• U.S.

War: Struggle of Wills

3 minute read

Not just the question of who is right, but who has most power, was at issue this week in the U.S.’s battle of wills with stubborn old Syngman Rhee. When it came down to it, Rhee had an imposing show of power. How to counter it was the subject of a conference called by Mark Clark, and attended by Army Chief of Staff J. Lawton Collins, Eighth Army Commander Maxwell Taylor and Far East air and naval commanders. Clark & Co. decided that Rhee could:

1) Free the remaining 8,000 anti-Communist North Korean prisoners. Clark has already taken some precautions by moving the 8,000 into two camps under U.S. Army and Marine guards. If a breakout is attempted anyway, Clark (with Washington’s backing) has ordered the camp commanders not to shoot to kill or wound, but to fire into the air or the ground and to use non-lethal gases. If most or all of the 8,000 escape in spite of these measures, Clark considers this a lesser evil. Reason: the Communists have already shown that they care much less about the 27,000 already turned loose than about U.S. ability to get on with a truce.

2) Order the Korean Service Corps (more than 100,000 Korean porters and others working for the U.N. Command), the dockworkers at Pusan, Inchon and other ports, and the railway workers to leave their work. In a time of active combat, with the front in need of a steady stream of supply, such a move by Rhee would be crippling. If the fighting in most sectors is at a standstill, as it now is, the move would be only a serious inconvenience.

3) Refuse to abide by the truce, and attack the Communists. Clark is already considering a redeployment of front-line units so that the eastern two-thirds of the line will be solidly held by ROKs, the western one-third—guarding the approaches to Seoul—by non-Koreans. Without U.N. air support, ammunition, fuel and tactical advice, the ROKs would have little sustained offensive strength. Their only hope is that the U.N. forces would sooner or later have to get involved in the battle too, if only to preserve their own flanks.

Looking on, the Peking radio betrayed something akin to sympathy for the U.S. predicament. It no longer called Rhee a U.S. puppet, and even for the first time spoke of the U.S. as a democratic nation. Rhee’s actions, said Peking in a July 4 broadcast, constitute “an insult to the spirit of independence and democracy of the American people and their ancestor, Washington.” If these nosegays are any index, the Reds are as anxious for a truce as ever — perhaps more so.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com