DURING THE TWO YEARS—1951 and 1952—that Lyndon Johnson was Assistant Democratic Leader, the Senate would have a moment of glory, an episode that would show what the Senate could be at its finest—and why Russell was, in aspects other than racial, the personification of that ideal.
The episode almost became one of America’s gravest constitutional crises. “It is doubtful if there has ever been in this country so violent and spontaneous a discharge of political passion as that provoked by the President’s dismissal of the General,” Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Rovere wrote. “Certainly there has been nothing to match it since the Civil War.”
Flying home in April, 1951, after his dismissal by President Harry Truman from his proconsulship in the Far East and his command of the empire’s armies in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur was uncertain of the reception he would receive in the United States, and timed his arrival in San Francisco so that his plane, the famed chariot Bataan (named for one of the many battles with which his name was indelibly linked), would set down after dark. But as he stepped out of the plane’s door, suddenly the battered gold-braided cap and the familiar old trench coat were bathed in massed spotlights. He had prepared a brief speech, in case it was needed, but no one could hear it. In the dark beyond the spotlights an Army band was playing; cannon were firing—a thundering salute to the hero who had, for so long, held the empire’s perimeter against its enemies, to the hero who, forced into terrible retreat, had promised “I shall return” (and who had returned, and had conquered), to the hero who, until the moment of his sudden dismissal, had been fighting against the empire’s new enemies. California’s Governor was waiting to greet him, and San Francisco’s Mayor, but they were swept away by the crowd that surged through police lines to try to touch the hero’s hand. From the airport, it was fourteen miles to his hotel; the journey took more than two hours; the streets were lined with half a million San Franciscans. The next day MacArthur flew across the continent to Washington—flew over hundreds of towns in which flags were being flown at half-mast or even upside down, flew over hundreds of towns in which the President was being burned in effigy and automobiles were blossoming with bumper stickers that read “Impeach Truman,” in which people were parading carrying banners with the same two words; Life magazine was not exaggerating when it said that “The homecoming of the legendary MacArthur was like nothing else in American history.” His arrival in Washington had been preceded by a tidal wave of mail; Senator Richard Nixon of California had received six hundred telegrams, most of them advocating impeachment of the President, during the first twenty-four hours after the dismissal (“the largest spontaneous reaction I’ve ever seen,” he said happily); the White House admitted that of the first seventy thousand letters and telegrams it received, those critical of the General’s recall outnumbered those in favor twenty to one; at that point it stopped counting. Truman had tried to keep the welcome at the airport as low-key as possible—his only emissary was his military aide, General Harry Vaughan, “a gesture,” as Life put it, “strictly according to protocol but less than cordial”—but the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a crowd of congressmen and VIPs had also shown up, and when, after midnight, the Bataantouched down, a cheering crowd charged out of the shadows with a great roar, engulfing Vaughan, Chiefs, and congressmen.
The next day, April 20, was the day of the General’s speech to a joint session of Congress, in a Chamber so full that even some senators had to sit on the floor. When the doorkeeper shouted, “Mr. Speaker, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur,” and he appeared in the door, erect, impassive, dressed in a trim jacket without medals or ribbons except for the five stars of his rank, a nation’s elected representatives leapt cheering to their feet. And as he spoke, the cheers came again and again—thirty times in thirty-four minutes. All his life, Douglas MacArthur had been holding audiences spellbound, and now he had his largest audience. “Most Americans listened, and 30 million or more watched on television as he spoke, and they were magnetized by the vibrant voice, the dramatic rhetoric and the Olympian personality,” Life said. The speech was an unapologetic argument for his policies, and a defiant denunciation of the policies of the civilian Administration, and they were couched in the phrases of a master phrasemaker. He said that his policies—to blockade China, to bomb the Chinese forces in Manchuria, to place no limits on his war against the North Koreans—were absolutely necessary: “Once war is forced upon us, there is no alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory—not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory.” He said that “practically every military leader concerned with the Korean campaign, including our own Joint Chiefs of Staff,” had agreed with those policies. And he said that those who had not agreed—those who he said were mainly civilians in the Truman Administration—were wrong. “History teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier wars…. Why, my soldiers asked of me, surrender military advantage to an enemy in the field?” There was a dramatic pause, and the General’s voice dropped to a husky whisper. “I could not answer.” The last words of the speech were unforgettable words. “The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the Plain at West Point,” he said, and his “boyish hopes and dreams have long since vanished.” But, he said,
I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day, which proclaimed, most proudly, “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.” And like the soldier of the ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away—an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
And the last word of all was spoken in a whisper—a whisper into a great hush: “Good-bye.”
