Policemen were also needed

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

From the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States drew troubled conclusions:

American policy had been to contain Communism along the parallel, and in this, American policy succeeded. But no one realized, at the beginning, how exceedingly costly such containment would be. The war reaffirmed in American minds the distaste for land warfare on the continent of Asia the avoidance of which has always been a foundation of United States policy. But the war proved that containment in Asia could not be forged with nuclear bombs and that threats were not enough, unless the United States intended to answer a Communist pinprick with general holocaust.

Yet the American people, Army, and leaders generally proved unwilling to accept wars of policy in lieu of crusades against Communism. Innocence had been lost, but the loss was denied. The government that had ordered troops into Korea knew that the issue was never whether Syngman Rhee was right or wrong but that his loss would adversely affect the status of the United States — which was not arguable.

That government’s inability to communicate, and its repudiation at the polls, firmly convinced many men of the political dangers of committing American ground troops in wars of containment. Yet without the continual employment of limited force around the glove, or even with it, there was to be no order. The World could not be policed with ships, planes, and bombs — policemen were also needed.

Less than a year after fighting ended in Korea, Vietnam was lost to the West, largely because of the complete repugnance of Americans toward committing a quarter of a million ground troops in another apparently indecisive skirmish with Communism. Even more important, the United States, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, simply did not have the troops.

Korea, from Task Force Smith at Osan to the last days at Pork Chop, indicates that the policy of containment cannot be implemented without professional legions. Yet every democratic government is reluctant to face the fact. Reservists and citizen-soldiers stand ready, n every free nation, to stand to the colors and die in holocaust, the big war. Reservists and citizen-soldiers remain utterly reluctant to stand and die in anything less. None want to serve on the far frontiers, or to maintain lonely, dangerous vigils on the periphery of Asia. There has been every indication that mass call-ups for cold war moves may result in mass disaffection.


However repugnant the idea is to liberal societies, the man who will willingly defend the free world in the fringe areas is not the responsible citizen-soldier. The man who will go where his colors go, without asking, who will fight a phantom foe in jungle and mountain range, without counting, and who will suffer and die in the midst of incredible hardship, without complaint, is still what he has always been, from Imperial Rome to sceptered Britain to democratic America. He is the stuff of which legion are made.

His pride is in his colors and his regiment, his training hard and thorough and coldly realistic, to fit him for what he must face, and his obedience is to his orders. As a legionary, he held the gates of civilization for the classical world; as a bluecoated horseman he swept the Indians from the Plains; he has been called United States Marine. He does the jobs — the utterly necessary jobs — no militia is willing to do. His task is moral or immoral according to the orders that send him forth. It is inevitable, since men compete.

Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other — with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots, and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors.

Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man.

The great dilemma of our time is that, with two great power blocs in the world, each utterly distrustful of the other, and one, at least, eager to compete, we cannot compete with thermonuclear weapons. Competition, after all, is controlled action or controlled violence for an end, and nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to control. And in nuclear war there is apparently no prize, even for first place.

Yet men must compete.


  1. Sam J. says:

    “Less than a year after fighting ended in Korea, Vietnam was lost to the West, largely because of the complete repugnance of Americans toward committing a quarter of a million ground troops in another apparently indecisive skirmish with Communism. Even more important, the United States, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, simply did not have the troops.”

    This is a direct and 100% lie. I don’t want to hear one more Democrat leftist lie about how we, (not we it’s the leftist that screwed this up), “could never win” in Vietnam.

    The Army in Vietnam gets a totally undeserved rap that in no way responds to reality. They said they were going to shoot the living hell out of the commies until they were done with fighting and I say they did exactly that. They blew the living hell out of those commies. They completely destroyed the Viet Cong and almost, damn near almost, killed off the NVA.

    From Pournelle,”And in Viet Nam the North sent 150,000 men south with as much armor as the Wehrmacht had in many WW II engagements. That was in 1973, and of that 150,000 fewer than 50,000 men and no armor returned to the North, at a cost of under 1,000 American casualties. Most would count that an outstanding victory. (Alas, in 1975 North Viet Nam had another army of over 100,000 and sent it South; the Democratic Congress voted our South Vietnamese 20 cartridges and 2 hand grenades per man, but refused naval and air support; Saigon predictably became Ho Chi Minh city as we pushed helicopters off the decks of out carriers in our frantic evacuation; but that is hardly the fault of the US military).”

