War could never be part of a system of checks and balances

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Not more than 25,000 survivors of the Inmun Gun were able to retreat north of the 38th parallel, and with victory, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), came the determination to punish them for starting the war:

If the fighting, with its resultant death and destruction, its loss of American lives, resulted only in the return of the status quo, then almost all Americans would feel cheated.

War could never be part of a system of checks and balances; the view seemed immoral. War must always be for a cause, a transcendental purpose: it must not be to restore the Union, but to make men free; it must not be to save the balance of world power from falling into unfriendly hands, but to make the world safe for democracy; it must not be to rescue allies, but to destroy evil.

Americans have always accepted checks and balances within their own system of government, but never without, in the world. Because in the world such checks have never been achieved with votes or constitutions but with guns, and Americans have never admitted that guns may serve a moral purpose as well as votes.

They have never failed to resort to guns, however, when other mean fail.

It was inevitable that the United States should take the position that the North Korean Communist State must now be destroyed for its lawlessness and that all Korea should be united under the government of the Taehan Minkuk.

Actually, the Communist world had not broken the law, for one of the continuing tragedies of mankind is that there is no international law. The Communist world had tried to probe, a gambit, and hand been strongly checked.

And the Communists would regard an American move to punish the “law-breaker” not so much as justice but as a United States gambit of its own.

The question was not whether the American desire to reunite Korea under non-Communist rule was a proper goal for the United States, but whether the Communist world could sit by as the United States in turn ruptured the status quo ante.

The desire to join the two halves of Korea under Syngman Rhee was unquestionably proper, and in the best interests of the United Nations — if the U.N. had the power to accomplish it.

On 27 September 1950 the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed General MacArthur as follows:

  1. His primary objective was to be the destruction of all North Korean military forces.
  2. His secondary mission was the unification of Korea under Syngman Rhee, if possible.
  3. He was to determine whether Soviet or Chinese intervention appeared likely, and to report such threat if it developed.

With the third instruction appeared sign of an elementary weakness in American policy — a decision by the powerful Communist nations to intervene or not to intervene was a political question, on the highest level. The indications would be apparent — or nonapparent — not on military levels but through the channels of political intercourse.


Military intelligence, quite competently, can determine the number of divisions a nation has deployed. Military men can never wholly competently decide, from military evidence alone, whether such nation will use them.

Such decision is not, and will never be, within the competence of military intelligence.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    The United States did a decent job of making a continent safe for democracy. Perhaps trying to make the world safe for democracy was overreach.

  2. Dave says:

    Like the nations of old Europe, the Indian tribes also had a system of checks and balances. Young men earned their feathers by attacking other tribes and stealing their women and horses. Tribal chieftains often smoked the peace pipe and made treaties that their young men would soon break, because war was the only way they could ever become chieftains.

    The Americans had no interest in playing this game, and when the Indians tried it on them, they got annihilated. China fared a bit better, only because of the sheer number of bodies they could throw at the Americans, and because MacArthur was not allowed to bomb their supply lines.

    America has been the pivot-point of world power for a century, and might be so for a century to come. Nations win wars not by defeating America on the battlefield but by using their fellow travelers in Washington, New York, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley to co-opt or subvert American power. Even Joe McCarthy underestimated how deeply riddled the country was with Communist sympathizers.

  3. Kirk says:

    Trying to apply the legalistic worldview to a situation that has already spun entirely out of control of the legal system is entirely insane, and always has been.

    The Nazis and Communists during WWII were not acting within the bounds of any legal system; so trying to bring them to “justice” for not following the dictates of one? Laughable. The Nuremberg trials were a sad joke, and what should have happened would have been public identifications, readings of the the confirmed acts by the parties under adjudication, and then swift justice applied via a bullet in the back of the neck.

    Once you get to the point where people are shooting each other and dropping bombs on communities? Yeah; cut to the f**king chase, and be done with it. None of that is “moral”, it isn’t inside any kind of legal framework. It’s the exercise of raw military power, and trying to dress it up as some kind of “police action” is insane. You have what the Arabs call the “House of Peace” and the “House of War”. Once you pass through the one into the other, rules on either side of the line no longer apply. If you’re at war, it’s raw strength against raw strength, and you kill him before he kills you. The leadership which started the war, if not victorious? Let them suffer the fate they visited upon all the soldiers involved, and put them down like mad dogs. The charges levied against the “criminals” at Nuremberg were entirely fatuous and irrelevant–What conqueror has ever been subject to legalities? Was Alexander brought before a tribunal? The law of conquest is not the law of peace and amicable relations.

    All of the Nazis should have been made to pass under the yoke on their way to the death camps they built for everyone else, same with the Japanese imperialists. That we attempted to apply peacetime standards and laws? A sad, sad joke.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    Perhaps the real purpose of the Nuremberg trials was to shore up the fantasy of the perfectibility of human society – a notion that had taken two terrible beatings in two World Wars.

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