Monday, November 1, 2010

Why MacArthur Failed to Appreciate the Chinese Threat - A Structured Analytical Study

Late last year I wrote a research paper on why General MacArthur failed to appreciate the Chinese intent to enter the war.  I ran across it again as I was going through my prior research for my newest classes and decided to post it here.  Be advised, it's a structured analysis piece so it's heavy on sourcing and was my first attempt at a systematic method of historical analysis.  Enjoy:

MacArthur at Inchon Landing
In 1950, the armies of the Communist Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (North Korea) crossed the 38th latitudinal parallel into the free Republic of Korea, initiating a three-year long war that would mark the first time the tensions of the cold war would erupt into actual, force on force, conventional warfare.  Even though it is sometimes known as the “Forgotten War” many books have been written on the Korean War (Blair 1987).  This research project will of course explore the causes of the conflict, yet to fully appreciate the reasons for the war, one would have to devote substantially more an amount of time and research into producing a much weightier tome than is possible in this course.  Instead, this author will focus on one aspect of this cold, bitter period of history.
After the United Nations forces were viciously thrown back into the southern quarter of the Korean peninsula in that summer of 1950, the armies of the allied forces recovered in establishing the Pusan perimeter and eventually managed to push back the invading North Korean forces to their original line of demarcation, the 38th Parallel.  MacArthur’s brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon, sliced the North Korean’s forces in two and acted as an anvil for the hammer of the regrouped forces pushing up from Daegu in the south.  But, rather than stopping after liberating Seoul and pushing the North Koreans back to within their borders, MacArthur pushed forward, driving the Communists all the way to the border of China:  the Yalu River.  But before MacArthur could push the fighting remnants of the North Koreans into Chinese territory, Mao unleashed his forces he had earlier marshaled at the border into the UN lines, severely mauling the allies.  MacArthur and his forces were caught entirely unprepared and suffered staggering defeats.
It is here where this study will pause and ask why?  What caused such a catastrophic failure in intelligence or imagination?  What could be the reasoning behind General MacArthur not anticipating this crucial, historic event?  For all his prior military brilliance and illustrious career, MacArthur’s legacy is forever marred by this horrific act of incompetence.
The purpose of this study is to answer these compelling questions.  “Why is this important?” one may ask.  The failures leading up to the entrance of the Chinese in this war have very similar parallels to other intelligence failures in this nation’s history.  This incident begs other fairly difficult questions similar to those asked by critics of the Iraq War waged by George W. Bush.  If answers can be found through intelligent analysis of the facts surrounding the events of 1950, then the lessons learned from said analysis would greatly benefit today’s decision makers and guardians of national security.
Literature Review
In preparing for this research project this author has turned to five different primary sources of information.  They range from the massive epic on the war by Clay Blair to the alternative viewpoint by the self-avowed communist, New York Post writer I. F. Stone.  They include both the Korean point of view, as well as the American.  The Communist and the Capitalist both will be considered.
There are many works on the history of the Korean War and there are equally many on the causes of the war.  However, this author did not uncover any work that answers the key question of why MacArthur missed the warning signs of the impending Chinese intervention.  It is this author’s hope that a thorough culling of the selected source material will uncover enough historical evidences to prove one of several hypotheses to be proposed later in this paper.
The first work and the work that initially spurred this author’s interest in this subject is by David Halberstam.  In 2007, Halberstam published The Coldest Winter – America and the Korean War.  In it, he vividly paints a broad picture of the conflict that focuses in on every aspect of the war without losing sight of the overall view.  He tells the story of the war from the perspective of the soldiers on the ground and the marines in the mud.  He relates it from the view of the newly created Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He explains it from the sometimes contrarian point of view of the State Department.  Halberstam explains the caustic relationship between Chairman Mao Tse Tung and the Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin.  He does an extremely good job describing the inner workings of MacArthur’s staff in Tokyo.
The Coldest Winter was written from a collaborative point of view.  Halberstam sourced most of his material from other written works but also relied extensively on personal interviews conducted with participants, mostly American, of the battles portrayed in the book.  Halberstam portrays MacArthur in a very balanced manner.  He gives substantial credit to his obvious military tactical and strategic genius, but does not hold back when it comes to his failures.  He claims MacArthur “believed one war would be much the same as the next” (Halberstam 2007, 372) and that “he did not ask questions; that would imply there was something he did not know” (Halberstam 2007, 370).  In regards to why MacArthur misread the Chinese threat, ultimately, Halberstam probably believed MacArthur thought his force of will alone would ensure the Chinese did not enter the war.  This point of view is evident in this quote:  “MacArthur was focused on limiting and controlling the sources of intelligence.  His desire was to have no dissenting or even alternative voices on his watch.  It was always important to him that his intelligence reports blend seamlessly with what he had intended to do in the first place” (Halberstam 2007, 374).  This author did not see any blatant bias in any of Halberstam’s work on Korea, though his parallels on events in the war in Vietnam seemed a little left-leaning in its politics (Halberstam 2007, 652-656).
