The one group of people who really took fighting seriously were the foreigners

Friday, September 4th, 2020

Americans and other Westerners have an understanding of warfare that does not match most people’s understanding throughout human history:

Americans come from a land of mass literacy and mass politics, a country where even the country rube has received a strong education in his duties, rights, and membership in the American nation. American soldiers go into battle as part of a rigid hierarchy with officers inserted deep into their ranks and receive elaborate training designed to instill in them both discipline and an overwhelming espirit de corps. They also are heirs to a political culture that has never seen a coup nor suffered from a serious military challenge to civilian leadership in its history.

Because of all of this, one has trouble imagining a possible timeline where the Third Army abandons its posts to join the Wehrmacht, Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces devolve into a patchwork of hostile war-bands, or Ulysses Grant turns his guns on Washington and declares himself America’s new leader. Yet most wars in most places for most of our civilized history were running catalogues of just these sorts of sordid happenings! The conquests of every Chinese conqueror right up to the Communists, the wars of Medieval Europe and the early Renaissance, the conflicts of ‘feudal’ Japan, most of the fighting and in-fighting seen on the Eurasian steppe, the squabbles of the Greek city states, the terrific civil wars of the Roman empire, and the greater part of Arab warring right up to the present day looked more like Filkins’ Afghanistan than the Western Front.

The Filkins that T. Greer mentions there is Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War, who gives this account of the dynamics of warlord fighting in the Afghanistan of 2001:

People fought in Afghanistan, and people died, but not always in the obvious way. They had been fighting for so long, twenty-three years then, that by the time the Americans arrived the Afghans had developed an elaborate set of rules designed to spare as many fighters as they could. So the war could go on forever. Men fought, men switched sides, men lined up and fought again. War in Afghanistan often seemed like a game of pickup basketball, a contest among friends, a tournament where you never knew which team you’d be on when the next game got under way. Shirts today, skins tomorrow. On Tuesday, you might be part of a fearsome Taliban regiment, running into a minefield. And on Wednesday you might be manning a checkpoint for some gang of the Northern Alliance. By Thursday you could be back with the Talibs again, holding up your Kalashnikov and promising to wage jihad forever. War was serious in Afghanistan, but not that serious. It was part of everyday life. It was a job. Only the civilians seemed to lose.

Battles were often decided this way, not by actual fighting, but by flipping gangs of soldiers. One day, the Taliban might have four thousand soldiers, and the next, only half that, with the warlords of the Northern Alliance suddenly larger by a similar amount. The fighting began when the bargaining stopped, and the bargaining went right up until the end. The losers were the ones who were too stubborn, too stupid or too fanatical to make a deal. Suddenly, they would find themselves outnumbered, and then they would die. It was a kind of natural selection.

One of the Afghan militia commanders with whom I traveled, Daoud Khan, was a master of this complicated game. He was portly and well dressed, and he ate very well. The Afghans spoke of him in reverent tones, but he didn’t seem like much of a warrior to me. He’d never fought for the Taliban himself, but thousands of his former soldiers were now in the Taliban ranks. Why kill them when he could just bring them back to his side? Khan captured his first city, Taloqan, without firing a single shot. He did it by persuading the local Taliban leader, a man named Abdullah Gard, to switch sides. Gard was no dummy; he could see the B-52s. I guessed that Khan had probably used a lot of money, but he never allowed me to sit in as he worked the Taliban chieftains on the radio. The day after Taloqan fell, I found Gard in an abandoned house, seated on a blue cushion on the floor, warming himself next to a wood-burning stove. His black Taliban turban was gone, and he had replaced it with a woolen Chitrali cap just like that of Ahmad Shah Massoud. “All along, I was spying on the Taliban,” Gard said, his eyes darting. No one believed him, but no one seemed to care.

On the first night of the long-awaited offensive against the Taliban, carried out at the urging of the Americans, the Alliance commanders bombarded the Taliban lines and then, as night fell, sent their men forward. Yet when I arrived the next morning, the Alliance soldiers stood more or less where they had the day before. They’d run, and then they’d run back. No one seemed surprised. “Advancing, retreating, advancing, that’s what you do in war,” Yusef, a twenty-year-old Alliance soldier, told me with a shrug. He was sitting in a foxhole. It wasn’t that the Afghans were afraid to fight, it was that they’d fought too much. And now, given the opportunity, they wanted to avoid it if they could.

