The only thing that would not be limited were the casualties

Sunday, February 7th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachFor all practical purposes, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Korean War ended when Ridgway offered to discuss truce terms:

Having eschewed the goal of victory, the United States had nothing further to gain from continued fighting. It had accomplished its original purpose in going into Korea, the salvation of the Taehan Minkuk.

The Communist World had gained no territory, wealth, or peoples — but by opposing American arms, by defying the United Nations, with some success, Red China had undoubtedly neared great-power status. Her prestige among Asian peoples, still smarting from Western humiliations, was enhanced, whatever moral questions were involved.

A nation that had been continually harassed and humiliated by all powers since 1840 had actually defied the world, and fought it to a standstill. It was this Asian feeling of solidarity with China that Americans found so hard to understand, as typified by the statement of one Captain Weh, of the Nationalist Chinese Army on Taiwan:

“We listened to the radio, and the Communists were defeating the Americans. All of us in this room were officers who had fought with the Generalissimo for many years. Most of us had fought the Communists all our adult lives. One officer had been captured and tortured by them. In a world the Communists won, there could be no place for any of us, or our families.

“It was very bad for us to have the Communists win. But we had very queer feelings, listening to the news of disaster in Korea. It was almost like a certain exaltation. I do not know how to explain it to you Americans.

“For our Colonel, who hated Communists with all his soul, kept saying: ‘The Americans are being beaten by Chinese. The Americans are being beaten by Chinese.’”


As long as China could hold a U.N. Army at bay, she stood to gain enormous prestige in Asia.

And because the United States Government took a certain naïveté and almost total lack of understanding of Asian Communism to the conference table, the Korean War, stalemated June 1951, would go on for two more years, and half as many men again as were maimed and killed in its first twelve months had yet to suffer and die.


An army in the field, in contact with the enemy, can remain idle only at its peril. Deterioration — of training, physical fitness, and morale — is immediate and progressive, despite the strongest command measures. The Frenchman who said that the one thing that cannot be done with bayonets is to sit on them spoke an eternal truth.


Their new orders seemed to read: Fight on, but don’t fight too hard. Don’t lose — but don’t win, either. Hold the line, while the diplomats muddle through.


But it was harder still for the riflemen and tankers and weapons squads dug in along the scarred, dirty hills. Now they knew less than ever why they dug their holes or why they died. Hoping for the war to end at any moment, they kept one eye on Kaesong or on Panmunjom. When they were ordered to defend a hill or to take one, they knew the action was a limited one, and they knew in their hearts, whatever brave words were said, that such action probably would not affect the outcome of the war at all.

No man likes to give up his life for an inconsequential reason, and there is no honor — only irony — to being the last man killed in a war.


As the talks droned on at Kaesong, the U.N. Command became more convinced the enemy was stalling. And U.N. commanders agreed that a little pressure, judiciously applied, might have wholesome effect. The decision was made in FECOM, but approved by Washington.


It was not an ambitious program, or an unreasonable one, in the situation. Policy was guided by restraint, and limited.

The only thing that would not be limited were the casualties.


  1. Ezra says:

    “No man likes to give up his life for an inconsequential reason, and there is no honor — only irony — to being the last man killed in a war.”

    Like the one GI said in Korea, “I can see myself fighting and dying for my country. But not for some shit hole [his words] place I cannot locate on a map.”

    And he was right. Hard to disagree with him.

  2. Kirk says:

    The root of the problem is that the US was fighting a war that required what Fehrenbach termed “legions”, men who were quite different from the ones they fought with, which were men drafted and recruited for another WWII-esque “War of national survival”.

    Fehrenbach’s entire book is basically a long argument on this issue; he builds the case from the first page, and he’s not entirely wrong. The politicians and senior military leaders were basically pulling a “bait-and-switch” on the citizens they gobbled up and sent to Korea. The later part of the Korean War was a bit of a travesty in this regard.

    Personally, I fall into the category of “Person who does not believe in foreign adventures with conscripts…”. I don’t think that the US should really even have the “legions” that Fehrenbach imagined, simply because the politicians we have are incapable of being trusted with them. No troops with which to go adventuring with? No adventures.

    It’s pretty much a proven fact–Give the assclowns usable military forces with which things can be done, and they’ll go find things to do with them. I don’t think we ought to be doing that. Republics which fall prey to the lure of foreign adventure eventually turn into Empire, and wind up being a lot less republic-y, which I think is a bad thing.

    I’m really not a fan of the whole concept, to tell you the truth. Sure, now and again a republic can find itself needing “legions”, but those should not be allowed to become a permanent part of the system. I’d be more comfortable with them standing up mercenary forces on a for-profit basis, so that at least the troops would get paid well, and know from the outset that they were hiring on to go fight thankless fights far away from home. Pay well enough, and you’d get all the men you need. And, you’d also find out very quickly just how good the officers running such things really were, as opposed to the dregs that wind up manning peacetime forces like ours. If you actually had to attract your soldiers like a civilian company does, and effectively “recruit” based on your actual performance as a leader…? Yeah. You’re going to get good at that “leader” thing, or you’re gonna go bankrupt. Peacetime conventional military force? LOL… You can hide all your flaws as a leader and human being behind the UCMJ, and claw your way to the top, never once having actually demonstrated real pull-your-men-forward leadership.

