INT: When the Korean War started, when North Korea invaded South Korea, did the US Administration see the hand of Moscow there?
LB: When the invasion occurred of South Korea, I think there was an immediate sense that action had to be taken. Exactly what that action was to be, and how far it was to go, was not something we had planned on; we had not worked out of a contingency plan for a war from... started by North Korea with South Korea. It was always considered a possibility, but there were so many possibilities in the world, you could not have contingency plans for all of them. But that there had to be a series of actions taken in response to it, was absolutely established from the very beginning. So there was no doubt that we had to do it, and it was... at the time we entered into the war and led the UN into the war with us, it was a very popular war. The popular idea lasted only until things went sour, but it was an extremely popular war for the early part of it. The country thought we were responding to a communist threat in a real and meaningful way, and it was... there was great pride and pleasure(?); the (unclear) praised it, and it was a very well received war, until things went bad. I remember John Foster Dulles, who was in Japan when the war started - he was not here, he was not responsible for the policy, although he was ambassador at large at that point - I saw him that morning of his return, and he said, "We have made the UN a living, vibrant organ." And he said, "This has given a new stature, new element to all of international affairs," and he was very pleased as to what we had done. He denied it later, that he ever took that position, but he did take that position; he took it to me and to many others. So there was general universal approval of what we had done, the way we had done it, and I think no argument that we should not have gone in.
INT: But from the start, was it seen as a conflict between East and West? ... Who did you think was backing North Korea?
LB: Well, here was a bit of fuzziness: we were not sure. We all suspected that the Chinese were, that it was a Chinese communist plot, etc, backing... with their backing, etc, but we weren't sure they were not involved. But at that point in history, and for long years thereafter, any challenge to the US presence or to a pro-US presence, or to a democratic or semi-democratic entity, was viewed as a communist threat. This is again the exaggeration of the time. And I don't know that we saw it necessarily as being a Russian or a Chinese plan, but certainly one they would back and support. And of course, we found out when the Great March to the Yalu occurred, that the Chinese were indeed very fundamentally interested in this.
INT: Why did the United States continue to back Syngman Rhee during the Korean War, even though he was clearly corrupt? Was this because there was no alternative?
LB: Syngman Rhee was a difficult man to back... and he was a difficult man to handle at that time. He had been educated in this country. He he wanted to start a real democracy - or so he said - in his initial entry into the scene there. We backed then. And once he was in power, it was very difficult for us to do anything; it was not up to us to change the government, and there was no other alternative obviously available anyway. So it became a matter of staying with what you had before you, and that was all that there was.
INT: President Truman didn't actually have the approval of Congress, did he, to conduct the war in South Korea... against North Korea, rather? Was that seen as a problem at the time?
LB: At the time of the entry into Korea, the praise on the Hill was virtually unanimous; there was no criticism of it to amount to anything, there was overwhelming public support for it, the early part of it. At that time, I remember, at a staff meeting the question was raised as to whether we would be wise to get a joint declaration to the Congress endorsing what we had done, which was in an area that was at least confusing as to whether we had the authority to do this without congressional approval. The question was then taken to President Truman, and Dean Acheson spoke with the President about it, and he came back at a later staff meeting and said, "The President does not think it's necessary, does not think it's wise - he thinks this weakens the power of the presidency if we do this. It would make it very difficult for any other president to enter into these situations without approval of Congress, and we have to be able to respond quickly in circumstances that are typical of this era." So it was a matter of... we could have gotten it... it was a matter of the President not believing it was a good idea because of the presidency, not necessarily because of his own... it would have been much from his point of view had he gotten it. But the problem still continues to plague us, the issue still continues to plague us. The same thing arose with the Gulf War, as to whether they're going to... as you know, the Congress finally voted prior to the actual entry into it. But it was not quite the same situation, but it was rather close it. And so the same issues come up with respect to several other wars and near-wars that we have been involved with. And I think probably the President's decision that we not ask for a joint declaration was right, but it was not without its difficulties.
INT: But it's become a problem in retrospect - I mean, at the time you're saying that it was not a problem.
LB: At the time that the issue first arose, it was not a problem because the war was so popular. What we did not anticipate was that the war became so unpopular so quickly.
INT: Now, going back to the question about Syngman Rhee... Was supporting him the only option? Why was he supported, given that he was so corrupt?
LB: Well, corruption in the Middle East is a fairly common thing, so the charge that Syngman Rhee was corrupt and therefore we should walk away from him, leaves you in a rather lonely position. It was very difficult... we had no right to change the government of South Korea. Yes, he was a difficult man, he was an extremely difficult man; he did a lot of things that we did not want him to do, that were contrary to his own interests, we felt, in many instances. But it was not that we had a choice of several options: he was it, and there was no way that we could change it.
INT: What was the view in Washington about the wisdom of crossing the 38th Parallel in October 1950?
LB: The 38th Parallel really had no standing, it had no national or international standing, it was simply a line that had developed as a cease fire line, more or less, and we did not at that time want to establish it as being an official boundary, and we did not want official boundaries between North and South at that time anyway. So there was this one segment that we should not cross it because it would incite more concern on the part of the North Koreans, it mighlead to other activity; or the other view was that we had to cross it because it was not sanctified and not sacred and we ought to show that it was not... it had no standing. And so there was a division within it, and this is... as you well , led to some very complicated issues later with General MacArthur.
INT: What was the response of the United States when China invaded North Korea?
LB: When China invaded North Korea, we felt we had a whole new war, a whole new situation. It was a very terrifying situation, and one that was extremely troubling.
INT: So if I can ask you that again: what was the reaction in Washington to the Chinese invasion of North Korea?
LB: Well, the reaction, when China came in was that we had a wholly different situation, we had a new war upon our hands, and it was increasingly dangerous and something to be watched very carefully. Very devastating decision on the part of the Chinese, as far as we were concerned. General MacArthur had instructions that were, I thought, much too general for him. The worst argument I ever had with Dean Acheson was over the instructions to MacArthur. We were due in at the time, and Dean Rusk brought the telegram to send out to MacAarthur giving him instructions which had been cleared by the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense; it was to then go to the Secretary of State and then to the President, and so it was the last stop. Mr Acheson was busy when Dean Rusk arrived with the copy of the telegram, handed it to me, and I read it before we went, and I went in with Dean Rusk, (.?.) and Acheson. And he read the thing, and I said, "Mr Secretary, that is a very dangerous document." And he said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "That lets him decide, lets General MacArthur decide how... where he wants to go and how far he wants to go," and I said, "He should have more restraint put upon him." I felt it was a very dangerous thing to do. And the Secretary... we had a vigorous discussion. I've never had him get so mad with me. He said, "How old are you?" And I said, "Thirty-two." And he said, "You're taking on the Joint Chiefs of Staff?" I said, "Yes, I think they're wrong." I said, "I think this is a very..." I was on the receiving end of General MacArthur's telegrams in the Pacific War, so I was accustomed to reading what he wrote and what he said and knowing how he acted, and I felt it needed a more restrained approach to it than the telegram actually did. Dean Acheson himself admitted in his book that this was the case, later, but that the pressures at that time to give MacArthur the latitude was very great indeed, and that was the reason it was not.