Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetsen

General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952. more

New York City, New York
November 21, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Bendetsen Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Bendetsen Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetson

New York City, New York
November 21, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Bendetsen, at the conclusion of our last interview we had reached a point in time, January of 1950, when you were appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Army. At the time you became Assistant Secretary, what was your evaluation of the strength and degree of preparedness of our armed forces, and of the Army in particular?

BENDETSEN: Mr. Hess, the then posture of our armed forces to meet a war emergency was woefully inadequate by any rational measure, in my considered opinion. I will now briefly describe the nature of my duties as they had been from the fall of 1948 (when I joined Secretary Gray at his invitation) until January 1950 when I was appointed and confirmed as Assistant Secretary of the Army. The only change was a change of title. Thereafter my duties both expanded and increased, notably in the cases of the Panama Canal and the wartime (Korean conflict) seizing


of the railroads of the United States. (I will later discuss both.) This narration will provide you and the readers with an evaluation of the basis for my conclusion, just stated, concerning the inadequacy of our armed forces.

My duties did relate to the strength of the Army, the Armyís budget preparation, long-range, intermediate-range and short-range planning and programming, in close coordination with the general staff of the Department of the Army. I did have consequent opportunities to gather detailed knowledge, not only of the Army forces structure, but those of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as well. In addition, I was a member of the Management Committee of the Department of Defense, whose duties extended to all aspects of the entire National Military Establishment. This Committee had been appointed by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Louis Johnson, with the approval of President Truman.

This Committee had as its chairman General Joseph T. McNarney, an able, highly intelligent career officer of the United States Army, who had


been Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army during most of World War II, serving directly under General Marshall. However, General McNarney, following the unification of the armed forces into the National Military Establishment pursuant to the National Security Act of 1947, had transferred from the United States Army to the United States Air Force. He was a four-star General of the Army at that time and became a four-star General of the Air Force.

The Management Committee of the Department of Defense, under his chairmanship, consisted of those Assistant or Under Secretaries, respectively, of Army, Navy and Air Force, who were most directly concerned with defense management, forces structure, deployment, procurement, research and development, apportionment of funds, budget preparation and planning. Our mission was to find ways and means to obtain greater defense efficacy, so to speak, per dollar of input.

This was a classic mission more on the order of management consulting, inasmuch as we had no direct


power other than to recommend, but not to decide. Our efforts were supplemented by the management consulting firm of Heller and Associates of Cleveland, Ohio who had been engaged directly by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Johnson. We did make numerous recommendations including many with regard to what became known as "cross-servicing." That is to say, to assign to one of the three departments, Army, Navy or Air Force as the case may be, the task of not only serving itself in an administrative, housekeeping, supply, or other support function, but as well the needs of the forces of the other two departments and their components.

As you would expect, such considerations often generated a great deal of heat, and our mission was to try our best to generate light rather than heat so that decisions once made would have some meaning rather than amount only to lip service. These experiences taken together necessarily provided me with an appraisal of the adequacy of our military establishment to fulfill assigned roles and missions in the light of national security and foreign policy,


etc. I have gone to some length in laying the foundation for my answer in the thought that this perhaps would be of some pertinence to your question and my response.

There is no question in my mind but that the military forces of the United States were entirely inadequate to deal with any actual emergency entailing operations of any significant degree. Vast and rapid supplementation would have been required. Such could not have been made immediately available. The subsequent unprovoked attack by North Korea in June of 1950 proved that this appraisal was accurate.

As you may recall, the entire defense budget authorization and appropriation request for fiscal year 1950, ending June 30, 1950, was somewhere in the vicinity of 11 billion dollars. Among the other missions of the Defense Management Committee directed by Mr. Johnson was to try to find a billion dollars of savings during that year, despite the rather low level of the aggregate authorization when viewed in the perspective of the years immediately succeeding as well as now. The three services were already living


"off the shelf" so to speak. No "savings" could be made; only further reductions of forces already deficient.

Have I answered your question to sufficient degree, Mr. Hess?

HESS: Yes, you have.

BENDETSEN: If not, I would be glad to expand to any degree that you think would be appropriate and desirable.

HESS: Well, a companion question to our general discussion was: Did there seem to be an awareness, or a lack of awareness in the Pentagon at the time that the Communists might test our strength at some point in the world?

BENDETSEN: There was indeed an awareness that the Soviet Union would test our containment policy and test our determination. Certainly the Soviets attempted to do that in Iran earlier, and Mr. Trumaní s forthright reaction averted a crisis. It is fortunate that the


crisis was averted. I would have to say that we did not then have military means to have dealt with this crisis, other than to have resort to our then meager atomic weapon stockpile. I hasten to add that such resort was never considered.

Certainly there was a keen awareness from our experience in Greece where General Van Fleet was sent by President Truman and where there was a very effective show of determination with slender resources. These were successfully applied to a wealth of Soviet-supported guerilla forces through which the Soviets were seeking to subvert the Government of Greece and establish a satellite Communist regime there.

HESS: The trouble in 1946 was in Iran; the trouble in 1947 was Greece and Turkey; and of course, the Marshall plan in Ď47 and Ď48. Just how likely did it seem to you and to others in the Pentagon that the trouble spots might shift to Asia as they did in 1950?

BENDETSEN: Mr. Hess, to some of us, so very likely that, as I will later relate, we took some definitive steps not only with relation to your question but


toward providing urgently the basis for the degree of preparedness essential to our policy of containment. However, I have not yet fully responded to your overall awareness question.

During Mr. Forrestalís tenure as the first Secretary of Defense there was an awareness that the Soviets were indeed testing our determination to stand by the continuity of West Berlin during the first Berlin crisis.

Was there a specific awareness in the Pentagon that the Soviet tests of our determination might shift from Europe and the Middle East to Asia? There were indeed some in the Pentagon (I was one of them), who clearly felt that this was a very likely eventuality. It is never the Communist method to reveal in advance its intentions. This has been made perfectly clear from the beginning of its creation by Lenin. It continues to be clear today, although many naive persons exercise wishful thinking and as apologists assert that the Kremlin fears the U.S.A. and claims its actions are merely defensive!


The Soviets have no timetable and will not risk the heartland (Mother Russia). The Soviets have a total and inexorable strategy--to exercise political domination (and occupation where it suits them) over the earth. We had no strategy. Soviet strategy is applied through client states fomenting "just" wars of "liberation," plus surprise packages of tests of our determination so as to throw us off balance, and in that way without risk to their heartland, gain much toward furthering the imperialist expansionist ambitions of that regime. Soviet strategy remains intact today. And so it would not be unusual to suppose that individuals who had long studied and observed Communist methods (as I have for many, many years, in the thirties, during World War II and afterwards) would have expected some testing in Asia as a very likely point.

After all, the perimeter of our defenses on that side of the world lay in the Far Pacific, and still do. Additionally, the United States had withdrawn over half of its defensive forces from


the Far East. This action was virtually an invitation to the Soviets to send the North Koreans to attack. It provided an almost perfect way to expose the United States as a paper tiger. Our units in Korea were bobtailed. Ground force infantry regiments had two instead of three battalions. The battalions had two companies instead of three, which meant that they were devoid of reserves. Artillery battalions had only two batteries each instead of three. Although we virtually dominated the air, no air force can hold ground. Thus we did not hold. Our losses were catastrophic, the heroic determination of our military notwithstanding. We were almost pushed into the sea. The Pusan perimeter was a tenuous and tiny salient. Some of us were not surprised that the Soviets, then using the Chinese as a client state, would choose to target South Korea or possibly Vietnam where the situation was also tenuous. But South Korea was a defensive key. We made a gigantic effort and saved face by repulsing the aggressor to the line of departure of


his initial attack. We lost face again by pursuing the enemy forces without being "prepared for success." We were repulsed again in the North and withdrew into what became the Pamunjon stalemate.

HESS: Do you recall the speech that Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, made at the National Press Club, I believe in January of 1950, in which he drew an imaginary line of our defense perimeter down from Japan over to Formosa and then down, leaving Korea outside of our defense perimeter? Do you recall that?

BENDETSEN: I recall that with great clarity, Mr. Hess. There was a very logical explanation for this declaration by Mr. Acheson, the then Secretary of State. It will be recalled that in 1949 the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended to the Secretary of State, that the military forces then stationed in South Korea be substantially reduced. The rationale of the Secretary of Defense in making this recommendation was to the effect that if indeed the policymakers


at the civilian level of the Government of the United States believed that the South Korean government was vital to the defense of the United States, it would either be essential that forces be withdrawn and reduced in Europe in order to maintain the forces then stationed in Korea, or that the defense budget be increased with enough additional appropriations to support forces both in Europe and Asia at least to the levels which then were in existence in Europe and Asia. The then budget would not permit this. No increase was forthcoming so the JCS put the choice to the Secretaries of Defense and State.

