Tag Archives: truman

From the halls of Montezuma

I had never fully understood what those words in the Marine Corps song really meant, until I read A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States.

After a fitful start to the Mexican War, American soldiers ended up occupying Mexico City, in the heart of the country. Interestingly, the Mexican government, then re-located 100 miles north,  pondered their options. One idea was to arm the peasants and begin a guerilla war. However, the elites thought so little of that idea, that an idea to surrender the entire country for annexation by the U.S. carried more weight.

The war ended with California, most of Arizona and all of New Mexico going to the U.S., along with the southern border of Texas being settled in America’s favor. The war also served gave combat experience to the generals on both sides of the Civil War.

Harry Truman was the first American president to visit Mexico City since the occupation in 1847. He laid a wreath at the monument to Los Ninos Heroes, 6 teenage cadets who had died defending Chapultepec Castle. As one Mexican engineer said at the time, “One hundred years of misunderstanding and bitterness wiped out by one man in one minute. This is the best neighbor policy.”


Why we still have troops in Korea

With the current budget issues and the extension of our forces around the world, it’s easy to wonder why we don’t pull forces from Germany and South Korea.  After all, those wars were fought more than half a century ago.

It’s also easy to look at the Korean War from the rear view mirror, with Vietnam in between. The Korean War can be seen as the start of a questionable pursuit of the domino theory…American forces can’t fight every war.

However, it’s useful to look at the American context in June 1950, when the North Korean forces launched their attack to forcibly reunite the countries.

The last American forces had pulled out of South Korea a few months before, having been there since WWII. In fact, the artificial boundary of the 38th parallel had been determined the delineation for the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea. Those south would surrender to the U.S., those north to the U.S.S.R.

Only 9 months before, China had fallen to the Communists. The month before that had been the revelation that the Soviet Union now had nukes. Stalin’s blockade of Berlin had ended in May 1949, due to the success of the airlift. So the Soviets were clearly pushing the cause of Communism anywhere they could.

The fear of Communism was exacerbated by domestic politics. In February of 1950, Sen. Joseph McArthy began waving his supposed list of 205 Communists in the State Department.

So in light of all of that, it’s not surprising that American response to the North Korean invasion was swift and determined. Given the 1950 invasion was initiated by Kim Il Sung, the father of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong Il, it’s not a huge surprise we still have soldiers there.

(Related anecdote…while deployed in West Germany in 1990 during my stint in the Army, I came across a sergeant who had recently returned from duty along the DMZ. He had pictures of dead North Korean soldiers from a firefight along the border. Apparently, it was not unheard of for firefights to break out between patrols on opposing sides. I’m not sure if that’s still the case, but it’s possible. I don’t have similar stories from serving on the East-West German border, but there certainly were tensions between patrols on both sides.)


Given the current deadlock over raising the debt ceiling, we tend to think Washington is more partisan than any other time in the country’s history. However, you don’t have to go too far past our nation’s founding to see bitter debates about the direction our country should go. Jefferson and Adams were bitter rivals before their rapprochement later in life.

But intense partisan divisions can also be found in the mid-20th century. Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (then 70) during the Korean War triggered a howl of protests across the nation. MacArthur had openly called for pulling Chiang Kaishek’s forces from Formosa to help take on the 250,000 Chinese Communist soldiers who had poured into North Korea once MacArthur went north of the 38th parallel.

The domestic response was intense, although Truman did have his supporters.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, circa WWII. MacArthur was one of America's few five-star generals, and the commander of American forces in the Pacific when he was fired by Truman during the Korean War. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.

“A freshman Democrat from Oklahoma, Senator Robert Kerr, rose to defend the president. If the Republicans believed the nation’s security depended on following the policy of General MacArthur, Kerr said, then they should call for a declaration of war against Red China…

“But such voices were lost in a tempest of Republican outrage. The general’s dismissal was ‘another Pearl Harbor,’ a ‘great day for the Russian Communists.’

“In New York, two thousand longshoremen walked off their jobs in protest over the firing of MacArthur. A Baltimore women’s group announced plans for a march on Washington in support of the general. Elsewhere, enraged patriots flew flags at half-staff, or upside down. People signed petitions, fired off furious letters and telegrams to Washington. In Worcester, Massachusetts, and San Gabriel, California, Truman was burned in effigy. In Houston, a Protestant minister became so angry dictating a telegram to the White House that he died of a heart attack.” – from David McCullough’s Truman

Certainly, the 24-hour news cycle stokes the partisan fires. Personally, I choose to stay away from the cable news. However, if they have commentators that call Obama a dick, I don’t have a problem with that. I’d like to hear why they think Obama’s a dick, because they may have valid reasons for thinking so. Don’t fire a commentator for providing commentary.

As far as the politicians go, I’d like to see both parties compromise to move this country forward. Scoring political points is no good if we can’t fix the problems facing this great nation.