Remembering the Korean War

Unless you have been living in a cave (and your name is not Osama bin Laden), you are aware that there’s a war on.

The United States, in response to terror attacks on American soil, have declared war on a man, his cohorts, and the regime which gives him shelter.

That’s one way of looking at things.

Another way of looking at Operation Infinite Justice is that the United States, in an attempt to punish gross acts of terrorism, is risking a land war in Asia. This war may involve the United States, or it may involve India and Pakistan.

By the way, India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.

The point is simple: men have a limited ability to accurately predict the future.

We can give good guesses, based on available information. But we do not — and cannot — truly know the future, except perhaps in very limited circumstances.

This is especially, and tragically, true in the case of war.

Certainly, no one in Germany, or Austria-Hungary, or in Russia, was able to foretell in 1914 the way that the world would look in 1918.

Thousands upon thousands upon thousands slaughtered. An entire generation driven toward nihilism. The birth of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And the seeds sown for the Second World War.

Those who believe that the current crop of "great leaders" has learned from the past should think again.

Case in point: Korea.

The stage for the Korean war began to be set at Yalta and Potsdam. As Bevin Alexander notes in Korea: The First War We Lost, "North Korea was one of the spoils the Russians gained in their intervention in the war against Japan." (rev. ed., New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000; p 7)

Yes, that’s right: FDR, with the prodding of Soviet spies (and White House workers) Harry Hopkins and Alger Hiss, not only sold the Eastern Europeans down the river, he sold out the Koreans as well.

To be precise, the Soviet Union, controlled by FDR’s "Uncle Joe" Stalin, declared war on Japan on August 1, 1945. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. Although the United States incinerated many, many, many innocent civilians with atomic bombs in August 1945, Soviet troops did not fire a shot against the Japanese.

As Alexander points out, “The Russians, who had done practically nothing in the war against Japan, became the major beneficiary of the defeat of the Japanese.”

And you wer taught that FDR was a “great leader.” In a word, nyet. As Alexander continues,

The United States, which had provided 95 per cent of the men, material and brains, lost most of the fruits of victory and opened the way for communist expansion.

The great American error was, as late as the Potsdam conference of the Allies in July, 1945, to insist upon Russian entry into the Pacific war, although by the fall of 1944 the United States had destroyed the Japanese navy and had won the war. (pp 7-8)

In other words, the Japanese were finished. The United States had destroyed the Imperial Navy, and Japanese resistance was confined to the home islands, and isolated caves on islands around the Pacific. The Russian entry into the war on Japan gained America exactly nothing.

Of course, American imprudence in Asia did not end with the Korean peninsula. Manchuria was also gift-wrapped for the Soviets, where Japanese forces, upon surrendering, provided abundant war equipment that the Soviets gave to the Chinese Communists. “This equipment and the secure base that Manchuria provided assured the Chinese Communists the strength they needed in the Chinese civil war. By October, 1949, the Chinese Reds had driven the Chinese Nationalists off mainland China and forced them to flee to the island province of Taiwan, one hundred miles offshore.” (p 7)

That Law of Unintended Consequences will get you every time.

How is it that inconvenient facts like these get out of the pieces which uncritically praise FDR and the American effort in World War Two? I think I answered my own question.

Criticisms of FDR aside, there is an important point to be recognized: the “Cold War,” the impetus for the growth of government power at home and military power abroad, began with a government failure.

The greatest failure was FDR, whose White House was infiltrated by Soviet and British agents. It was not sheer accident that FDR stupidly insisted on Soviet war against Japan; it was the urging of Harry Hopkins, FDR’s national security adviser, who was a Soviet agent, which led FDR to insist upon this disastrous plan.

