June 27, 1950 is remarkable not just for a United Nations resolution (U.N. Resolution 83) calling for the immediate end of hostilities on the Korean peninsula and authorizing member-states provide military assistance to restore peace, but also for a far more civil gathering of senators in the Oval Office. Two days after the North Koreans had violated the 38th Parallel and crossed into the territory of their southern rival, the Republic of Korea, and after the United Nations had passed a first resolution (U.N. Resolution 83) declaring the southern regime to be legally sovereign, seven senators and eight Congressmen, as well as the four uniformed chiefs of staff and the secretaries of State and Defense and their under-secretaries, convened at 11:30 in the morning, to hear what President Truman had to say. What he didn't mention at the time was, that he had also ordered the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait, to neutralize the area, after declaring months earlier, that the U.S. had no part in a fight between China and Taiwan. As that June 27 meeting and his statement on the naval deployment made clear, it was all about "communism". At that meeting no one objected to Truman. But then, "Mr. Republican", Senator Robert A. Taft, the most prominent of a small cabal of isolationists, was never invited.
The minutes from that late-morning meeting make clear Truman was all about taking control of the message his administration would send to the U.S.S.R. The Soviets had kindly avoided showing up for both U.N. resolution votes and Truman saw no reason to taunt them into public opposition. According to the statement Secretary of State Dean Acheson made, after Truman called the room to attention, the administration believed that the Soviets would back down and restrain the North Koreans, if the Congress refrained from naming the U.S.S.R. directly as a participant The word the President wanted everyone to use was "communism", and no one objected to the diplomatic strategy. As a matter of fact, Senator Millard E. Tydings, a Democrat and the 1945 author of a call for the U.S. to renounce the use of nuclear weapons, crowed about the Senate's decision to extend the draft for another year in response to the events in the "Far East". Republican Senator Alexander Smith wanted to be certain the United Nations sanctioned American assistance. Several other senators either expressed satisfaction with or conditioned their support upon the United Nations' imprimatur.
As Eli Weinberg has pointed out, a few voices questioned the Truman administration's motives and expressed reservations. But, according to Acheson biographer James Chace, Senator Robert A. Taft was probably the most understated in his criticisms. On August 7, 1950, Republican Senator Kenneth Wherry had demanded the Acheson's dismissal, claiming that the Truman had "invited" the North Korean invasion and had imperiled American troops. At a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Wherry engaged in some finger-wagging, after Acheson dared him not to. Acheson then fired what Chace relates as a "rather inexpertly aimed and executed swing" at Wherry, but a legal adviser restrained Acheson, in a "bear-like embrace". Senator Joesph McCarthy lumped the Kremlin and the Truman administration into the same plot to weaken American military resolve before the invasion. Joseph P. Kennedy called for withdrawal from the peninsula. Acheson's wife, according to Chace, claimed that the sheer scale of these personal attacks shortened her husband's life.
That left "Mr. Republican" and a former Republican president to articulate a complete vision of "isolationism" Republican colleagues could not. Senator Robert A. Taft, who opposed NATO, opposed intervention on the Korean peninsula on the grounds, that, since the U.S. had no treaty with the Republic of Korea, a Congressional declaration of war was necessary. Former President Herbert Hoover called for a defense of the "Western Hemisphere Gibraltar", relying upon naval and air power to support Western Europe. Somewhat incoherently, Taft supported an all-out war against China.
The civility and "statesmanship" of that 11:30 Oval Office meeting contrasts starkly with the bitterness and frivolity of the personal and ideological attacks upon Truman and Acheson throughout the Korean War. Although it is conceivable Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could take a swing at an opponent, could any member of Congress or former president present an isolationist perspective opposing intervention in Libya or Afghanistan? And, as the Taiwan Straits decision shows, Truman's determination to inform Congress had its limits. What impresses me about this first test of postwar American resolve and precedent for an imperial executive is how much more personable and even refined these episodes appear compared with the partisan rancor conducted through the mainstream and online media today against the Obama and Bush administrations. Whatever one can say about Mr. Republican and President Hoover, they had a vision. Can today's Democrats do any better than Truman or his opponents?