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On page 138 Halberstam explains that the initial American units "…thrown into battle were poorly armed, in terrible shape physically, and, more often than not, poorly led" (Halberstam, 2007, 138). The U.S. was trying to get by "…on the cheap," Halberstam explains, and it Korea "it showed immediately"; Truman wanted to keep taxes low, he wanted to try and pay off the debt from the enormous expenditures in WWII, and as was referenced earlier, Truman really wanted to keep military expenditures down.
But what that austerity program meant was that the first troops that were being trained at Fort Lewis (prior to their orders to fight in Korea) were asked to "…use only two sheets of toilet paper each time they visited the latrine" (Halberstam, 138). Moreover, the lackluster performance by the initial troops sent into harm's way in Korea was reported back in the states and caused serious concerns. "…Almost daily, there were stories of American units being driven back, of constant North Korean advances," Halberstam continues (138). Apparently the military leaders (including General Douglas MacArthur) believed America could go into Korea with a limited number of troops and keep the North Koreans from coming across the 38th parallel.
What was the genesis for this attitude? Halberstam asserts that the belief in the "…superiority of Caucasians over Asians on the battlefield" was based on racism (139). But how does that attitude stand up against the fact that the Japanese experienced numerous victories in the beginning of World War II? The author said Americans dismissed Japanese victories; the Japanese won those early battles not because "…they were Asians, but because they were fanatics" (140).
As to why the Koreans seemed to be stronger than the first American troops in Korea, Halberstam quotes Major General Bill Dean who said, "Let's fact it, the enemy has something that our men don't have, and that's the willingness to die" (140). Dean, who was later captured by the Koreans, had made that statement to Chicago Daily News reporter Keyes Beech, himself a Marine Corps veteran of WWII. Beech later wrote that the initial American troops to be sent were "…spiritually, mentally, morally, and physically unprepared for war" (Halberstam, 140). Indeed, North Korean units were better armed and in the face of their attacks, the Americans retreated again and again, and by July, 1950, the war was a "disaster" for America, the author asserts (140).
On page 146, Halberstam reports that the disastrous beginning to the American side of the war was "…a textbook example of what happens when a nation, filled with the arrogance of power, meets a new reality." Certainly history shows that things got a lot better for the Americans and in fact as the military geared up fully and send the proper amount of equipment and sent men more fully trained, the tide turned and the war ended albeit at a stalemate. Halberstam describes a battle that was symbolic of the violence and yet the futility of the Korean War.
The battle for Pork Chop Hill -- a microcosm of the war's bloody wastefulness
Pork Chop Hill was a garrison that the Americans held in the spring of 1953. It turns out to be an example of the unfortunate American investment that was made in Korea: a lot of lives lost in a very small victory. Pork Chop Hill was at the extreme outpost of the southern border of the 38th parallel. Halberstam writes that it had "…no great strategic benefit, and it was only of value because it had been deemed of value and because whichever side held it, the other side wanted it" (629). In March, 1953, the Chinese troops attacked Pork Chop Hill and were driven away by the Americans. However, the Chinese then retreated to a higher hill nearby, "Old Baldy," which exposed Pork Chop Hill, Halberstam explained (629). A month later, the Chinese attacked Pork Chop Hill again, with a force of some 2,300 men; a "furious [artillery] battle" took place and on the first day of this battle the "…nine artillery battalions of the Second and Seventh [U.S.] Divisions launched 37,655 rounds" at the Chinese (Halberstam, 629).
On the second day of the battle for Pork Chop Hill, the American artillery units launched 77,349 rounds at the Chinese. Despite a lot of losses, the Americans held the hill. In July, once again the Chinese attacked the hill and the battle went on for two days, with "…both sides in a virtual stalemate on the crest of the hill," Halberstam continues (630). Lieutenant Joe Clemons' unit, "King Company," took the most losses; in fact Clemons had brought 135 men up the hill to defend it, and when he came back down -- after the U.S. Army brass told the troops to leave the hill, it wasn't worth it -- he had only 14 men left (Halberstam, 630).
When the Americans slipped off the hill the Chinese were not even aware of the American departure -- basically the Americans were saying, hey, the war is almost over, you can have this little chunk of land if you want it that badly. In fact, sixteen days after the U.S. left Pork Chop Hill, the truce was signed (July 27, 1953), and a "…cruel war" that was "difficult" and "draining," was ended under terms "that no one was very happy with," Halberstam explains (630).
Halberstam's post mortem on the Korean War
Miscalculations let to a great deal of waste in this war, Halberstam explains on page 631. First, the Americans took Korea "…off their defensive perimeter" which gave encouragement to other communists (China and the Soviets) to get involved; secondly, when the Americans entered the war they "…greatly underestimated the skills of the North Korean troops they were going to face, and vastly overestimated how well prepared" the first troops sent into battle were (Halberstam, 631). But the single "greatest" miscalculation of the war was when General MacArthur (later fired by President Truman for insubordination) made the decision to "go all the way to the Yalu" due to his believe that the Chinese would not enter the war; by doing this (against the better judgment of his superiors) MacArthur caused his troops to be "…infinitely more vulnerable" (Halberstam, 631).
Moreover, the author continues (632), the Korean War gave great credibility to the NSC-68 and "…helped convert the country toward far more of a national security state than it had previously been." In other words, it prepared America for the Cold War, which was certainly "on" at that time and would be waged for more than 30 years.
The Cold War -- the aftermath of the Korean conflict
In William Stueck's book, the Korean War: An International History, the author claims that because the Americans successfully defended South Korea -- and because of the American military presence in the region -- these realities actually enabled Japan to "…pursue its economic development relatively unburdened by the commitment of resources to its armed forces" (Stueck, 1995, p. 368). The war -- and the Chinese-U.S. confrontation -- in Korea made the U.S. "…more adamant than ever regarding allied trade with mainland China" which in turn restricted the access to China that Japan had hoped for in terms of raw materials needed in Japan (Stueck 368).
Stueck mentions that the U.S. resistance to the communist attack on South Korea saved the United Nations from "…virtual extinction as a broadly inclusive international organization" (369). The author notes that just before the Korean War broke out the Soviets boycotted the UN Security Council as a protest over the Security Council's rejection of China as a member. If the U.S. had not stopped the aggression in Korea, it certainly would have "…hardened its previously flexible policy on China's seat and he PRC would have been kept out of the UN. In that case, Moscow would have likely withdrawn from the Security Council and launched an "…international body of its own" (Stueck, 369). In this case (assuming other countries would have left the UN and joined up with the Soviets' own international body) the UN would have become "…merely an organization of like-minded states in a sharply divided world" (Stueck, 369).
The Cold War -- Interviews with veterans
A peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Political and Military Sociology (Maclean, 2008) features interviews (primary sources) with soldiers that served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Cold War. Lewis Jansen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in the 1950s and graduated from college prior to enlisting in the Army as a second lieutenant (he was in the ROTC, hence his officer status). Jansen had never interacted with a person of color prior to serving active duty during the Cold War. "It's tremendous diversity. Just to learn about some other people… it was a real eye-opener for me, coming from little…[continue]
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