The "trip-wire" notion had gained considerable prominence not long after World War II as we reduced our forces commitments. The sophistry of the "trip-wire" was that the adversary would not dare test it because, it was argued, such would bring us in. What we left stationed in South Korea was a so-called "trip-wire," a thin line of U.S. forces rather than to withdraw altogether. So one could hardly conclude in view of the fact that we did not then reduce


our forces in Europe, nor in Japan, nor in Okinawa, nor in the Philippines, nor our other commitments in the vicinity of Taiwan, that Korea was considered by the Secretaries of State and Defense to be a vital part of our defense perimeter. You will recall, however, that it was not over 24 hours after the night of Korea on June 25, 1950, that the Government decided after all that South Korea must be defended; that it was indeed a testing point that we could not afford to abandon. So we were forced to reverse a very bad decision which had reduced military strength far below that which could meet our commitments. The price we paid was enormous.

Have I answered your question?

HESS: Yes, you have. The unit that was left I believe was called KMAG, is that right, Korean Military Advisory Group?

BENDETSEN: Plus "trip-wire field" forces such as I have already mentioned.

HESS: Plus those.


BENDETSEN: Yes, that is correct.

HESS: All right, I think in one of our previous interviews we have put down where you were when you first heard of the invasion, have we, or not? Just where were you when you heard of the invasion?

BENDETSEN: When I heard of the invasion, it was Saturday evening of June 25, 1950; I was in my home on Beachmont Place off Military Road in Arlington, Virginia. I had a Defense Department telephone and I received an immediate call when the word came into the Defense center, because at that point I was Acting Secretary. I immediately went to the Pentagon. A conference was held in the Pentagon although the Secretary of Defense and the other Secretaries were away. I was senior, so I was acting. The President was informed. A number of us met with senior officers of the Services and with other departmental Secretaries. Shortly thereafter, we met with General [J. Lawton] Collins and General [John E.] Hull. I then went over to the State Department to a conference in the office of the Secretary of State, Mr.


Acheson. I do not remember the exact time--it seems to me I got the word around 9 p.m., so it probably was 10:30 p.m. when we convened with Secretary Acheson. Do you have a specific record on hand?

HESS: No. I have not, but it did come in late at night. Mr. Truman was in Independence, Missouri, at this time and Secretary Acheson was keeping him apprised of the situation through the night.

BENDETSEN: I am thoroughly familiar with the fact that Mr. Acheson was keeping Mr. Truman advised in Independence and Mr. Truman flew back the next day and was in the White House Sunday afternoon.

HESS: Thatís right, Sunday.

BENDETSEN: I attended a conference there.

HESS: You did?


HESS: Would you tell me about that conference; who was


there and what was the general nature of the discussion?

BENDETSEN: Perhaps it would be useful to first discuss the attendance at the conference in Secretary Acheson office. There were a number of key people including Dean Rusk, who was then Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs.

HESS: Thatís quite right.

BENDETSEN: There were a number of other State Department specialists in the area. In addition, there were representatives of the office of the Secretary of Defense, other Service Secretaries, and either the chiefs of the military services or their deputies. There were probably as many as 20 people at the conference.

HESS: What was the general nature of the discussion? What came out of those meetings?

BENDETSEN: I would say that the primary conclusion that came out of that meeting, prior to the meetings which


were later held with President Truman, was to recommend that the United States meet the aggressive move that the North Koreans had made, by deploying all available forces from Japan at once, and to employ all available Air Forces and bring them to bear so as to repulse the unprovoked aggression and that this program be recommended to the President. One recommendation that I made to the Secretary of State was that, "I do hope that you will recommend to the President of the United States that he ask Congress, by joint resolution or otherwise, to endorse or in effect to approve such action and make a declaration itself."

And the next day, late in the day, when I was in the meeting that convened in Blair House (by that time Mr. Truman had returned and he had already held private meetings with a number of senior members of both houses of Congress).

HESS: At the Blair House on Sunday night. That was at the time that the President was living at the Blair House.

BENDETSEN: That is right


HESS: When the White House was being reconditioned.

BENDETSEN: Right, it was in Blair House but it was in a conference room.

HESS: A large conference room in the Blair House?

BENDETSEN: Yes. There were two rooms set aside over there. The conference was well organized. The Secretary of State spoke first followed by the Secretary of Defense. Questions were put by the President. These questions were addressed primarily to the availability and lead times entailed in mobilizing our combat and combat support forces as well as our ammunition, ordnance and all other classes of military supplies. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps spokesmen (largely members of the Joint Chiefs) responded. In a few instances wherein I had specialized knowledge, I responded. Later in the conference when the President had indicated his thinking (that we should react; that the Security Council of the United Nations should be called into emergency session so that the effort should be


a U. N. effort) I urged again that Congress be requested to enact a supporting Joint Resolution. As the conference adjourned, I left with the impression that such congressional action would be sought.

HESS: That a Senate resolution be obtained?

BENDETSEN: No, not the Senate alone. I specifically recommended again (to the President) that the Congress be requested to pass a Joint Resolution supporting the decision.

HESS: All right, this was not done.

BENDETSEN: It was not done--unfortunately in my opinion.

HESS: All right, what did they say at the meeting that swayed the thinking not to ask for this resolution?

BENDETSEN: I gathered that this was going to be sought.

HESS: You did?

BENDETSEN: Yes, very clearly.

HESS: After the meeting with the President.


BENDETSEN: At it, not after, but at it. And I was greatly surprised when it was not. I am unable to throw any light on why. The attitude of the nation was one of great relief and elation when the President announced his decision. This was so on Capitol Hill and across the land. The people were saying, "At long last the United States is going to stand up and say this far and no farther to the Soviets." I am sure you well remember that. The attitude of most newspapers, the media, was a good deal different then than it is today. It would have been a "natural" for the Congress to join in even though a declaration of war was not needed.

HESS: What did you see as the benefits of obtaining a congressional resolution?

BENDETSEN: Well, it was perfectly clear to me that if we were going to commit our forces to what we called a military conflict, the Congress of the United States should be committed, should be involved right then


and there, with all the facts, and make a joint resolution and a declaration that would underlie subsequent necessary, supplemental appropriations--a political commitment on its part. This was to be known as a United Nations effort. My recommendation was that Congress declare its support of a United Nations effort. Perhaps, however, it may have been because of the fact that a United Nations resolution would be involved that the Presidentís close advisors after this meeting urged him not to go to the Congress with such a proposal.

But my recommendation was just the opposite, that Congress should support the President by a vote in both the House and the Senate that the Congress of the United States support the Presidentís determination to go to the United Nations to set up a United Nations force to resist this unprovoked aggression. I had made the point as forcefully as propriety permitted that in the years ahead such a resolution might be sorely needed.

HESS: As you will recall, the representative of the


Soviet Union was chairman of the Security Council that month, but was boycotting--he was gone. I think it was Jacob Malik.

BENDETSEN: Yes, the Soviet member withdrew, to the Soviet Unionís eternal regret. The Soviet member could have exercised a veto. If so, the U. N. resolution would never have passed.

HESS: Well, yes, but I donít think he was in town at the time. I think he was boycotting on another matter. I could be wrong, but I think that he was gone at the time and did not return. I donít believe he left on account of this.

BENDETSEN: I think that if you will refer to the history of it, while he may have been out of town on another matter, the Soviet delegation walked out and was not present to veto the Security Council resolution which did pass.

HESS: Fine, we can check on that.

BENDETSEN: I believe you will find that this is what happened.


HESS: All right, anyway, if the Soviets had been there and could have put in a veto and kept us from working through the United Nations, do you think we would have gone in unilaterally on our own?

BENDETSEN: I believe in view of the fact that Mr. Truman was President, he was a man of clarity, of perspective, and of the courage to reach difficult answers to hard questions, he would have done so. The United States in any case could provide the vast preponderance of the forces and all other resources. It is a close question however. I am not positive but incline to think he would have so decided. We did not have United Nations support in Greece. It was however a very different kind of intervention, in that we did not have U.S. Army forces engaged in meeting the guerrillas. We were advisors to the Greek forces; we supplied them; we equipped them; we helped them handle their tactics, organize their field intelligence. We had enough people to help them do this. But we did not field a combat force on a major scale, as you know.


Yet the same policy was at stake in both cases: Containment and self-determination.

HESS: That is quite right. That meeting that you attended was on a Monday night, the day after Mr. Truman returned to town.


HESS: He held meetings at the Blair House with various members of the Cabinet on Sunday night and again on Monday. What was his attitude during the meeting that you attended? What seemed to be his views?

BENDETSEN: Well, I could summarize him as very calm, very cool, very impressive, completely in command of his very capable facilities, ready to listen to all points of view, all shades of opinion, up to the point of decision.

HESS: Did anyone at the meeting recommend that we not take action in Korea, either through the United Nations or on our own?