It was also FDR, influenced by Churchill, who foolishly insisted upon the “unconditional surrender” mandate. Alexander explains the folly of this notion: “The Japanese would have been unable to counter a strangling blockade of their home islands. Because they were dependent upon imports for raw materials, but most of all for food, the Japanese could have been brought to their knees by a blockade.” (p 8)

The doctrine of unconditional surrender arose “out of the American idea of the war as a giant contest between good and evil.” As it is today, the Pacific war was aimed at total victory and complete subjugation of the enemy. How very original of contemporary spin-meisters to characterize the war against Osama bin Laden as a war…of good versus evil.

It is a dark irony that “the Japanese would have surrendered much earlier, possibly by late 1944 and certainly by the spring of 1945, except for the unconditional surrender rule.” (p 8) Why? Because unconditional surrender would have exposed the Emperor, who was seen as divine, to the danger of execution for war crimes. “The greatest irony of all, therefore, was that President Harry S. Truman finally conceded this point to the Japanese and modified the unconditional surrender to exclude the Emperor — but only after the Americans had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and after the Russians entered the war on August 8.” (p 9)

Hey, nobody’s perfect, especially when it comes to timing. So we atomized a bunch of innocent people, and so we ended up compromising on unconditional surrender, and so we gave Communism a big boost in Asia.

To be blunt, those are a lot of errors to simply shrug off. But it helps when the media, professional historians, and all the “right people” are willing to ignore it.

Thus, nearly sixty years after the end of the Second World War, most Americans would be surprised to learn what Bevin Alexander reveals. Much as Americans were surprised nearly sixty years ago, when FDR’s “Uncle Joe” turned out to be, well, not so cuddly as the New York Times made him out to be. “Americans, who had fought the war to destroy evildoers and bring about friendship between nations, found they had not only eliminated Germany and Japan as counters to the power of the Soviet Union, but also succored and advanced the Soviet Union, a totalitarian state with a drive toward territorial expansion and domination of neighboring states equal to that shown by the Third Reich.” (Alexander, p 9)

Shh! Don’t tell National Review. To show how “New” their New Right is, they’re still celebrating the U.S. role in World War Two. Never mind the fact that those on the Right who lived through World War Two opposed Mr. Roosevelt’s war.

Those at NR should listen to the Old Right, but then again, NR demonized the Old Right in its lust to fight the Cold War. NR, by the way, has the authority not only to excommunicate men from the right wing, but to excommunicate the Pope from the Church, as in Mater Si, Magister No. But I digress.

Americans viewed the Korean war as, you guessed it, good versus evil, or, in Alexander’s words, “some sort of Mithraic-Manichean contest between the forces of light and the diabolical powers of darkness.” And thus they wanted “total victory, no matter what the cost.” (p 9)

Sound familiar? Sound like the North in the war against the South and America after September 11, 2001?

War is never so simple, because war involves people. Your enemy has a mind like you, and he can think about what you have in mind. He can anticipate, and he can counter-attack.

War is not to be taken lightly. People die. Fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and lovers, are blown apart, maimed, perhaps never to be the same again. Even those who are physically unharmed run the risk of having all that is decent and kind torn out of them.

There are those who despise Hemingway (they are entitled to their dislikes). Hemingway, however, does accurately portray the generation which fought and lived through World War One. Hemingway himself drove an ambulance. He saw the carnage of the “Great War,” the war to end all wars, the war to make the world safe for democracy.

If you haven’t read it, read A Farewell to Arms. Notice the destruction of traditional morality. The drinking, promiscuity, and whoring. Life is cheap. The theme is no different in The Sun Also Rises. If you really dislike Hemingway, try Goodbye To All That by Richard Graves. Or try The Red Badge of Courage.

War is hell. It is the worst of man, placed front and center in a starring role.

This is what we have embarked upon. This is what some of us are foolish enough to cheer for, from the comfort of the States.

Already, even to those who have not considered the risks of the war in Afghanistan, such as a possible war between India and Pakistan, and a generation-spanning hatred of the United States, it should be apparent that our leaders are not omniscient. It ought also to be obvious that they tell us

what they want to tell us, and that we will never hear the whole story until years from now. And even then, it will be denied and the subject of lies.

