Five feet 4 inches in height, 120 pounds when he “got his full growth,” Victor Krulak was dubbed “Brute” by his fellow cadets at Annapolis. The nickname stuck. The now-77-year-old retired marine Lt. Gen. Krulak graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1934 and saw service in World War II. Krulak was stationed in Washington D.C. in the immediate post war years and then, during the Korean war, helped plan the 1950 Inchon landing and served as chief of staff of the 1st Marine Division until 1951. In 1956, at 43, he became the youngest general in the history of the U.S. Marines.
In 1959 he was given command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and in 1962 was assigned as special adviser to President Kennedy and special assistant to the Joint Chiefs and to the Secretary of defense for counterinsurgency from 1954 until retirement in 1968. Krulak served as commander of the Fleet Marine Force in the Pacific in 1969 he became president of the Copley News Service, and in 1980 he retired from that position. Krulak continues to serve on several Copley Press boards and writes a weekly column that through Copley News Service reaches some 400 newspapers.
Krulak figures prominently in Neil Sheehan’s 1988 bestseller A Bright Shining Lie; John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam and in David Halberstam’s The Best and The Brightest. His name appears in numerous other studies of the Vietnam conflict, in biographies of Robert Kennedy, in Paul Nitze’s memoirs (and John Irving dedicated his most recent novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, to one of the Krulak's’ three sons). One might guess that over years, “Brute” ceased to be an ironic comment on a boy’s small size and became measure of a man’s strength, poise, and power.
It was midafternoon. Krulak was recovering from flu; he was hoarse, his china-blue eyes liquescent. Standing in the doorway of his Point Loma home, he appeared fragile under his tweed jacket. Would he rather meet another day? He squared his shoulders, said no. The Krulak’s dachshunds.
Noodles and Suzie skittered around his feet. Leading the way to the far end of the living room, Krulak settled into one of a pair of matching high-backed armchairs arranged on either side of a small table. Suzie stretched out at his feet. Conversation turned to our pets, their habits. Were his dachshunds want to burrow into beds at night? Krulak smiled, said that he discouraged them from doing so but that the dogs often overcame his discouragement. Noodles jumped onto Krulak’s knees, stretched himself across the general’s lap. Krulak stroked Noodles’ head. “He says that he’s long since stopped being a dachshund. He’s joined the human race.”
Berliners were tearing cinder blocks from the Berlin Wall, and the United States had not yet invaded Panama. The general had just finished writing the introduction and conclusion to Panama: An Assessment, which the U.S. Strategic Institute published in late December.
Why had he become involved in the Panama book?
“Just interested in Panama, keenly interested. I am afraid Panama is tremendously important to the United States and to the economy of the Americas, and I would hate to see an unprincipled fellow like Noriega turn it over to Moscow. The United States leaves the Canal Zone on the first of January year 2000, and the second of January the Panamanians hire the Russians to run the canal? A frightening thought!”
What did he make of changes underway in Berlin?
“Well, the Cold War is over. Communism lost. And it wasn’t because our great tactics or strategy on our part. It was a self-inflicted wound by a bunch of Marxist ideologies who had no interest in humanity, people, or warmth, but only in ideology.
“The removal of the Berlin Wall is merely symbolic. Now, the Iron Curtain from the Baltic to the Adriatic is gone. It is an immense event. And it all had its origin in Moscow. Perestroika began when Gorbachev had the idea that by allowing the satellites to have a little elbow room, they would turn economically to the West and trade and improve their condition to the extent that they wouldn’t be such a drain on the Soviet treasury, which could stand damned little drain.
“And second, Gorbachev gambled that he could preach peace and, in so doing, seduce the United States into diminishing its armed strength and weaken NATO. That would permit him to invest less in his military and to shift those rubles to the Russian economy, which badly needs it.
“It’s a big gamble. On the matter or preaching peace, maybe Gorbachev will have a lot of help from idealists in our country and people want to see the budget balanced.
