Harry S. Truman photo

Statement by the President on the Decision To Withdraw U.S. Forces From Korea, 1947-1949.

October 27, 1952

LAST FRIDAY night in Detroit, the Republican candidate for President made a speech discussing the decision to withdraw United States occupation forces from Korea in 1949. That speech contained so many misquotations or quotations out of context that it was clearly an attempt to deceive the American people.

Among other things the candidate sought to create the impression that this decision was made over the objections of the professional military men of the United States. This is not true. The professional military men of the United States recommended the decision. General Eisenhower himself was one of the men who recommended the decision which he now so bitterly criticizes.

Here are the facts:

1. The text of the Detroit speech of the Republican candidate for President contains the following statement:

"The terrible record of these years reaches its dramatic climax in a series of unforgettable scenes on Capitol Hill in June of 1949. By then the decision to complete withdrawal of American forces from Korea--despite menacing signs from the North--had been drawn up by the Department of State. The decision included the intention to ask Congress for aid to Korea to compensate for the withdrawal of American forces."

This statement is a combination of falsehood and truth so interwoven as to create a completely false impression.

It is an attempt to blame the Department of State for a policy urged by the Department of the Army, a policy which General Eisenhower himself supported.

The withdrawal of American Forces from Korea was proposed in May 1947 by Secretary of War Robert Patterson, a Republican (Forrestal, Diary, p. 273).

In September of 1947, the State Department requested the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the maintenance of United States troops in South Korea. In its request, the Department of State pointed out that a stalemate had been reached with the Soviet Union over Korea, and stated that consideration was being given to what further steps should be taken to implement United States policy in Korea. In order that such consideration might include the basic elements, the Department of State requested, as a matter of urgency, the views of the Joint Chiefs regarding the interest of the United States in the military occupation of South Korea from the point of view of the military security of the United States.

The reply of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was transmitted by the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, in a memorandum which he sent to Secretary of State George Marshall on September 26, 1947. In this reply the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that the United States had little strategic interest in maintaining our troops and bases in Korea. The reply of the Joint Chiefs went on to explain that our limited military manpower could be better used elsewhere, and that the withdrawal of our forces from Korea would not injure the military position of the Far East Command unless, as a result, South Korea were used by the Soviets to build up strength for a major offensive against Japan. They pointed to the current situation in Korea, to the possibility of violent disorder there, and said our troops might be in an untenable position if trouble broke out. Taking all the factors together, the Joint Chiefs recommended withdrawal.

At the time this recommendation was made, the Republican candidate was Chief of Staff of the Army. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was responsible for this recommendation.

The State Department proceeded with its efforts to establish a united and stable Korea. With the advice of the Joint Chiefs in hand, it felt it could propose the termination of the military occupation by both sides. Accordingly, it proposed to the United Nations in October 1947, that elections be held in Korea looking toward the establishment of a united Korea and the withdrawal of all forces. The General Assembly adopted the resolution October 14, 1947. The United Nations endeavored to hold elections in all Korea but was rebuffed in North Korea and therefore held elections in South Korea only, and the Republic of Korea was established. The United States again went to the United Nations in the fall of 1948 and asked it to recognize the new government of South Korea and to call for the withdrawal of Soviet and the United States troops. Mr. John Foster Dulles handled this proposal in the United Nations. It was adopted by the United Nations in December 1948.

During 1948, the United States forces in Korea were reduced from about 40,000 to about 7,500 by withdrawal.

During this period, the State Department requested the Department of Defense to hold up further withdrawals of our troops, pending United Nations action and further examination of the Korean problem.

Accordingly, after the adoption of the United Nations resolution and after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in December 1948, a new study was made of all the aspects of the Korean problem, including the withdrawal of the remaining United States forces. It was decided in March 1949 to make the withdrawal not later than June 30, 1949, and to ask Congress to authorize a substantial program of economic and military assistance for Korea.

This decision was not arrived at, as the Republican candidate has alleged, by the State Department alone. On the contrary, the State Department was reluctant to agree unless it was clear that the armed forces of the Republic of Korea would be adequately equipped by the time of withdrawal. The military gave assurances on this point, but urged that withdrawal take place not later than June 30, 1949, regardless of other factors. The President after long and careful consideration accepted the advice of the military.

The decision was finally agreed on in the National Security Council and approved by the President with the full advice and concurrence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The National Security Council did not make this decision until the advice of General MacArthur had been obtained. His advice was to the effect that the state of training and combat readiness of the South Korean forces was such as to warrant completing the withdrawal of United States forces. When General MacArthur was testifying before the Joint Armed Forces and Foreign Relations Committees of the Senate in 1951, he was frank to confirm the fact that he had concurred in the withdrawal.

