22 Sept 01
Taejon, Korea, July 1950
As we can see from recent events, America has a bad habit of losing the first battle of every war. Arrogance and naivete seem always to conspire to produce a disastrous defeat at the beginning, every time.
In the summer of 1950, not even five years since the conclusion of World War II, a shaky and incredulous President Truman headed a nation profoundly disinterested in any more shooting wars. With the predictable postwar recession firmly rooted, the difficulties experienced by other nations, even Stalin’s annoying “mischief,” did not enjoy a high profile in the collective American consciousness.
Unhappily, in this atmosphere Truman was no match for Stalin! While Truman dithered, Stalin relentlessly built up his Red Army and aggressively pushed his Communist model into eastern Europe and China. It would take the next half century for eastern Europe to shake off the Communist yoke. China never did.
Under Truman, American military capability was allowed to deteriorate as never before. Returning army divisions were disbanded as soon as they hit American soil. The primary reason was that the United States had “the bomb.” Many, perhaps most, politicians naively believed that traditional armies, navies and air forces (except for strategic bombers) were suddenly obsolete. Who would dare attack us? All kinds of foolish “mutual protection” treaties were signed. No one thought conventional armies would ever have to fight again, as conventional war was now inconceivable. Thus, American politicians were more than happy to declare their willingness to defend other countries, so long a no one thought they would ever have to make good on the promises. Such self-deception was so widespread that, when panicked Truman ordered US Marines to deploy to Korea in June of 1950, he was informed that not even a single brigade could be assembled without calling up reservists! Truman discovered to his horror that, in the mere fifty-eight months since the end of World War II, America’s conventional armed forces had been utterly emasculated.
Communist insurrections sprang up throughout Asia on the heels of the Japanese surrender in 1945. A crafty and ruthless Mao Zhe-dung had blundering and inept Chiang Kai-skek on the run in China. Communist insurgents were fighting the French in Indochina and the British and Dutch in Malaya. American politicians, including Truman, incorrectly assumed all these rebellions were being directly orchestrated by Stalin. Stalin surely encouraged Communist rebellions wherever he could, but he had surprisingly little influence, let alone control, over local insurgents.
The Korean Peninsula (about the size of Britain) had been a Japanese colony since the beginning of the 1900s. At the end of World War II, Stalin, sensing a power vacuum with the Japanese gone, invaded Korea from the North. Korea was an agricultural country with virtually no industry, so resistance was largely ineffective. American troops in the South, mopping up Japanese stragglers, met the Soviet Red Army at the thirty-eighth parallel in 1945. Korea was thereafter unofficially divided in two. The Red Army eventually withdrew, leaving local Communist dictator, Kim Il-sung, firmly in charge. Kim claimed to rule all of Korea, and, adhering to the now-familiar Communist pattern, had no compunction about using torture and abject butchery to keep himself in power.
In the South, the American State Department manufactured what was supposed to be an American-style democracy. Syngman Rhee was hand picked to lead it. Rhee was ostensibly a Christian and had been educated in the USA. However, shortly after being lowered in from the top (and adhering to the age-old Asian model) he quickly and ruthlessly consolidated his position as unofficial dictator, also claiming to rule the entirety of Korea. Thereafter, he held sway with an iron fist, torturing and murdering all political opposition out of existence, much like his rival, Il-sung, in the North.
Both the US Army and the Red Army withdrew in 1949. Korea now had two firmly-entrenched dictators, both of whom claimed the whole country and both of whom were rapidly building up their own armies. It didn’t require a genius to predict what would happen next! On 20 January 1950, in yet another in a series of astonishing blunders by the Truman administration, the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, announced to the world that Korea was “outside the US defense perimeter.” That was the signal Il-sung had been waiting for, as no corresponding declaration was forthcoming from Stalin. Truman had literally invited Il-sung to invade the South!
He didn’t have long to wait for his invitation to be enthusiastically accepted! At 4:00am on the morning of 25 June 1950, Il-sung’s NKPA (North Korean Peoples’ Army) stormed across the thirty-eighth parallel on a wide front. Almost instantly, the AROK (Army of the Republic of Korea) was in full, disorganized retreat. Interestingly, Stalin was as surprised as Truman! Stalin had no idea of Il-sung’s plans. In the UN in New York City, Rhee pleaded for help. The US, of course, indicated UN help would be on the way immediately. The Soviets were boycotting the Security Council at the time, or they would surely have vetoed the resolution. Stalin obviously didn’t have a clue!