BENDETSEN: No one openly opposed the decision but there


were grave reservations, understandably so. We were not ready for Korea. Our ground forces had been crippled by the decision to reduce them to a "trip wire." There were those who fully realized the gravity of our predicament. The surprise attack soon reduced many units to non-operational status. There were no replacements and no reserves. Many units were totally destroyed. Those that were stationed both in Korea and in Japan were skeleton forces. None of the units were up to authorized strength. It was very difficult to deploy that force in battle with skeleton strength in its organic units. The battle equipment was not plentiful. It was a very grim experience. A magnificent, heroic task was performed with meager resources against a strong determined enemy with endless manpower.

As you know, in the first two months there were heavy casualties and we had to yield a great deal of ground until we established the Pusan perimeter where we held until we were ready to


regroup. Pusan was precarious for many months. I was there several times.

HESS: When you first became Assistant Secretary, Gordon Gray was Secretary of the Army and he was soon replaced by Frank Pace, Jr. Did you and Gordon Gray, or you and Frank Pace present views to Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, that you thought that the reduction of the armed forces was being carried out too severely; that it should not be cut back to the extent that it was being cut back?

BENDETSEN: I consistently presented such views...

HESS: To Louis Johnson? Or would you present them to the Secretary?

BENDETSEN: I presented organized analyses with supporting material at the Management Committee level, which reported to Mr. Johnson. I presented these once at the Armed Forces Policy Council, over which the Secretary of Defense presides. I was not a member of that. That was composed of the


Secretaries of Defense and of the three Services and of the chiefs of the Services. I attended a number of times as a substitute for the Secretary of the Army when he was away. As I held these views, I was anxious to present them in a constructive manner and to do everything I could to make our military establishment more effective. As I have stated, under the circumstances of declining budgetary support, we were living off the shelf of leftovers from World War II.

HESS: What seemed to be Louis Johnsonís attitude? Was he trying to do the best he could with the money, or was he trying to make further cuts in the armed forces over what was required of him by President Truman?

BENDETSEN: His persistent efforts and pressing demands for evermore savings forced the conclusion that he was really squeezing. He sought reductions, which were substantially below the then level of already limited appropriations in themselves woefully inadequate. I believe that the budget was based


upon an assumption that there would be a great deal of lead time between the necessity to field major forces and the initiation and burgeoning of some sort of a gathering crisis. The idea was that the National Guard which would be mobilized, that is to say, that the National Guard of the several states would be federalized, and that the National Guard would augment the active forces and that somehow, some way, the mobilization base, could be magically geared to produce weapons, tanks, aircraft, transport, ships and munitions in short order. The meager appropriations policies and spending programs just mentioned had already allowed our industrial base to wither away. At best, the notion was wishful thinking.

Well, that is what really happened in Korea. The mobilization base was in mothballs. We could have been pushed into the sea at Pusan. It almost happened. I have no explanation to offer for the degree to which it was felt that our military posture should be so minimal.


HESS: At the meeting you attended on Monday, was it discussed as to what degree our efforts should be at that time, whether it was thought that air power would be sufficient, perhaps shelling from ships? Was it discussed if we would need to move troops in? If so, how many? Was it discussed even the possible use of the atomic bomb? Just what was discussed?

BENDETSEN: In the beginning, there was no consideration given to using the atomic bomb. I think I would have known it if such were the case. As I will later relate, it was later considered as a result of my initiative.

HESS: Were they discussing the use of troops this early, two days after the invasion?

BENDETSEN: Yes, of course. Some of our skeleton ground and air forces were already engaged but at this time, the degree to which this intervention would require vast supplementation with ground troops, naval and air forces, was really not appreciated.


There was no doubt that our ground forces would need reinforcement. Even the initial supplemental budget estimates then made were pure fantasy, on the low side. It was clear, however, at once that a supplemental budget would have to be pulled together rapidly. This was one of the early subjects discussed, and I carried a heavy load in that regard, both in the Army Department and also in the Defense Department, as I mentioned to you in one of our earlier interviews. But the notions of the people at the Bureau of the Budget, and some of the people in the office of the Defense Comptroller, Mr. [Wilfred J.] McNeill, and in the services themselves, of what would be required in the way of a supplemental budget and how much in the way of appropriations for materiel, forces, and the rest of the effort would be involved, was just not appreciated.

I dislike to be misunderstood, but I very strongly disagreed with the notions that I heard that the effort really would not require large


appropriations. I thought it was going to take a great deal. I did not believe that the other nations who joined in the resolution would give substantial support; I believed we would have to go through a major mobilization; and I did not believe that air power alone could possibly do the job, as some enthusiasts felt--and certainly not sea power alone or in concert with airpower.

HESS: Any particular reason why you thought that the other people who signed on the resolution would not support it to the degree, to the extent that we did, the other nations?

BENDETSEN: Well, my experience with these other nations, in various ways, told me that they were very enthusiastic about our leadership and about our efforts, and not so enthusiastic about their efforts in any respect. I think this has since proved to be largely so. I would have been pleased and surprised, but I did not expect it.

HESS: What is your opinion of the manner in which Mr. Truman handled the situation at that time, other


than the fact that he did not get the congressional resolution?

BENDETSEN: Well, I think he handled it masterfully in every other respect. I still regret that he did not seek a resolution from the Congress. Outside of that, he conducted himself admirably. He directed that the concerned departments make a massive study of requirements leading to a supplemental budget request addressed to the Congress. An NSC study called NSC-68 (National Security Council paper No. 68), the major portions of which were furnished by the Defense Department and generated with guidelines from the Joint Staff of the JCS and by the three services, formed the basis for a major supplemental budget request. This was the one that I told you about in an earlier tape that rose in its initial aggregate within the Pentagon to $70 billion. I believe it timely to relate briefly the history of NSC-68. It was under way before Korea. It is an interesting episode which proved to be supremely useful.


The views of those who were ambivalent about the Soviets and of those who favored a declining military posture did not continue to prevail. An informal consensus of like-minded individuals in State and Defense coalesced. In the several months prior to "Korea" a meaningful effort gathered effective momentum in which I participated. It had the quiet blessing of Secretary Acheson. The result was that a very vital analysis with supporting proposals emerged. It came before the National Security Council. It became known as NSC-68. The Korean aggression provided the necessary final impetus. The North Koreans were clearly the proxies of the then Sino-Soviet axis. The National Security Council approved the proposals within a month. In reality, it was NSC-68 which became the basis for all the ongoing major appropriations requests.

The gravamen of NSC-68 was a realistic assessment of the true nature of Soviet arms, objectives and strategies. Once the President, upon recommendation of the National Security Council


members, approved the recommendations, the foundation had then been laid for U.S. rearmament, for the reestablishment of an industrial mobilization base, for the generation of new, modern weapon systems and for NATO and the several follow-on mutual security pacts such as, for example, SEATO and CENTO.

This major effort reestablished U.S. military superiority, the only military posture which never need to be employed in action. This prevailed until in 1960, when the unilateral disarmament of the United States began. It has continued to this day.

It was Korea which vivified NSC-68. But it was the latter which underlay the major increases in military appropriations which collaterally supplied the military means brought to bear in Korea.

HESS: What would be your opinion and your evaluation of the way that Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson handled the situation in the first few months after the Korean invasion?

BENDETSEN: He certainly gave unstintingly of his time and effort. He made a number of trips to Japan and


Korea. The reasons why he was replaced by General George C. Marshall, were not officially explained. I was not surprised. I quietly applauded the change.

HESS: Why?

BENDETSEN: Well, I felt that it called for a man of much greater breadth and depth, a man of broader experience in mobilization and the demands of major logistics, a man of combat experience, a man who commanded unquestioned confidence and respect. Very probably, these considerations had something to do with the Presidentís decision. It can readily be realized that General Marshallís great presence, his towering prestige, his vast military knowledge in contrast to Mr. Johnsonís limitations would be of almost indispensable value in presiding over three military services, disinclined at the departmental level in Washington fully to cooperate at best, which were loosely confined in a unwieldy structure such as the National Security Act of 1947 created. That sums up my assessment.


HESS: What would be your evaluation of Mr. Johnsonís overall handling of the Department of Defense during the time he was Secretary of Defense?

BENDETSEN: I think there were a number of episodes in which considerable heat was generated. Perhaps this was unavoidable. At times he was heavy-handed to a degree that tended to restrict his effectiveness.

HESS: Can you give me an example of a heavy-handed action that was not effective?

BENDETSEN: Well, my use of the word ineffective had to do with the depressed morale within the services to which he contributed. His requests for continuing studies in ways and means to make the Department less costly and at the same time more effective as he thought could be the case became counter-productive. He pressed hard. He pounded his desk. He declared that he knew there was a vast amount of excess fat but he could not specify where. There was some fat. There always has been since World War II, but not of the magnitude he assumed.


HESS: Any further thoughts?

BENDETSEN: With further regard to your question about Mr. Johnson, I think I said within his own resources as Secretary of Defense, he gave what he had. I must say, however, he was neither by temperament, nor by experience, nor by the nature of his presumed ambitions, qualified to be Secretary of Defense at such a time when the nation faced a growing crisis. Perhaps he really was never qualified.

HESS: You mentioned his "presumed ambitions." Would you elaborate?

