter of great urgency by the North Atlantic Council in London this spring. Recent events make it even more urgent than it was at that time to build and maintain these defenses.

Under all the circumstances, it is apparent that the United States is required to increase its military strength and preparedness not only to deal with the aggression in Korea but also to increase our common defense, with other free nations, against further aggression.

The increased strength which is needed falls into three categories.

In the first place, to meet the situation in Korea, we shall need to send additional men, equipment and supplies to General MacArthur's command as rapidly as possible.

In the second place, the world situation requires that we increase substantially the size and materiel support of our armed forces, over and above the increases which are needed in Korea.

In the third place, we must assist the free nations associated with us in common defense to augment their military strength.

Of the three categories I have just enumerated, the first two involve increases in our own military manpower, and in the material support that our men must have.

To meet the increased requirements for military manpower, I have authorized the Secretary of Defense to exceed the budgeted strength of military personnel for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and to use the Selective Service system to such extent as may be required in order to obtain the increased strength which we must have. I have also authorized the Secretary of Defense to meet the need for military manpower by calling into active Federal service as many National Guard units and as many units and individuals of the Reserve forces of the Army, Navy, and Air Forces as may be required.

I have directed the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to keep our military manpower needs under constant study, in order that further increases may be made as required. There are now statutory limits on the sizes of the armed forces, and since we may need to exceed these limits, I recommend that they be removed.

To increase the level of our military strength will also require additional supplies and equipment. Procurement of many items has already been accelerated, in some cases for use in Korea, in others to replace reserve stocks which are now being sent to Korea, and in still others to add to our general level of preparedness. Further increases in procurement, resulting in a higher rate of production of military equipment and supplies, will be necessary.

The increases in the size of the armed forces, and the additional supplies and equipment which will be needed, will require additional appropriations. Within the next few days, I will transmit to the Congress specific requests for appropriations in the amount of approximately ten billion dollars.

These requests for appropriations will be addressed to the needs of our own military forces. Earlier, I referred to the fact that we must also assist other free nations in the strengthening of our common defenses. The action we must take to accomplish this is just as important as the measures required to strengthen our own forces.

The authorization bill for the Mutual Defense Assistance Program for 1951, now before the House of Representatives, is an important immediate step toward the strengthening of our collective security. It should be enacted without delay.

But it is now clear that the free nations of the world must step up their common security program. The other nations associated with us in the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, like ourselves, will need to divert additional economic resources to defense purposes. In order to enable the nations associated with us to make their maximum contribution to our common defense, further assistance on our part will be required. Additional assistance may also be needed to increase the strength of certain other free nations whose security is vital to our own.

In the case of the North Atlantic area these requirements will reflect the consultations now going on with the other nations associated with us in the North Atlantic Treaty. As soon as it is possible to determine what each nation will need to do, I shall lay before the Congress a request for such funds as are shown to be necessary to the attainment and maintenance of our common strength at an adequate level.

The steps which we must take to support the United Nations action in Korea, and to increase our own strength and the common defense of the free world, will necessarily have repercussions upon our domestic economy.

Many of our young men are in battle now, or soon will be. Others must be trained. The equipment and supplies they need, and those required for adequate emergency reserves, must be produced. They must be available promptly, at reasonable cost, and without disrupting the efficient functioning of the economy.

We must continue to recognize that our strength is not to be measured in military terms alone. Our power to join in a common defense of peace rests fundamentally on the productive capacity and energies of our people. In all that we do, therefore, we must make sure that the economic strength which is at the base of our security is not impaired, but continues to grow.

Our economy has tremendous productive power. Our total output of goods and services is now running at an annual rate of nearly 270 billion dollars--over 100 billion dollars higher than in 1939. The rate is now about 13 billion dollars higher than a year ago, and about 8 billion dollars higher than the previous record rate reached in 1948. All the foregoing figures have been adjusted for price changes, and are therefore a measure of actual output. The index of industrial production, now at 197, is 12 per cent higher than the average for last year, and 81 per cent higher than in 1939.

