Oral History Interview with
General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant
Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952. more
Karl R. Bendetsen
New York City, New York
November 21, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
BENDETSEN: Yes, sir. It is a permanent statute permitting an exception
by resolution of Congress. A temporary exception was made almost without
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
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
BENDETSEN: No, sir.
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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."
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
problems which were encountered and with which I had to
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
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
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
Suffice it to add that it was an intensive, strenuous and enlightening
experience and a source of satisfaction that the assignment was successfully
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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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