“My dear, I am your brother, you know how much affection I have for you, there is really no point in resisting anymore,” Mohammad Uria, a Northern Alliance commander, said into his radio to a Taliban commander a few miles away. Of course, there were plenty of Taliban soldiers who wanted to fight forever. Fight to the death. They were the Pashtuns from Kandahar, for the most part, a different breed. “I’ve seen them run right into the minefields — they want to die,” Pir Mohammed said, shaking his head in awe. But where I was, in northern Afghanistan, many if not most of the Taliban soldiers weren’t from Kandahar, they were from the north — Tajiks and Uzbeks who’d switched sides when the fearsome Kandaharis rolled in. Now the northerners wanted to quit. The one group of people who really took fighting seriously were the foreigners — that is, the Americans and Al-Qaeda. They came to kill.

North America inherited British government and British democracy

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

As a geographer, Jared Diamond has some thoughts on North America and Latin America:

In my undergraduate geography course, I have one session on North America and then a session on South America in which I discuss why North America is more successful economically. There are several factors involved.

One factor is that temperate zones, in general, are economically more successful than the tropics because of the higher productivity and soil fertility of temperate agriculture, which in turn relates to the public health burden. All of North America is a temperate zone. South America only has a small temperate zone. It’s in the far south in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Those are the richest countries in Latin America. The richest part of Brazil also lies in the temperate zone.

The second factor is a historical one related to the sailing distance from Europe to the Americas. The sailing distance was shorter from Britain to North America. It was longer from Spain to Argentina and still longer from Spain around the horn to Peru. A shorter sailing distance meant that the ideas and technology of the Industrial Revolution spread much more quickly from Britain, where it originated, to North America, than from Spain to Latin America.

Still another factor is the legacy of Spanish government versus the legacy of British government. One could argue why democracy developed in Britain rather than in Spain, but the fact is that democracy did develop in Britain rather than Spain, and so North America inherited British government and British democracy while Latin America inherited Spanish centralist government and absolutist politics.

Then still another factor is that independence for the U.S. was a more radical break than it was in South America. After the Revolutionary War, all the royalists in the U.S. either fled or were killed. So there was a relatively clean break from Britain. Canada did not have that break, and the break in Latin America was much less abrupt and came later.

If you read the official documents that go out to the Party’s 90,000 members, you get a world view that’s surprisingly similar to The Pentagon’s New Map

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

T. Greer (of The Scholar’s Stage) recently spoke with ChinaTalk. Most modern “takes” on China are biased, he notes, by the easy access “China hands” have to Westernized Chinese who don’t take Marxism seriously. If you read the official Party documents that go out to the Party’s 90,000 members though, you get a world view that’s surprisingly similar to The Pentagon’s New Map.

For an overview of Chinese history, Greer strongly recommends F.W. Mote’s Imperial China 900-1800 and laments that Mote never wrote a similar volume on earlier Chinese history.

He recommends the usual Chinese classics — and a satirical novel called The Scholars.

Readers of this blog might be interested in The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia. Taiwan could defend itself militarily, with its favorable terrain, but the will to do so is almost completely lacking.

Revolution and terror are synonymous

Monday, August 24th, 2020

The Communists had infiltrated South Korea to a great extent, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and as the Inmun Gun captured city after city, Communist cadres were ready to assume control:

The North Korean rulers had absolutely no interest in the merchants of the towns, or the middle classes, except eventually to get rid of them. Generally, these people were left alone or arrested, for later attention. But other groups received immediate attention. Former officials of the Republic, down to clerks, were jailed or killed. People such as moneylenders and prominent landowners were executed at once for political capital. Few, in any land, love the rich. The North Korean State acted on the assumption that men and women who could not be easily controlled or assimilated into a Communist state must be killed.

What happened in Seoul and Taejon was typical. In Seoul, every man or woman who had worked for the Americans in any capacity was executed if found, and the American Embassy had conveniently left their personnel files behind. All former government employees were killed or jailed. Steps were taken immediately to induct many of the youth of the city into NKPA, and others in labor forces.

