Krulak, Victor Harold
KRULAK, Victor Harold
(b. 7 January 1913 in Denver, Colorado), Marine Corps lieutenant general, counterinsurgency specialist, and commander of the Marine Corps' Pacific Fleet during much of the 1960s.
Krulak, son of Morris and Bessie M. Ball, first dreamed of a career in the military when, as a teenager, he watched the warships steam in and out of San Diego Bay. He secured an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, and it was at Annapolis, Maryland, that he earned his scarcastic nickname, "Brute," because of his five-foot, five-inch, 115-pound frame. Upon graduation in 1930 he chose service in the marines over the navy because he felt that the marines offered a greater challenge.
Krulak had a long and distinguished career in the marines. Before and during World War II, he helped create the marine amphibious doctrines. After the war, he worked with a group of marine officers largely responsible for the creation of the National Security Act of 1947, which saved the Marine Corps from being dismantled after World War II. Early in his career he married Amy Chandler (1 June 1936), and they had three children. In July 1956 he earned his first star, becoming the youngest general in marine history.
In 1962 President John F. Kennedy appointed Krulak to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) as special assistant for counterinsurgency and special activities; he thus became the Marine Corps' lead in Kennedy's call for the military to adopt counterinsurgency training. In this role Krulak made several trips to Vietnam between 1962 and 1964. He used these trips, combined with numerous discussions with the British counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson, to formulate his ideas on how the war in Vietnam should be fought. During his many visits, he also came to know South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem and urged the United States to continue supporting him, contrary to the opinion of his travel partner, Joseph Mendenhall of the State Department.
Krulak worked closely with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson on Southeast Asian matters. He developed American doctrine on counterinsurgency warfare and created a program to track the United States' progress in South Vietnam. Many of his contemporaries considered him one of the three most powerful military men in the country at the time, because of the unfettered access he had to the White House. On 1 March 1964 Krulak became the commanding general of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFP). In this role he was responsible for all aspects of marine deployment in Vietnam, from equipment to training, except operational deployment. General William C. Westmoreland, commanding general of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), had operational control of all American military in Vietnam. Krulak and Westmoreland developed different concepts on how best to fight the war, and in many ways their conflict served to define Krulak's wartime career.
Upon assuming command, Krulak immediately began to implement the doctrines he had developed as the nation's counterinsurgency expert, coming up with his "ink-blot" formula. The formula involved securing and protecting populous areas and destroying the Communists' logistics by bombing roads, rail lines, and ports; mining the harbors; and engaging in large-unit battles only when the situation favored American troops. The secure areas were the inkblots that slowly spread as American and South Vietnamese forces secured more areas. Krulak's plan contradicted the "search and destroy" war of attrition strategy employed by Westmoreland. Krulak became increasingly frustrated with MACV's strategy. In 1966 he wrote a seventeen-page report outlining his concept and, using the influence he had gained while serving in Washington, D.C., brought his ideas to McNamara and Johnson. Both men, however, feared that Krulak's plan would lengthen the war and could possibly force the Soviets or the Chinese into a larger role.
Despite the fact that his overall concept was dismissed, Krulak continued to battle the operational war planners at MACV and urge the marines in other directions. In October 1966, at Westmoreland's insistence, the marines formed a base at the remote location of Khe Sanh, North Vietnam. Krulak objected to the base, arguing that Khe Sanh was too remote to be an effective border post and was a waste of marine personnel and materiel. Krulak's objections were justified when the base was deemed strategically unimportant and abandoned in June 1968, less than two years after it was established and less than four months after it made international headlines during the Tet Offensive, a major attack launched by North Vietnam on cities in South Vietnam.
In May 1968 Krulak again became a vocal opponent of part of the war policy when Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford pushed for implementation of the single-management plan over all American air units. Krulak, while not completely disagreeing with the concept, believed that the plan would severely limit the marine air units in supporting marine ground operations. During a series of meetings in Saigon, South Vietnam, and Honolulu, Hawaii, Krulak worked to create alternatives. One of his final acts as commander, FMFP, was to draft the plan that gave MACV its "official" single manager, while the marines maintained operational control over 70 percent of its air units.
During the summer of 1968 many considered Krulak the top choice for commandant of the Marine Corps. A group of fellow officers petitioned for his appointment, and his wife secretly bought a set of four stars that he would be entitled to wear. President Johnson, however, chose another candidate, Leonard F. Chapman. Krulak retired from active duty in May 1968 and from the marines in June, after serving thirty-eight years. In 1995 the stars purchased by his wife finally went into service when President Bill Clinton selected their son Charles to serve as commandant of the Marine Corps (all three sons were naval academy graduates). Charles is now a retired U.S. Marine Corps general.
Critics of the United States' strategy in Vietnam believed the military had another option in Krulak's plan. Some even stated that the United States could have won the war had Krulak's plan been adopted. Krulak understood that the only difference between army strategy and marine strategy was emphasis, not substance. When enemy and civilians intermingle, he believed, one cannot shoot everyone, and one needs to stress pacification, not open battle. Krulak's plan, however, had its faults. Critics thought that it was not a complete concept and had many gaps in coverage. Moreover, the process in his plan would have lengthened the war interminably and perhaps turned it into an occupation. After retiring from the marines, Krulak went to work as the director of news policy for Copley News Service in San Diego, where he resided at the beginning of the twenty-first century. He continued to be critical of U.S. strategy in his news writing and in his semi-autobiographical book, First to Fight (1984).
Krulak's papers and a 1969 oral history interview relating to his marine career reside at the Marine Corps History Center in Washington, D.C. Krulak included so much of his own experiences in his book, First to Fight: An Inside View of the United States Marine Corps (1984), that it can be considered a memoir. The only full-length biography of Krulak is Richard H. Hoy's master's thesis, "Victor H. Krulak: A Marine's Biography" (San Diego State University, 1974). The History Center also published the official multivolume marine history of the Vietnam War, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, which provides background on his career, particularly Jack Shulimson's volume, The Defining Year, 1968 (1997).
Michael C. Miller