We now have 61 1/2 million people in civilian employment. There are 16 million more people in productive jobs than there were in 1939. We are now producing 11 million more tons of steel a year than in the peak war year 1944. Electric power output has risen from 128 billion kilowatt hours in 1939, to 228 billion hours in 1944, to 317 billion hours now. Food production is about a third higher than it ever was before the war, and is practically as high as it was during the war years, when we were sending far more food abroad than we are now.

The potential productive power of our economy is even greater. We can achieve some immediate increase in production by employing men and facilities not now fully utilized. And we can continue to increase our total annual output each year, by putting to use the increasing skills of our growing population and the higher productive capacity which results from plant expansion, new inventions, and more efficient methods of production.

With this enormous economic strength, the new and necessary programs I am now recommending can be undertaken with confidence in the ability of our economy to bear the strains involved. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the demands for military purposes that are now foreseeable, in an economy which is already operating at a very high level, will require substantial redirection of economic resources.

Under the program for increasing military strength which I have outlined above, military and related procurement will need to be expanded at a more rapid rate than total production can be expanded. Some materials were in short supply even before the Korean situation developed. The steel industry, for example, was operating at capacity levels, and even so was not able to satisfy all market demands. Some other construction materials, and certain other products, were also under pressure and their prices were rising--even before the outbreak in Korea.

The substantial speed-up of military procurement will intensify these shortages. Action must be taken to insure that these shortages do not interfere with or delay the materials and the supplies needed for the national defense.

Further, the dollars spent now for military purposes will have a magnified effect upon the economy as a whole, since they will be added to the high level of current civilian demand. These increased pressures, if neglected, could drive us into a general inflationary situation. The best evidence of this is the recent price advances in many raw materials and in the cost of living, even upon the mere expectancy of increased military outlays.

In these circumstances, we must take action to insure that the increased national defense needs will be met, and that in the process we do not bring on an inflation, with its resulting hardship for every family.

At the same time, we must recognize that it will be necessary for a number of years to support continuing defense expenditures, including assistance to other nations, at a higher level than we had previously planned. Therefore, the economic measures we take now must be planned and used in such a manner as to develop and maintain our economic strength for the long run as well as the short run.

I am recommending certain legislative measures to help achieve these objectives. I believe that each of them should be promptly enacted. We must be sure to take the steps that are necessary now, or we shall surely be required to take much more drastic steps later on.

First, we should adopt such direct measures as are now necessary to assure prompt and adequate supplies of goods for military and essential civilian use. I therefore recommend that the Congress now enact legislation authorizing the Government to establish priorities and allocate materials as necessary to promote the national security; to limit the use of materials for nonessential purposes; to prevent inventory hoarding; and to requisition supplies and materials needed for the national defense, particularly excessive and unnecessary inventories.

Second, we must promptly adopt some general measures to compensate for the growth of demand caused by the expansion of military programs in a period of high civilian incomes. I am directing all executive agencies to conduct a detailed review of Government programs, for the purpose of modifying them wherever practicable to lessen the demand upon services, commodities, raw materials, manpower, and facilities which are in competition with those needed for national defense. The Government, as well as the public, must exercise great restraint in the use of those goods and services which are needed for our increased defense efforts.

Nevertheless, the increased appropriations for the Department of Defense, plus the defense-related appropriations which I have recently submitted for power development and atomic energy, and others which will be necessary for such purposes as stockpiling, will mean sharply increased Federal expenditures. For this reason, we should increase Federal revenues more sharply than I have previously recommended, in order to reduce the inflationary effect of the Government deficit.

There are two fundamental principles which must guide us in framing measures to obtain these additional revenues:

(A) We must make every effort to finance the greatest possible amount of needed expenditures by taxation. The increase of taxes is our basic weapon in offsetting the inflationary pressures exerted by enlarged government expenditures. Heavier taxes will make general controls less necessary.