AS MACARTHUR LEFT THE PODIUM he “stepped down,” in William Manchester’s prose, “into pandemonium.” Representatives and senators “were sobbing his praise, straggling to touch his sleeve.” In a voice that could be heard in the Press Gallery, Representative Dewey Short of Missouri shouted, “We heard God speak here today, God in the flesh, the voice of God!” Across the country, the congressmen’s constituents, who had been glued to their radios or television sets, were just as moved. When a reporter asked Herbert Hoover for a comment, he called MacArthur “a reincarnation of St. Paul into a great General of the Army who came out of the East.” MacArthur left the Capitol for the Washington Monument, where he was to give another speech. During his progress down Pennsylvania Avenue before a quarter of a million cheering onlookers, Air Force jets screamed overhead and a phalanx of growling motorcycles and armored personnel carriers carrying helmeted soldiers preceded the open car in which he stood at rigid attention, as Manchester wrote, “a senior officer in full uniform contemptuously defying a President and a Constitutional Commander-in-Chief and undertaking to force an alteration in the highest decisions of the civil government.” It was a parade more fitting for the capital of a South American republic ruled by a junta than the capital of a democracy.
Covering that parade for the United Press, in his very last assignment before joining the staff of Lyndon Johnson’s Preparedness Subcommittee, was, George Reedy would recall, “the only time in my life that I ever felt my government to be fragile…. I’ll never forget watching him go up Pennsylvania Avenue. I had a very strong feeling that had he said ‘Come on, let’s take it’ and had started to charge toward the White House…. [T]he adoring crowds that thronged the streets would have gone with him.” More thoughtful observers could not avoid, at least at the moment, the same thought. As William S. White walked with one of his senatorial friends—“one of the most balanced and soundest public men I have ever known”—back toward the Senate side of the Capitol after MacArthur’s speech, the sound of the pandemonium fading only slowly behind them, the Senator said, “This is new to my experience; I have never feared more for the institutions of my country. I honestly felt back there if the speech had gone on much longer there might have been a march on the White House.” The next day, the General pushed on to New York. That city’s monumental homecoming parades, in which Lindbergh and Pershing and Eisenhower had ridden down the skyscraper-lined Canyon of Heroes through blizzards of swirling confetti, had been the nation’s most memorable and exuberant welcoming receptions. MacArthur’s parade was, in Time’s words, “the greatest and most exuberant the city had ever seen.”
Republican senators—a delegation led by Taft and Wherry had called on MacArthur at the Waldorf Towers in New York—had already demanded a full-scale senatorial investigation, and Democrats, not only southern Democrats who held a brief for many of the General’s views but even liberal Democrats who did not, knew one had to be held. MacArthur’s arguments had to be countered, his hold on the public imagination weakened. While fears of Truman’s impeachment or of a march on the White House might be exaggerated, other concerns were more realistic. The next presidential election was only a year and a half away, and even were MacArthur not to be the Republican candidate (and, at the time, the odds seemed good that he would be), every cheer for MacArthur was a jeer for Truman—as was demonstrated at the Washington Senators’ opening game, when he became the first President to be booed (and the booing was long and loud) since Herbert Hoover in the depths of the Depression. And if in 1952 the Democratic Administration remained as discredited by MacArthur’s speech as it was at the moment, the re-election chances of Democratic senators and representatives would be hurt as well. And other concerns went beyond the political. The outpouring of admiration for MacArthur was to a large extent an indication of the emotional appeal to Americans of the General’s belief that wars were meant to be won—by whatever means necessary. Around the erect, heroic figure of MacArthur of Corregidor, MacArthur of Inchon, had coalesced the national impatience over the long-drawn-out stalemate in Korea, and his speech—with its defiant “There is no substitute for victory” and his insistence that a refusal to use all the force available amounted to “appeasement”—was a call, a call that had seemingly mobilized a substantial segment of American public opinion behind it, for such options as blockading China, bombing Chinese sanctuaries in Manchuria, crossing the Yalu River, unleashing Chiang Kai-shek’s troops to invade mainland China, and even the use of nuclear weapons. Around him also had coalesced the simmering discontent with the organization that, as much as Truman, was tying his hands. In April, 1951, there was, William White was to report, “an almost runaway movement toward rejection of the United Nations.” And the most serious threat was to a principle basic to democratic government: the blurring of the lines between civilian and military authority. While he was still in Korea, MacArthur, in defiance of Truman’s policies, had suggested that he meet on his own authority with the enemy commander to discuss a truce; now Life magazine actually asked: “What was bad about that? In ordinary circumstances a field commander might have no business talking as MacArthur does. But these are extraordinary circumstances, created not by him but by the timidity of his bosses.” The United States, White felt, was in “perhaps the gravest and most emotional Constitutional crisis that the United States had known since the Great Depression…. The issue was the supremacy, written and unwritten, that a century and a half had given to the civil government over the military.” “Popular emotions,” George Reedy was to recall, had been raised “to a fever pitch and it was obvious that they could not be cooled by pretending that nothing had happened. Congress had to do something that would respond either affirmatively or negatively to the widespread belief that a patriot with a program to end a war was being shoved aside by an Administration that was incompetent and possibly infested with traitors.”