“But we have to govern our judgments regarding our own survival and security not on what Gorbachev says but on what he does. And right now, while he talks about peace, what he is doing is hardening and modernizing his armed forces. A year or two ago, he was spending 16 or 17 percent of his gross national product on the military. Now it is estimated he is spending 15 to 16 percent. So the difference is not vast. We’ve got to guide ourselves by reality.”
Had he foreseen this opening of the East that was beginning, then, to take play?
“Well, no,” Krulak said, adding that he had long felt that “the hunger of the people for simple good things and then the advent of radio and television would kill [the Communist government] off. And I’m not even sure that isn’t what killed them It’s over. They’re ripped.”
Krulak was born in 1913 in Denver. His father Morris was a mining engineer. The family moved to San Diego when Krulak was six and lived in Coronado, where Krulak attended grade school, junior high, and one year of high school.
In 1929, a United States senator from Wyoming, a friend of Krulak’s father, appointed 15-year-old Krulak to a place at the Naval Academy. “Then," Krulak explained, “they administered examinations, and you passed the examination, and you passed the physical, then you had an appointment, and that was it. The senator said to my father about me, “He is really too young to go to the academy, but I will give him an appointment. I have an appointment for next year, and if he fails this first examination, the alternate can go, and I will appoint him next year.” Krulak “befuddled” — he smiled saying the word — the senator by passing the examination. In 1930 he entered the academy.
He didn’t, Krulak said, have any idea how academically unprepared he was. “My first year was a nightmare. But it was progressively easier, and by the last year it was a piece of cake.
A 1965 Life Magazine story said about Krulak: “The Marine Corps had a rule that its officers had to be at least 5 feet 6 inches tall. Krulak, with typical fortitude, got a friend to wack him over the head with a board, hoping to raise a 1 and 1/4-inch bump.
Was this tale true?
“It’s true. It’s true. It was an oak board. I remember it very well.”
Did it hurt?
You bet. You bet it hurt, but I was determined to do it.”
Why did he want to become a Marine?
“By the time I graduated from the Naval Academy, the Navy was doing a lot of, although important, rather pedestrian things, and they weren’t in very many exotic places, but the Marines were. They were in Central America, in China, and that was fascinating to me. After all I was very young — 20 — and those things were very important to me. And that’s what persuaded me.”
Two years into World War II, late 1943, then-Captain Krulak was leading the 600 men of his 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion in the South Pacific. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey wanted the Japanese to think that the U.S. Navy was trying to capture Choiseul and thereby divert Japanese forces from Bougainville, where 14,000 Marines were preparing to land. Krulak had been ordered by Halsey to conduct night-time amphibious raids on the island of Choiseul in the Northern Solomon Islands.
It was through this operation that 30-year-old Krulak met 26-year-old Navy Lieutenant John Kennedy. Krulak explained, “By the use of boats, rapid movement as rapid as we could move over land, we were attacking several different places at once. One of my companies was involved in a heavy fight, and I radioed for air support and any surface support available. Well, there wasn’t anything available except some PT boars on an island 40 miles away.
“The PT boats were ordered to fire up and go at full speed to provide cover fire for the withdrawal of the company under my command. The boats arrived, and one of the commanders of one of the boats was Kennedy.”
A landing craft with 30 of Krulak’s men aboard, some of whom were wounded, hit a coral reef that wiped out its bottom and was sinking. Under enemy fire, Kennedy’s boat came alongside them and held his torpedo boat fast to allow Krulak’s wounded Marines to board.
“And they took the boy who was badly wounded aboard. He died in Kennedy’s bunk on the PT boat.
“I thanked Kennedy and said ‘We are very grateful to you fellows for helping with this, and if we ever get back alive to Vella Lavella [an island Krulak’s battalion had captured], I have a bottle of Three Feathers there, and I want to give it to you.’”
Before the diversion operation ended, Krulak was wounded twice. “Neither wound was bad really. But I had to be evacuated for one and went to the hospital and got well and then went back to war. Awarded a Navy Cross for valor after his participation in the Bougainville campaign, Krulak then served on Okinawa and, at World War II’s end, was in China, where he assisted in the Japanese surrender.
