The day of the gunboat and a few Marines would never return

Friday, January 8th, 2021

During the first months of American intervention in Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), reports from the front burst upon an America and world stunned beyond belief:

Day after day, the forces of the admitted first power of the earth reeled backward under the blows of the army of a nation of nine million largely illiterate peasants, the product of the kind of culture advanced nations once overawed with gunboats.

[...]

The people of Asia had changed, true. The day of the gunboat and a few Marines would never return. But that was not the whole story. The people of the West had changed, too. They forgot that the West had dominated not only by arms, but by superior force of will.

During the summer of 1950, and later, Asians would watch. Some, friends of the West, would even smile. And none of them would ever forget.

News reports in 1950 talked of vast numbers, overwhelming hordes of fanatic North Koreans, hundreds of monstrous tanks, against which the thin United States forces could not stand. In these reports there was truth, but not the whole truth.

The American units were outnumbered. They were outgunned. They were given an impossible task at the outset.

But they were also outfought.

In July, 1950, one news commentator rather plaintively remarked that warfare had not changed so much, after all. For some reason, ground troops still seemed to be necessary, in spite of the atom bomb. And oddly and unfortunately, to this gentleman, man still seemed to be an important ingredient in battle. Troops were getting killed, in pain and fury and dust and filth. What had happened to the widely heralded push-button warfare where skilled, immaculate technicians who had never suffered the misery and ignominy of basic training blew each other to kingdom come like gentlemen?

In this unconsciously plaintive cry lies buried a great deal of the truth why the United States was almost defeated.

Nothing had happened to push-button warfare; its emergence was at hand. Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on earth were at hand — at too many hands. But push-button warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon, hopefully, will never be an end of national policy.

Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life — but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.

The object of warfare is to dominate a portion of the earth, with its peoples, for causes either just or unjust. It is not to destroy the land and people, unless you have gone wholly mad.

Push-button war has its place. There is another kind of conflict — crusade, jihad, holy war, call it what you choose. It has been loosed before, with attendant horror but indecisive results. In the past, there were never means enough to exterminate all the unholy, whether Christian, Moslem, Protestant, Papist, or Communist. If jihad is preached again, undoubtedly the modern age will do much better.

Americans, denying from moral grounds that war can ever be a part of politics, inevitably tend to think in terms of holy war — against militarism, against fascism, against bolshevism. In the postwar age, uneasy, disliking and fearing the unholiness of Communism, they have prepared for jihad. If their leaders blow the trumpet, or if their homeland is attacked, their millions are agreed to be better dead than Red.

Any kind of war short of jihad was, is, and will be unpopular with the people. Because such wars are fought with legions, and Americans, even when they are proud of them, do not like their legions. They do not like to serve in them, nor even to allow them to be what they must.

For legions have no ideological or spiritual home in the liberal society. The liberal society has no use or need for legions — as its prophets have long proclaimed.

Except that in this world are tigers.

Comments

  1. McChuck says:

    “The object of warfare is to dominate a portion of the earth, with its peoples, for causes either just or unjust. It is not to destroy the land and people, unless you have gone wholly mad.

    Push-button war has its place. There is another kind of conflict — crusade, jihad, holy war, call it what you choose. It has been loosed before, with attendant horror but indecisive results. In the past, there were never means enough to exterminate all the unholy, whether Christian, Moslem, Protestant, Papist, or Communist. If jihad is preached again, undoubtedly the modern age will do much better.”

    Bald faced lies. Cleansing the land of the enemy populace is, indeed, one of the more common forms of warfare over history. Normally, the victor kills or enslaves the men and takes the women as their own. Within a generation, the defeated people no longer exist.

    https://www.thoughtco.com/timur-or-tamerlane-195675
    “The Timurid army captured Moscow in 1395. While Timur was busy in the north, Persia revolted. He responded by leveling entire cities and using the citizens’ skulls to build grisly towers and pyramids.”

  2. Adar says:

    The North Korean army at that exact moment of June 1950 was probably the best light infantry in the world. They were veterans of the Chinese Civil War, and also many had served in the Red Army during WW2.

    The American occupation troops in Korea were lining la dolce vita. No match.

    American young men too were now expected to participate in and enjoy the general prosperity that existed after WW2.

    Now the government expected you to be drafted and go fight in some place you could not find on a map.

    Don’t expect miracles.

  3. Jack says:

    It’s alive and well in Haiti this century, under the UN Banner.
    https://www.dw.com/en/un-ends-peacekeeping-mission-in-haiti-as-protests-continue/a-50849689

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