BUT, REEDY WAS TO RECALL, there seemed to be at that moment “absolutely no anti-MacArthur sentiment in the country worth noticing.” The fury of editorial writers was still rising, and so was the flood of mail—rising to an unprecedented crest; by one estimate, senators alone received some two million letters, postcards, and telegrams. Only one senator, Robert Kerr, dared to “get up and make speeches attacking MacArthur,” Reedy recalls, and “Boy, you could just feel the hostility in the gallery. They hated Kerr at that moment.” And Kerr, a freshman senator still largely unknown outside Oklahoma and Washington, did not possess sufficient stature. Liberal senators with stature, critical though they might be of MacArthur in private, were notably reluctant to take on the General publicly.
As for the Senate hearings, Marshall would have to testify—and Acheson. The Republicans would have these two favorite targets before them—and on the defensive, on an issue on which the public was overwhelmingly against them, on an issue on which it seemed clear that by preventing MacArthur from taking the more aggressive measures he wished to take against the Chinese Reds, they had indeed been too “soft” on Communism. The Republican primitives would, it was widely believed, use the hearings to tear Marshall and Acheson apart—would make the hearings the great forum they had always wanted to criticize Democratic foreign policy from Yalta to Korea. Who could keep the primitives under control? What senator possessed enough personal fortitude, and enough power within the Senate, to keep the hearings from turning into a great witch-hunt—to allow the other side to be heard? Who possessed prestige and respect so invulnerable that he could stand up to the right-wingers without being himself tarred as “soft”? Equally important, who could not only control the right-wingers but defeat them? When votes were taken within the investigating committee, who could persuade southern conservatives to vote for moderate proposals, and thereby, together with Democratic liberals, create a majority in the committee? Who could at the same time align with Democrats enough moderate Republicans so that the hearings would not turn into a merely partisan fight that would only further inflame public opinion? No liberal possessed the necessary power and prestige. Who did? Who would lead Congress in doing what it had to do? MacArthur’s arguments were sweeping the country, but there were arguments on the other side. Who would bring them out? Who would dare to stand against the tide?
THIS WAS ONE of the moments to which Hugh Sidey was referring when he wrote that “when the U.S. got into trouble … Russell would … stick a forefinger into his somber vest and amble down those dim corridors to see if he could help his country. Everybody watching felt better when he arrived.”
Republican senators, who would be in the minority no matter which Senate body conducted the hearings, wanted them chaired by a Democrat they could count on to be nonpartisan, impartial, fair. They petitioned Russell to have the Armed Services Committee hold the hearings, so that he would be chairman. As for Democratic liberals, they were aware that unless the hearings were run with a very firm hand, they would become merely another stage on which MacArthur would star, bolstered this time by a chorus of approval from the GOP’s Neanderthals. On international issues, if not domestic, they knew, the firmest, and fairest, hand was that of the Senator from Georgia. No other senator, the Democrats felt, could defuse this most explosive of situations. And certainly none of the liberals wanted the chairman’s gavel for himself, no matter how great the potential for publicity contained in that piece of wood; it contained also the potential for the political destruction of the chairman, who would, in having to gavel down MacArthur and his allies, be standing in the face of overwhelming public opinion. Democratic liberals also wanted Dick Russell—Russell and no one else. When Tom Connally claimed jurisdiction for his Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate, confronted with a jurisdictional dispute, ruled that the two committees would hold joint hearings, but that the chairman of Armed Services, not the chairman of Foreign Relations, would preside. Although Russell, “leader of the Southern bloc,” was regarded as the Enemy by most liberals, “that did not prevent them from running to him for shelter” when MacArthur returned, Reedy says. “It was rather amusing to see the speed with which the Senate just automatically gravitated to Russell.”
Russell knew the necessity of holding hearings. Admiring though he was of MacArthur the battlefield technician and even of MacArthur the theater commander, he understood the terrible dangers of the policies of MacArthur the global strategist. And he was very aware of the danger inherent in MacArthur’s challenge to the President’s authority; Russell had, Reedy was to say, “a deep sense of the vital necessity of reestablishing the principle of civilian control over the military.” And he understood as well the role of the Senate: that the Senate could not be hurried, could not be stampeded—that the Senate was uniquely insulated against the phrensy of public opinion, that the Senate was equipped to be calm, judicious, fair. The hearings, he felt, must not be one-sided. Heated argument was not what was necessary; what was needed was a cool look at all sides of an exceedingly complex issue. “Russell believed … that what was happening here was a tremendous upsurge of emotion, and that if time was given to look at the MacArthur position, that the ridiculousness of it would eventually become apparent, but would not become apparent if there was an adversary investigation…. So therefore it was a question of gaining time, gaining time so that the American people would really look at it….”
