Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador at Large (Jessup)

top secret
limited distribution

Subject: Korean Situation

Participants: The President
Secretary Acheson Secretary Pace
Secretary Johnson1 Secretary Finletter3
Secretary Matthews2 General Bradley4
Mr. Webb } State Dept.
Mr. Rusk
Mr. Hickerson
Mr. Jessup
Admiral Sherman5
General Vandenberg6
General Collins7

The persons listed above met with the President for dinner at Blair House at 7:45 PM. Before dinner General Bradley read a memorandum prepared by General MacArthur in which he emphasized his views about the importance of denying Formosa to the Communists.8

After dinner the discussion began around the table. The President called on the Secretary of State to open the discussion.

Mr. Acheson summarized the various problems which he thought the President should consider. The first point was the question of authorizing General MacArthur to supply Korea with arms and other equipment over and above the supplies of ammunition presently authorized under the MDAP program. He recommended that this be done. He suggested that our air cover should be used to aid in the evacuation of the women and children from Seoul and that our air force [Page 158] should be authorized to knock out northern Korean tanks or air force interfering with the evacuation. He then mentioned the resolution adopted by the Security Council and suggested that consideration should be given to what further assistance we might render to Korea in pursuance of this or a supplementary Security Council resolution. He next suggested that the President should order the Seventh Fleet to proceed to Formosa and prevent an attack on Formosa from the mainland. At the same time operations from Formosa against the mainland should be prevented. He said that he did not recommend that General MacArthur should go to Formosa until further steps had been decided upon. He said that the United States should not tie up with the Generalissimo. He thought that the future status of Formosa might be determined by the UN.

The President interposed “or by the Japanese Peace Treaty”.

Mr. Acheson finally suggested that our aid to Indochina should be stepped up.

General Bradley said that we must draw the line somewhere.

The President stated he agreed on that.

General Bradley said that Russia is not yet ready for war. The Korean situation offered as good an occasion for action in drawing the line as anywhere else and he agreed with the actions suggested by Mr. Acheson. He said that jets flying over her would have a great morale effect on the South Koreans even if they were unable to spot the North Korean tanks. He said that naval action could help on the East Coast. He questioned the value of sending materiel which the Koreans were not trained to use. He mentioned the F–51’s in this connection. He said that we should act under the guise of aid to the United Nations. He proposed that we should move fleet units now in Subic Bay. He thought it would probably not be necessary for them to shoot but that they might frighten off the North Korean amphibious forces. He questioned the advisability of putting in ground units particularly if large numbers were involved.

General Collins reported on a telecon with Tokyo. General MacArthur is shipping the mortars, artillery, and so on with ammunition. These supplies will reach the Koreans within the ten-day period for which they already have supplies. The F–51’s available in Japan for Korean pilots to fly back. The Korean pilots will be flown from Kimpo. General Collins urged that authority be given MacArthur to send a survey group to Korea.

Admiral Sherman said that the Russians do not want war now but if they do they will have it. The present situation in Korea offers a valuable opportunity for us to act. Korea is a strategic threat to Japan; this was the conclusion which he reached in his studies during [Page 159] the war when we were planning our attacks on Japan. He favored sending a survey group from Tokyo and increasing the strength of KMAG. He thought we should stop the use of the sea as a means of attack on South Korea. This was the logical corollary of the views stated by the Secretary of State. On Formosa he thought we must adjust our position to our general occupation position in Japan. He thought that MacArthur fitted into that situation as SCAP. He agreed, as had General Bradley, that in the Formosa operation we must apply our guarantees against military action both ways, that is to prevent attacks from Formosa as well as on Formosa. We could not otherwise justify our action. He said it would take two days to bring the fleet up from the Philippines. It need not be used if we decided against such action but the movement should be ordered now. He wished also to move some ships from the mainland as far as Pearl Harbor, for example, at least one carrier.

The President asked about Russian fleet strength in the Far East and Admiral Sherman gave him the details.

General Vandenberg agreed that we must stop the North Koreans but he would not base our action on the assumption that the Russians would not fight. He said that we could knock out the North Korean tanks with our air if only the North Korean air force is involved. However, Russian jets might come into action and they would be operating from much closer bases. In regard to Formosa he pointed out that all places were interrelated. Formosa was therefore important only in relation to other places.