Outside Taejon, after the city had been scoured for possible enemies to a Communist regime, shivering hordes of unfortunates, in groups of one hundred or more, were led to mass graves, hands bound, wired to each other. Then the shooting began. When the United States Army came back through in September, a burial trench containing more than 7,000 bodies, including those of 40 American soldiers, was uncovered.


The killing was not sheer savagery. The regime was ridding itself of people it could never trust, for the the best of political reasons.

Revolution and terror are synonymous; only with the passage of time does any revolution become respectable. After the military triumph of the American Revolution the hard-core adherents of the Crown — more than a quarter-million out of a population of three million — were stripped of their property and forced into exile in Canada and elsewhere. Much of the success of the United States in early days was due to the lack of organized dissent within the Republic.

After the French Revolution, thousands of aristocrats and others who fought the revolution were permitted to return to France, where their descendants have not accepted the principles of the revolution to this day, causing perpetual instability.

In a hideously practical way the Communists knew what they were doing.

The Korean terror exceeded that of now respectable Western social upheavals only in degree, and in brutal Communist efficiency.

But while it was shooting the officials and anti-Communists, the regime made every effort to cater to the poorer masses. Asian Communists have always realized that in nations largely peasant, the peasantry alone is of any real political value. Land was redistributed. It would be taken back later, when the regime was consolidated — but first, it was a necessary step, as in China, to secure the backing of the millions of the poor.

The middle classes, so vital to Western democracy, do not exist in most of Asia. Where they do exist, they are more of a political liability with the mass of people than an asset, for they are regarded with envy and hatred by men who break their backs on the soil. The peasant feels he can live without them.

While the proscribed classes were being wiped out, the Inmun Gun showed every courtesy to the workers of the soil. When the Inmun Gun required food or lodging of the poor, these were paid for — in worthless currency, but paid for none the less. In Seoul, the Inmun Gun had captured the South Korean Government mints, and the printing presses ran off all the currency the Inmun Gun could ever use.

In a country where 90 percent of the people are peasants, the Communist regime had every expectation of success — because peasants they understood. From the first, the peasantry saw little to lose through Communist rule, and perhaps much to gain. Only much later, when the land is collectivized and the iron hand shows through the paternal glove, and when it is too late, does the peasant who has been Communized realize his loss. Communized, he ceases to be an individual man, losing an identity that even the most abject poverty could not take from him before.


Americans, in turn, have been slow to understand the peasant, let alone mix with him.

Americans, who cannot understand or even communicate with peasantry, are growing lonelier in a world where the great majority of men are peasants.

Washington became the greatest foundation of all

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

Mencius Moldbug writes an open letter to Paul Graham In response to his recent essay on the four quadrants of conformism;

What was happening between 1920 and 1940? The universities were taking power. In 1900, the idea of a professor telling the government what to do was borderline absurd. By 1940, it was normal. By 1960, it was universal — all “public policy” in future would be determined by “science.”

And, because the Ring works like that, power was taking them — with its favorite toy, money. Federal funding of universities before WWII was negligible. In the prewar period, money came from the great foundations — Carnegie and Rockefeller, generally. Institutions and professors that the foundation managers liked prospered gloriously. Those they disliked vanished without a trace. As did their ideas. And after the war, Washington became the greatest foundation of all.

Most of this “science” was complete woo and balderdash — mainly selected for how much it provoked the townies. And it didn’t just provoke them. “Scientific” public policy turned the Bronx in 1960 into the Bronx in 1970. Strolled the Grand Concourse lately? Its name wasn’t always a sick joke. Nice work, Harvard.

They strive to achieve uniformity via exclusion

Monday, August 17th, 2020

Out of all the major political movements on Earth, Bryan Caplan says, none is more Orwellian than “social justice”:

[T]he official story of the social justice movement is that we should swear eternal devotion to “diversity and inclusion.” Yet in practice they strive to achieve uniformity via exclusion. The recent University of California scandal is an elegant example. In affected departments, job candidates had to write a “diversity and inclusion statement.” Unless candidates vigorously supported the social justice movement through word and action, the faculty never even got to see their applications. How vigorously? To reach “the next stage of review,” applicants needed a minimum average score of 11 on this rubric. Since a rank-and-file dogmatic ideologue would probably only score a 9, this cutoff predictably causes ideological uniformity of Orwellian dimensions.

