They had no interest in fighting a half-ass war like this one

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

Frank Muñoz, commanding officer of G Company, realized he had too few men to do the job, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and he also had a morale problem:

Almost all of the riflemen, dug in along the rear slope of the hill, had jumped in their holes and pulled the zipper. They didn’t want to come out even to shoot.

[...]

Some of the men told him they didn’t mind fighting a big war. Americans, he found, tend to take pride in doing things in a big way. But they had no interest in fighting a half-ass war like this one.

Then they started taking mortar fire:

The instant he understood the mortar fire had finished, Frank Muñoz jumped from his hole and ran up to the top of the ridge, where he could see across the rice paddies to the front. Quick as he was, he was too late.

At the top of the ridge, he made eyeball to eyeball contact with a North Korean soldier. Muñoz moved first. His .45 slug killed the Korean at a range of inches. As he shot, he could see two waves of enemy infantry, bayonets fixed, charging up the slope, firing from the hip.

He went into the nearest hole, which was already occupied by a man with a BAR. “Fire to your right front!” he snapped at the BAR man.

The enemy boiled up over the hill and ran at George’s thin line of holes. George Company met them with a blast of fire, stopping them only yards away. The first wave fell apart a few feet in front of Frank’s own position.

[...]

Then the second wave of charging Koreans swarmed over the crest. In a wild melee, some of the Inmun Gun jumped into foxholes with Muñoz’s men, bayonets flashing.

Muñoz yelled at his Artillery forward observer to bring fire down on the hill. The FO, Lieutenant Hartman, yelled back, “No! I don’t want to do it!”

But Frank grabbed a field phone and reached Battalion. He got the Artillery liaison officer there, and he got action — two salvos of 105’s, to be put down on his own position.

Seconds later, the shells screamed down, bursting with ear-shattering noise. They caught most of the attacking Inmun Gun still swarming down the ridge.

Dug in, Muñoz’s boys suffered no harm. The enemy, in the open, died. And, as suddenly as they had been attacked, George’s men were all alone on the hill.

Comments

  1. Adar says:

    In the foxhole, Victor Tango in effect. Proximity fuse [VT] bursting an artillery round overhead. The first instance of “bomb my position.”

  2. Kirk says:

    Nowhere near the first. The Brits were doing this as far back as WWI, and I think there was a case during the Russo-Japanese War.

  3. Dan Kurt says:

    I read this book in Grad School in the 1960s. Recommended to me by a MBA student who lived in the same apartment house. What an amazing book. Keep the vignettes coming from it as they trigger notable memories. The only comparable book about war that I can mention with the same enthusiasm, and was also recommended by the same individual, is Guy Sajer’s Forgotten Soldier. Both struck me identically: no winners in war only losers and the leaders have no clue.

  4. Kirk says:

    Sadly, there are signs that Guy Sajer was writing fiction in the same sort of vein that S.L.A. Marshal was.

    The truth of that question is something I don’t know, but there are people I respect who think Sajer was a fabulist; as well, there are people who say he captured the reality of the war they saw. Which is correct? I’ve got no damn idea.

    Fehrenbach? I know he was there, and I know that everything he wrote is backed up with copious verification–His papers are voluminous, and he actually did the interviews instead of making shit up like we know Marshal did.

    There are aspects of This Kind of War that I think are a little overwrought, but I think that Fehrenbach was completely honest in what he wrote, and he wrote from the heart as one of our modern-day Centurions, the corporate memory and mind of our military. Unfortunately, I’m also going to have to say that I’m not certain he got some things completely correct, either. He is to be commended for saying what he did, because it got him excoriated by the powers-that-were in the 1960s “Big Army”. It’s too damn bad they didn’t listen, extrapolate, and then learn from him. There’s a lot of value in this book, no matter how you parse it.

  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Dan Kurt: “no winners in war only losers”

    How could anyone look at the quality of life of today’s South Koreans, compare it to the abject misery of grass-eating North Koreans, and conclude that there were no winners in the war to resist North Korean aggression?

    Yes, leaders are often incompetent, war is always chaotic, and the grunts on the front line bear the horrible burden. It is unfortunate that today’s privileged Leftists in academia fail to recognize & communicate the debt they owe to those who paid the price for their current comfortable lives.

  6. Dan Kurt says:

    How could anyone look at the quality of life of today’s South Koreans, compare it to the abject misery of grass-eating North Koreans, and conclude that there were no winners in the war to resist North Korean aggression?”

    I was referring to the actors in a war: soldiers, soldiers’ families, civilians in the war zone, and other interested (contingent) individuals. For those, war is a brutal devastating ordeal that deals death, maiming, wanton destruction of property, and mental stress, profound mental stress. Few of those touched by war remain unscathed.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Dan, let me refer you to my second paragraph:

    “Yes, leaders are often incompetent, war is always chaotic, and the grunts on the front line bear the horrible burden.”

    I think we are in total agreement that war is a devastating experience for all involved at the sharp end — whether as a winner, a loser, or as a person in whose back yard the conflict is fought. Surely no-one would disagree?