    The reason they were successful in taking the South was solely and 100% due to the Democrat Congress that had been saying over and over and over and over that we could never win the Vietnam war so when they got in power they made damn sure we didn’t. The South Vietnamese in the middle of an invasion ran out of ammunition.

    Any fool can see the final dash in 75′ could have been totally crushed with a massive defeat for the commies. They would have been crushed and humiliated to such an extent that maybe, just maybe the soldiers of the North would have realized that fighting the South with US backing was futile. Even to the extent that they would have shot their commie officers in order to surrender. There was only a couple usable roads to move the seriously large amount of armor and troops they were invading with. It could have been a bloodbath. There were people flying over the invasion, I believe it was in the book “A BRIGHT SHINING LIE JOHN PAUL VANN AND AMERICA IN VIETNAM”, who said that they had been spending decades looking for the enemy to fight and here they were and we were giving up.

    Commies or not there is some level of destruction to where the North would not have been able to form units to attack. We could have met or been damn close to that level in 75 with attacks on them coming down the country. In those days we even still had battleships that could pound them from the sea with vast amounts of gunfire. With enough ammo and moving artillery around by air the North could have been cut off and annihilated. A total turkey shoot and the Democrats blew it. Ruined the Armies reputation, plunged our allies into despair and showed us to be faithless allies.

  2. Dan Kurt says:

    Sam J. says: “This is a direct and 100% lie.”

    You are conflating events twenty years apart in your post. America refusing to assist the French in Indochina circa 1954 is what Fehrenbach was writing about. not the craven actions of the Democrats in 1975. What the Democrats did in 1975 is termed a “Lost Victory.”

  3. VXXC says:

    Ah, but Fehrenbach was wrong here, and worse, those who warned against professional legions, like those who warned against permanent large security organs, were proved right in 2021. Weren’t they? His damned Professional Army and certainly our Generals forget THEY WERE CITIZENS FIRST.

    Here Ferenbach is not correct, not about the Cold War and not about the reserves then or since, either:

    “Reservists and citizen-soldiers stand ready, in every free nation, to stand to the colors and die in holocaust, the big war. Reservists and citizen-soldiers remain utterly reluctant to stand and die in anything less. None want to serve on the far frontiers, or to maintain lonely, dangerous vigils on the periphery of Asia. There has been every indication that mass call-ups for cold war moves may result in mass disaffection.”

    I guess he missed a lot of history, including Korea. It might be reserves are reluctant to die for a deliberate stalemate at any time. The reserves of the last generation and all the generations before Vietnam, in fact certainly the reserves of WW2 and yes Korea reported to the colors.

    Of course Fehrenbach is writing in 1960, he’s writing mainly about a conscript army, and, yes, colonial wars might be tricky for an ostensibly anticolonial democracy conscript army, but of course if you read the book and the attendant history you realize that another problem and a real problem is lying. LYING to your people about what you’re really doing doesn’t sit well with people, who, yes, usually figure out they’re being lied to. When the lies will get them killed is when they start speaking up, or evading perhaps the LIARS.

    However Fehrenbach IS correct: it seems a Professional Army such as the one we have DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT BEING CITIZENS, despite the Oath.

    Put that in your Fehrenbach hat: the Republic was overthrown in January 2021, and the Generals helped…once of course they saw that Trump was too weak to act, in truth too cowardly to risk action.

    Final note on the citizen soldiers and showing up for the big one: January WAS the BIG ONE, and it was Citizen Soldiers who reluctantly answered Nancy Pelosi’s call — just following orders.

  4. bruce says:

    Can’t agree with melodrama about the BIG ONE. 2020 election fraud looked like routine machine politics election fraud. Matt Braynaud’s sensible view: 1) yes, more cheating than the margin of error, so it can’t be called an honest election 2)cheating was still trivial compared to a serious and legitimate D get-out-the-vote effort 3)the worst thing about the cheating is how it tempts honest voters into quitting.

  5. Sam J. says:

    “You are conflating events twenty years apart in your post.”

    Misread. My error but I stand by all the rest I said notwithstanding the error.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    Allowing for the timing error, Sam J is basically right about the fall of South Vietnam. There’s a bit more to it than that, but if you wanted to explain it to someone who had never heard of the place what had happened, that would do.