More generally:

1. The diversity and inclusion movement is nominally devoted to fervent “anti-racism.” In practice, however, they are the only prominent openly racist movement I have encountered during my life in the United States. Nowadays they routinely mock and dismiss critics for the color of their skin — then accuse those they mock and dismiss of “white fragility.” Just one prominent recent case:

The signatories, many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so-called cancel culture is out of control, and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas, even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country.

2. The diversity and inclusion movement doesn’t just bizarrely redefine racism as “prejudice plus power.” Since their movement combines explicit racial prejudice with great power, they neatly fit their own Newspeak definition.

3. A popular social justice lawn sign includes the plank, “Be kind to all.” Yet the movement greets even mild criticism from friends with hostility, and firm disagreement with rage. Plus the harshest punishments they can arrange, especially ostracism from high-skilled employment.

Black Lives Matter Yard Sign

4. While we’re on the subject of “being kind to all,” let me point out that making harsh, ill-founded accusations against any large, unselective group — such as a race, gender, or age bracket — is the opposite of kind.* Yet the “social justice” movement hasn’t just heaped collective guilt on whites, males, and “the old.” It has heaped scorn on even mild pushback like “Not all men are sexist.” Basic kindness, in contrast, enjoins you to (a) calmly investigate the validity of your accusations before voicing them; (b) carefully distinguish between misunderstandings and malice; (c) reassure innocent bystanders before you call out the demonstrably guilty.

5. The “Love is love” slogan is comparably Orwellian. Thanks to #MeToo, almost every person who values his job is now too terrified even to meekly ask a co-worker out on a date. Where is the love there? When faced with compelling evidence that male managers were responding to the climate of fear by avoiding mentoring and social contact with female co-workers, the #MeToo reaction was not to mend fences but to make further threats.

6. “Science is real” would also bring a grim smile to Orwell’s face. The diversity and inclusion movement shows near-zero patience for the pile of scientific research that estimates the share of group performance gaps that stem from discrimination versus other factors. Instead, they (a) ignore the science; (b) speak as if science shows the share is 100%; and (c) treat people who discuss the actual science as if they’re personally guilty of discrimination. The same goes for any unwelcome scientific conclusions about gender, sexuality, academic performance, etc. Either embrace the foregone conclusions of “social justice,” or risk the wrath of the movement. Just beneath the propaganda lies uniformity via exclusion.

7. What’s the relationship between Orwellian language and the motte-and-bailey fallacy? Quite distant. Orwellian language amounts to saying the opposite of the truth. Motte-and-bailey, in contrast, is about strategically toggling between moderate and extreme versions of your creed. E.g., sometimes feminism is the moderate view that “Women should be treated as fairly as men”; yet the rest of the time, feminism is the extreme view that “Women should be treated as fairly as men, but totally aren’t in this depraved sexist society.”

8. If all this is true, how come I’m not too scared of Big Brother to write it? Tenure is a big part of it. The official point of tenure is to make professors feel free to voice unpopular truths — and I’m all about unpopular truths. Still, I’m no martyr. If I were looking for an academic job, I would shut up. I hope many tenure-seeking readers feel the same yearning to voice unpopular truths with impunity, though I fear your numbers are few.

9. What’s the least Orwellian feature of the “social justice” movement? Support for illegal immigrants, of course. First World countries really do treat illegal immigrants like subhumans, and to its credit the social justice movement offers them moral support with the poetic slogan, “No human being is illegal.” Yet sadly, the volume of this moral support is barely audible, because the movement has so many higher priorities. If its activists took the immense moral energy they waste on costumes, jokes, and careless speech, and redirected it toward the cause of free migration, I’d forgive their Orwellian past today.

10. Meta-question: Why do Orwellian movements exist at all? Why doesn’t each movement say what it means and mean what it says? “Marketing” is the easy answer: When your true goals are awful, you resort to deceptively pleasant packaging to keep forward momentum. While this story makes sense, it’s incomplete. The most Orwellian movements actively revel in the contradiction between word and deed — and even in the contradiction between word and word. The best explanation is that submission to an Orwellian creed is a grade-A loyalty test. Insisting that all your members admit that “The sky is blue” doesn’t weed out the doubters and fair-weather soldiers. Insisting that all your members admit that “The sky is green” or “There is no sky,” in contrast, selects for fanatics and yes-folk. And sadly, those are the sorts of people movements like “diversity and inclusion” appreciate.