BENDETSEN: Well, I have never heard Mr. Johnson say this himself, so I suppose I am not entitled to impute it to him directly. It has been said by so many others around him whom I knew, at that time and since, that his principal ambition was to become Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States at some future moment and I believe that was his lifelong ambition. He surrounded himself with people who were largely public relations


oriented. Mr. Stephen Early was Under Secretary of Defense--a fine man, a joy to be with, kind and thoughtful, but with few qualifications for the position.

HESS: He was Under Secretary, youíre right.

BENDETSEN: We did not then have the title Deputy Secretary of Defense. This came later. He had no qualifications for a job of that magnitude in the Department of Defense. He was a very pleasant man, very easy to be around and be with, but he even knew he was not qualified. He often said so to me. He was not a man of pretensions.

HESS: He had been President Rooseveltís Press Secretary for a good many years.

BENDETSEN: Yes. Dr. Renfrow, whom I also knew well, had been with Mr. Johnson while American Legion Commander. He kept alive all those relationships on a major scale. Mr. Johnson, having been suddenly overtaken by an unexpected event like Korea did not do any less than he was qualified and able to do.


He never shirked, so to speak. Notwithstanding, I thought the President could well have considered acting sooner. Not that acting sooner would also have sooner changed the adverse tides of Korea, so difficult to overcome. Sooner action might have accelerated the time when our readiness rose to a more satisfactory level.

HESS: And then in September, General Marshall took over. Why in your opinion was General Marshall selected?

BENDETSEN: Because of his eminence; his incomparable experience in World War II; his experience as Chairman of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (of the British and American forces); his indispensable experience as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army (including the Air Corps) from 1940 through World War II; as well as his experience as Secretary of State. No other man in the nation had his qualifications. This was the consensus among knowledgeable people. No man of comparable ability and capacities was available. I think this is why the President


asked the Congress to amend the law to permit his appointment as Secretary of Defense.

HESS: At that time it was contrary to law to have a military man in that position.

BENDETSEN: Yes, sir. It is a permanent statute permitting an exception by resolution of Congress. A temporary exception was made almost without dissent.

HESS: We will have some specific questions on General Marshallís handling, and his actions, but what would be your overall evaluation of his handling of the Department? He was there for one year, September of Ď50 to September of Ď51.


HESS: All right, moving back one month from the time that General Marshall came in, and on August 25, 1950, President Truman assigned Executive Order No. 10155, "Possession, Control, and Operation of Certain Railroads." A nationwide strike had been called for August 28 by two of the railroad labor


organizations: The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, and the Fraternal Order of Railway Conductors. The Executive Order provided for the seizure and operation of the nationís railroads by the Secretary of the Army in the name of the United States Government. What do you recall of that episode, just what were your duties, and how closely did Mr. Truman watch this?

BENDETSEN: The Secretary of the Army made a full delegation to me.

HESS: Your title was Director General of the U.S. Railways, is that right?

BENDETSEN: Yes. This was in addition to my other duties as Assistant Secretary of the Army, and the others were numerous. One of these other duties of magnitude was the chairmanship of the Panama Canal Company, which I will later discuss. I was designated Director General of the United States Railroads. I was general manager. I worked under a full delegation, by the President to the Secretary


of the Army, and by the latter to me with the Presidentís approval. The Secretary said that his hands were full and that his confidence in me was unlimited. He stated that he wanted me to go ahead and do the job without regard to him. He said, "Anyone that you wish to see, in any part of the Government, you may see without going through me. I would appreciate it if you did not go through me. This includes members of Congress, members of the Executive branch, and independent agencies, including the Interstate Commerce Commission. Where necessary, it includes the President himself."

I followed his directions. I organized a small but highly effective staff at the Department level. In addition, I ordered to active duty, by authority of the President, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of the Army, a number of officers from civilian life who were railroad specialists. I organized regional (divisional) control centers, and in some cases the regional control officers were railroad presidents who held Reserve commissions in the United States


Army. In one case, we appointed one control officer directly to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, which there was authority to do.

We had eight regions and control centers. The regional headquarters were respectively at New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas and San Francisco.

One of the stalwart and highly effective members of my immediate staff was the Honorable Fred Korth, then of Fort Worth, Texas. He was then serving as Deputy General Counsel of the Army. (Later he successively became General Counsel and an Assistant Secretary of the Army and still later the Secretary of the Navy.)

HESS: Were you involved in trying to reach a settlement or just strictly in the operations of the roads?

BENDETSEN: The short answer is no. I was not in a position to enter the negotiations. It would have been counter-productive if I had. However, I had the keenest interest in "promoting" a settlement.


Perhaps my interest was keener than anyone else you could possibly imagine. I did not welcome the assignment. I was already heavily burdened with very demanding duties. I brought every influence I could bring to bear indirectly on advancing a settlement. I kept in closest touch. With all my duties, my days were never less than sixteen to seventeen hours, seven days a week.

One of the most difficult experiences in this unwelcome job involved the so-called "sick strikes." The employees of the two unions began to feign sickness and fail to report for work. They could not strike against the Government. This was a subterfuge. These practices began to spread rather widely and were seriously disrupting the operation of the entire Class I railroad system. They were reaching the point when they could have very seriously impaired the support of our Korean conflict effort.

I had frequent telephone conference calls with my regional colonels, seeking their advice and


counsel. I had several conferences with the Attorney General of the United States, and with some of his first assistants. I asked them to seek injunctions in several Federal courts, the principal one being Chicago. The Attorney General immediately proceeded to do so through the Solicitor Generalís office and the U.S. attorneys at various points Philadelphia was also one), and...

HESS: J. Howard McGrath headed the Department of Justice at that time, is that right?

BENDETSEN: That is absolutely right. He was very cooperative, understood the problem thoroughly, and threw no sand in the wheels. He facilitated this effort mightily, and applied the resources of the Department on an all-out basis. However, the applications for temporary restraining and show-cause orders did not settle the matter.

And so, at one point I faced a very lonely decision. Before describing it to you, I should tell you that Mr. Truman asked me within the first


two weeks of my new assignment to see him at the White House and tell him what I saw the situation to be. And in that conference (he listened carefully and asked a number of questions, it lasted about 15 minutes, perhaps 20), he said, "I have a standing order that after 7 p.m. only the Secretaries of State and Defense and the head of the White House information staff may call me, but I want you to call me whenever you feel there is something that I can help you with, or that you feel I should know. If you ever need a supplemental order signed any time of the night or day, I want you to know that you have only to call, come over and I will sign it. I am going to put a White House telephone in your office and in your home with instructions to all White House phone operators to put you through night or day." This was done immediately.

Bearing this background in mind, I reached a decision that the "sick strikes" could not be stopped by the process we were following without irreparable damage to the Korean war effort.


HESS: The sick strikes?

BENDETSEN: The sick strikes, yes. Employees of the two railway unions involved feigned sickness and, using "sickness" as an excuse, failed to report for work in vast numbers. They were crippling the national transportation system. I developed a new idea on how they might be stopped. I sought advice. I received much, none of it unanimous, so I had to make my decision without relying on the crutch of unanimity, which can be sometimes most misleading and harmful. Unanimity sometimes means that the members of the advisory group are not thinking! On an important question among thinking people there has to be some dissent, or the advice is frequently bad.

So, apparently I was getting some good advice, because I had plenty of dissent about this idea. The question, of course, was which advice to follow. Choosing was my lonely decision. The idea was this: That I would issue an order that anyone who did not report for duty at his assigned shift without a


certificate of illness from an independent qualified doctor would immediately be separated from railroad service, in other words fired; that he would lose his seniority, and that would mean his seniority and his pension under the Railway Retirement Act.

I reached a decision that I would do this despite the din of dissent with very few supporting voices. And so I called the President on my White House phone from the office late one evening and I said, "Mr. President, the situation is serious. We are headed for a crisis. I have sought advice; there is no unanimity. I see no place else to go but to have recourse to this drastic action," which I outlined briefly. And his words were, "Well, God bless you and good luck; if you are going to do it, I hope it works. I leave it to you."

It worked.

HESS: Good. Were there other times that you had to get in touch with him? How close did he watch these operations and how close did you keep in touch with Mr. Truman during this period of time?


BENDETSEN: As I remember it, I sent him a summary of high points once a week, occupying less than a page. What happened to those summaries, I do not know.

HESS: Did you have any further meetings with him on the matter?

BENDETSEN: I had two further meetings with him involving Class II railroads. The Presidentís original order related only to Class I railroads. Class II railroads are the short line carriers. We hesitated to take them over as the unions had not struck these roads. They were not involved in the Class I labor dispute. There were two short line railroads heavily involved in the steel-making area of Pittsburgh, the unions of which successively became involved. The larger one of the two was the Monongahela. It could have ultimately shut down a large part of the steel-making production in the Pittsburgh area. The smaller of these two could have administered the "coup de grace," to steel production in and around Pittsburgh.


