Memorandum by the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Merchant) to the Deputy Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (McClurkin)

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Confirming what I said the other day, I discussed the substance of the attached memorandum with Messrs. Matthews and Nitze. We are all three agreed that the launching of the major Communist offensive in Korea should be regarded and publicly described as the Communist answer to our efforts to resume the armistice negotiations, and hence constitutes the definitive breaking off of such talks by the Communists. [Page 920] I think the Ambassadors understand this and I think further from my conversation with General Bradley last Saturday1 that the JCS hold a similar view.


Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs (McClurkin) to the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Merchant)

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[Subject:] Possibility of Major Communist Offensive in Korea

There has been much speculation as to the reason for the Communist recalcitrance in the armistice discussions, their failure to resume the talks and their obvious build-up for what might well be a major offensive. One seemingly logical reason is that the Communists may attempt to drive the United Nations forces back to the 38th parallel, or even south of that line, and then indicate their readiness to resume discussions. If the talks were to resume under such conditions, when United Nations forces are clearly at a military disadvantage, the Communists would undoubtedly again take the position that the 38th parallel is the de facto and only logical demarcation line and that the arguments of the UN Command’s representatives that an armistice must be based on a militarily defensible line are without foundation, since they had proved that no line can be really defensible. An attack which succeeded in driving us back to the parallel and a renewed Communist offer for a settlement at the 38th parallel might well create a demand by American and foreign public opinion to accept the Communist terms.

Present instructions to General Ridgway emphasize that, if the talks are to be broken off, the responsibility for such action must be made to rest with the Communists. In the event of a massive offensive designed to drive us to the 38th parallel or further south and a Communist refusal to accept another locality for the peace discussions, it would appear that the United Nations Command might better accept the responsibility for breaking off negotiations than to incur the risk outlined above. It is better that we terminate negotiations while in a relative position of strength, as we are now, and at the moment when it is clear that the Communists have launched a new, major offensive and when a continuance of the negotiations is obviously futile, rather than during a tactical withdrawal towards, or south of, the 38th parallel.

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If it is deemed advisable to terminate peace discussions under such conditions, General Ridgway should be directed to issue a statement pointing out that the Communists’ repeated fraudulent charges of United Nations violations of the neutrality zone, their unwillingness to discuss a realistic military armistice, coupled with a simultaneous massive build-up, including the introduction of not only new Chinese Communist and North Korean forces but also Caucasian puppet troops, and the launching of an offensive, proves beyond doubt that they entered the discussions for no other purpose than to gain time in which to strengthen their forces for further aggression. The announcement should state that he is, therefore, breaking off armistice discussions.

In order to determine the necessity and advisability of adopting the suggested course of action and to determine whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff should now direct General Ridgway to break off the discussions at such time as it is determined that a major Communist offensive has been launched, it is recommended that the Department:

Consult with the Department of Defense in order to determine whether UN forces are considered to have the capability of holding the present line in the face of an all-out attack;
Determine whether a possible break-off of negotiations should now be discussed with the Ambassadors of the participating countries, and whether they should be notified in advance of any announcement;
Determine whether, if a break-off in the armistice negotiations is effectuated, the courses of action which have been proposed in the event there is no armistice also come into effect;
Review and develop a program of public information and psychological preparation for the break-off in the peace talks to place the blame clearly on the Communists and to justify our action.

With respect to paragraph 3 above, consideration should be given particularly to that portion of the proposed courses of action which provides for the lifting of restrictions against the bombing of the Yalu dams and the adjacent power installations. It must be remembered that, if these dams are bombed in order to effect their total destruction, our bombers will be exposed on many occasions to attack by the enemy, who will enjoy a privileged sanctuary inasmuch as the principle of “hot pursuit” comes into effect only in the event of a massive enemy air offensive. It is believed that such bombing, continued over a prolonged period of time, will inevitably lead to a demand by the Air Force and the American people that our pilots be allowed to pursue the enemy into Manchuria and China and destroy him wherever they find him. In this case, our guiding principle of localizing the conflict to the Korean peninsula will no longer be applicable.

  1. September 15; see the memorandum for the files by Merchant, dated September 17, p. 917.