* “Social justice” is of course a selective movement. You can disaffiliate anytime you like — and if you don’t want to be blamed for poor behavior of your compatriots, you should.

The far frontier is not defended with citizens

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

In addition to restraint of objective, T. R. Fehrenbach reminds us (in This Kind of War), the second necessary ingredient of limited war is a professional army large enough to handle any task:

In 1950, even to fight an underdeveloped nation in Asia, America had to fall back upon her citizens. And in this, above all else, lies the resulting trauma of the Korean War.

The far frontier is not defended with citizens, for citizens have better things to do than to die on some forsaken hill, in some forsaken country, for what seems to be the sake of that country.


A modern democracy was not semifeudal Prussia, or Bourbon France, or Whig England, where soldiers could be swept from taverns, pressed from the ranks of the unskilled and unemployed, the disadvantaged put under the rod of iron, to be broken into grenadiers, to voyage and die for the realm, while the stable and fortunate citizenry said good riddance.

Can the demise of democracy and free markets be far behind?

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

Arnold Kling foresees the Twilight of the Bourgeoisie and The Coming of Neo-Feudalism:

Overall, Kotkin’s thesis that the bourgeoisie is in decline is persuasive and disturbing. It is persuasive because the importance of education in social status is everywhere evident. In the 1950s, there were many corporate leaders who had only a high school education, and there were few with graduate degrees. Today, that is reversed.

The consolidation of economic power in Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google has been sudden and striking. It has confounded those of us who looked at the Internet revolution as a phenomenon that would empower smaller enterprises by decreasing the importance of physical capital.

The first wave of the Internet boom, in the late 1990s, was characterized by feverish entry and vigorous competition in the realms of Internet search, on-line shopping, and the hardware and software that consumers would use to access the World Wide Web. In contrast, the current tech boom seems to have entrenched the leaders in their respective positions.

Deirdre McCloskey has argued persuasively that bourgeois virtues raised the status of innovation and commerce, paving the way for our modern economic and political systems. If, as Kotkin argues, the status of the bourgeoisie is in the process of decline, can the demise of democracy and free markets be far behind?

Make your own bubble in 10 easy steps

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Bryan Caplan explains how to make your own bubble in 10 easy steps:

1. Amicably divorce your society.  Don’t get angry at the strangers who surround you, just accept the fact that you’re not right for each other.

2. Stop paying attention to things that aggravate you unless (a) they concretely affect your life AND (b) you can realistically do something about them.  Start by ceasing to follow national and world news.

3. Pay less frequent attention to things that aggravate you even if they do concretely affect your life and you can realistically do something about them.  For example, if you check your email twenty times a day and find the experience frustrating, try cutting back to two or three times a day.  If you need to know about world politics, read history books, not newspaper articles.

4. Emotionally distance yourself from people you personally know who aggravate you.  Don’t purge anyone – that causes more trouble than it saves.  Just accept the fact that you aren’t going to change them.

5. Abandon your First World Problems mentality.  Consciously compare your income to Haitian poverty, your health status to Locked-In Syndrome, your sorrow to that of parent who has lost a child.  As Tsunami Bomb tells us, “Be grateful that you have a brain for thinking/ And legs to take you places.”  For guidance, repeatedly read Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus and Julian Simon’s Good Mood.

6. Now that you have emptied your life of frustration, you are ready to fill it with joy.  Start doing things that make you happy even – nay, especially – if most people in your ex-society disrespect them.  Spend $1 a day to filter out annoying advertising and intrusion.

7. Actively try to make more friends with people who share your likes.  In the Internet age, this is shockingly easy.  Don’t try to make more friends who share your dislikes.  You should build friendship on common passions, not joint contempt.

8. Find a career you really enjoy.  Ask yourself, “Will I take daily pride in this work?” and “Are the kind of people I want to befriend statistically over-represented in this line of work?”  If you have to signal for years to get this job, sigh, signal, and see Step 5.

9. If you’re single, stop dating outside of your sub-sub-culture.  Happy relationships are based on shared values and mutual admiration so intense that outsiders laugh.  Let them laugh.