Russell knew, moreover, that he was the best man to preside over the hearings. He had no false modesty about his expertise on the military and on global strategy; no false modesty about his knowledge of Rome and of Greece and of all the great empires of the past, nor of his ability to evaluate this controversy in the light of history. And he had no false modesty about his stature in the Senate. “He believed,” says his biographer, Gilbert Fite, “that he had enough power and influence to direct the investigation along the lines that would be most useful to the country.”
And he knew he had no choice but to preside over the hearings; he had to do it: it was his duty, he was a Russell of the Russells of Georgia; noblesse oblige.
HARDLY HAD RUSSELL accepted the chairmanship when a dispute erupted that seemed to make utterly impossible the nonpartisan, impartial, calm inquiry he had planned—a dispute over whether the hearings would be open to the press and the public, or closed.
Part of Russell’s desire to keep them closed was as political as that of other Democrats, who, as Time put it, “were anxious to keep General MacArthur’s thundering rhetoric out of earshot of the microphone, and his dramatic profile off the screen of 12 million television sets.” But there was something more. The hearings, Russell knew, would center around America’s deepest-held military and strategic secrets. “We are entering doors that have been barred, we are unlocking secrets that have been protected in steel safes,” he was to say. When it was suggested that he invoke Truman’s support for his position, he said there was no need to do so; he knew he was right, he said; never talked to Truman about “whether closed or open,” he scribbled on a telephone notepad. When the Republicans—not the Republicans on his committee, moderate internationalist Republicans like Lodge and Saltonstall, but midwestern right-wingers like Wherry and Capehart—demanded that the hearings be open, he rose on the floor of the Senate to argue against them in words that could have been written by Madison: “I have been disturbed in recent days because of the way we are running the government, by taking action here in response to a quick expression of uninformed desire.” It was not, he said, a question of hiding facts from scrutiny; there would be facts spoken and documents discussed about which the Communists should not know. “There is something here that is more important than continued tenure in the Senate or even the election of the President of the United States in 1952.” Four times the Republicans forced a vote; each time it was close, but each time Russell won.
He wanted as many of the facts as possible released, since he felt that if the public was permitted to see all sides of the argument, the weaknesses in MacArthur’s position, and the menace of nuclear war which it posed, would become obvious, and the emotionalism would die down, the Administration would be vindicated, and the cause of world peace advanced. To accomplish this, while safeguarding strategic secrets, he announced that as the stenotypists in the Armed Services Committee room finished typing each page of the testimony, the page would be taken to an anteroom, where two censors—one from the State Department, one from Defense—would read it, cutting out any information that shouldn’t be released. The edited transcript would then be run off on a mimeograph machine in the anteroom, and handed to reporters, who thus could read the testimony, shorn only of sensitive information, within minutes after it had been given.
THE HEARINGS were scheduled for 10 a.m. in Room 318 of the Senate Office Building, the great Caucus Room, on Thursday, May 3, 1951. General MacArthur arrived almost twenty minutes late (“Couldn’t get him down from the Cross,” one Democratic senator growled under his breath), and strode with a casual wave through a crowd of secretaries and reporters as photographers’ flashbulbs popped; the tall doors of the Caucus Room slammed shut, three uniformed Capitol policemen stationed themselves in front of them. Gaveling the hearings to order, Russell welcomed MacArthur in the most complimentary of terms. “On the permanent pages of our history are inscribed his achievements as one of the great captains of history…. But he is not only a great military leader, his broad understanding and knowledge of the science of politics has enabled him to restore and stabilize a conquered country and to win for himself and for his country the respect and affection of a people who were once our bitterest enemies.” And then, asTime put it, “for three amazing days, Douglas MacArthur sat at the center of the stage to make his case against the foreign policy of his Commander in Chief.”
He made his case as well as it could be made, with the forceful, colorful rhetoric of which he was such a master. His strategy would not enlarge the war, he argued; on the contrary, it would lead to the defeat of the Chinese Communists, force Mao Tse-tung to sue for peace, and thus produce a clear-cut “victory.” Of course, he didn’t propose invading China with American troops, he said; “no man in his proper senses would advocate throwing our troops in on the Chinese mainland.” He hadn’t been opposing the Administration’s policy, he said; “I was operating in what I call a vacuum. I could hardly be said to be in opposition to policies which I was not even aware of. I don’t know what the policy is now….” “There is no policy! There is nothing, I tell you, no plan, no anything.” And, he said, by continuing to fight “indecisively,” America would incur staggering casualties. “It isn’t just dust that is settling in Korea, Senators; it is American blood.” The Truman Administration’s attempt to make war “piecemeal” would lead to a broader conflict, as “appeasement” always did. As to the risk that by bombing Manchuria, blockading China, and using Chiang’s troops to invade it, America would push China into the war on a full scale and perhaps Russia, too, he said that the risk of that was small, but that no matter how large it might be, it was a risk that should be taken. “I believe if you let it go on indefinitely in Korea, you invite a third world war.” And, he said, and he said it very firmly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed with this view. “I am not aware of having had any differences with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on military questions at all…. The position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and my own, so far as I know, were practically identical.” To support this contention, he quoted a JCS study which recommended, among other things, removal of “the restrictions on air reconnaissance of Chinese coastal areas and of Manchuria.”