The two unions which had struck the Class I lines suddenly gave strike notice that they would strike these two roads the next day as a means of applying increased pressure. This did not succeed. The takeover action could not wait. I called the President late at night and asked for authority. I was put through right away. I briefly explained the situation. He reacted immediately and said, "Go right ahead, send the paper over by courier and I will have it confirmed to you in a proper way tomorrow." I gave notice of takeover action still later that same night to the railroads, the unions and the press.

There was a second situation involving another short line elsewhere, a somewhat similar one to Pittsburgh in another heavy industry area.

A third case involved a belt line controlling the Port of Houston. I also acted in that case.

These were examples of the occasions in which I sought emergency authority. I had not sought blanket authority. I really did not need nor want


it. If I had been accorded such authority, I am certain situations would have emerged wherein people would seek advantage from Government control and operation. I told the President when he once offered me blanket authority that this could work to our disadvantage when it became known. He then readily agreed.

HESS: Did you receive any assistance from the members of the White House staff, either as Director General of the Railroads, or in your position as Assistant Secretary of the Army, and then Under Secretary of the Army?

BENDETSEN: Yes, John Steelman was very helpful. He became a close friend of mine as the years went by. I liked him very much. He was very effective in labor relations. He was unsparing in his willingness to be helpful.

HESS: Could you give me an illustration of an incident, or a time in which he may have helped you, to show his relationship in this manner and how he was helpful?


BENDETSEN: Well, he was helpful in two ways, particularly, outside of innumerable cases of advice and counsel. I consulted him about the "sick strike" decision involving resort to the penalty of loss of seniority and pension rights through separation for cause.

I said, "I need your help, John. I feel I have no alternative." He told me he thought I should not proceed as outlined. In my response, I canvassed the critical consequences of a protracted strike against the Government. I said, "Through your channels, I ask that you make it clear that we mean business, and that the sick strikers had better take it seriously. We cannot yield on this one. They are striking against the Government and seriously impairing our war effort. We will be compelled to man the trains with troops and operate come what may. Our soldiers are fighting and dying on the battlefields of Korea because their vital needs are not being met."

I told him that I had discussed the subject


with the President and with the people in the Defense Department. If this plan did not work, we would man the most important lines with Army troops. I added that we were organizing railway battalions to do so. I also advised him that I had laid additional, more drastic plans. John Steelman, after listening, agreed.

HESS: I believe wasnít there some discussion also about drafting various strikers.

BENDETSEN: Oh, yes, sir.

HESS: ...and placing them right back on the job, putting them in uniform and putting them right back on the trains?

BENDETSEN: Oh, yes. Oh, definitely, this was part of the contingent plan. This is what I just referred to.

HESS: How seriously was that considered?

BENDETSEN: Very seriously. I had discussed the necessary


legislative and other actions in executive session with the key committees of the House and Senate. Also told the Secretary of Defense that these steps might become essential.

HESS: But it just didnít quite come to that.


HESS: Or it just didnít quite come to putting soldiers who were trained railroad men on the trains either.

BENDETSEN: No. I said to John Steelman, "I am going to call the heads of these brotherhoods and say that one way or another we are going to keep the railroads operating. You had better get your men back to work, and if we get far enough into this thing they may stay in Government hands, and you will never get your seniority back, or your union authority either."

HESS: What did they say to that?

BENDETSEN: I said, "Now, you had better listen to me


about this. I have no choice; I am not taking sides in your dispute." Well, they said they would do what they could, but they "disclaimed," you see; they disclaimed responsibility. Each disavowed any connection with the sick strike epidemic. I simply said with emphasis, "You had better take responsibility or you will regret it." Right after my conference with the heads of the Brotherhoods of Railway Unions, I called John Steelman and said, "John Steelman, you know these men through years of experience in the field. Now please double back." He did not hesitate at all. I am certain his action was very helpful.

HESS: Who put an end to the sick strike? Was it the union leaders; was the pressure that you put on the union leaders effective?

BENDETSEN: The moment the "order" was fully prepared and I had signed it, the order was simultaneously communicated through the railway systems and rail unions and in parallel massive communications to the


press. It was announced as well to the courtrooms where the injunctions and contempt citations were being argued. This was in the middle of the afternoon about 2:30 p.m. In about four courtrooms filled with "sick strike" railroad men listening to the arguments, the word was announced to the courts by the U.S. attorneys in charge in each case. In every instance there was a virtual stampede. The sick strikers who had jammed the Federal courtrooms could not get themselves out of the courtrooms fast enough to report for duty. It was remarkable.

HESS: So that settled the matter.

BENDETSEN: It sure did.

HESS: Did you receive any help from any other White House staff members? Charles Murphy was Special Counsel at this time.

BENDETSEN: Well, Charles Murphy (as did Fred Korth) sat in on some conferences at the White House with John


Steelman that I attended and we talked about certain legal aspects, whichÖ.

HESS: That was his field.

BENDETSEN: ...which were important to the President. In my relationships with him he was always most courteous, cooperative and helpful. I do not recall any specific examples of the type that I cited to you in the case of John Steelman.

HESS: All right, now that dispute ended on May 21, 1952.

BENDETSEN: At 4 oíclock in the afternoon.

HESS: At 4 oíclock in the afternoon. That I didnít have down in my notes.

BENDETSEN: Do you realize that every case beginning with [William G.] McAdoo in World War I (President Wilsonís son-in-law), who was Director General of the U.S. Railroads then, and the one I handled plus a brief one in Ď48, all began and ended (both) at 4 p.m. There is a "Four Oíclock Club" based on these


remarkable coincidences. There remain a few survivors from the roster of the members of the Four OíClock Club, all of whom are the key veterans of these three episodes.

HESS: There was a period of time in there, but I canít now...

BENDETSEN: Right. There was one preceding, a very brief one. All ended at 4 oíclock in the afternoon. There were only a very few members of each episode to begin with. But the descendants of McAdoo belong to it. The club members each have a distinctive pin and necktie worn always at the few occasions when we have met. The president of the American Association of Railroads, William "Bill" Fancy, belongs to it.

HESS: Thatís right, and thatís when the dispute ended and then the railroads were returned to their owners on May 13, two days later, after having been operated by the Army for a period of 21 months.



HESS: Do you have anything else that we should place down on tape, any other recollections, memories, important points dealing with the period of time that you were Director General of the Railroads?

BENDETSEN: Well, there was a very trying period that lasted for 72 hours or so when the car ferries on the Great Lakes that transport huge quantities of coal were struck. Getting them back in operation was another one of these difficult episodes. We also succeeded there. However, I have nothing substantial to add to the brief sketch I have related (it is only a sketch). I did testify a number of times on the Hill before the appropriate committees as to the status of the Government seizure. I do recall that in all of these cases I was treated with great courtesy and interest and almost a unanimity of approval of the way the operations were conducted (including the approval of Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon).

HESS: In May of Ď52, the same month the dispute was ended, you became Under Secretary of the Army. Can you tell


me about your selection for that position?

BENDETSEN: Well, I will ask that this be closed under the closure privilege that you recorded earlier.

HESS: We certainly will.

BENDETSEN: Mr. Frank Pace became Secretary of the Army at that time. Immediately before that he had been Director of the Bureau of the Budget. I was not his choice; I came in under...

HESS: Gordon Gray.

BENDETSEN: ...Gordon Gray. I was planning to leave the Department at the end of June. I offered to stay for a transition period if Secretary Pace so desired. I had nothing whatsoever against Frank Pace. I knew him only slightly and thought well of him. We had no previous personal relationship. He asked me to remain up to two months. When Korea came about on June 25, he asked that I remain indefinitely. I replied, "If you want me to stay, I will. The United States is going to have to draft men and I


should not place my personal affairs ahead of theirs. I will remain."

He brought Earl Johnson in with me, one of his World War II friends and buddies. They were in the Ferry Division of the Air Transport Command together.

(That is f-e-r-r-y, I am anxious to make clear.)

HESS: Better clear that up hadnít we?

BENDETSEN: Yes. And when Tracy Voorhees resigned as Under Secretary of the Army, Secretary Pace wanted Earl Johnson to be Under Secretary. And so he sent Earlís name to the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Lovett, and asked for permission to send Johnsonís name over to the White House for nomination as the Under Secretary of the Army. Mr. Lovett told them he would not do anything of the kind; that if there was going to an Under Secretary of the Army at all, it had to be me; he said he would have no part of Mr. Johnson. The man who told me about this was Mr. Lovett.

He also told me something else (this is all part of the closure); that he owed me an apology


because he said that when he was faced with the necessity to appoint a Deputy Secretary of Defense when General Marshall left and he (Mr. Lovett) became the Secretary of Defense he wanted to appoint me as the Under Secretary of Defense. I was then the Assistant Secretary of the Army. The President had appointed William Foster to be the Under Secretary of Defense. "I did not submit your name," he said, "because if I had done so, the Department of the Army would not have had any competent civilian management, in my view. I had no choice other than to leave you there. I do want you to know that I would have preferred to have you as the Under Secretary of Defense. President Truman was ready to agree."