10. Now that your own life is in order, you are emotionally ready to quixotically visit your ex-society.  Maybe you want to publicly argue for open borders, abolition of the minimum wage, or pacifism.  Go for it.  Bend over backwards to be friendly.  Take pride in your quixotic quest.  Then go home to your Beautiful Bubble and relax.

Coda: Many perpetually aggravated people tell me they “just can’t” adopt my advice.  Perhaps they’re right to think that they can’t follow my advice 100%.  But so what?  Anyone can adopt my advice at the margin.  Why not spend one extra hour a day in your Bubble and see what happens?

Demonization becomes a winning Darwinian strategy

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

We learn by paying attention to what others attend to, which is why, Arnold Kling speculates, in-class learning works better than watching a lecture on line:

When I am in a classroom, others are paying attention to the speaker. This makes my attention to the speaker instinctive. I don’t have to use so much willpower to pay attention. But when it’s just me sitting in front of a computer, I have to will myself to pay attention. It uses up more effort and takes more out of me.

That’s not his main point though:

In the twentieth century, watching television or listening to the radio were often social activities. TV and radio could command our attention the way the speaker in a classroom would, through people paying attention to what others were attending to.

But we use 21st-century media in isolation. That means that the media need other means to command our attention. They cannot rely on our use of social cues. Instead, they have to rely on dopamine hits. Porn. Games. And demonization.

We get a dopamine hit by seeing the demonization of people with whom we disagree. So demonization becomes a winning Darwinian strategy in the age of contemporary media.

The whole point of writing The Three Languages of Politics was to describe demonization rhetoric under the assumption that people would not want to demonize. I thought that if you recognize the rhetoric, you would back away from it.

Instead, the religion that persecutes heretics justifies demonization. To criticize demonization is to be a heretic. In a world where people consume media in isolation, an ideology that justifies demonization has an advantage.

Truman and the American Republic had no legions

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

Something new had happened, according to T. R. Fehrenbach (in This Kind of War), when America went to war in Korea:

The United States had gone to war, not under enemy attack, nor to protect the lives or property of American citizens. Nor was the action taken in crusading spirit, as in World Wars I and II, to save the world. The American people had entered a war, not by the roaring demand of Congress — which alone could constitutionally declare a state of war — or the public, but by executive action, at the urging of an American proconsul across the sea, to maintain the balance of power across the sea.


This was the kind of order Disraeli might have given, sending Her Majesty’s regiments against the disturbers of Her Majesty’s peace. Or the emperor in Rome might have given such a command to the legions when his governor in Britain sent word the Picts were over the border.


In 1950 there was only one power and one people in the world who could prevent chaos and a new, barbarian tyranny from sweeping the earth. The United States had become a vast world power, like it or not. And liking it or not, Americans would find that if a nation desires to remain a great and moral power there is a game it must play, and some of its people must pay the price.

Truman, sending the divisions into Korea, was trying to emulate the Roman legions and Her Majesty’s regiments — for whether the American people have accepted it or not, there have always been tigers in the world, which can be contained only by force.

But Truman and the American Republic had no legions.


The United States Army, since 1945, had, at the demand of the public, been civilianized. The men in the ranks were enlistees, but these were the new breed of American regular, who, when they took up the soldier, had not even tried to put aside the citizen.

They were normal American youth, no better, no worse than the norm, who though they wore the uniform were mentally, morally, and physically unfit for combat, for orders to go out and die.

They wore the uniform, but they were still civilians at heart.

The ancient legions, and the proud old British regiments, had been filled with taverns’ scum, starvelings, and poor farm boys seeking change. They had been inducted, knocked about, ruled with a rod of iron, made into men of iron, with iron discipline. They were officered by men wholly professional, to whom dying was only a part of their way of life. To these men the service was home, and war — any war — their profession.

These legions of old, like the sword itself, were neither moral nor immoral. Morality depended upon the use to which their government put them. But when put to use, they did not question, did not fail. They marched.

In 1950 America, imperfectly understanding her position in this new world, had no legions. She had even no men in “dirty-shirt blue,” such as had policed the Indian frontier. She had an army of sorts of citizens, who were as conscious of their rights and privileges as of their duties. And she had only a reserve of more citizens to fall back upon.

Citizens fly to defend the homeland, or to crusade. But a frontier cannot be held by citizens, because citizens, in a republic, have better things to do.


