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The Confederate Lawyer
June 24, 2010

The Cold War
Part I: Truman and a Bad Start

by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — The Cold War officially lasted over 46 years, from September 2, 1945, to December 26, 1991. Neither the duration nor the extent — hundreds of millions of people living under terrible tyranny — was inevitable. During the first 35 years, many opportunities for victories were turned into humiliating defeats for liberty. Only in the last years of the Cold War did the tide turn in favor of freedom.

The first Cold War President was Harry S. Truman, who inherited a world war in which the Soviet Union was our ally. He also inherited a State Department that Roosevelt had packed with over 80 communist party members, spies, and collaborators. Truman clearly did not share the pro-communist sympathies of Roosevelt, but he was very slow in recognizing and timid in fighting the danger.

By 1946, the United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan, had warned Truman of the danger of communist expansion. Despite this warning, Truman allowed Czechoslovakia, Albania, and the mainland of China to fall to the communists. Only after these losses did he wake up to the danger and take effective measures to prevent more of Europe — especially Greece, Italy, and France — from coming under communist power. He also refused to surrender West Berlin.

The State Department developed the doctrine of “containment.” This doctrine, which abandoned any attempt to liberate countries already captives of the Soviet Union, did seek to prevent further expansion of Soviet tyranny. The two alternatives to containment were friendship with the communists, advocated by Henry Wallace in his 1948 Presidential campaign, and victory over communism, advocated by Generals Douglas MacArthur and George Patton.

The communist understanding of containment, however, was quite different from that of the State Department. The communists regarded everything they had enslaved as theirs and everything still free as negotiable.

Truman never completed the task of removing the communists from the State Department, and he often allowed them to continue in non-sensitive government jobs. Although he occasionally vacillated, he usually followed the policy of containment, ceding all the captive nations to the enemy.

The Korean War was the central foreign policy event of the Truman years. Following Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s statement that the United States would not defend South Korea, North Korea promptly invaded the South. Acting through the United Nations, the United States then went to war to defend South Korea. Truman and the State Department initially wanted to fight only as far as the old border between North and South Korea, but the daring strategy of General MacArthur brought us into the North so fast that Truman had to accept a war throughout the country.

Truman was strongly opposed to risking a war with communist China. Due to an intelligence failure, communist China’s entry into the war took us by surprise as we were on the verge of a complete victory. This entry provoked a disagreement between Truman and MacArthur, who already disliked each other. MacArthur favored making the Yalu River between Korea and China an impassible barrier, mainly by bombing all the bridges. He also favored air pursuit of Chinese forces and planes into China.

Truman’s State Department members were afraid to pursue China into its sanctuary, and the Korean War ended in a stalemate. Truman favored a negotiated truce. MacArthur favored a united and free Korea protected by a defensive line along the Yalu River. When MacArthur communicated his views to Congress, Truman relieved him of command.

The Korean War united most of the American people in a strongly anti-communist bond. Most Americans were alarmed at the number of communists in the State Department and at the successes of Soviet espionage in America, such as those of the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and the Amerasia spy ring. The people were much more anti-communist than Truman, who decided not to run for reelection in 1952.

Many hoped that the 1952 election would be a turning point in the Cold war. (to be continued next week)

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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