  7. TRX says:

    If you read Tip O’Neill’s autobiography Man of the House, he describes — in fact, brags about — how he used his position as Speaker to interfere in the operations of the war, and then how they de-funded the war just to spite Nixon and leave him holding the bag. The actions he described crossed the line for even the most lenient interpretations of “treason.” Yet, of course, they viewed themselves are heroes, and none of them were indicted.

    Also, if you read Nixon’s [Kissinger’s] The White House Years, he tells about how the military ignored his orders, wilfully misinterpreted his orders, or “worked to rule” and killed their own troops to show their displeasure at not getting things their way. We lost some B-52s due to that. From Nixon’s point of view, too many of the staff officers were happy with the war and weren’t interested in bringing it to a conclusion.

  8. Kirk says:


    I’m ambivalent about Vietnam. On the one hand, there is the inarguable fact that it took two invasions by the North to get to their victory conditions, taking Saigon, and the only reason they won the second time around was the fact that our lovely Democrat-dominated Congress betrayed the treaty obligations and guarantees to South Vietnam that they’d ratified only a few years before.

    So, for a given value, we did “win” in a military sense.

    Yet… Dear God, the cognitive dissonance you get from talking to the veterans and reading the histories. I remember a Kiwi I met, who’d fought with the Australian contingent in Vietnam. The crap this guy described to me about working with the American Army was bone-chilling. Granted, it’s anecdotal, but when you find the same sort of thing described by other American veterans? You really have to wonder.

    The way the Kiwi described it to me, working with the American Army was like going out with a bunch of kids playing soldier. No real operations orders given out, no real planning, and it was all seat-of-the-pants “Let’s go outside the wire…” without a really thought-out mission plan. Unlike the Aussies, there were no senior NCOs with the American Army in the field–By this point in the war, which was the very late 1960s/early 1970s, most of the US NCO cadre was gone, and it was all shake-and-bake conscripts or volunteers who’d been civilians a few months before, and who had only been through some very half-ass NCO academies. There was no depth of experience in the field, and all the “real” senior NCOs were in the rear running NCO clubs or other non-combat bullshit.

    Then you have the stuff you describe the bureaucracy doing, the “slow-walking” and not following Presidential orders. Same crap was going on in the State Department and intelligence world–Nixon was, I am afraid, very much like Trump: He had to work with a government that had been purged of any opposition or non-Democratic Party believers. And, they did their best to sabotage him, with excessive glee. It’s a wonder they got as much done as they did, in that regard.

    With Vietnam, looking back at it? You have to wonder just how much of the corruption was driving that all–Lady Bird Johnson was infamous for having an interest in Bell Helicopter. And, if you examine what has been going on in Ukraine alongside what we can surmise about the whole relationship with Pakistan, one does wonder how much of the “real deal” was kickbacks of foreign aid to our politicians, and then you have to ask if the real reason we cut off South Vietnam wasn’t that they saw the gravy train ending and decided to ensure that nobody ever found out what the deal was.

    I imagine that the North Vietnamese captured some very interesting documents, and may have had a lot of fodder for blackmail in all of that. The question of whether or not our politicians were on the take that far back, and that they might have been subject to blackmail…? It would certainly answer a lot of questions.

    It may even answer why they went after Nixon the way they did. He was cutting off their gravy train by winning, same as with Trump getting us out of Afghanistan and Iraq…

  9. Altitude Zero says:

    Of course, by the early 1970′s, the US Army in Vietnam was a shadow of what it had been in 1965. It was once said that the big difference between Korea and Vietnam is that in Korea, the US went in with a terrible army, and came out with a pretty good one, whereas in Vietnam, we went in with a pretty good army, and came out with a terrible one. By 1970, everyone knew that flat-out winning was not on the agenda, and who wants to be the last poor bastard killed in a holding action? Personally, I’m actually surprised that our guys carried on as well as they did.

  10. Kirk says:

    Altitude Zero,

    That’s the story I’ve always heard, but when you go digging into the nuts and bolts details…? There was a whole lotta lip service paid to “doing things right” and not a lot of actually doing it.

    One of the Vietnam vets I got to knew through hanging around with the VVA was guy who’d been there very early in the war, and his description of the amateur-hour crap that went on with his unit’s initial deployment and operations was horrifying. And, in total consonance with the same condescending description that that Kiwi had… There may have been some line units that were doing things “right”, but the way he talked about it, the main reason he’d gotten himself into the SF community was that he didn’t want to “die for someone else’s lack of professionalism…”.