But when the General had finished, the chairman had some questions. Some were about MacArthur’s contention that his position had been “practically identical” with that of the Joint Chiefs. Senator Russell asked mildly, “There is quite a difference between reconnaissance and attack, is there not?” “Yes, sir,” MacArthur replied. “Did the Joint Chiefs ever suggest in addition to reconnaissance that these bases be attacked?” Russell asked. “Not that I know of.”
Some of the questions—by Russell and other senators, including moderate, internationalist Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. of Massachusetts and Brien McMahon of Connecticut (and Lyndon Johnson, in his role as a member of the Armed Services Committee; he had also loaned Reedy to Russell for the hearings, since Russell did not have an adequate public relations man of his own, and Donald Cook and Gerald Siegel were drafting questions for committee members)—were about the specific proposals MacArthur was making, and they brought out some implications that MacArthur had not mentioned.
Russell’s questions were asked in the most courteous of tones. “I do not understand exactly what you would have done about [Chiang Kai-shek’s] Nationalist troops [on Formosa],” he said, and when MacArthur replied, “I recommended to Washington that the wraps be taken off the Generalissimo,” the Senator had another question. “General, would you mind advising the committee and the Senate what you think is the real strength of the Generalissimo’s forces on Formosa?” MacArthur said there were half a million “excellent” men, “exactly the same as these Red troops I am fighting.” Then, Russell said, you feel that if they were landed on the mainland, they could maintain themselves without American help? This question MacArthur did not answer directly, and Lodge brought up another implication of the proposed “unleashing,” brought it up also in the most courteous of tones. “What would happen with regard to Formosa if Chiang were to land on the mainland and then be wiped out?” Lodge was asking if America would have to then defend Formosa itself, but MacArthur said, “Senator, that is a hypothesis that is very difficult to speculate upon.”
In his dramatic speech, MacArthur had assured the Senate that if the Chinese were driven out of Korea Mao Tse-tung would sue for peace. But, he was asked now, what if Mao didn’t sue for peace? Suppose when the Chinese were chased back across the Yalu River, they refused to sign a treaty—what then? What if they massed near the river, on their own territory, forces that could be used for a new offensive in Korea. MacArthur refused to take that premise seriously. “Such a contingency is a very hypothetical query. I can’t quite see the possibility of the enemy being driven back across the Yalu and still being in a posture of offensive action,” he said. But the senators did not let the matter drop, and by the end of that line of questioning, it had begun to be clear that at least a strong possibility existed that MacArthur’s proposals would have drastically widened the conflict.
And, of course, China was not the only opponent that might be drawn into the war if MacArthur’s policies were followed, as Russell, speaking in his calm, courteous voice, brought out. Tell me, General, he said, if the United States were—hypothetically, of course—to have to aid Chiang’s troops on the mainland of China; if hypothetically, the United States were to be forced to assume the defense of Formosa, if the United States was busy fighting China—what would happen if Russia then attacked Japan? And when MacArthur said, “I do not believe that it would be within the capacity of the Soviet Union…. I believe that the disposition of the Soviet forces are largely defensive,” Russell asked quietly, “How about the submarine strength of the Soviet in that area?”
And, Russell asked, what if Russia, seeing her allies being defeated, decided to enter the war on a larger scale? What if she attacked in Europe? What if she launched an atomic attack? “If we go into all-out war, I want to find out how you propose in your own mind to defend the American nation against that war?”
“That doesn’t happen to be my responsibility, Senator,” MacArthur replied. “My responsibilities were in the Pacific.”
Did the General know the number of atomic bombs the Russians possessed?McMahon asked. No, MacArthur said, he did not. “Do you think that we are ready to withstand the Russian attack in Western Europe today?” McMahon asked.
“Senator,” Douglas MacArthur said, “I have asked you several times not to involve me in anything except my own area. My concepts on global defense are not what I am here to testify on. I don’t pretend to be an authority now on those things…. I have been desperately occupied on the other side of the world.” “That was the point,” McMahon said. “The Joint Chiefs and the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, has to look at this thing on a global basis and a global defense. You as a theater commander by your own statement have not made that kind of study, and yet you advise us to push forward with a course of action that may involve us in that global conflict.”
