Truman and the American Republic had no legions

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachSomething new had happened, according to T. R. Fehrenbach (in This Kind of War), when America went to war in Korea:

The United States had gone to war, not under enemy attack, nor to protect the lives or property of American citizens. Nor was the action taken in crusading spirit, as in World Wars I and II, to save the world. The American people had entered a war, not by the roaring demand of Congress — which alone could constitutionally declare a state of war — or the public, but by executive action, at the urging of an American proconsul across the sea, to maintain the balance of power across the sea.


This was the kind of order Disraeli might have given, sending Her Majesty’s regiments against the disturbers of Her Majesty’s peace. Or the emperor in Rome might have given such a command to the legions when his governor in Britain sent word the Picts were over the border.


In 1950 there was only one power and one people in the world who could prevent chaos and a new, barbarian tyranny from sweeping the earth. The United States had become a vast world power, like it or not. And liking it or not, Americans would find that if a nation desires to remain a great and moral power there is a game it must play, and some of its people must pay the price.

Truman, sending the divisions into Korea, was trying to emulate the Roman legions and Her Majesty’s regiments — for whether the American people have accepted it or not, there have always been tigers in the world, which can be contained only by force.

But Truman and the American Republic had no legions.


The United States Army, since 1945, had, at the demand of the public, been civilianized. The men in the ranks were enlistees, but these were the new breed of American regular, who, when they took up the soldier, had not even tried to put aside the citizen.

They were normal American youth, no better, no worse than the norm, who though they wore the uniform were mentally, morally, and physically unfit for combat, for orders to go out and die.

They wore the uniform, but they were still civilians at heart.

The ancient legions, and the proud old British regiments, had been filled with taverns’ scum, starvelings, and poor farm boys seeking change. They had been inducted, knocked about, ruled with a rod of iron, made into men of iron, with iron discipline. They were officered by men wholly professional, to whom dying was only a part of their way of life. To these men the service was home, and war — any war — their profession.

These legions of old, like the sword itself, were neither moral nor immoral. Morality depended upon the use to which their government put them. But when put to use, they did not question, did not fail. They marched.

In 1950 America, imperfectly understanding her position in this new world, had no legions. She had even no men in “dirty-shirt blue,” such as had policed the Indian frontier. She had an army of sorts of citizens, who were as conscious of their rights and privileges as of their duties. And she had only a reserve of more citizens to fall back upon.

Citizens fly to defend the homeland, or to crusade. But a frontier cannot be held by citizens, because citizens, in a republic, have better things to do.


The single greatest weakness of a free people is always their moral doubts. Fortunately for the world, in 1950 the men in the United States Government overcame theirs.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Maybe the world is destined to descend into tyranny or chaos from time to time. Maybe humanity must, by its very nature, oscillate between tyranny and chaos.

    Perhaps a prosperous and orderly republic can only exist as a localized phenomenon. Such a republic cannot effectively oppose tyranny until the tyranny attacks the republic more-or-less directly – which is it is bound to do at some phase in the cycle of tyranny and chaos.

    The patriotic republic thus serves as a limit on the tyranny, not a means of preventing it.

    And can a republic attack a global chaos? It depends what you mean by attack. A republic can fill a global power vacuum and become a hegemony or empire for a time. It’s easy for the strong to dominate the weak. But then the republic goes decadent, and then it loses its grip.

    You don’t make the world safe for democracy. You make democracy capable of surviving in the world.

  2. Freddo says:

    “The proud old British regiments [...] were officered by men wholly professional, to whom dying was only a part of their way of life.”

    Almost as funny as that moment in the movie 300 when the Spartans go to war “for democracy”. At least the movie has the excuse that it is based on a comic book.

    I also note the irony in claiming “free people” when those people are drafted by executive order into a foreign war.

    But at a glance I’d say the case for containing communism in Korea was better than the case for the US getting dragged into WWI.

  3. Ezra says:

    Task Force Smith and under strength battalion send to Korea comprised mostly of under-trained GI who had enlisted to lead dolce vita in Japan.

    TF Smith was not supposed to fight. Was merely to set up a blocking position and the North Koreans would just stop. It did not work. And when TF Smith did fight, they gotten beaten bad.

