357 AD/10—2752

The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Dear Dean: I called General Bradley this morning at David’s1 request with reference to your telephone conversation with Mike Pearson.2 I emphasized to Brad the dynamite contained in Mike’s suggestion should word of it get around. I emphasized that you and all of us here are fully aware of the unacceptable military dangers involved in Mike’s proposal and said that you were looking for “ammunition” to be used in your reply to him. I said that Alex Johnson would be glad to work with anyone he designated on a memorandum giving reasons why we could not go along with Mike’s proposal. He agreed and I am enclosing the resulting memorandum which has been cleared with Bob Lovett and General Bradley. I hope it will meet your needs in talking to Mike.3

Your Korean speech was really magnificent. My heartiest congratulations and best of luck in the trying days ahead.

Very sincerely,

[Page 565]


Memorandum by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (Johnson) 4


To seek a cease-fire after the proposed UN resolution on Korea has been transmitted to the Communists and is being considered by them would be fraught with the utmost danger for the military position of the UNC and actually jeopardize whatever possibilities there may be of obtaining an acceptable armistice. Aside from the serious fallacy that the Communists could be expected to reach a reasonable agreement on the POW issue in the absence of military compulsion when they have not done so under military compulsions, there are a number of other specific objections.

Under the assumption that this suggestion envisages the putting into effect of a simple cease-fire without any of the safeguards envisaged in the draft armistice agreement, the hostilities to be renewed if the Communists do not favorably consider the UN resolution there would be the following objections:
For the UNC to seek a cease-fire under such circumstances, and particularly in the face of the recent stepped-up ground action, could only be interpreted by the Communists as a sign of weakness in the UNC military position, a weakness which, in fact, does not exist, and would probably lead Communists to the belief that continued intransigence on their part will result in the eventual complete and formal abandonment by UNC of its position on POWs, thus producing an armistice on Communist terms.
A cessation of air attacks over North Korea would remove what is probably the principal factor that might impel the Communists to agree to an acceptable armistice.
A cessation of air attacks would permit the Communists to repair and rebuild the air fields in North Korea so that at the end of any cease-fire period the UNC would be faced with a large and possibly even overwhelming Communist air force stationed on bases within Korea within easy striking distance of UNC forces and installations, which has not been the case thus far. This charge would subject our front line troops to air attacks with possible heavy casualties.
A cessation of air attacks would permit the Communists unmolested to rebuild and restore railroads, roads, bridges and other lines of communication so as to permit the transportation and support of a military force considerably larger than that which they are now able to supply and maintain in Korea.
A cessation of air and ground reconnaissance would enable the undetected concentration of Communist forces, thereby jeopardizing the security of the UNC. Inability of the UNC to attack such concentrations [Page 566] would constitute further jeopardy to the security of UNC forces.
A temporary cease-fire which does not lead to a permanent armistice would produce severe adverse psychological effect upon the UNC forces.
Thus, the end of any such cease-fire period could well mean that there would be a reversal of the present military situation, i.e., the Communists would have overwhelming military superiority over the UNC and the UNC would be faced with agreeing to an armistice entirely on Communist terms, or stand in danger of forcible ejection from Korea. There is, of course, the corresponding danger that such a situation would inevitably lead to an enlargement of the conflict.
Under the assumption that this suggestion envisages the putting into effect of all provisions in the draft armistice agreement except those pertaining to POWs, acceptance of this suggestion would in fact be a complete capitulation to the oft-repeated Communist propaganda line that an armistice be entered into without any agreement on prisoners and that question be deferred to “discussion in a calmer atmosphere”. The Communists are of course confident, and perhaps with reason, that, if they succeeded in obtaining UNC agreement to such a proposition, the pressures for obtaining return of UN prisoners held by them would be so overwhelming as to cause an abandonment of the UNC position on non-forcible repatriation.

The principal factor favorable to the United Nations Command in the present situation is the air superiority which it holds over North Korea. The principal factor favorable to the Communists is the desire of the United Nations Command to obtain the return of United Nations POWs held by Communists. A cease-fire without agreement on POWs eliminates the principal factor favorable to the United Nations Command position and leaves all advantages to the Communists. Since the Communists have failed to agree to the UNC position on POWs in a situation in which the military advantage lies with the UNC, it could hardly be expected that the Communists will agree to the UNC position on POWs in a situation where that advantage has been lost.

  1. David K. E. Bruce, Under Secretary of State.
  2. See the memorandum by the Secretary, supra .
  3. Pearson noted in his Mike, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson , vol. 2, p. 316, that reaction in Washington to his idea for a “Truce of the Assembly”, as he described it, “was entirely negative. The Pentagon especially thought that it was a most dangerous suggestion and would do far more harm than good if accepted.”
  4. A marginal notation on the source text indicated that this memorandum was shown to Pearson. It was drafted in the Department of the Army and by U. A. Johnson, who concurred for the Department of State. It also had the concurrence of Generals Collins and Bradley and Secretary Lovett.