The President asked about Russian air strength in the Far East.

General Vandenberg gave him the information including the fact that a considerable number of Russian jets are based on Shanghai.

The President asked whether we could knock out their bases in the Far East.

General Vandenberg replied that this might take some time. He said it could be done if we used A-Bombs.

Mr. Pace expressed doubts about the advisability of putting ground forces into Korea. He stressed the need for speed and for encouraging General MacArthur to take action.

Mr. Matthews also stressed the need for prompt action and said that we would get popular approval.

Mr. Finletter said we should go as far as necessary in protecting our evacuation. He expressed some doubt on the additional items which had been suggested by the Secretary of State. He said our forces in the Far East were sufficient if the Russians do not come in. He advised that only the necessary decisions be made that night. He thought that General MacArthur should be authorized to go beyond a mere evacuation. [Page 160] He stressed the analogy to the situation between the two world wars. He thought we should take calculated risks hoping that our action will keep the peace.

Mr. Johnson agreed with Mr. Acheson’s first recommendation concerning instructions to General MacArthur but thought the instructions should be detailed so as not to give him too much discretion. He thought there should not be a real delegation of Presidential authority to General MacArthur. He mentioned the three islands south of Okinawa in the Ryukyus which could be made ready in a few days as air bases. He pointed to the fact that they are already under our jurisdiction and said that the Formosan situation could be handled from them. He agreed with the views that had been expressed by Mr. Finletter. He was opposed to committing ground troops in Korea.

Mr. Webb, Mr. Jessup, Mr. Rusk and Mr. Hickerson made brief comments in amplification of Mr. Acheson’s statements.

The President confirmed his decision that the following orders should be sent:

General MacArthur was to send the suggested supplies to the Koreans.
General MacArthur was to send a survey group to Korea.
The indicated elements of the fleet were to be sent to Japan.
The Air Force should prepare plans to wipe out all Soviet air bases in the Far East. This was not an order for action but an order to make the plans.
Careful calculation should be made of the next probable place in which Soviet action might take place. A complete survey should be made by State and Defense Departments.

He stressed that we are working entirely for the United Nations. We would wait for further action until the UN order is flouted.

He wished the State Department to prepare a statement for a message for him to deliver in person to Congress on Tuesday9 indicating exactly what steps had been taken. He wished the Department to put its best brains on it and said that there were plenty of them there.

He said he was not yet ready to put MacArthur in as Commander-in-Chief in Korea.

He said our action at this moment would be confined to the United Nations and to Korea.

He said that our air was to continue to give cover for evacuation destroying tanks if necessary.

He asked whether more bazookas and possibly recoilless rifles could be sent.

General Bradley said that on the recoilless rifles we had few available and that there was also a shortage of ammunition.

[Page 161]

The President again emphasized the importance of making the survey of possible next moves by the Soviet Union. He also emphasized that no statement whatever was to be made by any one to the press until he speaks on Tuesday. It was absolutely vital that there should be no leak in regard to this matter and he wished everyone to be careful. They should not even make any background comment to the press.

Mr. Acheson pointed out that he and Secretary Johnson were scheduled to appear before the Congressional Appropriations Committee tomorrow and wondered whether any statements should be made on the Korean situation. The President said that he thought no comment on this question should be made by either of the Secretaries at that time.

Admiral Sherman inquired whether he had been authorized to move fleet units from California to Pearl Harbor.

The Presidint said that he was.

In response to further questions The President said that our air cover should take action against North Korean tanks if this were necessary.


Memorandum on Formosa, by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, Far East, and Supreme Commander, Allied Powers, Japan

