October 16, 2013

1951. World War III in Asia?

Will World War III Begin in Asia?
See magazine, March 1951, p. 10
From See Magazine, March 1951:
WORLD WAR III IN ASIA?
By Bill Downs

Chief CBS Correspondent in the Far East

Exploding in Country After Country, Moscow-Made Powder Keg Threatens to Ignite a World Holocaust
The first time I heard the question asked was in Pusan, that odoriferous, overcrowded United Nations base on the southeast tip of Korea. It was asked by a young second lieutenant who, last August, had talked his way out of the American base hospital there. He had been wounded north of Taejon back in July when the 24th Division was trying to put a few-thousand-man cork in a military bottle 150 miles wide.

"I've got a hunch this is only the beginning," the lieutenant said. "Those Communists are going for something more than just this peninsula. Look at those Russian tanks—T-38s, the same that licked Hitler. Their artillery is good, too. Their mortars are murder.

His face was lined and thin and older than it should have been. The heat was intense and his leg wound still pained him. The only difference between the lieutenant and the soldiers I had seen up north was that the young officer had a hospital haircut, a shave and clean clothing. He looked reasonably free of fleas.

"Don't you think," he asked, "that this is the beginning of World War III?"

It is a legitimate question—even more valid now in early 1951 than in the early summer of 1950 when it looked as if the honor of the United States army and the international prestige of the United Nations might be drowned in the Pusan harbor.

I don't know what became of the second lieutenant. The magnificent 24th fought and died with heroism matching anything that happened at Bull Run, San Juan Hill, or Omaha Beach.

But the lieutenant's question needs an answer.

To my mind, the answer is: Yes, Korea is the beginning of World War III. The brilliant landings at Inchon and the cooperative efforts of the American armed forces with the United Nations Allies have won us a victory in Korea. But this is only the first battle in a major international struggle which now is engulfing the Far East and the entire world.

Facing us are three enormous problems.

The first problem is the world-wide struggle against Soviet Communism, Stalinism, Russian imperialism—whatever you want to call it—that now has the Far East and Europe on the razor's edge. The second problem is the struggle being fomented between the white man and the yellow man. The past history of the white man's conquests and exploitations in the Far East do not make pretty reading. The present difficulties in Asia are not only a challenge to the Western World but also an opportunity.

The challenge is to our ideals of individual freedom and democracy. The opportunity is for the United Nations to prove that these spiritual things are not only for the Western Hemisphere but also for the hordes of unhappy, miserable and hungry people of Korea, China, Indochina, India, Siam, Burma and the rest.

The third problem is economic. We found, when we went into Korea after the end of the second World War, that, when one Korean meets another Korean on a late afternoon stroll, he does not say, "Good evening," or "How's the little woman?" The formal greeting from one Korean to another is: "Have you had your evening meal?

The comment indicates the overwhelming poverty of the Far East. It also partially explains why the Oriental culture of about one-half of the world's population is willing to accept the spurious promises of Communism. The basic appeal is not to their political consciences—it is to their bellies.

When we first found ourselves committed in Korea, on July 27th, 1950, the reaction of the baffled officers and the green, badly trained troops was unanimous. "What a place to die!" they said. But they did die—and some are still dying.

The weather and fleas and mosquitoes and the rugged hills belied the historic descriptions of Korea—Choson, "The Land of the Morning Calm." Instead, the soldiers, with rough but typical soldiers' irreverence, called it "The Land of the Morning Calm, the Afternoon Attack and the Nightsoil." The main road leading from the former Red capital of Pyongyang through Seoul and Taejon to Taegu has been dubbed "Heartbreak Highway." The graves of those who died along this invasion route testify to the aptness of this name. But "Heartbreak Highway" does not end in Korea.

Even now, as we and our allies plan for the reconstruction and relief for thirty million Koreans, Communist-led troops are moving in Indochina and Tibet. They are mysterious names of little-known nations, but their conquest is just as dangerous to the people of America as if an enemy attempted to take Texas.

Indochina, fifteen hundred miles south of the Korean Peninsula on the Asiatic mainland, has about the same area as Texas.

Its southern capital, Saigon, is an Oriental version of Paris. Its people are more Indonesian than Chinese. As a French colony, Indochina has contributed great wealth to the French nation. The clumsy and often imperialistic policies of the French overseers created a deep-rooted hatred among the Indochinese natives. The West is now reaping the fruits of this hatred.

The French also have their "heartbreak highways" along Indochina's northern border with Communist China. A Communist-led army, as big as the North Korean force which struck across the 38th Parallel, has forced the French Foreign Legion to give up many border outposts and cede hundreds of square miles to the revolutionaries.

Although the uprising in Indochina is more of a nationalistic movement than a Communist one, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the rebels, is Moscow-trained and dedicated to Communism.

Like the Koreans, his men have great courage and skill in guerrilla fighting. During the past few years, they have been trained and armed by the Chinese Communists under China's Red leader, Mao Tse-Tung.