I said, "Well, Bob, please do not insist on overruling Frank Pace on this one. Pace wants Johnson. I do not want to be imposed upon Frank. I am willing to serve as the Assistant Secretary. Let Frank have his way." I added, "I shall always treasure the sentiments you have conveyed. I will


always regret that I could not have had the privilege of serving you as your Deputy."

He said, "I wonít have it any other way, and this is the way itís going to be. I have talked to the President about it and thatís the way he wants it, even though he is an admirer of Mr. Pace and I am not."

This is to be closed until the deaths of Mr. Pace and Mr. Lovett.

HESS: What weaknesses did he see in Mr. Earl Johnson?

BENDETSEN: This will remain closed until Mr. Johnsonís death. He just did not think Earl Johnson had any qualifications for any of these positions. I believe his opinion was pretty widely shared. He was a very personable fellow, a good storyteller and a lightweight.

HESS: What is your general evaluation of Frank Paceís handling of the Department of the Army?

BENDETSEN: Mixed, at best. This also will remain closed until the death of Mr. Pace.


HESS: Would you give me an illustration of the good and an illustration of the bad?

BENDETSEN: This is still closed. It is very difficult to give you illustrations of specific examples of good and bad. Frank Pace is a highly political animal; his ambitions were then very much toward an elective office. Frank harbored ambitions to be a Senator from his native State of Arkansas, if a place opened up; first, Governor, and then Senator. Frank Pace is really not an administrator. Such positions are often filled by persons who have no administrative capacity. They are demanding and require a dedicated administrator, "willing" to devote up to twelve to fourteen, to fifteen hours a day, even seven days a week. Without such dedication, there is no way that a competent person can do a superior job during mobilization of military forces and of the reestablishment of the industrial mobilization base. He was Secretary during just such a time. As Mr. Truman would have said, "If you canít stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."


Neither Frank Pace nor Earl Johnson is the sort of man who has the temperament to apply himself unsparingly to the task. Neither has an inherent concept of administration wherein, for a vast, diversified span of accountability, it is necessary to decentralize operations and centralize control.

HESS: At the time of the dismissal of General MacArthur, Secretary Pace was in the Far East. There are conflicting views as to whether Mr. Pace received the information that he was supposed to carry the message to General MacArthur, or whether he did not get the message. Have you ever heard anything on this particular story? About Mr. Paceís connection with the firing of General MacArthur?

BENDETSEN: Well, I guess this will still have to be closed until five years after the death of Mr. Pace. Mr. Pace, in private conversation, told two stories about this, each different from the other. One is that he did get the message and did do the job, and the other that he did not get the message. I think he got the message. There is no hard


evidence that he "did the job."

HESS: On the general subject of the dismissal of General MacArthur in April of 1951, this took place one month before the settlement of the railroad matter. What is your opinion of the necessity for the dismissal of General MacArthur and of the handling thereof?

BENDETSEN: I will answer the question in reverse order. I do not think that if Pace actually received the order (got the message) he was the man to carry it into effect. I believe it would have been highly improper for Pace to do this. General MacArthur was neither under the command of the Secretary of the Army nor the Chief of Staff of the Army. He was the United Nations commander as well as the U.S. commander of U.S. forces in the Far East. As a joint commander, he reported through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense to the President. I do not think that Pace was the proper man to choose if he was truly chosen. That is my first comment.


HESS: That pertains to the handling thereof.

BENDETSEN: To the reported delegation to Pace.

HESS: Now how about the necessity of his dismissal?

BENDETSEN: This is perhaps the hardest question you have asked me so far in our interview. This is not because I am reluctant to answer any kind of question. I think I would have to say, trying to view the subject from the perspective of the President, it was probably justified. In an absolute sense of hard necessity, I am not at all sure that it was. And I am not at all sure that at the meetings, which the President had in the Pacific with General MacArthur, there was enough "candor." Perhaps the subjects that were not on the agenda, but which at least should have arisen between the two of them were then inadequately addressed.

HESS: They met on October 15, 1950, which was one month to the day after the Inchon landing, and was before the Chinese Communists came in. In other words, things


were looking pretty good in the situation in Korea on October 15, 1950.

BENDETSEN: Very good. However, we should not have pursued the enemy unless we were prepared to use all available means to destroy the Chinese ability to intervene in force as we could have. I am critical of General Douglas MacArthur in this case, even though I am a great admirer; I think, perhaps he was the greatest general of them all. I am critical nevertheless of his conduct of the Korean conflict in two respects. One, the split command between the west-side and the east-side, down the middle of the Korean peninsula. As you may remember having heard that discussed, you know about it. There were really two field commanders reporting to MacArthur in Japan from the field in Korea. This I did not believe was appropriate. There had to be a single command in the field. MacArthurí s headquarters in Japan was a great distance away. This resulted in a very serious lack of essential battle coordination and greatly restricted communications on the


ground between the forces on the right and those on the left. Against these loosely coordinated field forces, the enemy was arrayed with a single field command.

Second, his appraisal after the Inchon landing that we should pursue the enemy across the line of his initial departure and "have the boys home by Christmas" was a grievous error. This deeply shocked me. I could not forgive this. Surely, he had to know better, which meant that he considered himself to be invincible in this case despite the very adverse intelligence reports of advanced preparations for a massive Chinese intervention.

General MacArthur was strongly in favor of pursuit. I knew we were not prepared to use all available force against a Chinese intervention. I made my criticisms known within the Department of Defense, to the Chief of Staff, Secretary of Army, to each of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to the Secretary of Defense. My position was then stated thus: "We must not engage in any military engagement for which we are not wholly prepared to do


whatever it takes to succeed. This will be a new adventure. Unless we are prepared to do whatever it takes to succeed, we will lose what we have gained if we do not repeat the success we have had to date. We have repulsed the enemy to the line of departure of his aggressive assault against the South Koreans. He has lost face. If we cross the 38th parallel, we will be undertaking a major new adventure, and we should stop now unless we are prepared to engage and destroy the Chinese capacity to fight. As certainly as night follows day, if we enter North Korea, the Chinese will intervene.

"To succeed in the new undertaking, it will be absolutely essential that we saturation bomb the massive Chinese ground forces and to heavily bomb beyond the boundary. It will be requisite that this latter will entail destruction of some, if not all, of the hydroelectric dams north of the Yalu River." This was my view and this view constitutes the basis of my critique of General MacArthur.

HESS: The complexion of the war changed drastically at that point. When we first entered the fighting, it was just to move them out of South Korea. What were theyÖ


BENDETSEN: To the 38th parallel.

HESS: Then about in September or October, at some point, the view changed to moving into North Korea. You have mentioned this--that you were opposed. What were the views advanced by those who thought we should go across the 38th parallel and go into the north?

BENDETSEN: In short, these were the principal points of view of those who differed with my appraisal: That we had the momentum; that MacArthur was confident we could secure the unification of North-South Korea and remove a point of friction in the Far East; that we ought to unite Korea while the sun was shining upon us.

Never was there anything about which I was so positive. What a tragically unfortunate decision it was to cross the 38th parallel, under the circumstances.

Now, I would have said, "If we are prepared to use any resource we have, and if we are prepared to face the involvement of the Chinese all the way, then


as far as I am concerned by all means, we should proceed. What we first set out to do, we have done well. We cannot afford risk of failure in a new adventure, which our self-imposed restraints would generate.

HESS: Mr. Bendetsen, you mentioned a minute ago about discussing with the people in the Department of Defense about taking action, taking the necessary action against the invasion in matters of Korea. Was it discussed to use the atomic bomb? What can you tell me about that episode?

BENDETSEN: Mr. Hess, this topic I believe remains classified. I am inclined to the view that I am not free to go into detail. There was a definitive project with regard to which I took the initiative with the knowledge and assent of the Secretary of Defense. Mr. Frank Nash, then Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, worked closely with me. Very detailed and penetrating studies of high-resolution photography were carefully considered.


HESS: In other words, it is classified, but it was discussed.

BENDETSEN: Yes. The project had a classified code name.

HESS: I believe that in one of the early news conferences in December of 1950, Mr. Truman was asked by a reporter if we would take all action necessary, or if we would use the bomb. I believe thatís the way it was, and the President said, "We will take whatever action is necessary." The reporter said something to the effect, "Does that include the use of the atomic bomb?" I believe Mr. Trumaní s answer was almost to repeat himself and to say, "We will take what action is necessary." In other words, at this time, shortly after the Chinese Communists came in, the prevalent view, within the United States, was that the President was seriously considering the use of the atomic bomb. Clement Attlee even came over from England ostensibly to discuss this with him.

BENDETSEN: You are correct. He did give careful in-depth consideration to such a project. You also could


add to the quote that President Truman used to the reporter, "We will not disregard, at the proper time, the use of any weapon." This is as far as he went.