American bombs have killed Afghan civilians. American bombs have blown up a Red Cross building. Twice. Americans have died of anthrax. And it is only a month after the attacks. A month after September 11.

November 11 has just gone by on the calendar. Veteran’s Day. Once we called it Armistice Day, for on November 11, 1918, the First World War ended. The war to end all wars. War, of course, has not ended. And one wonders how much has been learned in the past 83 years. One need not reflect back 83 years in order to see the folly of our war in Afghanistan, however. The Korean War ended in 1953.

Two final observations on Korea.

First, the United States was defeated by a comparatively primitive opponent. And when we say that “the United States was defeated,” we mean that American men died in a foreign land, far from their families and homes, while the politicians failed to achieve their grand objectives. Defensively, the North Koreans and Chinese created deep underground tunnels, rooms and bunkers. They were impervious to all but direct hits by heavy-caliber weapons. On the offensive, as Alexander notes, the essentially unlimited numbers of Chinese soldiers meant that local victories could be achieved by the Chinese. These attacks, such as at the Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir, could not be turned into decisive Chinese victories, however, due to the fact that the Chinese supply line consisted of men and mules. (pp 353-54) Even local victories, however, had terrible costs in human terms.

Second, the Korean War was politically mishandled. As Alexander details, the political and military leaders “gave the impression that the U.S. had actually won because it had stopped the march of Communism. For a long time Americans as a whole accepted this judgment or at least the belief that the war had been no worse than a draw.” (p 484)

The truth, however, was that “in their hearts and private counsels the top American leaders nurtured a deep sense of frustration, made all the more acute because they were unable to express it publicly. They knew they could have attained in 1951 virtually the same peace they finally achieved in 1953. They knew all the pain, sacrifice and losses in the intervening two years had gone for naught, that the final battle line of 1953 was only insignificantly different from the line in 1951 and that the terms the U.S. had accepted in 1953 could have been achieved previously.” (p 485)

It gets worse. As Alexander concludes, America’s “best and brightest” also knew

that the Red Chinese had blocked their plans to conquer North Korea and consolidate it with Syngman Rhee’s South Korea. This had been the sole reason for the invasion of North Korea after the Inchon invasion of September 1950, and when it failed they knew, as scarcely any of the public did, that the war had been pursued thereafter essentially without purpose.

Most frustrating of all was the realization that the Red Chinese, with pitifully poor weapons and a laughably primitive supply system, had halted the United States, the most powerful nation on earth with a glittering array of modern technology, sophisticated industry and advanced weapons. (p 485)

Korea, then, was a prelude to the disaster of Vietnam. Of course, it wasn’t really all that much of a prelude to Vietnam, so much as it was contemporary with Vietnam. The Korean War ended in 1953. In 1954, the French suffered a devastating defeat in Vietnam, at a place called Dien Bien Phu. (Ho Chi Minh, by the way, had received American aid to fight the Japanese during World War Two.)

And now we are in Afghanistan.

As has been widely reported, the Afghan terrain, as well as local conditions, make possible devastating losses on American ground troops which might be employed. Much like the Korean winter, the Afghan winter is deadly itself. And yet we do not need the Korean War to teach us this lesson — the Soviets learned the lesson at the hands of the Afghans not so long ago.

Total battle casualties on both sides in Korea were nearly two million. Nearly two million North and South Korean citizens died (although the neo-conservatives will tell you that the civilian losses do not matter, that war must coarsen a free nation to “do what must be done,” no matter how horrible, the rules of war be damned), while both countries were destroyed.

As Alexander concludes, the politicians and generals would do well to study Sun Tzu, who wrote in The Art of War, in 500 B.C.: “In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” (p 483)

The American war against the Taliban will be no different. Is it pride or ignorance which makes us think otherwise?

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