Strategically, Indochina is of great value to any aggressor. It is the gateway to Southeast Asia. It borders on Thailand. Indochina's coast curves around to form a flank on Formosa, considered by General MacArthur as indispensable to America's Pacific defense line. And, most important, Indochina's coast is only 800 miles across the South China Sea to the troubled Philippines.

Last October there was another dramatic move in the Far East pattern of Communist aggression—the Chinese Red invasion of Tibet.

Tibet is the stumbling block that has separated the two largest nations of the Far East—India and China. The alleged purpose of the invasion was to "liberate three million Tibetans from imperialistic oppression." This is obviously ridiculous since Tiber has been cut off from the outside world for centuries.

The Himalaya and Kunlun mountains that make up Tibet are too high and difficult for any extensive traffic. In fact, most of the nation is higher than our highest mountain, Mount Whitney in California.

Tibet's people are interested in three things: their flocks, their religion—and being left alone. However, early in 1950, the Chinese Communists advised the government of the 15-year-old Dalai Lama that Tibet—which he theoretically ruled—was to be a territory of the new Chinese People's Republic.

This statement vitally interested India, Tibet's neighbor to the south. India agreed to act as a go-between between the governments of Lhasa and Peking. The government of Pandit Nehru has long been attempting to establish itself as the neutral bridge between East and West—the moderator of disputes between nations.

India asked the Chinese Communists to "use moderation" in dealing with Tibet. The Peking government had every reason to accede. The Nehru government was carrying the cause of the Chinese Communists in the United Nations, presenting them as peaceful agrarian reformers who deserved to replace Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in that organization. India argued that Mao Tse-tung was not interested in aggression, that Chinese Communism differed from Russian.

Then, embarrassingly, Chinese Communist troops began the invasion of Tibet. The move was a direct slap in the face of India, and there has since been a significant schism between Peking and New Delhi. India has declared she still will remain neutral in the struggle between East and West. But (as the Irish say) the Tibet incident may determine whom India will be "neutral against" hereafter. For Tibet has borders that touch—and now threaten—India, as well as Burma and Pakistan.

America's southern flank in the Southwest Pacific is the Philippines. When we granted them independence on July 4, 1946, the effect was felt throughout the Far East.

During the past five years, Washington has assisted them to the tune of more than two billion dollars in cash and materials. At first there were signs of post-war reconstruction and order in government. Then there were signs of decay. Great swindles occurred in the US war surplus material left in the islands. Election frauds and corruption in office became common. Production lagged. Finally, President Quirino asked the US to investigate. It did. Experts, headed by former under-Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Bell, exposed Philippine inefficiency and corruption. President Truman offered Manila another quarter of a billion dollars—but only on condition there be sweeping reforms.

Quirino has been having serious trouble with peasant revolutionaries called the Huks (short for Hukbalahaps). Their leadership is Communistic but the growing support they are getting in rural areas can be traced to government indifference and corruption.

The fundamental answer to the question of all-out war in the Orient now lies with the Communist regime of Mao Tse-tung in China. His 475 million subjects represent the biggest manpower reserve in the world.

There has been one encouraging development in the Far East, however. The recent armistice in the revolution in Indonesia, the islands to the south of Indochina, was one of the United Nations' first victories. A UN commission succeeded in stopping the bloodshed in Indonesia and forcing negotiation between the revolutionaries and the ruling Netherlands government. The upshot was the newly-born United States of Indonesia and a measure of independence viewed enviously by other peoples of the Far East.

Whether we like it or not, the USA has an inferential responsibility to the Indonesian government. When I first went to Batavia, shortly after the end of World War II, everywhere, painted on public buildings and on streetcars, were slogans reading: "All men are created equal," "Government of the people, by the people and for the people. There were other quotations from American history. Significantly, all the signs were printed in English.

World War III, which appears to have had its beginnings in the Far East, will not be won by force of arms alone. At present the Communists are doing much better than the Democracies in the ideological struggle. The young Chinese under Mao are dedicated men. There are those in Washington who argue that the hold of the Chinese Communist is unbreakable, but that Oriental Communism is a different brand than the Kremlin's. The school of thought urges that we try to convince Mao of the United Nations' good intentions—in other words, attempt to make him a Far Eastern Tito. Opponents charge that such a move would be craven appeasement.

Whatever the right answer, clearly we have many tasks before us in the Far East if the battles such as those fought in Korea and Indochina are to be kept under control.

First, the United Nations must be militarily strong. The American plan, adopted by the General Assembly of the UN, which provides a standing international police force to meet aggression wherever it occurs, is the first positive step towards preventing other "Koreas."

Secondly, as soon as possible in the Far East, the UN should attempt to ditch last-century imperialism inherited from the exploiting colonists. Finally, the ideals of personal freedom and individual justice must be "sold" to the people of the Far East.
But this is only the beginning of the job in the Orient. The easiest and best way of winning the East is with a full bowl of rice. Democracy, after all, is one philosophy that must be practiced with a full stomach.

See magazine, March 1951, p. 13