By the end of the three days, even Time had to admit that “When General MacArthur replaced the hat of a theater commander with the hat of a global strategist, he seemed less sure of his ground.” “Among themselves,” as William Manchester reports, “the committee members agreed that MacArthur’s bold proposals were … unrealistic.”
And when MacArthur had completed his testimony—with, of course, a compliment from the chairman, who praised his “patience, thoroughness and frankness” (there was no praise for his wisdom)—another General of the Army, George Catlett Marshall, entered Room 318 to sit before the senators. He was dressed in a civilian’s gray suit, as if to symbolize, as Time put it, “the civilian authority of the Secretary of Defense,” and he testified for five days, calmly, carefully, even ploddingly, in “a flat, unemotional voice and sparse phrases that contrasted sharply with his antagonist’s flow of words and orotund delivery,” and that fit in perfectly with the judicial atmosphere the chairman had established. By the end of the five days, the Secretary’s testimony, and the senators’ questions, had made clear that, at the very least, the question of escalating the war in Korea was far more complex than it had seemed when MacArthur first charged “appeasement” and said there was “no substitute for victory,” “no policy … no plan, no anything.” Russell led Marshall through testimony that showed that the Administration did have a policy: “To contain Communist aggression in different fashions in different areas without resorting to total war.” That policy, Marshall said, had worked in Berlin, it had worked in Greece, and it would work in Korea. Despite MacArthur’s ridicule of limited war, Marshall said, MacArthur’s proposals “might well mean formal Soviet intervention.” Contrary to MacArthur’s contention that the Soviets did not have sufficient forces in the Far East to pose a real threat, Marshall said they had plenty: not only a submarine fleet but “a considerable force in the vicinity of Vladivostok, Darien, Port Arthur, Harbin.” In a very quiet voice, Russell asked Marshall to tell the committee “what might occur if the Soviet intervened,” and with Marshall’s reply there were suddenly, in the Caucus Room, new realities. “That would immediately involve the defense of Japan, Hokkaido in particular,attacks on our air all over Japan, all over Korea … and we couldn’t accept that without the maximum retaliation on our part which inevitably means a world war….” And a world war might well mean nuclear war—and the end of mankind. “My own view was—and I think it is similar to that of the Chiefs of Staff—that we were risking a hazard that had such terrible possible consequences that what we would gain was not comparable to what we were risking….”
THE CONTEST BETWEEN these hearings and the usual headline-hunting Senate investigation could hardly have been greater. The method of releasing quickly edited transcripts turned what could have been a circus—the typical senatorial investigative circus—into what White was to call a “proceeding … quiet, unruffled, orderly and strangely at variance with the investigative habits of the Institution.” The hearings, White was to say, in an opinion echoed by Rovere and other Washington correspondents, dramatically increased the public understanding of the Korean War, of the Cold War as a whole, and of arguments for and against a policy of containment as opposed to that of all-out war. And this detailed presentation of facts and complexities had the effect of calming the waves of public indignation stirred up by MacArthur’s clarion call. Soon Rovere was writing that “it is possible to discern a slight dropping off of interest in the hearings….”
The calm would, during succeeding weeks of testimony, be maintained by Richard Russell.
Never had the respect in which he was held within the Senate been more evident, and more significant for America, than during these weeks, in which other generals followed Marshall to the witness table. Every outburst of rage by the Republican reactionaries, every maneuver they attempted as they saw they were losing, shattered against it. When Senator Wiley, attempting to drag Truman more directly into the controversy, demanded that General Omar Bradley, head of the Joint Chiefs, reveal the contents of his conversations with the President about the Korean War, Bradley refused, and Wiley, Knowland, and the other conservative Republicans exploded. “I am asking the chairman to rule that my question… should be answered,” Wiley said angrily. But the chairman ruled, calmly, that a “private conversation between the President and the Chief of Staff as to detail can be protected by the witness if he desires.” Wiley’s rage boiled over; accusing the Democrats of a “frantic desire to cover-up and whitewash,” he was to charge that Russell’s support of executive privilege had drawn an “iron curtain” over the investigation. Wiley said he would demand a vote by the committee. But his demand was not supported by Lodge, or Saltonstall, or by another Republican, H. Alexander Smith of New Jersey, who said that he wanted to “compliment the chairman on conducting the hearing on the highest possible plane of fairness.” The vote upheld Russell, 18 to 8.
The leaking that would normally have accompanied closed hearings had been drastically reduced by the committee’s new method of releasing the testimony, but in the early days, some sensitive information did find its way to the press. “Every half hour or so,” Rovere noted, Senator McCarthy “pops out of Room 318 … to brief his favorite correspondents.”