The second volume studied for this project is The Forgotten War, by Clay Blair.  It is a massive volume and also draws its information from earlier historical works as well as interviews with combatants and memoirs of the key leaders during that time.  As it was written in 1987, it does not contain much in the way of points of view from the Chinese or the North Korean side.  It may therefore be somewhat biased in that it discounts additional information that was released by the Chinese government following its publication that Halberstam may have had access to.
Blair’s has three possibilities, or combinations thereof, for MacArthur’s misjudgment.  First, that MacArthur’s intelligence chief, Brigadier General Charles Whilloughby believed that if the Chinese were going to enter the war, they would have already done so prior to October 1950.  “If the CCF (Communist Chinese Forces) were going to enter the war, it would have done so much earlier – perhaps in defense of Pyongyang – before the NKPA (North Korean Peoples’ Army) had been utterly shattered and had abandoned all viable defensive positions” (Blair 1987, 375).  The second possibility is that MacArthur believed if China did intervene, the massive technological superiority of air power the UN forces had over China would be overwhelming (Blair 1987, 376).  In this view, MacArthur believed the Chinese were held back for fear of being cut to pieces by Allied air power.  The last theory posed by Blair is what he calls the “MacArthur factor: … MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war in Korea.  Anything MacArthur wanted, Willoughby produced intelligence for” (Blair 1987, 377).
The third book involved in this study is one written by Bruce Cummings, The Origins of the Korean War.  This author selected this work to provide historical and cultural context to the overall study.  Mr. Cummings approaches the war from an anthropological point of view.  Because the hypotheses this study will look at deal with the frame of mind of General MacArthur, if one wishes to know how MacArthur viewed the Orient, it is important to know the Asian world as well.
Mr. Cummings believes the origins of the war are not so much in the traditionally acceptable views of Communist versus Capitalist, East versus West, but rather one that is entirely Korean.  He postulates the war originated out of a not-so-unique ex-colonial power vacuum (Cummings 1987, xxi).   This point says many parallels can be drawn between this conflict and the proxy battlefields of Angola and Israel.  The 38th Parallel was a line drawn arbitrarily; geographically separating two ethnically homogenous peoples and imposing two diametrically opposed ways of life upon them.  As Yugoslavia, most of Africa, Germany, and Israel have similarly testified, this situation is untenable and one must give.  In 1950, it did.
Cummings states the stage was set for the crisis on the Korean peninsula at the Potsdam conference near the end of World War II.  “A key document said, ‘with reference to clean-up of the Asiatic mainland, our objective should be to get the Russians to deal with the Japs in Manchuria (and Korea if necessary)’” (Cummings 1987, 117).  In this statement, the Western Democracies let it be known that it would allow the Soviets, and by extension, Communist China, to influence politics on mainland Asia.  This is one of the key reasons why the Chinese viewed the US involvement in the war as interference in Asian affairs.
The only bias Mr. Cummings may have is his work does seem to be mostly from the Korean point of view.  Though it is a widely inaudible voice especially in the West, it is there none-the-less.
President Truman
The fourth source is from the well-known American Communist journalist I. F. Stone.  His book is titled The Hidden History of the Korean War – 1950 to 1951.  Mr. Stone was quite aware of his reputation.  In an era of McCarthyism, it took much courage to level the kinds of allegations towards the Western leaders as he did.  With this in mind, he prefaced his work by stating the majority of his sources were official United Nations and United States documents and respected international news media (Stone 1952, xxi).  One sensational charge Stone levels is that MacArthur downplayed, if not disregarded completely, intelligence reports indicating the North Korean intentions to invade in June 1950 (Stone 1952, 58, 59).  Stone also alleges MacArthur purposefully delayed his planned offensive until November 24 1950, so that it would coincide with the official arrival of the Chinese peace delegation to Lake Success (Stone 1952, 185).
This author believed Mr. Stone gave a fairly accurate portrayal of events in his book.  Factually, it stands on its own merits.  However, the explanations and conclusions he makes regarding the decisions surrounding the escalations of the conflict should be subject to review.