    However, sometimes war is a price that has to be paid. South Koreans are an obvious example — in a much better situation today because a war was fought to keep them out from underneath the Kims’ boots.

    One of the false lessons taught to kids is that “It takes two to make a quarrel”. No it does not! When someone comes looking for a fight, the only choices we have in response are (1) submit, or (2) fight back. Far Lefties want us to submit, because they are usually the aggressors.

  8. Kirk says:

    There’s something deeply disturbing about the blithe assurance with which some of the posters here go about hand-waving away American deaths necessary for the creation of the “Good Life” in South Korea as being “worth it”.

    Lemme spell it out for you assholes: I, as an actual American soldier, did not sign up on the dotted line and serve 25 years in order to “do nice things for other people”. I did that to defend my own, period. At no point was it presented to me that my life was on offer to fight other men’s wars, nor would I have willingly done that, absent truly spectacular pay scales. The risks are simply not commensurate, and the bait-and-switch bullshit you’re retroactively espousing is immoral, irresponsible, and frankly, a bit disgusting.

    Precisely none of those draftees or volunteers would have offered up their lives for the chimeric “Good Life for South Korea” cause, and having witnessed and experienced the “gratitude” of the subsequent post-Korean War generations, all I can say is “Fuck Korea, Koreans, and anyone who thought this was a good idea…”.

    Y’all wanna go playing overseas toy soldiers for “good causes”? Fine; recruiting offices are over there, sign yourselves up for that, and go do it. The rest of us who signed up to defend these supposedly United States will mind our own business, which certainly does not include the enrichment of the Korean peninsula. You do not have a right to send other men’s sons and daughters to go do very dangerous and unpleasant “nice things” for total strangers, particularly under the aegis of national defense.

    What you assholes want is an army of mercenaries who fight for pay, whatever cause there is. Recruiting a national defense force and then sending it off to do social engineering is bullshit sophistry, a massive con, and what in a just world would end in the Washington Mall being lined with hung politicians, bureaucrats, and military leaders.

    You can argue that the Korean War was necessary for reasons of alliance and military need, but the minute you slip off that justification into the “Yeah, well it was good for the Koreans…” bullshit, you’ve just lost your entire moral center, particularly with regards to using draftee soldiers and volunteers who did not specifically sign up to risk their lives for the betterment of South Korea.

    The more I see, these days, the less and less I think it was worthwhile putting my ass on the line for a career in the military. Things like this are why.

    Frankly, “better lives” alone in South Korea were never worth a single American soldier’s life. You ask my opinion, having a fairly solid grasp on the history involved? The North Koreans are getting everything they deserve, and by the time they get done, might have actually managed expiation for all the abused American and Chinese prisoners they killed on behalf of the Japanese over the course of the 1930s and during WWII. Korea always served as a ready source of pimps and madams for the Japanese war machine, first gathering up their own young countrywomen under false pretenses, and then others. They were willing and enthusiastic prison guards, doing for the Japanese what the NKPA did during the Korean War; it was an easy transition, and one they willingly performed.

    South Korea and the people in it got off lightly. I honestly think that a few generations in hell would have done those arrogant conspiracy-theory loving pricks a lot of good, particularly the left-wing cretins who want to bring all the wonderful things down from the North.

    I find that I can bring myself to like only a few of the Koreans I’ve known, and that I really don’t care much at all for the hypocritical slimy little creeps they let run things in South Korea. They’re only occasionally good allies; the rest of the time, they’re con men on the prowl for an opportunity to fuck over anyone who isn’t Korean. The really annoying thing about it all, and what leaves me with a cold rage thinking about it all, is how our own government refuses to treat South Korea like an equal, and call them on their specious bullshit when they go that way. That fact alone infantilizes the Koreans and their government.

    Overall, I’d have to say that if the Korean War was fought for the benefit of South Korea and South Koreans alone…? It was a dead loss, and not worth a single American draftee or volunteer life. Period.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    I think Kirk might have a point. Sentimental morality is what we get when we’re too lazy to think out ethical systems through. The notion of empathy with total strangers is part of that.

    There are people in this world I would risk my life for, but not very many of them.

    I used to think: this is a small world, and the problems of the other side of the planet will impact us eventually, so be proactive in addressing them. But you can’t control everything. You just can’t. Now I focus more on seeing things coming and preparing to survive them.

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk,

    Please don’t go misreading what other people are trying to say. My comments about the undeniable fact that life for most people today in South Korea is much better than in the North Korean aggressor was a direct response to Dan Kurt’s I’d-Like-To-Buy-The-World-A-Coke statement that there are “no winners in war only losers”.

    We can all deplore war — but it is foolish to follow John & Yoko and pretend that war can be abolished. There are millennia of human history which tell us there will always be a party like North Korea which sees an advantage in aggression.

    On your broader point about the lack of gratitude shown by today’s South Koreans — we could not agree more. But I would add the lack of gratitude from the West Germans & Japanese about the almost unprecedented generosity shown by the US to aggressors who had cost many American lives. And I would throw in a healthy dose of contempt for the duplicitous English, with their superior attitude to “Over-paid, over-sexed, over-here” dismissal of American GIs. Let’s not even talk about the French!

