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John J. Muccio Oral History Interview, February 18, 1971

Oral History Interview with
John J. Muccio

Special Representative of the President to Korea, 1948-49; Ambassador to Korea, 1949-52;
Envoy Extraordinary to Iceland, 1954.

Washington, D. C.
February 18, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview..

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[ Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed ]


Oral History Interview with
Ambassador John J. Muccio

Washington, D. C.
February 18, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: To begin this morning, Mr. Ambassador, in the latter part of July General MacArthur took a trip to Formosa to speak to Chiang Kai-Shek, and shortly thereafter Averell Harriman paid a visit to Japan and Korea. What do you recall about those episodes?

MUCCIO: Well, at that time I was in Taegu, and Harriman came there and he talked to President Rhee and talked to me and to General [Walton H.] Walker, U.S. Commander of the Eighth Army and also United Nations Commander for the forces operating--UN forces in Korea.

HESS: This was after he had spoken with General MacArthur in Tokyo, did he tell you what his mission was about and perhaps what General MacArthur had said to him in Tokyo?

MUCCIO: No, he never got into the subject of the substance of his message to General MacArthur.

HESS: What did you at this time know about General MacArthur's visit to Taiwan, why did you think he had gone to Taiwan? Did you have any views on that?

MUCCIO: We got very little on that in Korea at the time.


It wasn't until later that that unfolded publicly. General MacArthur came to Taegu in person on the 29th of July and spent a day there. I had an hour with him alone.

And during this visit, MacArthur in great detail outlined to me the situation he faced in South Korea. That there were no additional forces, ground forces, available at that time in the Far East and would take four or five more weeks to get them out from the Hawaiian Islands and from the United States, and that we were going to have a very difficult five or six weeks. And it wouldn't be until the end of that period that he could do anything about "easing the situation," as he put it.

As he was about to leave I suggested that he drop in--that we drop in on the United Nations Commission that was using the building next to the one I was using in the Presbyterian Compound. And without batting an eye he went in there and greeted the secretary of the commission and one or two of the members that happened to be in there at the time. We stayed about ten minutes. That's the picture of MacArthur leaving the United Nations compound.* As you know, MacArthur was not an enthusiastic admirer of the United Nations.

*[Indicating a framed photograph on the wall.]


HESS: Did he express any sentiments of that nature to you?

MUCCIO: No, it's just generally--it's hard to explain just what convinced me that he was not enthusiastic about the whole concept of the United Nations, but I certainly had that feeling right along.

HESS: Did you feel that the senior military officer felt "uncomfortable," working through the United Nations in Korea, rather than working as straight United States military officers?

MUCCIO: Well, this was discussed a great deal among our military. Even the top echelons of the U.S. military reflected the idea--the lack of understanding as to why we should have the United Nations flag flying over headquarters in Taegu, the U.S. headquarters at Taegu. Secretary General Trygve Lie sent Colonel [Alfred G.] Katzin to Tokyo with the UN flag, and from there came over to Taegu to Eighth Army headquarters. General Walker accepted this flag and put it up over his headquarters in Taegu, alongside the U.S. flag and the Korean flag. Up to that time the U.S. flag had been flying alone over the headquarters. Propriety of this


was talked about at length by our military.

And there's a great deal of feeling that I heard directly from officers as to why should we be fighting under the emblem of the United Nations, we're fighting here for the United States.

HESS: Do you know what General Walker's view was, did his parallel General MacArthur's?

MUCCIO: General Walker had the--in a very nice way, a very firm consistent attitude of discipline, and he followed all orders strictly. For instance he never to my knowledge, saw President Rhee on any matter except in my presence. He was most careful in talking to his--the Korean officers . . .

HESS: Counterpart officers.

MUCCIO: Well not counterpart, because they were under his command. Earlier President Rhee had placed all Korean military forces and paramilitary, including the police and the youth corps, under the operational control of General MacArthur, the United States Commander before the UN came into the picture. Rhee felt that the United Nations was quite a nuisance. He preferred to deal directly with the U.S. and U.S. authorities than through the United Nations. That he had made


very evident to the representatives on the United Nations Commission for Korea.

HESS: Now this was a subject that President Rhee and General MacArthur agreed upon.

MUCCIO: Very much so.

HESS: Since they play such an important role in our story, how did those two gentlemen usually get along?

MUCCIO: Rhee, General MacArthur and Chiang Kai-Shek (the latter I hardly know), but from my contacts with Foreign Service colleagues who have served in China and my own experience on the China coast, these three had much in common. Ego was a predominant trait in each. As they grew older each became more and more isolated. Chiang Kai-Shek, for instance, felt certain pressures from the so-called Wam poa cadets. From 1926 on they formed a hierarchy around him and sheltered him and gradually closed in on him. I think General MacArthur was closed in by the operations of two of his intimates, General [Charles A.] Willoughby and General [Courtney] Whitney, two key men vying for MacArthur's favors. And the two of them prevented MacArthur from getting the intelligence that he had to have in order to make the right decisions. This


is one of the basic weaknesses that MacArthur faced in his latter days in Korea.

And Rhee also was an isolated man. He had been a guerrilla for 45 years, a guerrilla and revolutionary leader, and independence aspirant for 45 years. By the time he became President after quite an honest election and recognized by thirty odd countries of the Western World, Rhee was too old to appreciate and keep in mind the difference between a revolutionary independence warrior and a head of a duly recognized state. And Rhee also was closed in by a coterie. I think the weaknesses of those three men, to me personally, came to the fore by age and by losing contact, the common touch, if you want to use that term, as they got older, by groups about them closing in on them.

I think MacArthur is one of the biggest brains I've ever come in contact with, but he had gotten to the age where he was no longer in touch with the situation. And I think that was very, very evident in the developments in November and December, in northern Korea.

There was a failure of intelligence more than anything else for the mess that we got into.


HESS: General Willoughby was in charge of his intelligence, is that correct?

MUCCIO: You're right. General Willoughby had a disdain of the capability of the Chinese, of all classes, and his appraisal of Chinese capabilities was based on the little that he knew about China years prior to the advent of the Communists.

HESS: Since we have mentioned General Willoughby and General Whitney, what was the relationship between you and those gentlemen?

MUCCIO: I found that the occasions when I had direct access to MacArthur to have gotten the greatest backing and support. When we--I personally--or the American Mission in Korea--tried to deal through the hierarchy, it was quite different.

HESS: When you tried to deal through Willoughby and Whitney.


HESS: You mentioned the developments in November and December, but we will get to those in due course.

What comes to mind, what stands out in your mind between the time when we were discussing, early August, and the Inchon invasion, which is, as I see it, one


of the major milestones in the story of Korea? Where were you during that August?

MUCCIO: During August I spent most of my time in Taegu and Pusan, mainly in Taegu. You might recall that as the enemy closed in and forced us into that small perimeter area, it was a holding operation, and quite a desperate holding operation, because MacArthur was holding as much as he could for the big spectacular action and the brilliant operation at Inchon.

HESS: And there for a time it looked like we might have an American Dunkirk, is that correct?

MUCCIO: Well, it was, quite desperate. We were fortunate to have as capable leadership as we got from General Walker and General [Earl E.] Partridge. I don't think General Walker got the credit he deserved for the brilliant operation that he and General Partridge gave in South Korea at that time. They were inspiring leaders and very, very dedicated.