Russell reduced it further. When some of Marshall’s censored testimony found its way into newspapers, Russell said he wanted to say a few words to his colleagues. All the testimony except that which would endanger American men fighting in Korea was already being released through those edited transcripts, he said. He was sure, he said, that no committee member—that no senator of the United States—would deliberately give a reporter, and thus the enemy, information that would endanger American soldiers, but of course there was always the chance of “a careless word, a slip of the tongue.” And if American soldiers were endangered by such carelessness, he said, neither “God nor our fellow citizens will ever forgive us.” He paused for a moment, and the full power of Richard Russell’s personality was there in the Senate Caucus Room. “Nor would we deserve forgiveness,” he said.
Russell led Bradley, a World War II general almost as respected by the American public as MacArthur, slowly and carefully through an explanation of the flaws in MacArthur’s proposals, and, thanks to the transcript-release method, Bradley’s testimony was carried in newspapers across the country. On the sixth day of that testimony, Bourke Hickenlooper said he had a proposal: the hearings were consuming so much time, he said, why not skip the other three Joint Chiefs? “In doing so,” as Time reported, “Hickenlooper conceded … that the Republicans had just about abandoned their hope that the hearings would find the Joint Chiefs siding with MacArthur against the President.”
The proposal might well have carried the day had another senator been chairman of the joint committee: its conservative members had a political interest in cutting the testimony short; as for the others, they had already been hearing testimony for almost three weeks, and it was becoming apparent that more long weeks of testimony, weeks during which their presence would be required, lay ahead. But, as Time reported, “Russell put it up to the committee, and the committee, by a 14–11 vote, decided nothing doing; it would keep going down the line of witnesses in turn.”
The Chiefs of Staff who followed Bradley—Hoyt Vandenberg of the Air Force, Forrest Sherman of the Navy, and J. Lawton Collins of the Army—made clear that MacArthur’s claim of their support was, by the most charitable interpretation, a misunderstanding on his part. “One by one,” William Manchester writes, “officers who admired MacArthur seated themselves before the senators and sadly rejected his program for victory.” Day by day, as Time put it, “The glamour, excitement and anger of the first weeks of General MacArthur’s return subsided; the public, or at least a large part of it, admitted that things were more complicated than they had seemed.”
It was Russell’s demeanor, rather than any specific vote or ruling, that made the tone of the hearings thoughtful, judicious—senatorial. It was difficult for even a Wiley or a Hickenlooper to shout for long when the chairman was so quiet and courteous and considerate of every point of view, when he introduced each witness with so glowing a recitation of his accomplishments and qualifications. When, in mid-June, the time for Dean Acheson’s testimony arrived, “Capitol corridors were charged with political tension,”Time reported. “‘Wait until we get Acheson,’ the more partisan-minded Republicans had crowed….” But, as Time reported, “once the committee doors swung shut, Acheson’s questioners, Republican as well as Democratic, settled into the attitude of grave decision that had dominated the investigation from the start. The Republicans, however noisy the blood cries of their colleagues outside, were courteous, dispassionate and earnestly in search of answers…. A calm seemed to settle over the hearing room. Not in years had an investigation in which feelings ran so high been conducted in so temperate and fair-minded a fashion.”
The torrent of mail that had inundated Capitol Hill became a stream, and then a trickle, decreasing as rapidly as if it had been water turned off by a tap. The onlooking senators in the audience melted away, and then the attendance of members of the joint committee began to decline; by the last week in May, when, Time said, “the dramatic thunder and lightning of the big MacArthur hearing had settled into a steady drizzle of repetitious questions and answers,” and testimony was nearing “the million-word mark, and there were still many witnesses … to come,” the Caucus Room was no longer needed, and the hearings were moved into the Armed Services Committee’s room—where, small though that room was, there were soon vacant seats. As for the tenor of public opinion, a baseball game was again the barometer. In April, before the start of the Senate hearings, President Truman had been booed at one for firing MacArthur. Now, in June, MacArthur attended a game at the Polo Grounds in New York, and left between innings, to the strains of “Old Soldiers Never Die,” striding briskly across the diamond toward the centerfield exit—until one fan yelled in a Bronx accent, “Hey Mac, how’s Harry Truman?” and the crowd burst into laughter and applause. A group of Texas oil barons flew him to Texas for a speech, in a seventy thousand-seat stadium, that was supposed to be the kickoff to a MacArthur presidential boom, but only twenty thousand of the seats were filled.