The last work studied for this project is Refighting the Last War, by historian D. Clayton James.  In this book, James explores the critical variable of command in this conflict.  He provides character studies of President Truman, General MacArthur, General Ridgeway, General Clark, and Admiral Joy, all key commanders of UN forces (James 1993).
James approaches this study by examining how the fighters of the Korean War used the lessons they all had learned from their experiences in World War II.  Essentially, he claims the “American forces went for such extreme objectives as annihilation of the enemy army, total war, decisive victory, and unconditional capitulation” (James 1993, xii).  Regarding the specific question of how MacArthur misread Chinese intentions, James helpfully states that MacArthur was authorized by Washington to only advance north of the 38th parallel in order to destroy the NKPA, thereby shoring up the South’s ultimate defense.  This would have given MacArthur free reign to pursue the Communist forces across the original lines of demarcation.  However, there was a crucial restraint given from the White House.  National Security Council Directive 81 essentially stated that UN forces would not be allowed to cross the border if the Soviets or the Communist Chinese moved into North Korea first.  This directive would have handcuffed MacArthur’s forces had the truth of the Chinese deployments were known to Tokyo headquarters (James 1993, 181, 182).
This author could detect no real bias in James’ work.  His conclusions seem grounded in solid logical reasoning and are based upon factual evidence.  James’ volume is very well-sourced.  He draws upon numerous biographies of the key leaders portrayed in the book.  His notes also show many personal interviews were conducted with the key personalities, including General Ridgway himself.
Theoretical Framework
With these works in hand, this study moves on to discussing the knowledge gaps in the literature.  These are not gaps necessarily but questions for which there are multiple, differing answers in the literature gathered for this study.  The first is did General MacArthur desire war with China?  This is quite a vital question that must be answered.   Much of the initial data seems to indicate so, yet this would seem patently ludicrous.  The second question is did MacArthur wish for a total war, utilizing nuclear weapons?  If this question were answered satisfactorily, the reasons why he misjudged the Chinese threat would seem obvious.
The next question that begs to be asked is was he truly ignorant of the Chinese threat or did he just disregard it?  If MacArthur was kept in the dark deliberately by his staff, it would indeed call into question the efficacy of the command structure of that period.  If he was ignorant, it would take much of the historical onus off of MacArthur for this bungling, and place it at the feet of an incompetent bureaucratic staff model.
The final gap is what role his ego played.  Like General George S. Patton, and Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, MacArthur had an ego with a gravitational force on par with planetary objects.  How much did the “MacArthur factor” play into his mismanagement of the Chinese entry into the war (Blair 1987, 377)?
The method this author has chosen to test hypotheses for why MacArthur misjudged the Chinese threat is the Heuer Method of Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) (Heuer 1999).  In this method, several hypotheses will be posed as possible solutions to this particular intelligence problem.  Evidence either in support of or not in support of the various hypotheses will be gathered.  The individual items of evidence will, in turn be analyzed and weighed for their effect on the overall model.  Once the hypotheses are stated, the evidence is gathered, and the evidence weighted, they will be graphically portrayed on a matrix with the hypotheses comprising the horizontal axis and the various items of evidence making up the vertical axis.  Numerical values will indicate which pieces of evidence support which hypothesis.
One the matrix is assembled, the analytic work begins.  Evidences that tend to have no influence on any hypothesis will be thrown out.  Likewise, evidences that have equal amounts of sway over all hypotheses will be thrown out.  Once this is accomplished, the residual numerical value will be totaled and the hypothesis with the highest number will be the chosen explanation for this method.
Now that the literature has been reviewed, the theoretical model selected, this study moves on to the hypotheses being tested.  This author has established three hypotheses for why MacArthur misjudged Chinese intentions so terribly.  The first theory is that MacArthur did it out of ego or hubris.  From initial survey of the material, this may be the most popular view taken by historians.  Many believe MacArthur’s thought process worked in this manner:  he did not wish the Chinese to participate in this war, therefore, they would not.  Blair states that at least MacArthur’s staff was guilty of this fallacy of logic (Blair 1987, 377).
The second theory that must be considered is that MacArthur truly was ignorant of the threat China posed to his forces as he drove north.  This hypothesis seems to insinuate that MacArthur surrounded himself with yes-men left over from his glory days in World War II.  As was typical for that era in the military, MacArthur was given free rein to choose his staff.  The staff that served him in his early days on the Philippine islands prior to World War II was the same cast that catered to his whims in Tokyo in 1950 (Halberstam 2007, 129).