Years passed, Krulak said, “and I forgot all about my commitment to Kennedy. But every once in awhile I would remember, I owe that damned guy a bottle of whiskey.
“I didn’t realize who he was until 1962, when I got back to Washington, and someone commented that during World War II, the President had been in the Navy and had been a PT officer. I said, “My God, do you think that would be the same Kennedy?” So one time in the White House I said to the president, “Mr. President, I owe you something, I owe you a bottle of whiskey.”
“He didn’t remember the event. I said ‘I will recall it to your mind’ and told him the story. Then he said, ‘Yes, I remember the incident very well. I ought to remember it, because my boat ran out of gas on the way back. But I don’t remember the whiskey.’
“I said, 'Well, I do, and I owe you a bottle of whiskey.’ I went to a hell of a lot of trouble to find a bottle of Three Feathers, because that brand had been wiped out after World War II.”
Krulak presented the Three Feathers at the White House. President Kennedy, Krulak recalled, said, “Well this is really an event. What do you say we open it up and have a drink?”
“So he sent a steward for some glasses and ice, and we poured some of it on ice and had a drink.” Krulak ran a hand caressingly down Noodles’ spine, grimaced, “It tasted awful of course.”
President Kennedy in 1962 required all services to emphasize training for counterinsurgency actions. From 1962 to 1964 Krulak served in Washington as special advisor to the President and special assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. In his 1984 book, First to Fight, Krulak writes, “My title was ‘special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities.’ The ‘special activities part meant anything that the JCS chairman, the Secretary of Defense, or, on occasion, the President, wanted me to do.”
How did he happen to be given this position?
“A lot of argument about that. I really don’t know. Commandant of the Marine Corps, then General Shoup [David M. Shoup], said that he recommended me. Admiral Sharp [U.S. Grant Sharp], who lives here in San Diego, one of my oldest friends, who was on duty at the time in Washington, said that he recommended me. And President Kennedy told me that he selected me. My guess is that they are probably right.”
Krulak first visited Vietnam in May 1962, accompanying Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on McNamara’s initial visit to that country. Krulak returned a second time in late summer of that year. According to Sheehan's Bright Shining Lie, by mid-1962, “The war in Vietnam was Krulak’s business. He was its inspector-general in Pentagon heraldry, overseeing the conflict from Washington on a day-to-day basis for the Joint Chiefs and McNamara as their special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities.”
In January 1953, in a battle in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta at Ap Bac, the South Vietnamese army suffered its first major defeat at the hands of the Viet Cong. President Kennedy wanted an explanation. Krulak was one of six generals sent to Vietnam on January 18, 1963. The group’s mission was “to form a military judgment as to the prospects for a successful conclusion of the [Vietnam] conflict in a reasonable period of time.” A Bright Shining Lie explains: “The head of the team, an Army general, stated simply the question of the mission was to answer: “Are we winning or are we losing?”
Krulak was assigned the task of preparing the mission’s final report. “The specifics of the report,” noted Sheehan, “were as cheerful as its broad statements.” Sheehan quotes from the report: “We are winning slowly on the present thrust, and...there is no compelling reason to change.”
Then followed the dramatic events of 1963 — Buddhist demonstrations and immolation's in South Vietnam, on 1 November, President Ngo Dinh Diem’s overthrow and on 2 November Diem’s assassination. Twenty days later, John Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.
March 1964, Krulak was named commander of the Fleet Marine Force in the Pacific. “All the Marines that were in the Pacific were under my command, those that were in Camp Pendleton, those in Hawaii and Guam, the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.” Krulak was responsible for the Marines’ training, equipment, supply, and readiness.
Says Krulak, “Those who were in Vietnam were put under the fighting authority of the General Westmoreland. Everything that went to Vietnam, whether it was Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines, came under his operational authority, but the several services retained their responsibility for everything that made them fightable.”