The position of the professional military men was made plain before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 21, 1949, during the hearings on the Korean aid legislation which had been introduced that year. In those hearings the following questions and answers appear:

"Mr. Richards. I just want to ask one question: Is it your position, General, taking into consideration world conditions as they are, taking into consideration potential enemies of the United States, but leaving out political considerations and matters of policy, that it would not be wise to keep troops in Korea? In short, that is your position?

"General Timberman (representing the Chief of Staff of the Army). Yes, sir; it would not be wise.

"Mr. Richards. That is all.

"General Timberman. I would ask these other gentlemen.

"Admiral Wooldridge (representing the Chief of Naval Operations). I concur.

"General Hamilton (representing the Chief of Staff of the Air Force). I concur fully and that has been the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has been unanimous. There has been no difference as far as I know."

"Mrs. Douglas. I would like to ask the representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this question: Do I understand correctly that the Chiefs of Staff advise the withdrawal of troops from Korea at this time?

"General Hamilton. That is correct.

"Admiral Wooldridge. That is correct.

"General Timberman. That is correct."

(Hearings on H. R. 5330, pp. 177, 178.)

It is clear that the decision to withdraw the troops was made with the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was accepted by the President. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Chief of Staff of the Army when the Joint Chiefs of Staff first recommended the withdrawal of troops from Korea in 1947 and the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the same in June 1949.

I do not say that the decision to withdraw the troops was wrong. It was made with knowledge of the facts and of the risks and dangers involved. But I do say that if it was wrong, then General Eisenhower's advice was wrong. This past record offers little basis for the claim that he could bring about a settlement of the Korean conflict now.

I say, too, that his effort to shift responsibility to the Department of State for a recommendation which was his originally, is thoroughly dishonest.

2. The text of the Republican candidate's speech includes the following passage concerning hearings before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, in June 1949:

"Republican Congressman John Lodge of Connecticut asked '(do) you feel that the Korean Government is able to fill the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the occupation forces ?'

"The administration answered, 'Definitely.'"

This passage occurs after reference to the fact that the civilian and military witnesses before the House Committee "were headed by the Secretary of State." The clear implication is that the Secretary of State either gave or was responsible for this answer "Definitely" to Representative Lodge. This is not true. The answer was given by a representative of the Army.

Here is the full text of the series of questions and answers as they appear at pages 142 and 143 of the House Hearings:

"Mr. Lodge. I understood you to say that the Army favored withdrawal from Korea.

"General Bolte. Definitely. That is withdrawal only of the tactical units. Not withdrawal from Korea. We still propose the advisory group and the continued assistance, but I am speaking only of the withdrawal of the tactical forces, which now has become only a reinforced regimental combat team.

"Mr. Lodge. How large an advisory group would you contemplate?

"General Bolte. Five hundred officers and men.

"Mr. Lodge. You feel that the Korean Government is able to fill the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the occupation forces?

"General Bolte. Definitely."

Maj. Gen. Charles L. Bolte was then Director of the Plans and Operations Division, Department of the Army.

General Bolte's superior, at the time he delivered this testimony, was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Combat Operations, Lt. Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer.

3. In describing the testimony of the administration before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June 1949, the Republican candidate, in his speech, makes the following statement:

"The Secretary of State was asked if he agreed that the South Koreans alone--and I quote--'will be able to defend themselves against any attack from the northern half of the country.' To this the Secretary answered briskly: 'We share the same view. Yes, sir.'"

This is misleading on several counts.

In the first place, this testimony was not given before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June 1949. It was given before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 1950. It had no bearing on the withdrawal of our troops from Korea, since all our occupation troops had been withdrawn some 8 months before.

In the second place, this testimony was given in support of the administration's request for economic aid to Korea--it was not part of an examination into the military capabilities of the South Koreans.

In the third place, this testimony has been misquoted. The full and accurate version of the colloquy in which the Secretary's remark appears is as follows:

"Senator Smith, N.J.: I would like to ask you this question, Mr. Secretary. As you know, I was in the Far East last fall and got to Korea. Before I got there, when I was in Japan, I discussed this with various persons and there seemed to be a feeling that the Korean situation was difficult on account of the military situation and it might not be possible for them to defend themselves against a possible attack from the north.

"When I got to Korea I was entirely converted to the Korean program. I was entirely satisfied that at least for the present they were in shape to defend themselves against any possible invasion from North Korea. However, of course, they would be in jeopardy if the Chinese Communists attacked them, or if Russia got her hand into that situation. But for the present, at least, we were justified even in an expenditure of as large a sum as $100 million because with the Army we have trained and our military advisers, they probably will be able to defend themselves against any attack from the northern half of the country.