The last theory that will be tested is that MacArthur’s misjudgment was in fact deliberate.  This theory states that MacArthur deliberately ignored or downplayed intelligence and allowed his forces to fall into the ambush that was prepared for them by the tens of thousands of soldiers of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA).  This hypothesis reflects some common anecdotal sentiment of the time.  General Patton himself thought that war with the Communists was inevitable as evidenced by this famous quote from the self-titled movie on his World War II exploits “We're going to have to fight the Russians eventually anyway. It might as well be now while we've already got the army here to do it” (The Internet Movie Database 1970).  It is therefore not a difficult stretch of the imagination to believe that MacArthur wished for war with the Chinese.
Research Design
Prior to assembling the matrix and conducting the analysis, a study must be performed on the variables involved in this study, how the evidences will be collected, which additional sources are to be used, and any limitations, biases, and assumptions will be identified.  These steps are absolutely vital in that they ensure the quality and transparency of the sampled data.

Independent Variables
1.        MacArthur’s overconfidence.
2.       MacArthur’s relationship with Joint Staff.
3.       MacArthur’s relationship with Truman.
4.       MacArthur’s relationship with his staff.
5.       MacArthur’s Intelligence Staff manipulation of the intelligence.
6.       MacArthur’s staff overconfidence in MacArthur
7.       MacArthur’s opinion on the escalation of the war.
8.       MacArthur’s value placed on human cost in American lives.
9.       Quality and quantity of available intelligence.
10.    MacArthur’s knowledge of the Chinese threat prior to the invasion.
11.    MacArthur’s knowledge level of China.
12.    MacArthur’s toleration or intolerance of differing opinion.
13.    Chinese tactical ability to avoid UN surveillance.
14.    MacArthur's view on future of Western/Communist relations
-Table 1
This author has identified 14 individual independent variables that affect the one dependant variable.  The dependent variable is China entering the war and surprising MacArthur and the UN forces.  The independent variables are outlined in Table 1.  Because this study has few sources and little to know traditional data points, it is vital to identify in what manner the variables will be evaluated.  In traditional studies concerning demographics, economics, trade, etc, it is much easier to utilize statistical analysis methods.  With the very subjective nature of these variables, however, a more qualitative analysis must take place rather than the more straightforward, mathematical quantitative analysis.
This qualitative analysis assigns the method of how the variables will be evaluated.  The options to choose from include nominal (a simple true/false evaluation), ordinal (a method in which multiple permutations of the variable can be assembled in hierarchical order), interval (in which the permutations can be expressed with a numerical value indicating the precise difference between the permutations), and ratio (exactly the same as interval with the exception that ratio contains a zero point) expressions.  This process is called operationalizing the variables (Research Methods in Intelligence Studies - Lesson Notes n.d.).  Because this study is very qualitative, this author operationalized all the independent variables as nominal or ordinal.
This author used purposeful sampling to collect evidences.  Initial research into the subject had identified two primary sources of study.  They were the Halberstam book that originally caught the author’s interest through personal reading, and the Blair book.  These two works were chosen due to the anecdotal recommendations by the historical community.  These two works are the most quoted in other works that this author came across.  This author furthermore chose the James book based on its viewpoint of character studies of key leadership personalities of UN forces and Washington policy makers.   The author chose this work to include a more insightful point of view to the personalities of the actors involved.  Two additional sources, the Stone book and the Cummings book were selected based upon their divergent opinions and points of view from the conventionally accepted.  These two serve as a check upon the others.
Narrative analysis has been the only method of data collection.  Due to the vast amounts of sources the selected authors drew upon, this author is comfortable with the variety selected.  The sources cited by the authors include copious quantities of secondary literature, official government and military records, and quite a few personal interviews with conflict combatants and even a few with key leaders during that time period.
In addition to the five primary book sources, this author has also utilized other, shorter articles concerning the subject obtained from the internet.  These articles are primarily from excerpts from electronic books that were not physically available to the author.  This author has also leaned on other sources including World War II histories, a history of strategic intelligence at the Presidential level, and academic books covering intelligence analysis.  Most of these works have served as background study references and may not be cited within the body of this paper.
As discussed earlier, this author has chosen the Heuer Method of Analysis of Competing Hypotheses as the model to conduct this study.  This author chose this method primarily because the most intuitive explanation for the events surrounding the Chinese entry into the war is an amalgamation of the popular hypotheses to be tested herein.  Because numerical values are assigned to the support, or lack thereof, to the hypotheses, the Heuer Method allowed an integral comparison of the scores of the various hypotheses.  This allows the consumer of this product to make their own conclusions after being presented with the analytic work demonstrating how each hypothesis is supported, and to what extent.  For this study it is superior to other methods, in that it is very useful for historical studies (whereas the Lockwood method is more appropriate for predictive studies) and it provides that integral comparison of the hypotheses, whereas other models, rational choice theory, for example, depend on a simpler, cause and effect analysis with one or two key actors.