Without Soviet objection, the UN thus became an extension of American foreign policy. This was not surprising, as the UN had been manufactured by the USA. Americans invented it, supplied it, paid for it, and were now usurping it for their own purposes. The Korean War was to be an entirely American show. Foreign troops (under the UN banner) were marginally involved, but mostly toward the end. Their contribution was insignificant. Americans bore the brunt of the battle and suffered the lion’s share of casualties.
MacArthur in Japan was in overall charge of American forces in the entire region. However, even after the invasion began, he didn’t think Korea was worthy of his personal presence. He remained in Japan. The local American ground commanders were Walton H Walker, commanding the Eight US Army, and his Chief of Staff William Dean.
American troops were hurriedly rounded up by Walker and trucked to the front. Moral went down when the AROK truck drivers went north only a few miles and then refused to go any further. American troops kicked them out (literally) and then drove the trucks themselves. When they arrived at the AROK “line,” they discovered all AROK solders had long since fled to the rear, along with a hoard of refugees.
Led by Lt/Col Charles Smith (“Task Force Smith”), Americans made a valiant stand, but NKPA tanks could not be stopped by inferior American tanks (mostly Shermans) and obsolete 2.5″ rocket launchers (called “bazookas”). American lines were successively overrun. American soldiers quickly found themselves in a disorganized retreat, as the AROKs had before them.
Walker picked the town of Taejon to make a stand, but it could not be held. The NKPA overran Taejon, the first major population center they had encountered. Doctors, lawyers, and all intellectuals were quickly rounded up by NKPA soldiers and shot en masse. In excess of seven thousand thus died. Forty-two American prisoners were first bound, then individually shot in the head in public. The Communist style of “governing” had not changed!
American reinforcements arrived too late to save Taejon. The retreat continued all the way south to the coastal town of Pusan, where the invasion was finally stopped at what was called the Pusan Perimeter. MacArthur, when he finally got personally involved, then engineered the famous amphibious landing at Inchon, which astonished and confounded the NKPA with its badly stretched supply lines. The course of the War had finally been reversed. The NKPA was about to pay a terrible price for its wanton butchery.
Once again, Americans had to “pay the butcher’s bill” for their unpreparedness. Most American Army and Marine units in 1950 were at less than half strength. It was a skeleton army masquerading as a real one. Severe shortages in tanks, artillery, AAA, and supply infrastructure were commonplace. Only two people in the entire American military establishment spoke Korean. Most soldiers had never trained at any higher than company level. In real battle, inadequately trained soldiers are little more than a hoard of tourists! Newly created battalions quickly deteriorate into mobs.
Throwing “divisions” of soldiers, who have never trained together, into a real battle is like putting on a ballet and hiring all the ballerinas on opening night! For example, American combat aircraft rapidly established air superiority over South Korea, but radio systems were out of date, and communication with ground units was thus so poor that effective close air support would have to wait for the last few months of the War. Who knows how many lives were needlessly lost because of that gaff alone? Brand new, 3.5″ rocket launchers, which could have handily stopped and destroyed NKPA tanks, were sitting in warehouses in the USA instead of in the hands of American soldiers in Korea who desperately needed them. Perishing and Patton tanks, superior to NKPA tanks in every way, were also sitting on parade grounds back in the USA and not where they needed to be. Obsolete Sherman tanks were being chewed up in the interim. Eventually, nearly a million American soldiers would become involved in the battle to eject the NKPA from South Korea. At its height, the entire NKPA never exceeded 135,000 men.
In the greatest insult to the courage of American fighting men in the Twentieth Century, the Commander in Chief, President Truman, refused to call the Korean War a “war,” preferring the more politically savory terms, “police action” and “conflict.” No soldier enjoys risking his life for a commander who lacks the courage to call a spade a spade.
That brings us to today. For the past eight years, foolish Americans have voted for Santa Claus (in the personage of Bill Clinton and his gallery of Marxists, masquerading as “Democrats”), naively thinking that America really doesn’t need an army. After all, we have “technology,” don’t we? Now, when we desperately need divisions of well trained and well equipped soldiers, we are starting, once again, to discover shortages of virtually everything.
When I was a young, Marine Infantry second lieutenant, we were taught that our purpose in life was to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and close combat.” We were taught to use our rifles with precision to shoot and kill individual, enemy soldiers. We were also taught to use bayonets, knives, and pistols in close combat, again to kill individual, enemy soldiers. Today, infantrymen are trained to merely “locate” the enemy and then shoot at his formations and his positions, but never at him as an individual. Afterward, some kind of technological device will come along and vaporize them, they are assured. It will all be so clean! Bayonets are considered “politically incorrect.”
What happens when all the machines have died, and it’s just us and them? The current Clintonisque training philosophy will fail utterly. This time, the enemy may not be kind enough to allow us to regroup and recover from our foolish self-deception.