Revolution and terror are synonymous

Monday, August 24th, 2020

The Communists had infiltrated South Korea to a great extent, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and as the Inmun Gun captured city after city, Communist cadres were ready to assume control:

The North Korean rulers had absolutely no interest in the merchants of the towns, or the middle classes, except eventually to get rid of them. Generally, these people were left alone or arrested, for later attention. But other groups received immediate attention. Former officials of the Republic, down to clerks, were jailed or killed. People such as moneylenders and prominent landowners were executed at once for political capital. Few, in any land, love the rich. The North Korean State acted on the assumption that men and women who could not be easily controlled or assimilated into a Communist state must be killed.

What happened in Seoul and Taejon was typical. In Seoul, every man or woman who had worked for the Americans in any capacity was executed if found, and the American Embassy had conveniently left their personnel files behind. All former government employees were killed or jailed. Steps were taken immediately to induct many of the youth of the city into NKPA, and others in labor forces.

Outside Taejon, after the city had been scoured for possible enemies to a Communist regime, shivering hordes of unfortunates, in groups of one hundred or more, were led to mass graves, hands bound, wired to each other. Then the shooting began. When the United States Army came back through in September, a burial trench containing more than 7,000 bodies, including those of 40 American soldiers, was uncovered.

[...]

The killing was not sheer savagery. The regime was ridding itself of people it could never trust, for the the best of political reasons.

Revolution and terror are synonymous; only with the passage of time does any revolution become respectable. After the military triumph of the American Revolution the hard-core adherents of the Crown — more than a quarter-million out of a population of three million — were stripped of their property and forced into exile in Canada and elsewhere. Much of the success of the United States in early days was due to the lack of organized dissent within the Republic.

After the French Revolution, thousands of aristocrats and others who fought the revolution were permitted to return to France, where their descendants have not accepted the principles of the revolution to this day, causing perpetual instability.

In a hideously practical way the Communists knew what they were doing.

The Korean terror exceeded that of now respectable Western social upheavals only in degree, and in brutal Communist efficiency.

But while it was shooting the officials and anti-Communists, the regime made every effort to cater to the poorer masses. Asian Communists have always realized that in nations largely peasant, the peasantry alone is of any real political value. Land was redistributed. It would be taken back later, when the regime was consolidated — but first, it was a necessary step, as in China, to secure the backing of the millions of the poor.

The middle classes, so vital to Western democracy, do not exist in most of Asia. Where they do exist, they are more of a political liability with the mass of people than an asset, for they are regarded with envy and hatred by men who break their backs on the soil. The peasant feels he can live without them.

While the proscribed classes were being wiped out, the Inmun Gun showed every courtesy to the workers of the soil. When the Inmun Gun required food or lodging of the poor, these were paid for — in worthless currency, but paid for none the less. In Seoul, the Inmun Gun had captured the South Korean Government mints, and the printing presses ran off all the currency the Inmun Gun could ever use.

In a country where 90 percent of the people are peasants, the Communist regime had every expectation of success — because peasants they understood. From the first, the peasantry saw little to lose through Communist rule, and perhaps much to gain. Only much later, when the land is collectivized and the iron hand shows through the paternal glove, and when it is too late, does the peasant who has been Communized realize his loss. Communized, he ceases to be an individual man, losing an identity that even the most abject poverty could not take from him before.

[...]

Americans, in turn, have been slow to understand the peasant, let alone mix with him.

Americans, who cannot understand or even communicate with peasantry, are growing lonelier in a world where the great majority of men are peasants.

Comments

  1. Harry Jones says:

    Exile and murder are not comparable. I couldn’t let that moral equivalence slight-of-hand go unremarked.

    The manner in which communists understand peasants and Americans do not illustrates the important distinction between empathy and mentalization. Better to understand and despise than to esteem without comprehension.

    It doesn’t pay to be a peasant. All your friends are either traitors or fools. Also, your lifestyle is wretched even if everyone leaves you alone. Don’t romanticize poverty.

  2. DJF says:

    “Much of the success of the United States in early days was due to the lack of organized dissent within the Republic.”

    What the hell is he talking about? American politics was famously vicious for about 30 years after the end of the Revolution. The Federalists and the Republicans (Jeffersonians) were at each other’s throats until the Federalists finally disappeared. There was an “era of good feeling” under Monroe, and then vicious partisanship got started again and never went away.

    He’s right about the treatment of the Tories (the Revolution was in part a civil war), but the notion that there was no “organized dissent” in the early republic is 100% wrong.

  3. McChuck says:

    I had an almost unique position through two wars to be the only US Army counterintelligence agent on the ground with a rural background. I spoke farmer, when nobody else did. It enabled me to have some really great successes. Moments, fleeting moments.

  4. Kirk says:

    Fehrenbach was a man of his time; what he expressed reflects that. This Kind of War was first released in 1963, roughly ten years after the events it describes.

    You have to take into account a lot of things about the surrounding milieu; Fehrenbach was writing this book during the run-up to Vietnam, and during the early Kennedy administration. If you read between the lines, there’s a lot of cautionary “Hey, we don’t know what we think we do…” sort of stuff about guerrilla warfare and so forth embedded in the book.

    Fehrenbach was a WWII enlisted man who became an officer, and then went to Princeton. His perspective on the what happened and what went wrong with the Army during the Korean War are informed by that experience, much as his own commissioned service in that war did.

    WWII was a national war which was perceived as being justified and a matter of national survival. Korea? Not so much–The men who’d fought in WWII were older, more mature, and had a sense of rectitude and purpose about them that the draftee children of the Korean War era did not. And, the Doolittle Board had stripped the Army culture of the tools to deal with that in any way they knew how.

    What Isegoria really needs to do is focus on Chapter 25 of the book, which is what I feel really gets at the meat and value of what Fehrenbach had to say, which was that the military culture was deeply damaged by the post-WWII reforms, which were made will he, nil he by people who simply did not understand the way military culture works and how small units are formed and bonded together.

    Which is something we still don’t get, and still manage to completely fuck up.

    Frankly, there’s more to this book than you first comprehend on the surface, and I’m not even sure that Fehrenbach fully comprehended what the deeper layers signify. I met the man, spoke very briefly with him back in the ’90s, and I came away impressed, but I got the sense that he was a leaf floating on a sea of meaning that he wasn’t consciously aware of.

    Most of what went wrong with the Korean War stemmed from things that were wrong with US statesmanship and the military–Fehrenbach noticed a bunch of it, but as he was a serving officer, I think that he only went so far into it, and never really questioned a lot about the water he was swimming in.

    This book is worth reading, if only for the meta-messages in it. Fehrenbach rightly observes an awful lot of the issues, but he’s a bit short on addressing solutions for it all, which is why this work comes off as a polemic, more than anything else.

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