And there was always the haunting fear that a bigger war might start, elsewhere

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe problem that worried Washington was not what was happening in the frozen wastes of North Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), but what was happening in the chancelleries of Communist nations:

“Sir,” [a young lieutenant] asked the briefing officer, “but what do we figure the Communists will do?”

The briefing officer touched his pointer to the floor, looked down. Then he met the lieutenant’s eyes and smiled wryly.

“Son, I don’t have a living clue.”

In Washington, General of the Army Omar Bradley could have said the same. He was certain of only one thing: That a war with the Chinese, on the mainland of Asia, was the wrong war, at the wrong time, with the wrong enemy. The more important men in government tended to agree with him.


Harry Truman had not altered his basic belief that the United States might engage in general war with the Communist bloc, but it had no reasonable hope of forcing its will over the vast expanse of immense humanity of Eurasia.


In the last days of November 1950, MacArthur wired Washington: We face an entirely new war … this command has done everything humanly possible within its capabilities but is now faced with conditions beyond its control and strength. MacArthur now wanted to accept Chiang Kai-shek’s offer of Nationalist Chinese troops, but Washington told him such a move would have to be cleared with the U.N. — which was obviously hostile to the idea.

Now, at Christmastime, a new wave of apprehension swept over the American people, for unlike the old wars on the frontier, this one was reported daily by electronic means.


It must be emphasized that the decision to withdraw from North Korea was a strategic one. Once contact had been broken both in east and west, American and ROK forces were under no immediate pressure forcing them backward. But the stance in the mountains of North Korea was exceedingly perilous with unknown numbers of Chinese in the war. The supply situation had never been good, and the transportation network was completely incapable of standing up under the needs of a large-scale campaign. MacArthur wanted to pull back.

And there was always the haunting fear that a bigger war might start, elsewhere. If the Russians came in, fully, all the men in Korea might be cut off as Russian submarines and air interdicted their lifeline; and forgotten in the general chaos, they might be slaughtered at leisure.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Fear of a larger fight is what intimidation tactics depend on. Ask yourself: why wouldn’t the other side be fearful of a larger fight? Why should you be the one to back down?

  2. Purpleslog says:

    My dad was with the 1st Marine division there in Korea at that time. After the Chinese intervened, he told me his biggest fear wasn’t getting killed. His biggest fear was becoming a POW of the Chinese. Once before he had told me about a guy on the transport ship that he was on that took them over Who had been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II. Apparently that guy had some pretty horrific stories of how they were treated.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Being held captive by any Asian enemy is much worse than battle. Similar descriptions of torture during WW2 are noted during the battle of Io Jima and the Pacific theatre. Previews of Korea and Vietnam.

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    “American and ROK forces were under no immediate pressure forcing them backward.”

    What utter nonsense. That pretty much invalidates everything Fehrenbach wrote.

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