Men new from the States were often soft

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

At Bloody Ridge, a new pattern of Korean warfare emerged, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War) — one that resembled the Western Front in World War I:

They needed flamethrowers to reduce the deep enemy bunkers, and they didn’t have them. Worse, few if any men knew how to use them. Boatner set up a school in the use of the flamethrower, and ran men through, quickly. Now, deep in hitherto safe bunkers, soldiers of the Inmun Gun died shrieking in searing flame, as American infantrymen crawled close under fire and sprayed them with newly issued weapons.

Replacements were wandering up to engaged units, and getting killed the first hour, before they could report in. Boatner ordered replacements to be kept in the replacement company at least one day, and to have five or six days’ special training before being sent into combat. Men new from the States were often soft. They were to get conditioning exercises, and it was mandatory that they zero their weapons.


“Let there be no question: it will be tough. You had better do what your N.C.O.’s tell you, if you want to stay alive. And remember three things: when you’re on the hill, if you stand up you’ll get your ass shot off; if you get off the paths, or roam, you’ll get your ass blown off by mines; and when you take a hill, you’ll be tired as hell, you’ll want to poop out, slap your buddies on the back, and take it easy — but remember, as soon as you take a hill, just as water comes out of a spigot, the mortars come in on you, and blooey! — it’s too goddam late then!”


  1. Kirk says:

    The first time I read this in Fehrenbach, I was enraged.

    “Replacements were wandering up to engaged units, and getting killed the first hour, before they could report in.”

    The primary role of a professional soldier of any rank in a military serving a democratic republic is to carefully husband and care for the men whose lives have been entrusted to him by the nation’s parents. While he may have to expend those lives in the name of achieving the combat goals set him by the political leadership, he should still treat those lives with due respect, only risking them when the cost/effectiveness ratio is in favor of doing so.

    I went out and researched this issue, thinking there’s no way possible that Fehrenbach could be describing something done by my Army. Nope; there’s copious amounts of evidence saying it was done, and even worse. If anything, he drastically understates the case with what was going on–They actually stripped units of the only real experienced leadership they had, in order to keep the politicians happy about the rotation policy, something that cost us a lot of lives as inexperienced and untrained men were thrust into “on the job training” under fire.

    The US military has a habit of treating its conscripted and volunteer forces with cavalier unconcern, as they literally throw their lives away. They did it with the replacement policy in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and continue on to today, with the blithe disregard for obvious lessons to be learned from other wars. I guarantee you that the next time the US military has to deal with a peer enemy, we’re gonna get our asses handed to us the way the Azeris did the Armenians, simply because they’re not paying attention.

    I’ve harped endlessly about the IED and mine campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrasted with our utterly feckless preparations for those issues. Blind, deaf, and dumb cretins could have seen what was coming down the pike, based on the South African and other experiences from around the world, but not our brilliant leadership. We were still using WWII techniques for route clearance as late as the Bosnia mess, and did not actually even bother to process lessons learned there–And, why? Because, “they said”, we’d never see that same sort of threat again. Bosnia was unique, unparalleled. Until 2003-4, when the Iraqis used the same Soviet-style doctrine to interdict rear area communications that they’d been teaching since the end of WWII. And, ohbytheway, that we’d been dealing with in every war since, inclusive of Korea and Vietnam.

    And, yet… We did jack and shit to address the issue, just as we did jack and shit to deal with the problem of untrained replacements thrust into combat, only to die nearly immediately upon encountering the enemy.

    The fucking Nazis had more humane personnel policies towards their troops than we did; Ian Smith’s sanctioned Rhodesia had more respect for the lives of its conscripted black African troops than we had for ours in Vietnam, in that they didn’t use their troops to conduct WWII-style route clearance operations with hand-held mine detectors ahead of trucks backing down roads… Which was, believe it or not, American Army doctrine right up until about 2003.

    Frankly, I would never in a million years allow the US to ever conscript soldiers or anyone else, ever again. There’s a proven institutional track record for “failure to exercise due caution and care” when it comes to these things, one that is only matched by the Goddamn politicians who think that they’ll get away with failing to properly fund and provide for real military readiness. What went on during the 1930s was criminal, and led directly into the manpower-costly workarounds and side effects of same during WWII.

    The US military is often beneath contempt with regards to these issues, and the more I study it all, the less I trust any of them with the lives of the nation’s young men. Look at the Navy; they know what it takes to effectively run ships on the high seas, and yet… What do they do? They go against the words of the ship’s leadership, demand they do things without proper training, maintenance, or manpower, only then to cashier the commander when the inevitable happens.

    Army’s no better. They know they’re going to have to provide for Personal Security Detachments for the commanders to even be able to get around the battlefield, but what do they do? Do they add them to the MTOE, make personnel and equipment provisions for them? Nope; they’re ignoring the need, and we will have to strip line units of personnel and equipment in order to form these little ad-hoc elements yet again, the next time we deploy to a real war. They’re delusional believers in the idea of the linear battlefield, convinced that “the way things were…” in WWI and WWII will be the ever-after, ignoring the fact that those wars were really anomalous even in our own history. Imagine, if you will, a US Cavalry regimental commander wandering the Old West by himself, with only his trumpeter and guidon-bearer along… Wonder how long that would have lasted, until their scalps were decorating the nearest Indian encampment?

    Delusional, incompetent idiocy is the hallmark of American military operations throughout the 20th Century, I’m afraid. Look at fsking Afghanistan; what’s the first precept of counter-insurgency? Why, don’t allow the insurgents safe harbor and support anywhere. Yet, here we are, paying the fucking Pakistanis to not only provide aid and comfort to the Taliban, but studiously ignoring the facts on the ground, i.e., bin Laden having been in Abbottabad. How fucking stupid is our military leadership?

    Or, as I’m coming to suspect, how fucking corrupt? How many American volunteer soldiers, sailors, and Marines have died in Afghanistan so that some crooked politicians and military leaders could get that sweet, sweet lucre, in the form kickbacks from the Pakis?

    Because, my friends, that’s the only rational explanation for what we can see going on right out in the open. Otherwise, we’d have isolated Afghanistan from Pakistan and crushed the Paki ISI from the outset… That’s what proper counter-insurgency would have looked like: Isolate the battlefield from outside support, as step one. The fact that we haven’t done that? It is telling, and what it’s telling us is that either our military and political leadership is criminally incompetent, or criminally corrupt. There really isn’t any other answer–It’s one of the two, and maybe even both.

  2. Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli says:


    We have two types of leadership: Corrupt and Incompetent. If you’re competent, your corrupt. If you’re incompetent, why buy you?

    The corruption most prevalent is Cowardice. The Incompetence can either be stupid or insane.

    Anyone who can’t pass the above filters is filtered out, often enough by quitting in disgust.

  3. Phil B. says:


    Robert Conquests three laws of politics apply here, but Law No. 3 is especially relevant. As you say, it is the only logical explanation.

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