You are correct in what you are saying regarding the trip of Mr. Attlee. It was reported that he came over to discuss it with the President of the United States, because it was also reported that Mr. Attlee was very opposed to the idea. You will also recall that there were in the picture, as it later turned out, two British intelligence agents who were Soviet moles, though of British nationality. One of them was stationed in London. He was at the very apex of the British Intelligence Service. I can add this: I did make specific and affirmative detailed recommendations urgently for employment of a precise number of atomic weapons in carefully delineated areas, the use of which would remain valid during a specified and limited time zone. These recommendations were not carried into execution although preliminary steps were taken, as I have already stated.

If I were free to respond more fully, I would


have a great deal to say of hitherto unrevealed substance. Under the rules, I should not do so. Is that correct?

HESS: Thatís correct. Thatís the rules.

BENDETSEN: A major additional assignment of singular complexity, which we have not discussed, was the reorganization of the Panama Canal Zone functions. This responsibility arose from my designation as Chairman of the Panama Canal Company. This appointment was recommended by the Secretary of the Army, Mr. Frank Pace, who really did not wish to have any involvement in the project. He submitted my name to President Truman who was familiar with the new law. He asked me to come to the White House to discuss it with him. Our discussion was to the point, direct, and as always, he provided a stimulating experience.

By delegation accordingly from the President of the United States to the Secretary of the Army and from him to me, I was made the responsible agent of the U.S. Government for supervising the reorganization of the Canal Zone and its activities, pursuant


to an Act of Congress, Public Law 841, 81st Congress, 2nd Session (64 Stat.l038) approved September 26, 1950. This Act, adopted under the leadership of former Congressman Clark W. Thompson of Texas, constituted the first basic change in the permanent Canal operating organization from that originally established in 1914 pursuant to the Panama Canal Act of 1912.

Under the Act of 1912, in time of peace, the Canal was operated on an appropriations basis, under a single agency, which operated an inter-oceanic public utility. This public utility was headed by a Governor who also functioned as the Governor of the Canal Zone.

Incidentally, in war, that Act placed the Canal Zone and all of its functions under the supreme control of the Commanding General of the U.S. Army on the Isthmus.

The concept of the Act of 1950 was significantly different from that of the Act of 1912. A new corporation was chartered by the Congress known as the


Panama Canal Company. The Panama Railroad Company, a New York corporation, which had existed since the 1850ís following the completion of that railroad, under the Act of Congress was merged into the newly created Panama Canal Company. The new company was placed under the control of a Board of Directors, the presiding officer of which was the Chairman. The President of the Company became the general manager of all the business operations on the Isthmus, including the Canal, the Panama Railroad, and many other functions, which are required in support of the inter-oceanic waterway. The Governor of the Canal Zone under the law served ex-officio, as president of the Panama Canal Company. The president reported to the Board of Directors and to me as Chairman for all company purposes. As Governor, he reported to me as the Assistant Secretary of the Army and later as the Under Secretary of the Army for all governmental functions.

Under the new Act, the Panama Canal Company was charged with the operation of all transit, tollmaking, navigational, and commercial activities including


the railroad on a self-sustaining basis. It became the sole taxpayer and was required under the Act to fund all of the governmental functions in the Zone which were strictly separated from the public utility and business functions. The Governor necessarily had to prepare a governmental budget, which had to be submitted to the Chairman and to the Board inasmuch as it would have a major impact on tolls, fees, charges, etc. with regard to the business operations.

The task involved was a major one. It was compared by Congressman Thompson as being at least as difficult and complex as rewiring the entire New York telephone exchange system while attempting simultaneously to continue regular and normal telephone operations without interruption.

Frequent trips to the Zone were necessarily required of me. The Governor of the Zone had traditionally been an Army Engineer Corps officer with the rank of Brigadier General. In the latter fifties the rank of the Governor was elevated to


Major General. The then incumbent (General Newcomer) was nearing the end of his term. He was somewhat perplexed and understandably somewhat inflexible in certain respects. He was unaccustomed to dealing with profound change. He did not enthusiastically embrace the major degree to which he was necessarily required to diminish the degree of independence he had enjoyed. His accountability which never came under any pressure had been largely to himself and to an annual appearance before the authorizing and appropriations committees of the House and Senate. These were mostly pro forma inasmuch as the committees habitually approved his requests as a matter of course.

He had had no exposure to managing a rather vast public utility, which would be required to adopt rate making procedures and to fix tolls and charges in a public way. In other words, he had become cost accountable in a profit and loss sense.

It was necessary to separate the long intertwined governmental and Canal Zone activities from each other. It became necessary to cost justify


every governmental activity. These governmental activities were analogous to those of a city. There were quasi "legislative" activities, schools, police, courts, fire, hospital, and the gamut of services such as garbage collection and the maintenance of sewers, etc. The Canal Company, which produced water and power for the "city" had to be paid for these services.

The Governor had presided over a large staff of civilians together with some highly competent Army-Engineer officers. There was a substantial payroll and everything was intermixed.

His permanent civilian staff had become accustomed over the years to a very relaxed environment with no pressures. Everything suddenly changed. The change was not necessarily welcome. The only saving grace for me was that they knew that I had not been responsible for the change and had not sought the additional duties, which had devolved upon me.

It would be counterproductive in this oral history to discuss at length the substantial


problems which were encountered and with which I had to deal.

In addition to these challenges which could not possibly be self-evident without directly encountering them in a real life situation as I did, I found it necessary to present myself through the U.S. Ambassador then serving in Panama (the Honorable John Wiley) to many leading Panamanians, including the President of Panama and others. Ambassador Wiley was a man of great capacity and enlightenment. He had not been happy with the lack of appropriate and ongoing communications between the Governor on the one hand and the Panamanians on the other. He warmly welcomed the initiatives which I took to overcome the strains and stresses which had understandably developed. Great progress was made. Many of the practices of the Zone were changed practices, which impinged unjustifiably on Panamanians outside the Zone. There were myriad of problems, which were inexplicably interwoven and long neglected. By the winter of 1952, the Act had been


fully carried into effect. The Canal Zone was entirely removed from an appropriations basis. The unamortized cost of the Canal became an indebtedness owed to the U.S. Government by the Panama Canal Company. A schedule of amortization had been adopted and approved by the appropriate committees of the House and Senate as well as by the President of the United States.

Friction points caused by commissary and post exchange practices which themselves were wholly unjustified were eliminated. Employee grievances, more particularly Panamanian employees, were addressed with a fair degree of initial success.

Tolls were established on a rate making basis. So also were other necessary charges such as bunkering, ship repairs, offshore towing, piloting.

Cost analyses methods were adopted, some charges were increased, others were decreased. Some of the business functions which had been performed by U.S. Government employees and which were not essential and inimical to the operation of the Canal were made available for bidding by Panamanian entrepreneurs. This


was successfully accomplished and greatly appreciated. It was a "first." Relations between the Governor on the one hand and the Commanding General of United States armed forces and with the air and naval forces in the Zone were improved.

The relationships between Panama and the United States were never better. The Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Edwin Miller was most cooperative. He was entirely in sympathy with the Canal Zone. He was a great force for the promotion of increased understanding. Unfortunately, that refreshing attitude in the State Department vanished within a few years. An unjustified predilection took its place. This led to conditions which promoted the idea which thereafter prevailed in the State Department that the United States had no justification whatsoever for its presence on the Isthmus; that in reality the United States did not really own it. This was a total falsehood, which nevertheless became a dominant myth and thus an article of faith.


Suffice it to add that it was an intensive, strenuous and enlightening experience and a source of satisfaction that the assignment was successfully fulfilled.

Following my resignation as Under Secretary of the Army in the late fall of 1952, I was requested to remain as Chairman. This request was repeated by President Eisenhower in 1953 and I remained as Chairman until the end of that year when the pressure of my other obligations and those associated with the chairmanship of the Canal Company came into conflict, simply because of the unavailability of adequate time to do both.

HESS: All right, now, I think in our past discussions we have fairly well pointed out your working relationships, your recollections, your opinions of James Forrestal, Louis Johnson and General Marshall. Correct? Do you think we have said enough about those three gentlemen? If so, how about Mr. Robert Lovett, who took over as the Secretary of Defense at the retirement of General Marshall?


What would be your evaluation of Robert Lovett as Secretary of Defense?

BENDETSEN: Highly qualified, able, performed as Deputy Secretary of Defense and as Secretary of Defense in a superior manner in both cases. My relationships with General Marshall and with Robert Lovett were cordial, close, warm, friendly and both were an inspiration to me.

HESS: Your three special civilian assistants at the time you were Under Secretary were John W. Macy, Jr., Robert D. King and Kenneth Stiles. Will you just say a few words about those gentlemen? John Macy is well known; he headed the Civil Service Commission.

BENDETSEN: Yes, John Macy was with me in the personnel area. I had extensive personnel duties both as Assistant and Under Secretary of the Army. John Macy has always known this field very well. He later was Chairman of the Civil Service Commission. He performed his duties exceedingly well. His field related to the civilian personnel of the Army.