This study’s only limitation was the amount of time available to this author.  Many, many scholarly books have been written on the subject and government records from that time, including formerly classified ones, are available today.  One person cannot possibly consume the totality of written work on the subject in seven short weeks.  However, because of the sources selected, this author is confident the final results of the study would not significantly differ even if extra time were possible.
Bias in this study has been dealt with by assigning weights to the evidences.  Evidences that are based upon factual information and have the backing of more than one original source have been given a higher weight than subjective conclusions made by single sources.  These single sources of information are not discounted however.  A theory that conventional wisdom states is unlikely and may even smack of conspiracy does not necessarily exclude it from the realm of possibilities.  However, it does not mean it should be weighed with the same gravity as official, factual sources, documented by multiple individuals.  The actual weights applied to the evidences gathered are found in their own column in the ACH matrix.
                The extremely complex interactions of the primary actors in this case make a simple but comprehensive finding nearly impossible.  Indeed, this author anticipated nearly each of the gathered evidences to be supportive of one or more of the proposed hypotheses.  This was this author’s preconception prior to the project.  Rarely is one singular reason for action the solitary compelling cause for such a massively important event.  However, upon conducting the analysis portion of this study, certain trends become evident, giving legitimacy to combinations of these hypotheses.  As an administrative note, the ACH matrix can be found in Appendix A, and the detailed listing of the variables and the evidences gathered in Appendix B.
Hypothesis One:  MacArthur's mistake was his ego and hubris.  He did not wish the Chinese to enter; therefore they would not.
This hypothesis seemed the most compelling to this author prior to the study.  If nothing else is known about Generals Patton and MacArthur or Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, is they were all highly confident, bordering on arrogant, commanders with unquestionable self-confidence that led to several moments of tactical stupidity (MacArthur and Halsey) or heartlessness (Patton).  So to this author, it was fairly obvious that MacArthur’s hubris would play a significant part in his miscalculation on the Chinese threat.
As shown earlier in Table 1, this author identified 14 dependent variables that would support or not support the three hypotheses presented.  For hypothesis number one the evidences demonstrate that seven of these 14 variables support this hypothesis.
MacArthur’s overconfidence is the first of these variables supporting the hypothesis.  This author discovered four separate evidences supporting this variable.  The first evidence was MacArthur’s overconfidence in his abilities.  He declared that if the Chinese did in fact invade, they would be defeated “with overwhelming air power” (Blair 1987, 347).  The second evidence shows that MacArthur understood the Chinese threat prior to the invasion.  He and his staff were aware of the pre-invasion staging of Chinese units moving north through Manchuria up to the North Korean border (Halberstam 2007, 387).  Almost contradictory to this, but supporting his ego nonetheless is the evidence of MacArthur’s conviction that the Chinese would not actually invade.  MacArthur informed President Truman on two occasions during their summit on Wake Island prior to the Chinese incursion that there was “very little” chance of the Chinese crossing the Yalu (Blair 1987, 347, 348).  Next, MacArthur’s flawed beliefs on China support his overconfidence.  Stone suggests that MacArthur purposefully delayed his November 1950 offensive until the 24th, when it would coincide with the arrival of the Chinese peace delegation (Stone 1952, 185).  Lastly, for this variable, the evidence of MacArthur’s history of insubordination supports this hypothesis.  In the Pacific Theater of World War II while MacArthur made his case to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for liberating the Philippines south of Luzon, rather than Leyte and Luzon only, he had already begun amphibious operations in support of the campaign (James 1993, 30-33).  This is a course of action that would be standard for MacArthur through the end of that war and through the Korean conflict as well.
The second and third variables in support of hypothesis one is MacArthur’s relationship with the Joint Staff and the Truman administration.  Both these variables had the same evidences supporting them.  MacArthur’s overconfidence in his abilities as referenced in the prior paragraph, the fact that the Truman administration as well did not believe the Chinese would invade, the Truman administration’s and the Joint Staff’s support for defeating the North NKPA in North Korea, the Soviet United Nations delegate sending unclear signals to the US delegation concerning the invasion of North Korea, MacArthur’s blatant disobedience of the administration’s policy, and the aforementioned history of MacArthur all support the variables in that MacArthur sought the approval of his superiors but privately had made the prior movements and coordination that made their approval a fait accompli.