top secret

Since the fall of 1948 when the military capability of the Chinese Communist to engulf all of the mainland of China became clearly evident I have been concerned as to the future status of Formosa and I have been convinced that the strategic interests of the United States will be in serious jeopardy if Formosa is allowed to be dominated by a power hostile to the United States.10 In my personal conversations with distinguished civilian and military representatives of the Government of the United States who have visited this Headquarters during the past eighteen months I have reiterated the premise that Formosa should not be allowed to fall into the hands of a potential hostile power or of a regime which would grant military utilization of Formosa to a power potentially hostile to the United States. On the 29th of May last I forwarded to the Joint Chiefs of Staff my estimate of the strategic consequences which would result from the capture of Formosa by the Chinese Communists.
The front line of the Far East Command as well as the western strategic frontier of the United States rests today on the littoral islands [Page 162] extending from the Aleutians through the Philippine Archipelago. Geographically and strategically Formosa is an integral part of this offshore position which in the event of hostilities can exercise a decisive degree of control of military operations along the periphery of Eastern Asia. In the event of a war United States striking forces based on this line would have the capability to interdict the limited means of communication available to the Communists and deny or materially reduce the ability of the USSR to exploit the natural resources of East and Southeast Asia. This essential capability on the part of the United States is dependent to a large degree upon the retention of Formosa by a friendly or a neutral power.
The geographic location of Formosa is such that in the hands of a power unfriendly to the United States it constitutes an enemy salient in the very center of that portion of our position now keyed to Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines. At the present time there is on Formosa a concentration of operational air and naval bases which is greater than any similar concentration on the Asiatic mainland between the Yellow Sea and the Strait of Malacca. Additional bases can be developed in a relatively short time by an aggressive exploitation of World War II Japanese facilities not now utilized by the Chinese Nationalist Forces. Formosa bases are 100 miles closer to Okinawa than any point on the Chinese mainland and are 150 miles closer to Clark Field and Manila than any other area which could be acquired by Communist military forces. An enemy force utilizing those installations currently available on Formosa could increase by 100 percent the air effort which could be directed against Okinawa as compared to operations based in China proper and at the same time could direct damaging air attacks with fighter type aircraft against our installations in the Philippines which are currently beyond the range of fighters based on the mainland of Asia.
As a result of its geographic location and base potential, utilization of Formosa by a military power hostile to the United States may either counterbalance or overshadow the strategic importance of the central and southern flank of the United States front line position. Formosa in the hands of the Communists can be compared to an unsinkable aircraft carrier and submarine tender ideally located to accomplish Soviet offensive strategy and at the same time checkmate counteroffensive operations by United States Forces based on Okinawa and the Philippines. This unsinkable carrier-tender has the capacity to operate from ten to twenty air groups of types ranging from jet fighters to B–29 type bombers as well as to provide forward operating facilities for the short-range coastal submarines which are predominant in the Russian Asiatic Navy. If Formosa should be acquired by the Chinese Communists and bases thereon made available [Page 163] to the USSR, Russia will have acquired an additional “fleet” which will have been obtained and can be maintained at an incomparably lower cost to the Soviets than could its equivalent of ten or twenty aircraft carriers with their supporting forces.
Current estimates of Soviet air and submarine resources in the Far East agreed to by both Washington and Tokyo military intelligence agencies satisfy me that the Russians have the capability to extend their forces southward from their present positions and still maintain an imposing degree of military strength in both the Maritime Provinces and the Chinese seaboard. The ability of the USSR–Chinese Communist hordes to meet promptly logistic requirements either by improvisation or by the import of critical materials from Europe is being demonstrated daily by military activities extending from Tientsin to the southern border of China. The interest of the USSR in the southward displacement of termini of the Trans-Siberian Railroad has been reported by competent observers whose information indicated that rail lines are being extended through China southward from the vicinity of Lake Baikal and eastward from Russia Turkestan in the vicinity of Alma Ata. A trans-Siberian railhead in the vicinity of Shanghai would materially assist in the logistic build-up of Formosa. Pending the actual outbreak of hostilities United States military forces will be unable to prevent the stockpiling of essential military supplies on Formosa if that area is acquired by the Communists.