From 1962 until his retirement in 1968, Krulak went to Vietnam 54 times for periods of 5 to 20 days. “I spent one heck of a lot of time there. It was a lot of flights over that ocean. I spent time in every part of that country and became familiar with it, too familiar with it.”
What was a typical day for Krulak in Vietnam?
“I would get up early and go where I felt my influence would be best used, where things were going on, find out what was needed, what was being done and what I could do to help it. One day was pretty much like the next. Lots of discussions having to do with logistics. Vietnam was a great logistics war. Logistics were always a problem.”
Was he aware at the time of the extent of drug use in Vietnam?
“Oh, sure. And I tried to do everything that I could do in my clumsy way to preclude its sale and use. Looking back on it now, it might have been a hell of a lot worse, but it was bad.”
What did he do to try to stop drug use among Marines in Vietnam?
“Keep them busy. Keep them fighting. And I don’t say this with any sense of denigration of the other services, but we did have a somewhat lesser problem, and I believe that was because the Marines had a smaller rear-area contingent, because that was their nature. The other services had to provide the logistics and had, therefore, a lot of unengaged people. The Marines were much more up where the fighting was going on, and that made it easier.”
All three of the Krulak's’ sons served as Marines. Hadn’t this been, for him, a terrific additional worry?
“They were all there at the same time. Only family in the United States that had four officers there at once. I worried about them just on the basis of the laws of chance. As it turned out, one was wounded twice, one tripped a booby trap and it went off and it was a dud, and he might have been killed. The other— the eldest, a chaplain — was very lucky. He spent an awful lot of time in the front lines and came out unscathed.”
He left Vietnam, Krulak said, “with a clear understanding of what we did wrong and pretty much why we did it wrong.”
What did we do wrong?
“The North Vietnamese wherewithal for war-making came through Hanoi and Haiphong. We tried to entrap the enemy on the Ho Chi Minh trail and along distribution systems throughout North Vietnam, when the way to do it was to just literally destroy the only way they could get the wherewithal; the port of Haiphong and the rail system of Hanoi.
“And we were afraid to do it. And the word fear has to come into it. We were afraid somehow that the Russians were going to make World War III out of a disagreement over a little country in the Southeast Asia.”
In December 1965, Krulak prepared “A Strategic Appraisal,” in which he recommended: “Address our attritional efforts primarily to the source of North Vietnamese material introduction, fabrication, and distribution — destroy the port areas, mine the ports, destroy the rail lines, destroy the power, fuel, and heavy industry. “
Krulak took his appraisal to Admiral Sharp, then Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command. The admiral agreed with Krulak’s recommendation and gave permission for him to pass the appraisal on to Marine Commandant Wallace M. Greene in Washington. General Greene also agreed with Krulak and urged him to show his study to secretary of defense McNamara. McNamara in turn suggested Krulak show his study to Averell Harriman, former governor of New York, who had been U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in World War II and, subsequently, of service to every Democratic administration. Harriman in 1966 was serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Far East Affairs.
Over lunch in Governor Harriman's Georgetown country house, Krulak and Harriman discussed Vietnam. Krulak recalled the occasion: “Harriman said, ‘What are we going to do to win?” And I said, ‘Mine and destroy the port of Haiphong, destroy the rail lines, destroy power, fuel, and heavy industry.’
“The governor said, ‘Do you want a war with the Soviet Union?’ And I said, ‘No no, governor, no, I don’t want a war with the Soviet Union, and I don’t believe they want one with us over that little country.’ But he wouldn’t have it.”
In First to Fight, Krulak writes, “It was plain [Harriman] had little enthusiasm for attacking the ports and logistic bases in North Vietnam and I winced when I thought about the kind of advice he was giving President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk.’ ‘We were afraid, and that was it. Fear is a terrible, terrible enemy. It is on a personal level and on a national level.”
I confessed “I was scared of you.”
Krulak gazed across the table between us, his expression genuinely puzzled. “For what conceivable reason?”