    Actual verbiage he used was considerably more profane. He did one tour as a “line dog” in a leg infantry unit somewhere in the highlands, immediately south of the Marine AOR. Did not have a lot of respect at all for the majority of “Big Army” as it was then constituted–He went SF early on in his career, and never went back.

    Of course, it could well have been that in his case, because he was a very junior enlisted guy at the base of the totem pole, he just didn’t see what was going on elsewhere in the chain of command.

    This is one of those questions I’m really unable to answer authoritatively, to tell the truth. I’ve heard things from people I trust, but… Without having been there to see things for myself, I can’t really compensate for their potential bias or lack of awareness.

    I can tell you for one damn thing–Any time you hear anything from a guy “who was there…”, you have to temper that with “did ‘guy who was there’ actually know WTF he was talking about, and did he actually know what was going on…?”. You would not believe some of the things I heard come out of my own troop’s mouths, when we were doing the post-deployment debriefs. Things they thought were going on…? Weren’t. Things that they didn’t know about, because we didn’t want to tell them, in order to maintain some sense of supporting the assholes we were working for…? Tons and tons. The picture you had of that operational deployment from the worm’s eye level was vastly different than the one we had from half-way up the food chain. And, we didn’t tell them a lot, in order to maintain the fiction that the higher-ups were looking out for us all, and so as to support the “stupid”, even though we knew it was essentially some of the dumbest shit ever.

    So, when you read history? Do so with a very dubious eye–The stuff that makes the history books may or may not have actually happened, and what’s in the newspapers and other topical sources of the time is almost certainly shot through with lies.

    And, of course, there’s the little fact of fallible human memory to contend with. Guy tells you something in 1989 about what he was experiencing in 1963, you may or may not be getting “ground truth”. You may, in fact, be getting the results of 26 years worth of embellishments and tall tales, along with totally unjustified interpretations of innocent command behavior.

  11. VXXC says:


    You missed a step here, Bruce; “Final note on the citizen soldiers and showing up for the big one: January WAS the BIG ONE, and it was Citizen Soldiers who reluctantly answered Nancy Pelosi’s call — just following orders.”

    The Troops were the Coup, Bruce, not the massive election fraud. That was bad enough, but the resort to force was the coup. I was there, Bruce, saw the Green Zone, saw the first one in Iraq.

    The BIG ONE is sarcasm, not melodrama. Earned sarcasm at that.

    Of course if you’re still talking about voting, you may have missed more than one step. Voting? LOL. It’s 2021, Bruce, and the Republic has fallen.

    You can vote if you like; it’s a harmless enough pastime.

  12. Sam J. says:

    Kirk says he’s ambivalent about Vietnam. I’m not. In fact all the reasons we said we were fighting there happened to be true.

    Now the government is filled with liars and vote stealing coup dictators presently and the government back then was not perfect either but…you have to understand the times and understand the bastards running things were afraid of the commies. I mean, except for the Jews who created them, the typical business guy and politician was afraid of the commies.

    What did they say, that the commies were working country by country to spread communism. Oil spot theory and they were right. That was exactly what the commies were doing. If you look at Vietnam it has a perfect port and is right in middle of major transportation networks and close enough that if it fell easily to export communism all over Asia. These people rant on and on about Vietnam not mattering but get a map. Look at trade routes. If you can’t see the strategic position of Vietnam you’re an idiot and no one should listen to anything you say.

    The reason I am so adamant about pointing out that it’s a lie that,”we could never win in Vietnam” and that the Vietnam vets were a bunch of losers, NOT, is that all the fighting they did was heroic and counted. It really counted.

    While Vietnam was going on ALL the countries around it had the same sort of Viet Cong commie insurrection going on and keeping them busy in Vietnam meant that most of them were defeated. Those that did not defeat the commies ended up like Cambodia and no matter how much you hate capitalism, White people, Vets or Americans it’s impossible to say that ending up like Cambodia is a better option.

    All the fighting they did saved “directly” 10′s and 10′s of millions of lives that would have been lost in Asia had we not made a stand in Vietnam. Maybe we didn’t win 100% of our objectives in Vietnam but tell that to the millions of Asians that live modern lives instead of eating bark and living in fear like the North Koreans or not living at all like the Cambodians.

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