Robert D. King was a civilian employee of the Defense Department for many, many years. He had specialized in review of the appropriation requests of the Department of the Army, though he had held some other positions. He had a professional civil service rating. He was a hardworking, dedicated individual whose specialties were primarily in the field of logistics and in the budgetary support of the Army in terms of maintenance, of hardware, mobile equipment and the like; I used him as a specialist for me, as an assistant to me, in the budget process. He was able and diligent and performed his duties in a superior manner.

HESS: And Mr. Stiles?

BENDETSEN: Kenneth Stiles came over to the Department of the Army from the Bureau of the Budget with Frank Pace. And Frank Pace asked me if I could use Mr. Stiles. He described his Budget Bureau experience to me. I agreed that I could use him effectively after we had a long interview. I assigned


him duties related primarily to the area of the comptrollership of the Army, with emphasis on the development of procedures for allotment, and for control and reporting of expenditures of appropriated funds. I should add that as Under Secretary, I was the general manager of the Army Department. I presided over budget preparation and justification as well as allocation and release of appropriations and of obligational authorizations. The Comptroller of the Army reported concurrently to me and to the Chief of Staff.

Ken was a professional in this field, and as you may know, when Frank Pace went to General Dynamics to become president and later chairman, he took Ken Stiles along with him. They were closely associated over a period of many years. I believe Stiles stayed at General Dynamics after Pace left. Ken was able and he performed his duties well. Pace leaned on him heavily because Frank was a stranger to the complexities involved.

HESS: And you left the Department of the Army in September of 1952. Correct?


HESS: You didnít?


BENDESTEN: I left the Department of the Army at 12 oí clock midnight on October 3, 1952.

HESS: Okay, Wherever I came up with September, itís an error. Iíll scratch it out. Why did you leave? Did you feel that you had been there long enough?

BENDETSEN: I left the Department of the Army with the permission of the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense, and the President of the United States. I asked their permission to see Mr. Truman to present my respects, and ask for his approval of my resignation. He was very courteous to me as he always was and very laudatory. He said to me, "Iím sorry to see you leave, but, of course, if you insist, I will accept your resignation provided you have some reason besides the usual one of returning to civil life. You are going to do that some day anyway; why do you have to do it now?"

I said, "Well, Mr. President, I will tell you my reason, although I hesitate somewhat to do so. I am certain you are satisfied I will always answer


any question you ask because, despite what I am going to say, I respect and admire you as a great man and a great President. It has been an inspiration to serve under you, even though, as you know, I am a Republican serving in a Democratic administration."

He said, "Yes, I know that." He said, "Your name was not brought to my attention as soon as it might have been, or you would have been made Assistant Secretary of the Army sooner than you were. I remember our past relationship and I regret this. Now," he said, "is it because your appointment was delayed that you are so unhappy with me?"

I said, "Absolutely not, Mr. President; if you were going to serve another term of office I would be willing to stay as long as you wanted me to stay in any capacity you asked. I wish you were to be President another term. Because you are not, I want to campaign for General Eisenhower."

He said, "I canít refuse you, can I?"

I replied, "No sir, I do not believe you should in the premises."


HESS: You werenít going to campaign for Mr. Stevenson, so he was going to let you go. Thatís pretty good.

That is an important point. You were Republican and you were in a high position of authority. What is your evaluation of Mr. Trumaní s understanding of the value and the necessity of having members of the opposition party in positions of authority?

BENDETSEN: I think Mr. Truman gave primary consideration to the people in whom he had acquired confidence for appointment to positions in the "heavy" cabinet departments regardless of party affiliations. I think some of the Democrats around him were not necessarily happy with his decisions in this regard. Mr. Truman was a very broad gauge man. He appointed Robert Lovett Secretary of Defense without hesitation. Mr. Lovett is at least nominally a Republican. He had a number of others in his administration who served during the Korean conflict who were Republicans. I think he was a very loyal party man, but in a very real sense he always placed the welfare of


the nation above party although he held his actions in this regard to those practical limitations which one might expect him to apply. He freely used John Foster Dulles who was a close advisor to Secretary Acheson.

HESS: There were a number of Republicans in high positions. One who comes to mind is Paul Hoffman who headed the Marshall plan.

BENDETSEN: Yes, of course.

HESS: All right, in your opinion, what were Mr. Trumaní s major accomplishments and what were his major failings?

BENDETSEN: In my opinion, Mr. Trumaní s major accomplishments were many. I would say that history will record him as one of our truly great Presidents. We have had very few great ones.

Of his major achievements, I would lay emphasis on these: First, the Truman Doctrine. This constitutes a milestone in the history of the United


States. I am sure historians will agree. They will bestow great credit to President Truman for the clarity of his insight. His Truman Doctrine was launched in his vital "Aid to Greece and Turkey" speech.

Second, the ongoing application of this Doctrine came with effective intervention in Greece. A vitally important step! It took great courage! Our resources in being were slender.

Third, I would emphasize the transcendental long-range foresight in his actions vis-a-vis the Soviets in Iran. He squarely confronted the Soviets and they withdrew. Mossadegh was on the Soviet side! The Soviets at that time were even then seeking to get control of Iranís vast reserves of oil, not because they needed it, but because they were laying away the means, the stepping-stones to the domination of Europe and Japan and eventually the United States.

Fourth, is his major accomplishment in the reconstruction of Europe, which bears the name of General Marshall--the Marshall plan.

His fifth major accomplishment was his forthright


determination to propose to the United Nations that the unprovoked North Korean aggression over the 38th parallel by the Communists be repulsed in force.

Sixth, was a balanced and judicious approach, through Mr. Arnold, to antitrust law enforcement. No other President since then has equaled his courageous perception, which rose above false populist temptations, bar none. It took calm judicious action and the enlightened will to risk political attack from antitrust opportunists.

His seventh major accomplishment, which I probably should have put down first, and no one can take away from him ever, was the reversal of Mr. Deweyí s forces in the election of 1948. He did that almost single-handed. Any man who could have reversed the tide of presumed voter sentiment to the degree that he did would have to be accorded a crown of great and singular political capacity and rare insight.

HESS: In the latest election, the pollsters were quite


accurate; in that election, they were not.

BENDETSEN: That approaches a vast understatement!

HESS: What would you see as his major failings?

BENDETSEN: I saw only one characteristic which was not necessarily a major failing; rather I view it as a case of misplaced confidence on occasion. It was this: He did not always follow his invariably accurate instinctive judgments. When he hesitated, and listened to the second guessing, of some of the people around him, he made a few mistakes. When he followed his own instinctive, remarkable judgments, he was almost infallibly right on.

HESS: Can you give an example?

BENDETSEN: I probably could if you give me a moment to reflect. He was persuaded to forbid bombing across the Yalu River in force, and to limit saturation bombing of the massive Chinese forces north of the Yalu. His instincts were right. He hesitated and listened to second guessers.


It is my view that his decision to apply mandatory wage and price controls was a great mistake. Instinctively, I know he distrusted price and wage controls. The "popular" and populist pressures and clamor for them were great, as is always the case. But price controls have never worked in the history of man. The President knew history. He knew such measures have been failures in every case throughout history for several thousand years, except in general war and total mobilization. He knew they were in Greece and in the Roman Empire and even when Ghengis Kahn tried them. They exacerbated inflation as always they do. A black market ensued with vigor and the Government had to back off, lest the economy would have faltered disastrously. There was an "excess profits tax." That was enough. He hesitated and took bad advice. Those controls so disastrously clogged the channels of supply that the industrial economy was dangerously impaired. The controls had to be abandoned.

Despite these examples, he was a great man,


whose stature in history will be towering. He will be counted as one of our truly great Presidents.

HESS: All right, what is your estimation of Mr. Trumanís place in history?

BENDETSEN: As among U.S. Presidents?

HESS: Yes, sir.

BENDETSEN: I would rank Mr. Truman with, but after Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and with Eisenhower not after) who will also become regarded as a great President. I place him ahead of all others before or since, to date.

HESS: Do you have anything else to add on any of the roles that you played in the Truman administration, or upon Mr. Truman? Do you think we have adequately covered the ground?

BENDETSEN: So far as I can recall at the moment, I believe we have covered the highlights. When I read the transcript, my memory may be refreshed. I then may suggest that I add to this record other examples


I have not mentioned, and in addition, where appropriate to refreshed recollection, I enlarge upon some of my responses to your questions in the three interviews of October 24, November 9, and November 21, 1972.

HESS: Fine.

BENDETSEN: As a postscript before you end this tape, I would again emphasize that I have consciously refrained where still highly classified information was involved. In another instance, for obvious reasons of taste and good form, I declined to relate anything about the personal problems of Secretary Forrestal, which he discussed with me in confidence as a friend.

HESS: All right, when the drafts come and we find things that you want to add in, just insert them and we will add them in.

BENDETSEN: Do you think I have been adequately responsive to your questions?


HESS: Very much so. Very much. Thank you very much.

BENDETSEN: I thank you for this opportunity, for your superbly competent preparations, for your unfailing courtesy and saintly patience.

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