War or peace: May break out with­out warn­ing

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - OPINION - Paul Green­berg is a colum­nist for the Arkansas DemocratGazette. Paul Green­berg Colum­nist

When is a rat­tlesnake most dan­ger­ous? When it doesn’t rat­tle but strikes with­out warn­ing.

Check­ing out the ar­tillery range one broil­ing hot sum­mer’s day with my faith­ful driver, I made the near-fa­tal mis­take of de­cid­ing to take a short­cut up an al­ready shell-pocked hill only to find my­self star­ing into the eyes of a rat­tler. Specif­i­cally, a di­a­mond­back, I would re­al­ize af­ter the shock had passed and I’d got a grip on my shaken self. But in the mid­dle of the ac­tion, as I was tum­bling head over shaky heels down the rocky hill­side, there was no time for the lux­ury of re­flec­tion. All was tu­mult.

And now, with peace break­ing out all over the Korean penin­sula, my long-ago tum­ble makes only a col­or­ful story — and for a cau­tion­ary tale about tak­ing peace­ful prospects for granted and lead­ers at their op­ti­mistic word. For now all seems to be com­ing up roses on the once thorny Korean front.

When the news of North Korea’s in­va­sion of the South reached Wash­ing­ton at 9:26 p.m. its time on June 25, 1950, an or­di­nar­ily mild-man­nered Amer­i­can pres­i­dent named Harry S. Tru­man could only sigh as war en­gulfed the Korean penin­sula and threat­ened to spread far beyond.

“Ev­ery­thing I have done for the past five years,” he would de­clare, “has been to try to avoid mak­ing a de­ci­sion such as I have had to make tonight, which was to put the whole coun­try, in­deed the whole Western al­liance, on a wartime foot­ing.” Up and down the Korean penin­sula armies of East and West would march, and the pres­i­dent from the Show Me state would him­self be shown how frag­ile as­sur­ances of peace could be.

And once again peace and good will are in the air and a new era of good feel­ings is upon us — like a lion on the sheep­fold. For peace can be fleet­ing and its prom­ise only a pause be­tween wars. And tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can fight­ing men and women would pay the ul­ti­mate price for rose-tinted fore­casts of peace ev­er­last­ing. Peace, it’s won­der­ful, and all the more won­drous if it should prove more than a pass­ing phase in man’s slow, sor­row­ful fall.

Of all un­likely Jeremi­ahs, it would be Ge­orgy Malenkov, an un­likely sur­vivor of the strug­gle to fol­low in Stalin’s bloody boot­steps, who would warn of what a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world would be like if all the jock­ey­ing for po­lit­i­cal power were to get out of hand and leave the world a radioactive husk of what were once all of hu­man­ity’s hopes and dreams.

This much Mr. Tru­man was sure of: The United States could not af­ford an­other nu­clear stand­off like the one that had trapped the world’s great pow­ers once be­fore. It was left to his suc­ces­sor Dwight Eisen­hower, he of the broad win­ning grin, to break the dead­lock and an­nounce that he would go to Korea if that’s what it took to get ne­go­ti­a­tions off dead cen­ter in­def­i­nitely. Like two deadly vipers locked in the same bot­tle, both were trapped, and it would take a mas­ter of in­ac­tiv­ity to keep the world as un­steady as it was but still ex­tant.

“We will take what­ever steps are nec­es­sary,” Mr. Tru­man replied when asked at a Nov. 30, 1950, news con­fer­ence if he were pre­pared to use nu­clear weapons in a show­down with the Com­mu­nist world. He pub­licly del­e­gated that de­ci­sion to the mil­i­tary. Would those steps in­clude us­ing nukes? “That in­cludes us­ing ev­ery weapon that we have,” replied the pres­i­dent.

Mr. Tru­man’s suc­ces­sor, how­ever, knew bet­ter than to think, let alone act, so blithely. Ike pre­ferred to con­fuse rather than con­front our ad­ver­saries, for which the world still has rea­son to be grate­ful.

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