These were the men who screamed most shrilly

Thursday, November 5th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachIt was not until the Korean War was many months old, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), that new Army trainees began to live half their time in the field, and to undergo a third of their training by night:

Slowly, commanders then began to restore the old hard slap and dash that had characterized Grant’s men in Virginia, Pershing’s AEF, and Patton’s armored columns.


There had been the same arrogance in the march north that had characterized Braddock’s movement against the French and Indians, Dade’s demonstration against the Seminoles, and Custer’s ride to the Little Big Horn. And it was the same conditions of terrain, low cunning, and barbarian hardihood that brought all these forces to defeat by an intrinsically inferior enemy.

It was almost as hard for minds trained on the fields of Europe to adjust to Korea as it had been for British generals to learn to fight colonials — who threw the book of civilized warfare away.

But the most ironic thing, in those bitter days of December 1950, was that the commentators who cried havoc the loudest were the very men who had done most to change and destroy the old 1945 Army. These were the men who had shouted for the boys to be brought home, who had urged the troops to exert civil rights. They were the ones who had hinted that leaders trying to delay the frenetic demobilization, or the reform of the Army, were no better than the Fascists.

And these were the men who screamed most shrilly when some young Americans on the field of battle behaved more like citizens than like soldiers.


  1. Faze says:

    The period just before demobilzation following the surrender of first Germany, and then Japan, seems to me to be undereported. In periodicals of 1945, I read editorials expressing alarm at the bad behavior of seemingly ungoverned American troops in Europe. Old vets have told me first hand of the tense atmosphere among stir crazy troops on Pacific islands. Everybody was sick of obeying orders, and all sorts of social and criminal pathologies rose to the surface. The government was desperate to get them home.

  2. Kirk says:

    A lot of the problems stemmed from politics, more than anything else. Then, too, a bunch of the troops in the South Pacific were keyed up and expecting to die in the invasion of Japan; when that didn’t eventuate, well… Yeah. Nerve yourself up for death at the age of twenty or so, then find out you’ve been given a reprieve? The wonder is not that they went nuts, but that they stayed as sane and restrained as they did.

    The other problem was, I’m afraid, a lack of adult supervision similar to that which plagued the Army during the latter parts of Vietnam. When you don’t have those “elders”, the senior NCOs out in the units, actually doing their damn jobs and riding herd on the troops? Things happen, and none of them good.

    In WWII, there wasn’t a real cadre of professional senior NCOs out in every unit; the vast majority of the guys in those positions were jumped-up civilians that had no stake in the corporate whole, and who also had no idea about what their proper role was. So, when someone was needed to drive in the damping rods on the behavior, there wasn’t anyone around who knew they needed to, how to do it, or even cared to bother with it.

    It’s amazing how quickly some of those units just dissolved into chaos, when you read the details of it all. A lot of it came from the politicians who were making grandiose promises that couldn’t be kept, about having “the boys home before Christmas…”.

Leave a Reply