The fourth variable is MacArthur’s staff’s overconfidence in their commander.  The facts that MacArthur’s staff knew of the Chinese deployments north of the Yalu, that they ignored that threat, that MacArthur himself was overconfident in his forces’ capabilities, and that MacArthur’s staff did not believe the Chinese would invade support this variable.  Because this overconfidence was probably contagious from the command climate MacArthur had created, this variable is assigned a slightly lower weight.
The author gave the most weight to the fifth variable supporting hypothesis one.  This variable is MacArthur’s knowledge level, or lack thereof, of China.  MacArthur’s previously stated overconfidence, his definitively flawed beliefs of the Asian psyche, his preconceived conviction the Chinese would not invade, and the contributing lack of strategic intelligence on China support the fact that MacArthur was truly ignorant of the Communist Chinese mind.  This author believes he erroneously applied his extensive knowledge of the Filipino and Japanese to the Chinese.  This was a tremendous error of projection on the part of MacArthur and heavily contributed to the support of this hypothesis.
The sixth variable is MacArthur’s toleration or intolerance of differing opinion.  The evidences that support his intolerance are that he did not believe the Chinese would invade, no matter what his staff or the evidence said, and that no one in MacArthur’s senior staff believed the evidence of the burgeoning Chinese force in North Korea when it was reported.  MacArthur’s goal was to have no intelligence that did not support his preconceived positions on anything (Halberstam 2007, 374).
The last variable in support of hypothesis one is that the Chinese simply disappeared once they crossed the Yalu.  Their skill at moving undetected made the airborne reconnaissance platforms of the UN forces useless.  “The Chinese moved mostly by night, on foot, and were not detected” (Blair 1987, 349).
General Almond - MacArthur's Chief of Staff
                The evidence does indeed seem to support this hypothesis.  MacArthur had a history of insubordination, tremendous ego, a large overconfidence issue, and a few breathtakingly spectacular tactical successes like the amphibious invasion at Inchon that supported those character weaknesses.  The evidence clearly supports hypothesis number one.  It received a numerical score of 603.  To what extent it does can be determined by examining the remaining two hypotheses.
Hypothesis Two:  2:  MacArthur was ignorant of the Chinese threat.  His staff kept him ignorant.
This hypothesis takes the most favorable look at MacArthur.  How could one blame him if the fault lay with his staff?  If MacArthur was truly ignorant of China’s impending invasion, he should not have been held as personally responsible as history has held him.  Prior to this study, this author thought this hypothesis to be the most unlikely.
Surprisingly, to this author, this hypothesis was supported by six variables.  Even more surprisingly, two of these variables supported both hypotheses one and two.  These were the MacArthur’s staff’s overconfidence in MacArthur and the Chinese ability to avoid surveillance.
This leaves four other variables in support of hypothesis two.  The first of these is MacArthur’s relationship with his staff.  The evidences that make up this variable include his staff’s ignoring the Chinese threat due to their overconfidence, MacArthur not believing the Chinese would invade, MacArthur’s staff not believing they would invade, and most damningly, MacArthur’s staff doctoring or downplaying intelligence to meet his preconceived beliefs.
The second variable is MacArthur’s Intelligence staff manipulation of the intelligence.  The same evidence that supported the immediately previous variable, also applies here.  MacArthur’s staff routinely downplayed intelligence in order to fit his preconceptions.  Also supporting this variable is the fact that his staff did not believe the intelligence themselves.  His staff held so firmly to the beliefs of MacArthur, they did not allow their job of intelligence gathering and reporting, to upset those preconceptions.
The third variable supporting hypothesis two is the quantity and quality of available intelligence.  Like the above variable, the evidence of MacArthur’s staff disbelief of the intelligence gathered on the increasingly large Chinese presence on the Korean peninsula also supports this variable.  The quality of this intelligence was doubted in the eyes of MacArthur’s staff which, no doubt, led the downplay of the importance of that information.  Also, the evidence of the lack of strategic intelligence in China contributed to this variable’s support for hypothesis two.
The fourth and final variable in support of this hypothesis is MacArthur’s knowledge of the Chinese threat prior to their entry into the war.  This variable is supported by the fact that MacArthur’s staff knew the threat by from intelligence gathered prior to their entry.  It is also supported by the fact that this threat was ignored by MacArthur’s staff because of their overconfidence in his abilities.  The last evidence supporting this variable is the fact that the staff did not believe the reports following the Chinese invasion.  It follows that if MacArthur’s staff did not take seriously the Chinese threat, they would not take seriously the initial, sketchy reports of the invasion.
