I have three items for my write-up today on Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952.
1. Gellman talks often about Richard Nixon’s relationship with Senator Joseph McCarthy. My impression is that McCarthy admired Nixon for his investigative work on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and so McCarthy, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee for Expenditures in the Executive Departments, named Nixon to that committee, while bumping off Senator Margaret Chase Smith because of her open criticism of McCarthy on the floor of the Senate. But Gellman states that McCarthy and Nixon were different in their approaches: McCarthy was reckless in his statements, whereas Nixon sought facts. Nixon believed that McCarthy was addressing a legitimate problem in talking about Communist subversion in the U.S. Government, but he did not care for McCarthy’s reckless speculations.
2. Nixon criticized President Harry Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. On page 366, Gellman states that “Nixon argued for stopping all trade with Communist China, bombing enemy bases across the Yalu River, receiving significant assistance from the United Nations, and permitting the Chinese Nationalists on Formosa as well as guerrilla forces on the mainland to assist in the victory.”
Do I agree with Truman or MacArthur? I’ll admit that I have much to read on this topic before I can offer an informed opinion, but I’ll say what I think right now. I can see Truman’s point that we needed to keep the war limited to Korea, for why would we want to make the war worse and possibly start another world war, which would have cost us a lot in lives and resources? Moreover, I don’t think that atomic warfare should have even been on the table (though this article says that it’s unclear whether MacArthur even wanted to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War).
On the other hand, I do believe that Truman was tying MacArthur’s hands and preventing him from winning the Korean War. If the Communist Chinese were sending resources to North Korea across the Yalu River, I can see MacArthur’s point that this needed to be stopped. Would we have been able to bomb the enemy bases across the Yalu River, without provoking retaliation and starting another world war?
3. Gellman has a chapter about the graft within the Truman Administration. I found this chapter to be dull because I was not particularly interested in who was giving to whom and following the mazes of how the graft took place. But it’s an important chapter, if you’re interested in that subject. What I got out of this chapter was that Truman was not personally guilty of the corruption within his administration but allowed his relationship with the wrongdoers to get in the way of seriously addressing the problem. Nixon, meanwhile, was criticizing the Truman Administration. Even when an official did something that was shady but technically legal, Nixon said that we should value what’s right, not just what’s legal. I wonder how Nixon’s Administration would fare were that standard applied to it!