"Am I correct in that statement, do you feel ?

"Secretary Acheson: We share that same view. Yes, sir."

(Hearings of the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 81st Cong., 2d sess., on S. 3101, p. 361.)

4. Going back into the history of our decisions with respect to Korea, the Republican candidate in his speech refers to the report of Lt. Gen. Albert Wedemeyer, on the situation in the Far East, which was submitted in 1947 before the Joint Chiefs of Staff made their initial recommendation of withdrawal. The Republican candidate quotes the following passage from this report:

"The withdrawal of American military forces from Korea would result in the occupation of South Korea by either Soviet troops, or as seems more likely, by the Korean military units trained under Soviet auspices in North Korea."

The text of the speech continues:

"That warning and his entire report were disregarded and suppressed by the administration."

The facts are as follows:

General Wedemeyer's report included a general discussion of the alternative policies available to the United States in Korea. A reading of the report shows clearly that the Republican candidate has quoted the above passage entirely out of the context in which General Wedemeyer wrote it. In its context, this passage does not refer to a planned and deliberate withdrawal of our troops. General Wedemeyer is describing the consequences of a termination of U.S. aid to Korea. This would, in his view, bring about such disorders as to compel the withdrawal of our troops, and would result in the Communist occupation of South Korea.

The termination of our aid was one of .the alternative policies discussed and rejected in the Wedemeyer report. After taking up other alternatives, General Wedemeyer made some policy recommendations.

At the conclusion of the report, he dismissed the alternative of withdrawing our troops immediately, and the alternative of maintaining them in Korea indefinitely. Instead, he recommended that our troops be withdrawn concurrently with those of the Soviet Union. On this point the language of his report is as follows:

"It is recommended that United States withdrawal from Korea be based upon agreements with the Soviet Union to effect proportional withdrawals, with as many guarantees as possible to safeguard Korean freedom and independence."

This, in effect, was the policy finally adopted by this Government, and carried out with the approval of the United Nations. General Wedemeyer, in his report, made several other recommendations regarding continued economic and military assistance to Korea. Those recommendations were carried out. Virtually, the only one of his recommendations which was not carried out was that calling for the provision of United States officers for the South Korean constabulary. The Wedemeyer report was made public in the MacArthur hearings.

The speech of the Republican candidate for President is therefore completely untrue in implying that General Wedemeyer was opposed to an ultimate withdrawal of United States troops, and in stating that the recommendations of General Wedemeyer were disregarded.

Later on, during the MacArthur hearings, in 1951, General Wedemeyer was asked by Senator Johnson of Texas whether he had agreed with our decision to withdraw troops from Korea. General Wedemeyer replied, "I did, sir," and added that it had been done for economic reasons, and was "just a question of not having enough bodies to go around." (Record of Hearings, p. 2327.)

5. The Republican candidate for President refers to a minority report of five Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 26, 1949. He quotes passages of this report dealing with the military preparations of the Communists in North Korea.

Several points should be made with reference to those passages in the speech.

First, the issue in the June 1949 hearings before the House Committee was not whether the United States should or should not withdraw its forces. With the approval of General Eisenhower, that withdrawal, by then, had been all but completed.

The issue before the committee was whether the Congress should authorize a program of economic aid to the Republic of Korea, which the administration was requesting. Such a program had been called for by General Wedemeyer, and its importance had been recognized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It had been considered an essential part of our Korean policy by the National Security Council. Without it, there was no hope for the survival of South Korea.

The minority of five Republicans were against this essential help to Korea. Their report was in effect a recommendation that we write off and give up the Republic of Korea. Congressman Judd did not sign this minority report. Three of the five who did, were Congressmen who usually followed the isolationist line. Three of them later voted against giving even military aid to Korea, when they voted against the Mutual Defense Assistance Act.

Far from being far-seeing statesmen, as the Republican candidate implies, this minority of five Republicans was working against our policy of resistance to communism in Asia.

Their refusal to support economic aid for Korea was in the face of an urgent request made to the Committee by Secretary of State Dean Acheson on June 23, 1949, when he testified that failure to give such aid would send "a shiver of fear all through the Philippines, all through southeast Asia, India and all other parts of the Far East."

Largely as a consequence of Republican opposition, no Korean aid bill was enacted in 1949. It was more than 6 months later, in February 1950, before a bill providing aid to Korea could be passed over the Republican opposition. By that time, of course, the delay had already had damaging effect in Korea.

Note: See also Items 295 [ 8], 323.

Harry S. Truman, Statement by the President on the Decision To Withdraw U.S. Forces From Korea, 1947-1949. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230944

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