    Those NK troops probably best light infantry in the world at the time.

  4. Dave says:

    America’s second-biggest mistake, after giving women the right to vote, was not abolishing the draft after V-J day. Like any forced allocation of resources, conscription is massively disruptive and should only be resorted to in the most dire national emergency.

    The British Empire never had a draft until 1916, well past its heyday. Maintaining an empire is a job for professional soldiers, not draftees. If the empire cannot turn enough profit to pay those soldiers competitive wages, what’s the point of having an empire?

  5. Sam J. says:

    “…Spartans go to war “for democracy”…”

    Uhhh…the Spartans were a democracy. The US constitution was based partially on their government and specifically the balance of powers. Spartan Kings powers were vastly curtailed by the ephors

  6. Freddo says:

    Sure, tell that to the helots. A constitution with balance of powers isn’t the only thing Sparta and the early US had in common.

  7. RLVC says:

    “Nor was the action taken in crusading spirit, as in World Wars I and II, to save the world.”

    This is the sort of sentence that makes you question an author in his entirety.

    “He kept us out of war.”

  8. RLVC says:

    “I also note the irony in claiming “free people” when those people are drafted by executive order into a foreign war.”

    Yes, I agree: free people issue the currency and conscript others to fight in their wars.

    Sam will help you understand if you do not.

  9. R. says:

    “This is the sort of sentence that makes you question an author in his entirety.”

    It says nothing about the factual truth of the statement, just says how it was spun. What the official story was.

    And in both cases, the official story was, Americans were saving the free world from German tyranny.

  10. VXXC says:

    “The ancient legions, and the proud old British regiments, had been filled with taverns’ scum, starvelings, and poor farm boys seeking change.”

    No, they weren’t.

    There were some and always are some unsavory sorts, such as I sure everyone has where they live, but this is a popular and elitist myth.

    And whenever I meet the Apostles of Discipline in Real Life they are never, never in Harms way. Usually they're tyrants in garrison and cowards on the battlefield-or conspicuous by their absence.

    Fehrenbach earned his cred on Korea in Korea, he rose from 2LT to Battalion Commander by the end. But he is a prisoner of his experiences, as are we all. The army of 1950 was an untrained wreck – thanks mainly to Congressional Meddling taking away its discipline at the behest of the conscripts Mothers [yes, Karen's already].

    Fehrenbach is still very influential in the military especially the all volunteer military. His book is well worth reading from the standpoint of how equipment, discipline, training became lax.

    He does make clear the leaders weren't allowed to properly discipline, train or lead the soldiers and that was due to political interference.

    He neglects to mention that somehow the USMC found a way.

    At the beginning there were problems with some of the recruits, by the 80s we had a very well trained, professional force. We still do, the only problem we have is our leadership from the top down – and that's the doing of politicians; who are the choice of the voters.

    We have a saying; it's not the troops, it's the leaders. This is nearly always true and across every army I've ever seen. Another way of putting this is when a Commander blames his soldiers for failing…well…no. Usually it's not them, usually it's the leadership…or the terrible situation.

    For all that I hope all read the book, and that Isegoria finishes the series. This is the darkest hour…the rally is coming.

  11. Kirk says:


    You get it. Mostly…

    The biggest problem the US military faces isn’t the troops, nor is it really the politicians. The essential flaw is that most of the managerial/leadership cadre has been institutionally captured, and does not understand how things work within the institution. They can’t effectuate shit, because everything they try to do is starting from a flawed and near-total misunderstanding of the “system” they think they’re running.

    Take a long, hard look at the idiocy these people have put into place, and what they state they thought that idiocy was going to do.

    They claim they want to facilitate racial harmony, and ensure that everybody gets a fair shot at advancement and professional opportunities. Yet, what do they do?

    They put in place mechanisms that ensure that any sort of half-ass “merit” is overwritten by race considerations at all levels–If not enough minorities are promoted by the various promotion boards, then they hack off the bottom percentages of the non-minorities from the promotion lists, followed by replacing them with the approved minorities. It’s something that’s easily visible to the majority, when they note that those of enhanced-melanin skin tones get promoted despite having well-known “issues” like multiple DUIs in their earlier careers, while any majority members with the same blemishes would never get consideration.

