Memorandum of Conversation, by the Counselor of Embassy in the Philippines (Flexer2)3

Mr. Sebald4 had opportunity to present the personal letter,5 which Mr. Kennan6 had addressed to General MacArthur,7 at a private conversation with the latter on the evening of December 6, 1948, the day of my arrival at Tokyo. SCAP opened and read the said letter in Mr. Sebald’s presence but did not reveal the contents to the latter beyond remarking that it left him at sea regarding the purpose of my unannounced visit to Japan. My reception was arranged for the following morning, December 7. Mr. Sebald accompanied me to headquarters at the arranged time and left me alone with the General when the presentations had been made.

The General was informed of the desire of a certain few of the high policy-making officers of the Department to have the benefit of his frank personal views upon the potential effects upon our defense plans in the western Pacific, in view of the cessation of effective opposition to the advance of the Communist armies in North China, of the possible passage of the government in Formosa to the Communists or to a group dominated by or subservient to the Communists. For background, I sketched briefly my understanding of the then-current political situation in Formosa, as hastily gathered before emplaning for Tokyo, but without mention of exploratory thoughts upon our position should Dr. Wei Tao-Ming8 (or General Sun Li-jen9) declare Formosan autonomy or ask to be taken under the wing of the United Nations upon Chiang’s10 fall.

General MacArthur needed no urging. The subject evidently is close to his heart and mind.

From the strategic standpoint, he said vehemently, to permit the access of an unfriendly power to Formosa would be to invite rupture of our whole defense line in the Far East. Our Okinawan spearhead [Page 264] would be under immediate and constant threat and would be untenable or dangerously undependable.*

SCAP sketched our line of defense: Dutch Harbor-Ryukyus (Okinawa)-Marianas (Guam-Saipan), with the Philippines (Clark Field-Fort Stotsenberg) as an auxiliary base (Note that the military usage of Japan was not suggested). With its most easterly war plants concentrated in the Urals and with its dependence for transport placed in a single-track Trans-Siberian railway, Russia, he said could not have mounted an amphibious offensive through that line within 50 years from ports within its proper territory.

The situation was changed for the worse—from the point of view of United States strategy—when Manchuria fell to the Communists and is further progressively worsening as the Communists advance down the coast of China, thus endangering the entire “left” of the line.

Adequately developed, equipped and manned, the Okinawa base itself, by the use of air power alone, could keep inoperable any air fields in eastern Asia from Vladivostok to Shanghai and could accomplish the destruction of any amphibious forces which might be embarked at ports along that coastal strip. However, SCAP strongly states, Okinawa is not being developed, aircraft are being withdrawn despite his remonstrances, ground forces are negligible. Now, assuming pursuit of the Communist advance southward from the Yangtze Kiang or the passage otherwise of South China (with Formosa) into Communist control, the advantages are about to go over to the potential adversary.

Of course, SCAP emphasized with what seemed to touch upon bitterness, if the United States has no intention of developing and holding on to its position on Okinawa, our present concern for Formosa would appear to be misplaced. He said that repeated strong recommendations to the Pentagon concerning the situation in the Pacific had been fruitless. He had even had improperly to make use of Japanese materials and resources for necessary air-field construction for which funds were not forthcoming from Washington; housing of military dependents was deficient and deplorable, contributing to the general dissatisfaction of personnel with the station. Naval forces in the Far East had been weakened dangerously; a bomber group was even then in the process of withdrawal from Okinawa for European service and a force of fighters from Guam was being transferred to the Canal Zone; [Page 265] altogether, the fighting strength in the Pacific was less than on the day of Pearl Harbor.

While the Pentagon came in for most criticism for restricting its foreign outlook to the European situation, SCAP does not clear State from responsibility for allegedly holding over decision upon the future political status of Okinawa, thus delaying outlays for the island’s military development (I remain impressed that SCAP’s opinion comes from a hectographed paper—possibly of JCS origin—dated later than the NSC document of October, 194811).

It is to be noted that SCAP expressed no thought of necessity or desirability of establishing United States bases on Formosa. His concern, like State’s, is that Russia (and presumably any other non-Chinese foreign power) shall not be permitted to establish itself on or to have the usage of the facilities of that island.

It is also to be noted that we are all indulging the assumption that a Communist-dominated government in China automatically would invite the USSR to base military activities upon Chinese territory. Does this necessarily follow?

F[ayette] J. F[lexer]
  1. Fayette J. Flexer, Counselor of Embassy in the Philippines en route to the United States for assignment to the Department.
  2. Copy transmitted by the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth) to the Acting Secretary of State on January 6, 1949.
  3. William J. Sebald, Acting Political Adviser in Japan.
  4. Not found in Department of State files.
  5. George F. Kennan, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  6. Supreme Commander, Allied Powers in Japan (SCAP) and Commander in Chief, Far East (CinCFE).
  7. Chinese Governor of Taiwan.
  8. Commander in Chief of the Chinese Army Training Headquarters on Taiwan.
  9. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China.
  10. Northeastern Chekiang Province, on the mainland, likewise would seem to offer a threat to Okinawa and the Ryukyus from the air, being only little more distant therefrom than is Formosa.

    There are some 50 paved air-strips on Formosa, of which the four largest have 5000–foot runways. The harbor and naval base at Takao in southwestern Formosa is said to have easily sheltered the whole Japanese fleet on occasion. [Footnote in the source text.]

  11. NSC 13/2, October 7, 1948, regarding United States policy toward Japan, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. vi, p. 858.