Historically Formosa has been used as a springboard for military aggression directed against areas to the south. The most notable and recent example was the utilization of Formosa by the Japanese in World War II. At the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, Formosa played an important part as a staging area and supporting base for the various Japanese invasion convoys. The main strength of the forces which landed at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon were staged from Keelung, Takao, and the Pescadores. The supporting air forces of Japan’s army and navy were based on fields situated along Southern Formosa at Takao, Koshun, and Taichu. Takao also served as a staging area for the invasion of Java in February 1942. From 1942 through 1944 Formosa was a vital link in the transportation and communications chain which stretched from Japan through Okinawa and the Philippines to Southeast Asia. In 1944—45 Formosa was the key staging point for troops and air reinforcements deployed to the Philippines in preparation for the all-important operation to hold the Philippine areas. As the United States carrier forces advanced into the Western Pacific, the air bases on Formosa assumed an increasingly greater role in the defense scheme of the Japanese. After the invasion of Luzon in January 1945 the Japanese air forces withdrew to Formosan [Page 164] fields to take up forward operational positions to be used against our advancing forces. The military utility of Formosa is sharply underlined by the fact that Japan in 1941 controlled not only the Ryukyus but the entire eastern periphery of China.
In addition to its military value, Formosa has not only been self-sufficient as regards food for its own population of more than eight million but it has exported since 1910 with a favorable balance of external trade. In normal times Formosa held the position of a food surplus area in a generally food-scarce locality. Its prewar export of rice and wheat exceeded imports by approximately 600,000 metric tons annually. There is no reason to believe that able political and economic advisors cannot once more establish Formosa as a prosperous economic unit. Such a factor, particularly the availability of a food surplus, may be of considerable importance in reestablishing the economies of those Oriental nations now largely dependent upon United States assistance.
Formosa represents a political area of no less importance to western ideology than other areas in the Orient. The Taiwanese are a homogeneous racial group who as individuals have resisted the intrusion of foreign blood. Although Formosa was promised to China as a consequence of World War II this promise was given in consonance with a political situation entirely different than that which now exists. There is every basis from a moral standpoint to offer to the Taiwanese an opportunity to develop their own political future in an atmosphere unfettered by the dictates of a Communist police state. In view of the moral implications, as well as the geographic proximity of this area to other endangered peoples on and near the periphery of China, the future status of Formosa can well be an important factor in determining the political alignment of those national groups who have or must soon make a choice between Communism and the West.
There can be no doubt but that the eventual fate of Formosa largely rests with the United States. Unless the United States’ political-military strategic position in the Far East is to be abandoned, it is obvious that the time must come in the foreseeable future when a line must be drawn beyond which Communist expansion will be stopped. As a means of regaining a proper United States posture in the Orient it is apparent to me that the United States should initiate measures to prevent the domination of Formosa by a Communist power. I am equally certain that it would be a fundamental error with regard to any part of the Orient to fail to take appropriate measures in those areas still open to our influence.
At this time I am unable to recommend the exact political, economic and military measures which should be taken to prevent the [Page 165] fall of Formosa either into the hands of a potential hostile power or into the hands of a power who will grant military utilization of Formosa to a hostile power. It is my firm conviction that a realistic estimate of requirements can only be based upon a physical survey of the area made by experienced military, economic and political observers. I concur whole-heartedly with the recommendations made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 23 December 194911 to the effect that the Commander-in-Chief Far East should make an immediate survey of the need and extent of the military assistance required in Formosa in order to hold Formosa against attack. Although this recommendation was apparently not acceptable at the time to the National Security Council, I note that the Joint Chiefs reaffirmed this recommendation on 4 May 1950.
Formosa has not yet fallen to Communist domination. There are conflicting reports as to the capability and will of the Chinese Nationalist Forces as now constituted and equipped to prevent either the military or political conquest of the island of Formosa. I cannot predict what the cost may be of preventing Communist domination of that island, although I have advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff what the cost may be if such an event transpires. I am satisfied, however, that the domination of Formosa by an unfriendly power would be a disaster of utmost importance to the United States, and I am convinced that time is of the essence. I strongly believe that the Commander-in-Chief Far East should be authorized and directed to initiate without delay a survey of the military, economic and political requirements to prevent the domination of Formosa by a Communist power and that the results of such a survey be analyzed and acted upon as a basis for United States national policy with respect to Formosa.

Douglas MacArthur
  1. Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson.
  2. Secretary of the Air Force Thomas K. Finletter.
  3. Secretary of the Navy Francis P. Matthews.
  4. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  5. Adm. Forrest P. Sherman, Chief of Naval Operations.
  6. Gen. Hovt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff. U.S. Air Force.
  7. Gen. J. Lawton Collins. Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.
  8. General MacArthur’s memorandum is printed as an Annex to this document; it had been brought back from Japan by General Bradley and Secretary Johnson who had just returned from a trip to the Far East.
  9. June 27.
  10. For documentation on U.S. policy toward Formosa, see vol. vi, pp. 256 ff.
  11. Text in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. ix, p. 460.