    You see it when minority members don’t get prosecuted for obvious little things like shooting up civilian vehicles in Iraq. I know of several incidents where majority-ethnic officers were prosecuted or cashiered, while minority members were “given the benefit of the doubt”, ‘cos it would look bad to prosecute them.

    The idiots running the institution think all this crap works to foster “race relations”. The reality? It’s fucking poisonous, at all levels and for all people. The minorities become paranoid, the majority grows cynical, and won’t trust the minority leaders put in above them. Hell, most of the quality minority members don’t trust their fellows, either, automatically suspecting their peers of being “affirmative action” hires. It’s tragic to watch, and it sure as hell ain’t helping the military run effectively.

    Most of the people running the military have no clue whatsoever about what’s going on “out in the field” where their little Kafka-traps and counterproductive Skinner Box-like constructions actively influence the troops and junior leaders to do the diametric opposite of what they say they want to happen. Virtually none of them are even capable of analyzing things in terms of what the environment they create is actually influencing the troops to do.

    You can see this everywhere. Look at the recent Navy collisions, and drill down to the actual details in the reports. The commanders of those ships are supposed to tell their commanders things like “Hey, the OPTEMPO you assholes have set us is unsustainable…”, but the actual system penalizes them for being honest. You look at the things like the crews having things like kettlebells on the decks in the various command/control compartments, and you have to wonder–No doubt, there were regulations that said “No extraneous gear to trip over/serve as secondary projectiles”, but then there are also the mandates for fitness and duty requirements that allowed for no personal time to make use of facilities off-watch…

    You go look, and what you find all over the place are perverse incentives that encourage all this crap to happen. And, the idiots running the show are entirely oblivious to what they do with every motion and memo to create these situations for the organization.

    Most military leaders are blind to this crap, and that goes for the politicians, too. Nobody in the Western world pauses to think “Hey, what am I actually doing here…? What unconscious incentives are there out there in the environment my diktat will interact with, and what are the probable outcomes…?”.

    All too often, the leadership/management is blind to the implications of nearly everything they do. Forget second- and third-order effects; they really don’t comprehend the reality of their first-order effects in most cases.

  12. VXXC says:


    Yes, I agree with what you said. I wanted to keep my earlier remarks as close to Fehrenbach’s work as possible.

    I can say again, it is not the troops, it’s the leaders and still be in agreement with you.

    For us to have honest military leaders when we have dishonest and frankly out of touch with any reality civilian leadership, not that they won’t touch every bit of money they can: think about that.

    We’d have to buck the system. Think about that. You can raise hell and say piss off…but in the end if they insist..

    Now once we did have leaders that told upstairs to piss off, or ignored them. Reflecting our society at large over time – such men are driven out or ground down into compliance by the weight of the bureaucracy or system.

    In this case even our Generals are the Troops, and we can say we’re obeying [insane] civilian leaders.

    Not that everything you said isn’t true, and race relations are just one of our moral corruption and cowardice problems. But in our case we can say the Fish is rotting from the Head Down…and the voters up.

  13. RLVC says:

    “It says nothing about the factual truth of the statement, just says how it was spun. What the official story was.”

    Immediately following the sentence I quoted is the next sentence.

    “The American people had entered a war, not by the roaring demand of Congress…or the public…”

    This sentence, building upon the previous sentence, clearly indicates that the author believes (or purports to believe) that Americans overwhelmingly supported intervention in “World Wars I and II”.

    Did they?

  14. RLVC says:

    Kirk, I thought long and hard about how to clear up your confusion. This ought to do it:

    It’s all a PSYOP.

    That’s right. Everything that you are complaining about was dreamed up, consciously, deliberately, scientifically, in a windowless office, in a nondescript office complex somewhere, probably in Virginia.

    Then it was fine-tuned and gamified with the “aid” of the third or fourth iteration of the Sentient World Simulation.

    Look that up right now.

    It’s worth it.

    Just think: it’s 2020, and you can still go to the Purdue website and download the PDF.

    Do it.

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