The Turks hardly knew what the Americans were talking about

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

After the Turkish Brigade routed the enemy, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), it became clear that they’d routed already-fleeing South Korean allies. Then things got worse:

Then, still at Wawon, the main strength of the Chinese burst over them. The detail of what happened will probably never be reported; the essence has been: The Turkish Brigade was destroyed.

Tall, pale-eyed men with dark faces, in heavy greatcoats, wielding long bayonets, the Turks refused to fall back. There were observers who said some officers threw their hats to the ground, marking a spot beyond which they would not retreat, and, surrounded by the enemy, died “upon their fur.” There were others, all else failing, who threw cold steel at the enemy in bayonet charges. Rarely has a small action, dimly seen, sketchily reported, sent such intimations of glory flashing across the world.

But the Turks died. On 28 November, when the Turkish Brigade at last fell back southwest and linked with the 38th Infantry, only a few of its companies were combat-fit.

It was deeply ironic later, when the American Government, badly concerned with Turkish public opinion concerning their losses, sent quiet apologies to Turkish authorities. The Turks hardly knew what the Americans were talking about. The Turks, however badly used, had come to fight, and above all else Turks were proud of what their men had done.

Americans had forgotten that only a generation before one of their own generals, Pershing, could stand on the soil of France and say to Clemenceau: “We are here to fight and be killed. Do with us as you will, without counting.”


  1. Kirk says:

    While one has to admire the martial spirit of the whole thing, one also has to wonder at the profligacy with which lives were thrown into the furnace by the Turks (and, a few others…) during that war.

    I was raised in the American military tradition, where you aren’t going to motivate anyone to “die for the Emperor”, but you will be able to get similar results with the troops if and when your back is against the wall in some final exigency like Wake Island. It’s a mentality thing, and one that is found in soldiers from a more-or-less mercantile culture that only does “martial” when there’s absolutely no other choice left. Since they’re not dying for the questionable “glory” of it all, it’s often a lot harder to go up against these types, because they coldly calculate how much damage they can do before you finally have to dig them out of their positions.

    The Turks and their officers fought magnificently, but to no real purpose. I’ve been over some of their battlefields in Korea, and while I have to admire the sheer bravado with which they fought, I also have to point out that they’d have accomplished a bit more in terms of actually damaging the enemy had they opted to withdraw in good order and fight another day. To be honest, it was really good “theater”, in a way, but it was not in any way effective. At the end of the terrain walk we did, I sort of felt like that French officer did after witnessing the infamous “Charge of the Light Brigade”, in that it was a magnificent thing they did, but… It was not war.

  2. Freddo says:

    As attributed to general Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

  3. Kirk says:


    This is why you’re really a lot smarter if you don’t ever engage militarily with big mercantile nations or empires; the “martial glory” twits you can screw around with to your hearts content, and they’ll just keep playing tit-for-tat games with you.

    The ones who characterize themselves as “nations of shopkeepers”, though? They’ll eventually get tired of the BS, and then utterly destroy you using “unfair” non-martial tactics and weapons that will leave you ground into the dust, their forces triumphantly paying your daughters for sex, and most of your sons dead on the frontiers of your empire.

    Ask the Japanese.

    Doubt me? Look at WWII. Japanese commanders were all about the glory–Submarine commanders refused to go after US merchant shipping, and went for the capital ships. US sub commanders? Sank everything Japanese they found floating, to include fishing vessels. By the end of the war, Japan was starving and looking around all confused, going “But… But… They never defeated our glorious navy in an all-consuming battle!!!”.

    That battle never happened on Japanese terms. The Yamoto sank because we went after the fuel infrastructure they needed to keep it fighting, and it never participated in that Gotterdammerung they had envisaged it fighting in.

    Nibbled to death by mongrel ducks, the Japanese and Germans were. So much for the militarists.

  4. VXXC says:


    I can’t agree more. Go after the logistics as priority, not the tanks, not the battleships, etc.

    The Germans beat the Russians in 1941 because they had more trucks.

    In 1944 the Russians had more trucks (from Detroit) and we know what happened.

    I am combat arms, but history screams this from every winning war.

  5. Marc Hudson says:

    Interesting stuff, thanks! On the crucial nature of logistics, you might like Manuel De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Somewhat dated now, but still good.

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