Shyness, perhaps. The general, actually, had made me feel wonderfully at ease. The Life article had noted about Krulak that while he is “about as tolerant of mistakes as a well-oiled rat trap,” he was also “charming, compassionate, and full of humor.”
In summer of 1967, General Westmoreland made the decision to upgrade the Khe Sanh base as a potential launch point for the invasion into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Some 6000 U.S. Marines and members of the South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion were ordered to secure the base.
“Khe Sanh was an interesting study. We didn’t belong there. We should not have been there. We were put there for what appeared to be good reason to General Westmoreland. And they may have been.”
In First to Fight, in his chapter on the Khe Sanh, “The Dien Bien Phu That Wasn’t,” Krulak notes:
To [Westmoreland], holding Khe Sanh was critical to monitoring enemy north-south movement, an effective block to enemy use of Route 9, a source of good intelligence, a western anchor in U.S. Defense of the Demilitarized Zone, and a strategic jumping-off place should his dream of an expedition into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail ever be realized. And he said that he saw Khe Sanh as offering an excellent opportunity to tie down and destroy thousands of enemy soldiers.”
“But they didn’t look good to me. I liked General Westmoreland, and we talked about this often, and I made plain that I didn’t think we belonged there, but we were there.
“Khe Sanh was surrounded on three sides by hills. Khe Sanh was a plateau. On the north and northwest and northeast was a ring of hills that went up to 4000 feet. They could see and shoot down into there, and it made it devilishly uncomfortable.”
Krulak paused, then said in a voice tinged with sadness, “The Marines fought and threw them off of those hills and at great cost.”
Krulak found it hard to look at the casualty lists a secretary laid on his desk each morning in his office on the mountain overlooking Pearl Harbor. He had a memory for names and faces and was familiar with many of the company commanders and platoon leaders and with noncoms and the “grunts” from his visits to the units.
Was that all heartbreaking to him?
Krulak nodded assent. “You must realize that for the boys at the very bottom, war is a very hard thing. There is no such thing as fighting halfway. They fight flat out when they fight at all.”
We were quiet for a moment. Was it true that there was finally no way into Khe Sanh by road?
“Oh no, no, no way by road, and the airstrip became unusable because it had so many mortar, rocket, and artillery holes in it. The enemy would see an airplane coming in on final approach, and by the time they got it on the ground, there were concentrations of mortars and rockets. Planes were blown up, and it became infeasible to do it, so they confined it to paradrop and helicopters. Even the helicopters, [the enemy] could see them come in and they would do the same thing. So the helicopters would not even land, really. They would come down right near the ground, and the people aboard would push out the cargo and jump out and run out and dive into the holes at the edge of the runway. That’s what I did.
“But in the end, they chased the Reds away, they killed an awful lot of them and walked out of the Khe Sanh and just left the damned thing, which always offended me.”
Did Krulak think that the Marine Veterans of Vietnam had fared better in the post-Vietnam era then veterans of other services?
“I think they have done quite well. They have done well because they have taken a simplistic approach to the reasons for their existence.. They have said the only reason we are here is to fight. Not to fight at some later date, but to fight as soon as the crisis arrives. And so we must be ready to go with what we have and to fight in any environment. That has caused them to survive many times in the past, and that is what they are doing now. War is the name of the game.”
What does he make of the contemporary Marine?
“Good. No question, good. Only thing that he needs to validate his quality of war. I don’t hope there will be a war. I would pray there will never be another. But you can’t be dead sure about what you say about fighting a man until you see him fight. But they look pretty good to me.”
Sheehan, a Vietnam war correspondent for the United Press International and the New York Times, spent 16 years writing A Bright Shining Lie; John Paul Hann and America in Vietnam. The 861-page book blends the history of the war in Vietnam and the biography of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, where the book’s dust jacket describes as “a complicated man with a dark secret that haunted his career.”
How did Krulak feel about the Sheehan book?
“Quite good. Really, the Sheehan book is two books. He wrote about the early part of the warm and he wrote about the latter part of the war. Well, in the early part of the war, Sheehan was no more sophisticated about the war than any of the rest of us. He made his share of mistakes. In the latter part of the war, he had become very, very cognizant of what went on, and he was right on everything he said. In that sense, the book turns out on balance to be an extremely useful book.
