Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even into death.
If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt, kind-hearted but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoiled children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
--From the Chinese of Sun Tzu,
THE ART OF WAR
TEN YEARS AFTER the guns fell into uneasy silence along the 38th parallel, it is still impossible to write a definitive history of the Korean War. For that war did not write the end to an era, but merely marked a fork on a road the world is still traveling. It was a minor collision, a skirmish -- but the fact that such a skirmish between the earth's two power blocs cost more than two million human lives showed clearly the extent of the chasm beside which men walked.
More than anything else, the Korean War was not a test of power -- because neither antagonist used full powers -- but of wills. The war showed that the West had misjudged the ambition and intent of the Communist leadership, and clearly revealed that leadership's intense hostility to the West; it also proved that Communism erred badly in assessing the response its aggression would call forth.
The men who sent their divisions crashing across the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950 hardly dreamed that the world would rally against them, or that the United States -- which had repeatedly professed its reluctance to do so -- would commit ground forces onto the mainland of Asia.
From the fighting, however inconclusive the end, each side could take home valuable lessons. The Communists would understand that the free world -- in particular the United States -- had the will to react quickly and practically and without panic in a new situation. The American public, and that of Europe, learned that the postwar world was not the pleasant place they hoped it would be, that it could not be neatly policed by bombers and carrier aircraft and nuclear warheads, and that the Communist menace could be disregarded only at extreme peril.
The war, on either side, brought no one satisfaction. It did, hopefully, teach a general lesson of caution.
The great test placed upon the United States was not whether it had the power to devastate the Soviet Union -- this it had -- but whether the American leadership had the will to continue to fight for an orderly world rather than to succumb to hysteric violence. Twice in the century uncontrolled violence had swept the world, and after untold bloodshed and destruction nothing was accomplished. Americans had come to hate war, but in 1950 were no nearer to abolishing it than they had been a century before.
But two great bloodlettings, and the advent of the Atomic Age with its capability of fantastic destruction, taught Americans that their traditional attitudes toward war -- to regard war as an unholy thing, but once involved, however reluctantly, to strike those who unleashed it with holy wrath -- must be altered. In the Korean War, Americans adopted a course not new to the world, but new to them. They accepted limitations on warfare, and accepted controlled violence as the means to an end. Their policy -- for the first time in the century -- succeeded. The Korean War was not followed by the tragic disillusionment of World War I, or the unbelieving bitterness of 1946 toward the fact that nothing had been settled. But because Americans for the first time lived in a world in which they could not truly win, whatever the effort, and from which they could not withdraw, without disaster, for millions the result was trauma.
During the Korean War, the United States found that it could not enforce international morality and that its people had to live and continue to fight in a basically amoral world. They could oppose that which they regarded as evil, but they could not destroy it without risking their own destruction.
Because the American people have traditionally taken a warlike, but not military, attitude to battle, and because they have always coupled a certain belligerence -- no American likes being pushed around -- with a complete unwillingness to prepare for combat, the Korean War was difficult, perhaps the most difficult in their history.
In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.
Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or in spirit.
They had not really realized the kind of world they lived in, or the tests of wills they might face, or the disciplines that would be required to win them.
Yet when America committed its ground troops into Korea, the American people committed their entire prestige, and put the failure or success of their foreign policy on the line.
The purpose of this book is to detail the events of that action, and what led to it, and not to explore controversy. It does not seek to exalt the military nor to deride the traditionally liberal American view toward life. There is no desire to add fuel to the increasingly bitter dialogue between traditionalists, military officers, and "liberals" that has resulted from those events -- a dialogue brought about more by the fact that the liberals would feel safer if the military would feel emotionally more at home in a society that was a bit more spartan, than by a clear assessment of the needs of the country.
The civilian liberal and the soldier, unfortunately, are eyeing different things: the civilian sociologists are concerned with men living together in peace and amiability and justice; the soldier's task is to teach them to suffer and fight, kill and die. Ironically, even in the twentieth century American society demands both of its citizenry.
Perhaps the values that comprise a decent civilization and those needed to defend it abroad will always be at odds. A complete triumph for either faction would probably result in disaster.
Perhaps, also, at the beginning a word must be said concerning discipline. "Discipline," like the terms "work" and "fatherland"--among the greatest of human values -- has been given an almost repugnant connotation from its use by Fascist ideologies. But the term "discipline" as used in these pages does not refer to the mindless, robotlike obedience and self-abasement of a Prussian grenadier. Both American sociologists and soldiers agree that it means, basically, self-restraint -- the self-restraint required not to break the sensible laws whether they be imposed against speeding or against removing an uncomfortably heavy steel helmet, the fear not to spend more money than one earns, not to drink from a canteen in combat before it is absolutely necessary, and to obey both parent and teacher and officer in certain situations, even when the orders are acutely unpleasant.
Only those who have never learned self-restraint fear reasonable discipline.
Americans fully understand the requirements of the football field or the baseball diamond. They discipline themselves and suffer by the thousands to prepare for these rigors. A coach or manager who is too permissive soon seeks a new job; his teams fail against those who are tougher and harder. Yet undoubtedly any American officer, in peacetime, who worked his men as hard, or ruled them as severely as a college football coach does, would be removed.
But the shocks of the battlefield are a hundred times those of the playing field, and the outcome infinitely more important to the nation.
The problem is to understand the battlefield as well as the game of football. The problem is to see not what is desirable, or nice, or politically feasible, but what is necessary.
JULY 4, 1962
Copyright © 1963 by T. R. Fehrenbach