(B) We must provide for a balanced system of taxation which makes a fair distribution of the tax burden among the different groups of individuals and business concerns in the Nation. A balanced tax program should also have as a major aim the elimination of profiteering.

At an appropriate time, as soon as the necessary studies are completed, I shall present to the Congress a program based on these principles to assure the financing of our needs in a manner which will be fair to all our citizens, which will help prevent inflation, and which will maintain the fiscal position of the Nation in the soundest possible condition.

As a further important safeguard against inflation, we shall need to restrain credit expansion. I recommend that the Congress now authorize the control of consumer credit and credit used for commodity speculation. In the housing field, where Government credit is an important factor, I have directed that certain available credit restraints be applied, and I recommend that further controls be authorized, particularly to restrain expansion of privately-financed real estate credit. These actions will not only reduce the upward pressure on prices, but will also reduce the demand for certain critical materials which are required for the production of military equipment.

Third, we must take steps to accelerate and increase the production of essential materials, products, and services. I recommend, therefore, that the Congress authorize, for national defense purposes, production loan guarantees and loans to increase production. I also recommend that the Congress authorize the making of long-term contracts and other means to encourage the production of certain materials in short supply.

In the forthcoming Midyear Economic Report, I shall discuss in greater detail the current economic situation, and the economic measures which I have recommended. If these measures are made available promptly, and firmly administered, I believe we will be able to meet military needs without serious disruption of the economy.

If we are to be successful, there must be sensible and restrained action by businessmen, labor, farmers and consumers. The people of this country know the seriousness of inflation, and will, I am sure, do everything they can to see that it does not come upon us. However, if a sharp rise in prices should make it necessary, I shall not hesitate to recommend the more drastic measures of price control and rationing.

The hard facts of the present situation require relentless determination and firm action. The course of the fighting thus far in Korea shows that we can expect no easy solution to the conflict there. We are confronted in Korea with well-supplied, well-led forces which have been long trained for aggressive action. We and the other members of the United Nations who have joined in the effort to restore peace in Korea must expect a hard and costly military operation.

We must also prepare ourselves better to fulfill our responsibilities toward the preservation of international peace and security against possible further aggression. In this effort, we will not flinch in the face of danger or difficulty.

The free world has made it clear, through the United Nations, that lawless aggression will be met with force. This is the significance of Korea--and it is a significance whose importance cannot be over-estimated.

I shall not attempt to predict the course of events. But I am sure that those who have it in their power to unleash or withhold acts of armed aggression must realize that new recourse to aggression in the world today might well strain to the breaking point the fabric of world peace.

The United States can be proud of the part it has played in the United Nations action in this crisis. We can be proud of the unhesitating support of the American people for the resolute actions taken to halt the aggression in Korea and to support the cause of world peace.

The Congress of the United States, by its strong, bi-partisan support of the steps we are taking and by repeated actions in support of international cooperation, has contributed most vitally to the cause of peace. The expressions of support which have been forthcoming from the leaders of both political parties for the actions of our Government and of the United Nations in dealing with the present crisis, have buttressed the firm morale of the entire free world in the face of this challenge.

The American people, together with other free peoples, seek a new era in world affairs. We seek a world where all men may live in peace and freedom, with steadily improving living conditions, under governments of their own free choice.

For ourselves, we seek no territory or domination over others. We are determined to maintain our democratic institutions so that Americans now and in the future can enjoy personal liberty, economic opportunity, and political equality. We are concerned with advancing our prosperity and our well-being as a Nation, but we know that our future is inseparably joined with the future of other free peoples.

We will follow the course we have chosen with courage and with faith, because we carry in our hearts the flame of freedom. We are fighting for liberty and for peace--and with God's blessing we shall succeed.


Note: On July 24 the White House issued a release announcing supplemental estimates of appropriations for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 1951 amounting to $10,486,976,000, and on August 4 the White House announced an additional estimate of supplemental appropriations of $1,155,930,000.

Harry S Truman, Special Message to the Congress Reporting on the Situation in Korea. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230983

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