“I felt, however, that Sheehan was ill-advised in choosing the fellow [Vann] he chose as a hero — God rest his soul, he’s dead — a wicked and mischievous man. And a moral jackal. And there was no reason for Sheehan to pivot his book around to an individual, indeed, around an individual of that character. However, putting that aside, as I say, his book is a useful contribution.”
Sheehan quotes an unnamed source — “another Marine general” — as suggesting that Krulak’s generally optimistic report; on his January 1963 visit to Vietnam was colored by Krulak’s ambition to become Marine commandant, Sheehan:
“The current commandant, Gen. David Shoup, was due to retire at the end of 1963 There was a chance that the president, out of esteem for Krulak, might pass over more senior candidates and name Krulak as the new commandant. Krulak’s colleague therefore thought he had probably not wanted to risk his career at this moment by challenging the established optimism and bringing down, on himself the wrath of Maxwell Taylor, the fashionable military servant whom the Kennedy brothers and McNamara considered the ultimate source of wisdom on war. “Brute Krulak is too smart not to have seen what was happening in South Vietnam,” his colleague said. “He could think circles around those Army and Air Force generals.”
How did Krulak feel about this description of himself as ambitious?
“You are the first one who has ever brought it up to me. I suppose that’s an opinion, and he has every right to his opinion, and indeed everyone has his quotient of ambition. I really didn’t aspire to be president or Pope, but I certainly aspired to be a successful professional Marine. So I can’t condemn him for saying that.”
It seemed that Sheehan intimated that Krulak’s ambition to become Marine Commandant got in the way of advice he gave in the January 1963 report.
“I didn’t read that in the book,” said Krulak, “and if it was there it had no basis in fact.”
About Sheehan’s use of quotations from the unnamed Marine General, Krulak added, “If Sheehan were prepared to buttress his book on unnamed sources, he could get any sort of quote he wanted. Sheehan is a professional, and he knows that he could get any sort of quote that he wanted. If he wanted a quote that said Corporal Jones could walk on water, he could find someone who could provide it.” That didn’t strike me as being significant. He didn’t show it as a fact, and it isn’t true.
“But, I would have to say that it would be rude to reject critical opinion in that sort when you can read in the same book great, great flattering opinion. There is one photograph of me in the book, and the caption of the photograph says that I was the only senior officer in Vietnam who was able to think like the enemy. Well, if I am going to revel in that sort of accolade, I’ve got to be fair and accept his opinions elsewhere or at least tolerate them.”
Did he think the war might have gone differently had Kennedy lived?
What did he think that difference would have been?
“He was far more objective, far more decisive, far more strategic in the terms of his perceptions, and far more determined. Yeah.” Krulak said, “it would have been different, I believe that Johnson measured far too many things he did in terms of local, personal, political impact.”
A silence ensured, Krulak with one hand traced the line of Noodles’ spine. Finally, Krulak spoke, his voice steeped in tones of resignation. “Yes, it would have been a lot different if Kennedy had been there. No question. An better.”
The Life Magazine article had noted above the door to Krulak's office a sign that Krulak carried with him wherever he went. The sign read: “The harder dictates in the country.”
Was it difficult, having been a Marine, to go to a newspaper, an organization whose employees are not necessarily accustomed to military discipline?
“Yes, I found the limitations were acute and I had to accommodate. In the military, you will say, “Do it” and you know it will happen. In the newspaper, it might or might not happen. Yes, it was quite different.”
We talked a bit about a story that had much play in local press, a story we both agreed had been badly reported and sensationalized. What did Krulak think was the appeal of the story for journalists? He sat up straight, rearranging the dog across his lap, sad, “I’m not a journalist, but I had ten years as an editor, and they — journalists — can’t fool me. They’re lazy, most of them, and ignorant, most of them, and illiterate.”