With these evidences in hand, this hypothesis seems to work as well.  What greater amplification of MacArthur’s character flaws than to be surrounded by a staff of ‘yes-men’ who did nothing to disrupt the aura of grandeur surrounding their general?  Clearly MacArthur’s staff suffered from the same illusions as MacArthur.  Both fell victim to hero-worship and did not consider with any gravity, any evidence that would disrupt that indulgent service.  If hypothesis one is true and hypothesis two is supported by the evidence as well, it gives a perfectly rational explanation of this perfect storm that formed in the fall of 1950.  Hypothesis two received a similarly high numerical value of 462.
Hypothesis Three:  MacArthur's mistake was calculatedly deliberate.  He desired war with the Chinese.
This author believes hypothesis three is usually occupied by the extreme left and extreme right of the historical society.  The left will use this hypothesis as a damnation of ideological, colonial/imperial belligerence.  This point of view is ludicrous because only men of war truly understand how tremendously awful it is and at what a human cost it is waged.  The ultra, militaristic-right will likewise seek to use it to lionize one of their own:  a crusader against Communism who would escalate that confrontation to nuclear war if necessary.  Sober minded citizens can only shake their heads and wonder, “at what cost?”  The image of Dr. Strangelove comes to mind when listening to these types.
This author did not honestly know what to believe prior to embarking upon this study.  He had always been in awe of MacArthur’s military triumphs and older, historical military histories paint a glorious landscape of his exploits.  However, Halberstam’s book raised a lot of questions, with the root of this hypothesis being one of them.  And, if one took that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, did MacArthur genuinely want war with China or the Soviet Union?  MacArthur surely knew of the Soviet’s recent development of their own A-bomb (Andrew 1995).  Did he want nuclear war over an ideology?
With these questions in mind, this author evaluated hypothesis three with much interest.  Rather surprisingly, this author found that this hypothesis was supported by only three variables.  They are MacArthur’s overconfidence, his toleration or intolerance of differing opinion, and his view on the future of Western and Communist relations.
This first variable also supports hypothesis number one in the same manner.  The evidences include MacArthur’s staff knowledge of the Chinese threat prior to the invasion, MacArthur’s overconfidence in his abilities and his strategic beliefs, his flawed views on China, his belief that the Chinese would not invade, and his history of misleading his superiors.  MacArthur’s overconfidence cannot help but support this hypothesis.  The ensuing stalemate of conventional fighting in Korea demonstrates that MacArthur did underestimate the enemy’s capabilities.  Yet only an irrational human being would belligerently provoke and risk war with a nuclear-armed adversary in the Soviet Union.
The second variable is MacArthur’s toleration or intolerance of differing opinion.  This variable is supported by the fact that MacArthur did not believe the Chinese would invade.  Given the nature of the hypothesis this seems counterintuitive, however, it speaks to MacArthur’s nature, rather than the circumstances.  This evidence supports the toleration factor which in turn supports the hypothesis.  His stubbornness is evident in this variable which is a significant contributing factor to this hypothesis.  The next piece of evidence supporting this variable is the fact that MacArthur’s senior staff did not believe the evidence of the Chinese invasion.  This evidence also speaks to MacArthur’s obstinacy to dissenting views.
The third and final variable has to do with MacArthur’s view on the future of Western and Soviet or Communist relations.   MacArthur and Truman both were steeped in the lessons of World War II.  Many felt and still do feel that the worst of that war could have been prevented, at least in the European Theater, by confronting Hitler’s aggression in his seizing of the Sudetenland.  Instead, the Western democracies appeased his appetite, sending him the signal that he could annex Austria and invade Poland with no consequence.
It is not surprising therefore, to think that many, especially in the growing in influence Republican Party, believed Communism had to be confronted militarily at the soonest possible point.  It is in this context then, that MacArthur stated -“’Our first line of defense for Western Europe is not the Elbe, it is not the Rhine – it is the Yalu.  Lose there and you render useless the effort to implement the North Atlantic Pact or any other plan for region defense’” (James 1993, 34).  It is this evidence of MacArthur’s belief that the first armed conflict between the West and Communism would take place in Asia.
This author does not believe the evidence supports this hypothesis.  Its numerical score was 227.  Although it is certain an aspect of this affected MacArthur’s actions, it is not the most compelling reason.