    It is clear, Kirk, that you care deeply about the US Armed Forces. That makes two of us.

  11. Kirk says:

    Gavin,

    I named no specific posters, so I wonder why you took it that I was addressing you specifically?

    The general “luvvy” attitude towards the lives of the troops is what pisses me off with a lot of the general public. I was in recruiting during Desert Storm, in a well-off bedroom community outside Chicago. I’d describe to you some of the conversations I had with the sorry pricks living there, but I suspect that nobody would believe me. Most of that community were all well and good with the war, but “…it’s not for our sort… Not our kids…”.

    But, by god, they were good patriots and thought that we should do whatever it took to liberate Kuwait and keep the price of oil down. Let little Timmy, the redneck, go die for cheap oil. That’s OK–That’s what Timmies are for, after all.

    I don’t recall that keeping oil prices stable was ever described to me as being a part of what my purpose was, as an American soldier. I think I’d have remembered that. I do remember the whole “free health care for life…” scam, though–Which I am now paying through the nose for.

    There are things I’d like to say to my 17 year-old self that would probably include phrases like “lying bastards…” and “cash up front, assholes…”. I certainly no longer have any delusions about that whole “grateful nation” bullshit, or any illusions that my senior leaders and civilian masters might have any sense of responsibility about expending the lives of my subordinates and myself in some winsome cause du jour. Which, more than anything, pisses me off whenever it comes to mind–I really resent the fact that I have to look back on my career and recognize that I was essentially a fucking Judas Goat for a lot of it.

    I really should have read the handwriting on the wall, back in the Clinton administration. However, I still had the mistaken belief that since I was dealing with State Department dumbasses who had been working in heretofore backwater regions of the world, to wit, the Balkans and Africa, and that I wasn’t seeing the best and the brightest. After Iraq and Afghanistan, though? LOL… Let’s get this straight: Afghanistan is what it is because the Pakis are a lucrative source of kickbacks, despite the fact that we’re basically paying them to pay the Taliban to kill our own soldiers. The fact that we had to elect a fucking carnival barker in the form of Donald Trump to even begin a serious withdrawal from that cesspool tells me that the people I served were incredibly incompetent or on the take. I’m of the opinion that it’s probably both, because if they weren’t both, how is it that we didn’t erase Abottabad with an Arc Light or two, after discovering bin Laden was hiding there in plain sight…?

    It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever answer the trumpet’s call for the current set of assholes running things, and I actively discourage anyone I meet from listening to that seductive set of lies, either.

  12. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk,

    It sounds like we are pretty much on the same page. Over time — and reasonable people can disagree about when it started — we allowed our rulers to ignore George Washington & Thomas Jefferson’s advice about avoiding entangling foreign alliances.

    Absolutely, the US should quit putting US soldiers in harms way by playing the world’s policeman. And politicians taking back-handers from foreigners to get the US involved in other countries problems should be treated as the Capital Punishment Treason it is — not that any of our politicians would ever vote for that! The American military should defend America — that is all.

    But I reject totally the Far Left submission-to-aggression doctrine of “no winners in war only losers”. Were American colonists “losers” for fighting for their independence, even though it cost them dearly in blood & treasure?

  13. Kirk says:

    Gavin,

    I actually wouldn’t have a problem with doing the intervention thing–If only I had signed up for it, and been told that it was the mission. And, that the guys I was going to take with me were in on the deal, as well.

    The thing I object to is being told “defense of the nation”, and then finding out it’s more like “make the politicians and diplomats wealthy through kickbacks…”. Put that BS out front, pay me enough…? Maybe I’d do it. The problem is, they tell you that they’re paying you comparative peanuts for the risk incurred, on the theory that it’s patriotic, and then they’re sucking up all the gravy. You want mercenaries? Be honest about it, hire them, and then pay them appropriately. Don’t go recruiting kids out of high school and telling them that they’re gonna be out doing God’s work for their neighbors, and then use them as a profit center in some shithole country most of them can’t even find on a map.

    All I really ask from these assholes is honesty and a fair paycheck for what I’m doing. If you want me to go off and build a better life for South Koreans, then say so, and pay that way. Hell, give me and my guys stock in Korea, Inc., and then I’d be completely on board with the whole idea. It’s the bait-and-switch I object to.

    Honestly, I think that might be a path forward for Afghanistan: A new-era John Company, a variation on the East India Company–Lay out a plan to exploit and develop Afghanistan, let the company hire who it wants, and then go from there. With all the mineral resources locked up in those mountains, I think it would stand a decent chance of being highly profitable. Make the company pay into a trust fund, a la what the Norwegians do with their oil, and then use the company to train up a class of honest Afghans who can administer their own country, eventually.

    Basically, take Afghanistan and put it into “national receivership”, and appoint the appropriate people to run the place. It’s obvious they’re not going to transition to “democracy” any time soon, so do the necessary.

    Hell, I’d even nationalize the drug industry, and give them a world monopoly on medicinal narcotics. Bet you that they’d be profitable within a year…

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