  3. Obaid says:

    The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, fought from 27 November to 13 December 1950, was one of the most violent struggles of the Korean War. The extreme cold and bitter weather made it harder to fight. Temperatures plummeted to -54°F. A bumper sticker was designed by one war survivor that read, “Once Upon a Time Hell Froze Over. We Were There.”

  4. Paul from Canada says:


    This is one of the genius ideas behind the French Foreign Legion.

    The French considered it correct and right that a conscript could/should fight for the survival of the Republic, but not that he should fight to keep Algeria French, or to support the regime in Chad or wherever. For that you had the professional troops, like the Paras or the Marine Infantry and the French Foreign Legion.

    So a conscript would not be deployed outside metropolitan France, (or at least NATO, i.e Germany), unless he volunteered.

    The FFL is a very good facsimile of the Roman Legion, professional soldiers who served for the pay and the sake of it, and benefits/citizenship afterwards….

  5. Kirk says:

    With what I know about the number of broken promises made by our politicians, I’d never in a million years suggest formation of such a thing for the US. Ask the Karen or the Hmong how all that worked out for them… Or, more recently, the vast majority of the translators and other assorted folks who “rallied” to our side. It’s like we do betrayal as a standard operating procedure.

    Of course, the Brits had to be forced to treat the Gurkhas decently, but… Their overall record is a lot better. The US just does not have the knack, for whatever reason–You’ll look long and hard for a version of the Arab Legion that the US military has fostered.

    I’d just make the American version of the FFL something flatly recruited for what amounts to a fundamentally abusive purpose. American citizens only, and let the politicians explain why they’re killing them off overseas. Giving the crooked bastards “free” troops to play with would just encourage them and make it easier to go do stupid things in strange countries.

  6. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk: “If you actually had to attract your soldiers like a civilian company does, and effectively “recruit” based on your actual performance as a leader…? Yeah. You’re going to get good at that “leader” thing, or you’re gonna go bankrupt.”

    Does anyone have any insights into leadership qualities in security entities like Blackrock, which rumor says are fairly close to mercenary armies?

  7. Kirk says:


    Do you mean Blackwater?

    The current PMC world is a different thing than what I’m proposing, and I hadn’t really made that clear. The majority of the PMC companies are themselves pretty mercenary and entirely prone to backstabbing the hell out of their employees, leaving out to hang whenever expedient. Or, at least, the ones where you hear the horror stories from friends and acquaintances who’ve gone into that field. The good ones rarely get talked about, as with everything.

    What I was proposing, vice the current morally suspect world of bait-and-switch, was more akin to the Condottieri traditions of Renaissance Italy, specifically John Hawkwood and his White Company. Hire mercenaries and be honest about it–If you want your regular troops to get experience of war in peacetime, which would be wise, give them brevets to serve with the mercs.

    What I really loathe is the whole bait-and-switch deal we’re pulling right now–Recruit the kids coming in based on “defense of nation”, and then throw them to the wolves overseas in conflicts that have nothing to do with defending the US, just its overseas business interests. When the Kuwaitis offered to pay us all a bonus, that prick Bush turned it down, ‘cos we weren’t mercenaries… WTF? Dude, I don’t remember signing anything that said “risk life to put corrupt oil ticks back on top of their stolen country” when I enlisted to fight in the Cold War. What right did he have to send us off to fight in a morally ambiguous war for really morally ambiguous people and a very ambiguous cause, then turn down actual pay for doing what we were doing?

    Hell, put the ‘effing Army on a for-profit basis. It’d be a lot more honest, and then you wouldn’t have to deal with the lovely job of telling some young wife and her kids that daddy done died to keep some Ayrab pricks on top of their misbegotten oil wealth.

    Bitter? Yeah, I am. I really don’t like the realization that I’ve reached that I spent the majority of my adult life as a Judas Goat, in many important respects.

    Mass national armies like our military establishment ought to only be used overseas for things like WWII, where there’s a clear existential threat, and total public support for it all. Want to do a Vietnam? No conscripts, and cash on the barrelhead. That kind of war is entirely antiethical to a citizen-soldier Army serving a Republic.

    You want professionals? Fine; pay them. Be up front about it. Otherwise, stay at home and don’t go playing at war as we’ve done in Libya and Syria.

  8. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Thanks, Kirk. Yes, I got the name wrong. It is so easy to confuse financiers with armed mercenaries. :)

    Thanks for the insights.

  9. Kirk says:


    I suspect that the people behind Blackwater, whatever they’re calling that company these days, are probably a bit less morally questionable than the financier types… At least, Blackwater made/makes no bones that they’re all about killing people for profit.

  10. Sam J. says:

    “…Blackwater, whatever they’re calling that company these days, are probably a bit less morally questionable than the financier types…”

    The guy that started Blackwater was a SEAL. He was a reasonably straight-up guy. A large amount of their money was made in training, VIP protection, and delivering supplies and support to soldiers and government officials. Basically he could get things done fast because he had no red tape at all. Someone asked him to do something and he did it. He was told by financial types, Jews in other words, he would have to sell off Blackwater at a loss to the financial groups or he would lose everything and since he knows the score he did. So Blackwater is owned by finance now.

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