• U.S.

ARMED FORCES: General on the Carpet

3 minute read

One of the items on the agenda of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this week is a special preview of a new movie. Mac Arthur, starring Gregory Peck. The screening, however, may not be that relaxing. Eerily, history is repeating itself. Douglas MacArthur was abruptly recalled and sacked in 1951 for defying President Harry Truman by calling for an expansion of the Korean War to mainland China. Now another, lesser general is on the carpet for speaking out against another President’s Korean policies.

In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Major General John K. Singlaub, 55, flatly declared that Jimmy Carter’s proposed withdrawal of the 31,700 U.S. ground troops in South Korea over a four- or five-year period “will lead to war.” Singlaub, third-ranking U.S. general in South Korea, insisted that the pullout would encourage North Korea to launch a second invasion.

Angry Reaction. Though Singlaub went on to say that he would nevertheless “execute such a withdrawal with enthusiasm and a high level of professional skill,” that scarcely took the sting out of his criticism. Carter and Defense Secretary Harold Brown were furious. The President immediately summoned Singlaub to Washington for a face-to-face meeting in the Oval Office last weekend. Afterward, Secretary Brown announced that General Singlaub had been relieved of his Korean command because his public statements “inconsistent with announced national security policy have made it difficult for him to carry out” his Korean duties.

The general’s error was not in what he said but how he said it—publicly. Other U.S. military men have confined their own intense criticism of the withdrawal to private conversations or testimony before congressional committees. At a time when the U.S. is conducting delicate SALT negotiations with the Soviet Union, any indication that American military men are in any way out of control could upset the talks.

The Carter Administration is convinced that South Korean independence can be maintained with U.S. air and logistical support, but without U.S. ground forces. The North and South Korean armies are roughly comparable; about 600,000 troops on each side. The North has superior firepower both in the air and on the ground, but the U.S. plans to keep its 7,100 airmen in the South.

More is at stake than just Korea, however, as important as it is to Asian stability. The prospect of a U.S. withdrawal alarms Japan, which fears instability in the Korean peninsula, the traditional invasion route to the Japanese home islands. China fears that too precipitate a U.S. retreat from Asia would encourage aggressive Russian moves. The general’s warning can only add to these apprehensions.

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