MacArthur miscalculated so poorly due to his extreme overconfidence combined with an atmosphere of a subservient staff who bought into that overconfidence and perpetuated it by not allowing facts contradictory to MacArthur’s beliefs into the equation.  The smashing success at Inchon, the adoration of key Republican leaders in Congress, the relationship he had with the Joint Staff and Truman with the lessons of appeasement from World War II, and his erroneous projection upon the Chinese psychology all fed this overconfidence.  Hypotheses one and two, when combined, provide the most compelling reason for why MacArthur behaved the way he did.  This author believes hypothesis number three was not a compelling reason, however the evidence supports that MacArthur accepted armed conflict with the Chinese or possibly, the Soviets, as a fait accompli.  He did not actively seek warm but viewed it as inevitable, accepted it, and pursued it with vigor.
At the outset, this study proposed to determine the reasons for why MacArthur and the UN forces were so badly surprised and unprepared for the vicious Chinese attack in the fall of 1950.  The UN seemingly willingly walked into the trap set for them by Mao’s PLA.  This author proposed three hypotheses as to why that surprise occurred.  Either MacArthur’s overconfidence and belief that his force of will alone would prevent a Chinese entry to this war was responsible, MacArthur’s ignorance arising from his shielding by his staff to the true nature of the Chinese threat was to blame, or MacArthur simply disregarded the threat and actively sought armed conflict with the Communists as an ideological confrontation.
The study showed that the gathered evidence supported components of all three of these hypotheses with MacArthur’s hubris and his staff’s contribution to his ignorance as the two key factors.  It also showed that MacArthur, rather than actively seeking war with China, as only a truly mad individual would, accepted it as a possible consequence to aggressively pursuing Truman’s doctrine of Communist containment.
This study is extremely applicable to today’s leaders at the strategic level.  Halberstam (insert quote on repeat of Vietnam and Iraq)… It is a pattern of intelligence failures from which US national policy makers have not yet learned.
It is also a lesson in the folly of hero worship.  Though many admire and respect General David Petreaus for his counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, it would be a mistake for Americans to blindly follow him down a path solely based upon his past achievements were he ever to again be in that kind of command position.  Though this author has no empirical evidence to support this following statement, it follows that the lessons national leaders learned from MacArthur in the Korean War led to the two to three-year tours of duty as a commander and a consistent turnover of one’s staff.  This is a thoughtful solution to the kind of cult-like devotion to one’s commander that can develop.
A further lesson to be learned is that words do mean things.  Signals both intentional and unintentional are always sent whenever key leaders open their mouths.  When Stalin gave his blessing to Kim Il-Sung to invade South Korea, surely Stalin did not anticipate the US entry into the war because they assumed from the statements made by the State Department that Korea did not fall under the US Pacific defense plan (Halberstam 2007, 48).  When China sent a clear message via India’s ambassador that they would not tolerate an invasion of North Korea, US policy makers did not take it seriously (Blair 1987, 336).
The final lesson to be learned is the severe consequences that can arise from a failure to truly know one’s adversary.  The US leadership from Truman down did not believe the Chinese would invade because they did not know their enemy.  The evidence has shown that MacArthur did not understand the “oriental mind” as he had claimed (Blair 1987, 335, 336).  The evidence also shows that many key decisions were made in a strategic intelligence vacuum (Blair 1987, 338).  The failure to have accurate, reliable human intelligence at the strategic level is a failure that repeated itself in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
In conclusion, there are several unanswered questions for which this author believes further study would be enlightening.  These include:  What role did the vociferous domestic ‘China lobby’ play in this misjudgment?  What role did domestic politics, McCarthyism, and the charges that Truman was soft on Communism play?  What role did MacArthur’s future political ambitions (or lack of them) play?  What role did continuing US support for the Chaing Kai-Shek Chinese Nationalist government in exile on Formosa play?  To what extent did the misjudgments of Communist Chinese military preparedness, equipment, training, manning, and morale play after a brutal and vicious fight against the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s and the civil war with the Nationalist armies from 1945-1949?
These are just several of the questions that if examined and explained using structured analytical methods would provide further clarification and context to the events surrounding the Chinese entry into the war in October 1950.  And as the lessons of this study have shown to still have applicability in today’s strategic environment, the revisiting of these historical cases are vital to national self-interest.

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Halberstam, D. The Coldest Winter - America and the Korean War. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2007.
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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Although there are many books on the Korean War, it does seem to be a lost war, being subsumed by the Vietnam War by many people's understanding. A contributing factor here is the lack of discussion in secondary schools of 20th century history in general.

    The minority view that he desired nuclear war is clearly an extremist view and it is interesting that your qualitative numerical analysis bore this out.