Clear Objectives, an Overwhelming Force, Exit Strategy Crucial to Any War

Korean War stories were popular in comic books published in the early 1950s, like this Two-Fisted Tales from EC Comics.

By Jim O’Neal

When I started studying the history of war in early 1962, I was surprised that so many wise military men all warned about the danger of a land war in Asia. Words like “bogged down,” “embroiled” and “mired” were liberally sprinkled around in the hope of shaping foreign policy. I knew President Eisenhower had quickly ended the “police action” in Korea that President Truman had left unfinished. As an experienced military strategist, Eisenhower knew that fighting on the Korean Peninsula could easily expand into a direct confrontation with China. He had been determined to avoid restarting the global conflict he had helped end.

The 1950s were a good time for America as we helped rebuild the world.

Then the seeds of war in Vietnam started slowly showing up on the evening news. The implications were blurred by events in San Francisco. Hippies, flower children, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll were far more entertaining. President Johnson started complaining about “JFK’s war” while he and Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara were quietly acceding to military requests for more troops and guns.

Eventually, draft protests grew more violent, followed by riots in major cities and MLK and Bobby Kennedy being assassinated. By 1968, the United States had 550,000 troops in Vietnam, having steadily grown from a few hundred “military advisers.” It would take another seven years and a different president to extricate the nation from an incremental war that had caused such domestic turmoil. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists 58,318 names (including eight women) as of May 2017 who were “declared dead.”

The wise military officers had been right.

One hundred years earlier, a similar series of events had culminated in a civil war. In the three months following President Lincoln’s election, seven states seceded from the Union. The new president was paranoid that the Confederates would attack Washington after they forced the garrison at Fort Sumter to surrender. He urged his military advisers to preemptively attack rebel forces in Virginia, but the Union army lacked training and was too slow.

Finally, on July 16, 1861, Union General Irvin McDowell led 33,000 slightly trained soldiers toward Manassas, Va. (later better known as Bull Run). Before they arrived, spies tipped off P.G.T. Beauregard, who quickly called for 10,000 reinforcements to bolster his 22,000 troops. Rumors of the pending battle spread quickly and there was a large contingent of politicians and civilians perched on a hillside with blankets and picnic baskets, eager to see a good fight. Among them was a young senator from Ohio, John Sherman, whose brother William Tecumseh would play a key role with General Ulysses S. Grant in ending the war.

However, 10 hours of combat on July 21, 1861, changed the way a nation viewed war. Both Federals and Confederates had come to these fields supremely confident of swift, relatively bloodless victories. Even Abraham Lincoln had attended church that day after being assured of an easy Union victory. Senator Sherman was one of the first to learn otherwise. “Our army is defeated and my brother is dead,” Secretary of War Simon Cameron informed him.

They left behind more than 800 dead and 2,700 wounded. They also left behind any illusions that the war would be won or lost on a single, lazy Sunday afternoon. Confederate officer Samuel Melton wrote, “I have no idea that they intend to give up the fight. On the contrary, five men will rise up where one has been killed, and in my opinion, the war will have to be continued to the bloody end.”

Another wise man who understood war.

Now flash forward to October 1998 when official U.S. foreign policy was changed by a benign-sounding Congressional action to remove the Iraqi government: the Iraq Liberation Act. Then, four years later in October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the “Iraq Resolution,” which authorized the president to “use any means necessary” against Iraq. At 5:34 a.m. Baghdad time on March 20, 2003, the military invasion of Iraq began. Fifteen years later, we are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Niger. Some now call this the “long war” and there is no end in sight.

My friend Colin Powell says he did not invent the “Pottery Barn Rule” (if you break it, you own it). But he does believe that any war should have a clear objective, an overwhelming force to achieve it and a clear exit strategy.

He is a wise man.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Cuban Missile Crisis ‘News’ Gave Us a Preview of the Internet Age

An original October 1962 news photograph of President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy taken as tensions grew during the Cuban Missile Crisis sold for $527 at an August 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”

An unusual statement, especially at an emergency session of the somber United States Security Council, and uncharacteristically bellicose for the speaker, U.N. Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson. It simply was the most dangerous time in the history of the world … the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Stevenson

Ambassador Stevenson was interrogating Soviet U.N. representative Valerian Zorin while accusing them of having installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, a mere 90 miles from the U.S. coastline. Tensions were sky high. The Joint Chiefs had recommended to President John F. Kennedy an airstrike, followed by an immediate invasion of Cuba using U.S. military troops.

Then with the world’s two superpowers eyeball to eyeball, as Dean Rusk commented, the other guy blinked. Cuba-bound Soviet ships stopped, turned back, and the crisis swiftly eased.

Over much of the world, and especially in Washington and New York, there was relief and rejoicing. With crucial backing from the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), nuclear war was averted. Success in avoiding a war of potential global devastation has gradually clouded the fact that the United States came perilously close to choosing the military option.

The arguments of those who fought for time and political negotiations have been blurred and gradually obscured by widespread euphoria. Even for Ambassador Stevenson, the sweet taste of success soon turned sour. First, there was the death of his dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt, quickly followed by a vicious personal attack on him that he never fully recovered from.

When Mrs. Roosevelt reluctantly entered the hospital, it was thought she was suffering from aplastic anemia. But on Oct. 25, 1962, her condition was diagnosed as rare and incurable bone-marrow tuberculosis. She was prepared and determined to die rather than end up a useless invalid. Her children reluctantly decided Stevenson should be allowed one last visit to his old friend, although daughter Anna warned she might not recognize him.

On Nov. 9, two days after her death, the U.N. General Assembly put aside other business and allowed delegate after delegate to express their personal grief and their country’s sorrow. It was the first time any private citizen had been so honored. Adlai told friends that his speech at the General Assembly and the one he gave at her memorial service were the most difficult and saddest times of his life.

Then a harbinger of a brewing storm started on Nov. 13 when Senator Barry Goldwater issued a sharp attack on Stevenson by implying he had been willing to take national security risks to avoid a showdown with the Soviets. The Saturday Evening Post followed with an article on Cuba that portrayed Stevenson as advocating a “Caribbean Munich.” The headlines at the New York Daily News screamed “ADLAI ON SKIDS OVER PACIFIST STAND ON CUBA.”

For months, Washington was abuzz with rumors that it was all a calculated effort by JFK and Bobby to force Stevenson to resign as U.N. ambassador. It was all innuendo, half-facts and untrue leaks, but it was still reverberating a quarter of a century later when the Sunday New York Times magazine, on Aug. 30, 1987, published a rehash of all the gossip.

In truth, all we were witnessing was a preview of things to come: the internet age of “Breaking News” (thinly veiled opinions parading as facts), 24/7 cable TV loaded with panels of “talking heads,” and a torrent of Twitter gibberish offering a full banquet of tasty goodies for any appetite.

Stevenson, born in Los Angeles in 1900 – the year his grandfather ran for vice president on a losing ticket with William Jennings Bryan – lost his own bid for the presidency twice (1952 and 1956). He died of a heart attack in 1965 in London while walking in Grosvenor Square – finally getting some peace.

The rest of us will have to wait.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].