In 1980 the general retired from the Copley News Service. He still, however, works for Copley in several capacities, the principal one of which has to do with the manufacture of newsprint. In 1968 Jim Copley had named him as a member of the board of directors of a newsprint mill in which Copley had an interest. Krulak remained on that board until the mill was sold. Eight years ago, Krulak was named Copley’s representative on a board that included representatives of four other newspapers. The board’s goal was build a new newsprint mill. “And we finally got the mill built,” Krulak said, “in the northeastern Washington state, 16 miles south of the Canadian border and 16 miles west of the Idaho border. We made our first paper last Sunday night. The mill cost one-third of a billion dollars. Very costly, very complicated. That’s what I do, and I’ve put a lot of time into that.”
Had he enjoyed his work in the mill?
“Very much. It’s a little-known, highly technical specialty. I studied it for a long time. So I know a useful smattering.”
Life had quoted the general’s wife Amy as saying (with a sigh), “I just hope he never retires. He’ll have to run the house then, and I’ll have to get out.”
Reminded of this comment, Krulak shot back, “I haven’t retired, and I don’t intend to.”
What does he want to do now?
“Write a book about Korea. I want to show that timidity in our leadership in Washington caused us to abandon our critical positions in Korea. We would still be there, and the whole history of Asia would be changed. I want to write that book, and I am making preparations to do it.”
Had Krulak admired General MacArthur? (At the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, MacArthur was named supreme commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. MacArthur’s unwillingness to follow President Truman’s order to restrict the war to Korea led in 1951 to MacArthur’s dismissal.)
“Not to begin with. The longer I saw him the more I realized he had a great strategic mind.”
Why did Truman so hate MacArthur?
“Because General MacArthur was egotistical and would not subordinate himself properly to Truman. His egotism was monumental. Truman couldn’t tolerate it, and I don’t blame him.” Krulak added, “I admired Truman,” then stroking the dachshund’s back, turned to his dog, asked, “How about you, Noodles?”
Who was Krulak’s favorite president, in his lifetime?
“Kennedy and Reagan.”
The answer was surprising.
“Yes,” Krulak said, his voice somber, “that’s the way I feel.”
What was the similarity between two men so ideologically different?
“Objective. They knew what they wanted to do and tried to do it.”
“Courageous, both of them, very courageous.”
Earlier, Krulak had lightly stroked Suzie’s ribs, and a tremor had passed through her, causing her skin to ripple. Just the mention of Nixon made Krulak shudder, and what seemed a shiver of disgust slipped over his features in the same way that the tremor passed over the dog. “No,” Krulak said, “no,” as if by saying no he physically might hold name ‘Nixon” at a distance from him. “No. He probably was smarter than either of them, but no. There’s a flaw in him somewhere. Somewhere.” The last years of the Nixon administration was a heartbreaking time to live through. “You bet.” One didn’t want to see this happen to the presidency as an institution. “Yes, and one has a sense of deep resentment, because it didn’t have to happen. At least that had been my feeling, that it didn’t have to happen, and therefore I resent it.” That Nixon didn’t have to become involved in deception? “Exactly.” Did Krulak believe that the horrors of the Nixon administration lowered national morale? “The Nixon administration, in retrospect, was overloaded by dubious personalities and unnecessary deception. There is always deception in politics and governance, but there was too much there. But I don’t believe Nixon changed us, particularly. On the other hand, there certainly has been some change in our national morale. We have not been coalesced since Pearl Harbor. The American people have not been put to that kind of a test since Pearl Harbor. Just like I said the Marines look good, but it would take the ultimate test to find out.”
Noodles jumped down from Krulak’s lap and barked. “Noodles,” Krulak noted, “says he wants a drink of water.”
Would Krulak’s career have been different if Kennedy had lived and been elected to a second term?
“Maybe. I didn’t get along with Johnson, and I did get along with Kennedy. So in that sense, maybe. But on the assumption that one’s career is a product of his own efforts and not of who he knows, I would have to say I wouldn’t be sure anything would have happened differently.”