This Kind Of War: A Study In Unpreparedness (1963, and) The Classic Military History Of The Korean War (1998 reprint).
I have been thinking about the Korean War for some time. I ran across a reference that this book is the definitive book on the subject. Although I enjoy reading military history, I was under the impression “This Kind Of War” was going to be a dry text book. It’s not. It covers the war in some detail, but it also deals with the system(s) that go into fighting, and the theories that make it go wrong. I’m also very interested in systems. I believe it’s the prime reason things go wrong: people don’t look at problems in context of the system(s) they operate in. This is clearly showing by Fehrenbach. He wrote the book as a warning. One the U.S. Army and the Pentagon didn’t learn in time for Vietnam. The book is written for, by, and about mid-level commanders. So I got a look at the Korean war: not from the air, like a general, nor in the mud like an enlisted man, but from the hill top watching the battles. As such, the book was dry at times, but usually Fehrenbach would break off in the next chapter for a different topic. One unusual topic was the treatment of POWs. It was almost amusing how Chinese and Korean POWs ran our prisons like “Hogan’s Heroes”.
I had an old version of the book, without maps. A serious flaw that was addressed with newer version. I overcame this issue by using these maps: Korean War Maps – U.S. Army Center of Military History
This book went a long way to addressing a serious hole in my knowledge of military history and I recommend it.
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No American may sneer at them, or at what they did. What happened to them might have happened to any American in the summer of 1950. For they represented exactly the kind of pampered, undisciplined, egalitarian army their society had long desired and had at last achieved. They had been raised to believe the world was without tigers, then sent to face those tigers with a stick. On their society must fall the blame.
Able to live on three rice balls a day, capable of carrying guns and ammunition over the steepest slopes on foot, this isolation bothered the Communists not at all. It drove the Americans, hating isolated action, dependent upon wheels, to desperation. Ironically, the Indian-fighting army of seventy-five years earlier would have understood the new form of warfare perfectly.
Undisciplined, untrained, unhating, they had come to battle. They had been clobbered, as American citizen-soldiers had usually been clobbered in their first battles, from Bull Run to Kasserine. Only gradually did men understand the nature of the job they had to do.
man who has seen and smelled his first corpse on the battlefield soon loses his preconceived notions of what the soldier’s trade is all about. He learns how it is in combat, and how it must always be. He becomes a soldier, or he dies.
But the most ironic thing, in those bitter days of December 1950, was that the commentators who cried havoc the loudest were the very men who had done most to change and destroy the old 1945 Army. These were the men who had shouted for the boys to be brought home, who had urged the troops to exert civil rights. They were the ones who had hinted that leaders trying to delay the frenetic demobilization, or the reform of the Army, were no better than the Fascists. And these were the men who screamed most shrilly when some young Americans on the field of battle behaved more like citizens than like soldiers.
Had the U.N. Command been able to employ the main body of the Eighth Army, or to throw the entire X Corps against the CCF IX Army Group, there is good reason to suppose the Chinese might have failed. But the terrain made it a series of Indian rights. While one American division was cut to pieces, others a few miles across the mountains enjoyed relative peace and quiet. Understandably, American commanders were eager to get out of the horrible mountains and back to where they could fight once more in modern, civilized fashion. The first withdrawal, to the 38th parallel, would have accomplished this. But the retreat once started was difficult to halt. The U.N. line, with X Corps redeployed in the center of South Korea, finally came to rest along the 37th parallel in January 1951.
There was and is no danger of military domination of the nation. The Constitution gave Congress the power of life or death over the military, and they have always accepted the fact. The danger has been the other way around—the liberal society, in its heart, wants not only domination of the military, but acquiescence of the military toward the liberal view of life.
The values composing civilization and the values required to protect it are normally at war. Civilization values sophistication, but in an armed force sophistication is a millstone.
It was apparent to some men in Camp 5 that in order to permit Americans to live more amicably together, American education had done a great deal of damping of the flaming convictions men live and die by.
Most of them, officers and men, felt a deep respect for, and almost an inferiority before, the various professionals that comprised the other U.N. troops in Korea. Their praise of the allies—the French, Thais, Turks, and Abyssinians—was far removed from the grousing about allies that had marked most previous wars. Most Americans, privately, would admit the U.N. troops were better than they were. Which was highly surprising, since until the last, captured CCF intelligence documents always indicated the Chinese considered Americans the best.
In retrospect, it seems beyond question that because the West brought naïveté concerning Communist motives and methods to the conference table thousands more men than necessary were maimed and killed. If the U.N. had approached the table with a hard eye instead of a sigh of relief, in fighting stance instead of immediate relaxation, the chances are high that peace could have been attained in 1951.
In retrospect, both Easy and Able should have been committed earlier; the haunting fear of committing too many men, of taking too many casualties, which had begun with the terrible civilian pressure after Heartbreak, had resulted in piecemeal commitment and, ironically, more losses than were probably necessary.
The 280mm gun was shipped to the Far East. Then, in great secrecy, atomic warheads—it could fire either nuclear or conventional rounds—followed, not to Korea, but to storage close by. And with even greater secrecy, word of this shipment was allowed to fall into Communist hands. At the same time, into Communist hands wafted a pervasive rumor, one they could neither completely verify nor scotch: that the United States would not accept a stalemate beyond the end of summer.
Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other—with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots, and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors. Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man.
These were the Korean War—the misery, the waste, the splendor, the courage, the trauma that lingers still. Millions of Americans can find no meaning in any of it. It is while men talk blithely of the lessons of history that they ignore them. The lesson of Korea is that it happened.