There was one more triumph—one more quiet triumph—for Russell. It came over the question of a formal committee report on the hearings. He didn’t want one. He had attempted to keep the hearings as free as possible from political controversy, and to a remarkable extent he had done so. A report was the last minefield; it “can only serve as a textbook for political arguments,” he scrawled on his desk calendar. So what he did, at the conclusion of the hearings, was, essentially, nothing. Pleading his work on the agricultural appropriations bill as an excuse, he did not convene a committee meeting to consider the question of a formal report until August 17, almost two months after the hearings had ended. At this meeting he advised against issuing a report, saying that it would inevitably reflect a division of opinion, and that any division might affect truce negotiations in Korea. Knowland, Wiley, and three other Republicans objected; the vote against them was 18 to 5. On a motion by Saltonstall, the committee then decided to simply “transmit” the hearing transcript to the full Senate without comment. Eight of the committee’s eleven Republicans later issued a statement criticizing the conduct of foreign affairs in the Far East; it received relatively little public notice. No formal report, or any other action, resulted from the long investigation. Yet the investigation had had a profound effect. As William White was to put it, “Without rejecting outright a single MacArthur policy, without defending at a single point a single Truman policy, without accusing the General of anything whatever, the Senate’s investigation had largely ended his influence on policy-making. It had set in motion an intellectual counterforce to the emotional adulation that for a time had run so strongly through the country.” It had done, in short, precisely what the Founding Fathers had wanted the Senate to do, what their Constitution had designed it to do: to defuse—cool off—and educate; to make men think, recall them to their first principles, such as the principle that in a democracy it is not generals but the people’s tribunes who make policy. “It was, in all truth, a demonstration of what the Senate at its best was capable of doing,” White was to say.
And the Senate, as Samuel Shaffer said, had been at its best largely because of Richard Russell. It was his “power and prestige … employed at a moment of great crisis in America” that had calmed a country that was “as close to a state of national hysteria as it had ever been in its history.” He had displayed, Life magazine said, “firmness, fairness and dignity almost unmatched in recent Congressional history.”
LYNDON JOHNSON PLAYED a minor role in the MacArthur episode, a role that had no relationship to his new post as Assistant Leader. He had assigned his two Preparedness attorneys, Donald Cook and Gerald Siegel, to analyze each evening that day’s testimony and prepare a list of questions for Russell to ask the next day. Before the hearings, Russell had not understood about “staff” in the modern sense. But for weeks now, when he arrived at his office in the morning, there on his desk had been the analysis and the list, tools prepared not by old-style Senate staffers, not by tired old military officers put to pasture on Capitol Hill, but by keen legal minds. Before the hearings, Russell had not understood about public relations in the modern sense. But Johnson had suggested that George Reedy each evening write a statement that Russell could deliver at the opening of the next day’s hearings. For weeks now, Reedy’s opening statements had been there on his desk.
Russell now understood, moreover, that staff could mean more than questions and press releases. Richard Russell had never had an assistant like George Reedy. Sometimes they would be alone together in Russell’s office in the evenings, and Russell found himself discussing the strategy for the hearings—not specific questions or press releases, not matters of tactics, but the overall strategy—and he found that Reedy was worth discussing strategy with, that it helped to bounce ideas off him, to get other sides of the issue. Reedy, the flaming Wisconsin liberal who had always despised Russell because of the Georgian’s views on civil rights, had come to realize that Russell was not only “the preeminent senatorial tactician” but that he possessed “a grasp of history that was equaled by very few politicians in my memory.” And Russell realized that Reedy, too, possessed quite a grasp of history. He came, almost despite himself, this senator who had never relied on staff, to rely on Cook and Siegel and Reedy. One day, noticing that Russell never delivered the opening statements he was preparing, Reedy didn’t bother to write one. “George, please do it,” Russell said. “You don’t realize something. I may change it. I may not use it at all, but it gives me a sense of reassurance to know that when I come down that that statement is going to be there.” Reedy did so, of course, and he began to see that while Russell might not deliver the statement as written, he managed, in making his own statement, to incorporate most of Reedy’s points—just as, in asking questions of MacArthur and Marshall and Bradley and Acheson and the Joint Chiefs, he either used or incorporated the questions prepared by Cook and Siegel. By the conclusion of the MacArthur hearings, Russell understood the importance—thenecessity—of staff, of the way in which it could enable a senator, could enable the Senate, to deal with new complexities, the complexities that had been overwhelming senators and Senate. He understood the importance of this tool in modern politics.
He understood because of Lyndon Johnson—and he had seen that Johnson was a master in the use of this new tool, as he was a master in so many other new tools. He saw that Johnson was capable of adapting the Senate to the new age.
And, of course, during those weeks in which Russell had been using the questions and statements provided by Lyndon Johnson’s staff members, it had only been natural for him to discuss them with Johnson. The two men had worked over them together at breakfast in the Senate Dining Room, and, often, in the evenings, so that they often had not only breakfast but dinner together. Their relationship, already close, had become even closer. “By the end of 1951,” George Reedy says, “the Russell-Johnson relationship was a very, very close relationship.” And it was about this time that Richard Russell paid Lyndon Johnson quite a compliment. In an undated memorandum that appears to have been written in November or December, 1951, a Time reporter informed his editors in New York that “Russell has soberly predicted that Lyndon Johnson could be President and would make a good one.”