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When in Doubt, Nuke China


The current collapse of the unipolar world, with the inexorable emergence of a multipolar framework, has enabled a terrifying subplot to run amok – the normalization of the idea of nuclear war.

The latest exhibit comes in the form of a US admiral assuring everyone he's ready to follow President Trump's orders to launch a nuclear missile against China.

MacArthur's park is melting in the dark

To shed extra nuances on "civilian control of the military," a flashback to September 1950 and the Korean War, with some help from Bruce Cumings and John Halliday's Korea: The Unknown War, may be far from "ridiculous." Especially now that factions of the War Party in Washington have been pressing the case for nuking not China but North Korea itself.

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It's key to remember that by 1950 President Truman had already issued a "civilian control of the military" order to drop two atomic bombs over Japan in 1945 – a historical first.

Truman had become Vice-President in January 1945. FDR treated him with the utmost disdain. He was clueless about the Manhattan Project. When FDR died he had been Vice-President for only 82 days, and became POTUS knowing absolutely nothing about foreign policy or the new military/nuclear equation.

Truman had five years after bombing Japan to learn all about it, on the job. Now the action was on the Korean front. Even before an amphibious landing in Inchon, led by General MacArthur – the greatest since D-Day in Normandy, in 1944 – Truman had authorized MacArthur to advance beyond the 38th parallel. There's substantial historical debate that MacArthur was not told exactly what to do in detail – as long as he was winning. Fine for a man who was fond of quoting Montgomery: "Generals are never given adequate directives".

Still, MacArthur did receive a top secret memorandum from Truman stressing that any operations north of the 38th parallel were authorized only if "there was no entry into North Korea by major Soviet or Chinese Communist forces, no announcements of intended entry, nor a threat to counter our operations militarily".

And then, MacArthur received an eyes-only message from Pentagon head George Marshall: "We want you to feel unhampered tactically and strategically to proceed north of the 38th parallel."

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