The single greatest weakness of a free people is always their moral doubts. Fortunately for the world, in 1950 the men in the United States Government overcame theirs.

Later, the ROK chief of engineers would be tried by court-martial and summarily shot

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

As the North Korean army (Inmun Gun) approached Seoul, thousands of civilians and soldiers tried to flee across the Han river, which ROK combat engineers had rigged for demolition — as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

At that moment the bridge blew. A sheet of orange fire burst across the dark night, and the ground shook. With an ear-shattering roar, two long spans on the south side of the river dropped into the swirling dark water.

No one will ever know how many soldiers and civilians died in the explosion or were hurled screaming into the Han to drown. The best estimates indicate the number was near one thousand.

There had been no warning of any kind to the traffic thronging the bridge. Later, the ROK chief of engineers would be tried by court-martial and summarily shot for his part in the demolitions. But no one in the Rhee Government ever brought up the matter of the Vice-Minister of Defense, who had given the order that ensured the destruction of the ROK Army.

Trapped by the premature blowing of the Han bridges, 44,000 men of the divisions north of the river would die or disappear. Their vital artillery and equipment would be lost with them.


On the 28th of June, only a rabble held the south shores of the Han. The ROK Army Command could account for only 22,000 men of the 98,000 its rolls had carried out on the 25th.

The Army of the Taehan Minkuk, which had been called “the best damn army outside the United States,” had not merely been defeated. It had been destroyed.

But the 2,202 American citizens were evacuated from Korea, without loss of life

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

With its tanks, the North Korean army (Inmun Gun) quickly overran the South (ROK), and the Americans had to flee Seoul, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

Only the best trained and best led troops can execute an orderly withdrawal under heavy pressure. Outnumbered, outgunned and with no way to counteract the freezing terror — which the Germans call panzer fever — caused by the unstoppable Russian tanks, the 7th took frightful losses.


The ROK plan of maneuver had been hasty, ill advised, and impossible. A competent, adequately trained basic rifleman could be made in eleven months. Competent, well-schooled commanders and staffs could not.


Under American fighter cover from Japan, the civilian and KMAG staff began to fly from Suwon Airfield. Behind them, the American evacuation of Seoul was both hasty and chaotic, and in some respects, tragic.

The fifteen hundred vehicles belonging to Americans, both government and private, were abandoned; no effort was made to turn them over to the ROK Army, which desperately needed them. More than twenty thousand gallons of gasoline were abandoned in the embassy motor pool. A tremendous amount of food, valued at $100,000, and the entire July quota of liquor — $40,000 worth, tax free — were left for the Inmun Gun.


The ghastly mistake made during the early hours of 27 June was that the personnel records of more than five thousand Korean employees of the embassy were left in their files. While the confidential records of the American Mission were burned, no one thought of the dossiers of its loyal Korean workers — or more likely, no one on the embassy staff really understood the nature of the Communist foe they faced.

These files would fall into the hands of the Inmun Gun, and none of the employees who remained at their homes in Seoul would survive the Communist occupation.

But the 2,202 American citizens were evacuated from Korea, without loss of life.


Men falling back from the north told of the terrible tanks that could not be stopped. It must be recalled that Korean soldiers had not even been told much about tanks, let alone given them, and the tanks assumed the proportions of invincible monsters as the tales spread. And the ROK Army had not even one anti-tank mine.

The roadblocks were not defended; the bridges to the north were not blown. Thousands of defeated ROK troops began to pour into Seoul, and as they did so, the rearguard detachments left to delay the enemy melted away.

And now a new menace appeared. Thousands upon thousands of Communists and Communist sympathizers had infiltrated Seoul during the years, and as the Inmun Gun approached, these men came out into the open. Suddenly no one could be trusted; even on the ROK Army Staff men began to shout “Communist!” and “Traitor!” at each other.

Does this force structure really work if the Filipinos won’t let you in, the Taiwanese can’t let you in, and the Japanese will try as hard as they can to concentrate you in a few locations?

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

The USMC is smack-dab in the middle of a transformational institutional revolution, where it has decided to redefine itself as anti-China force, but China-hawk T. Greer is not gung-ho about this new self-conception. He presents three questions Congress should be thinking through as they evaluate the USMC plan:

  1. Was this plan developed in consultation with America’s Indo-Pacific allies or with the other branches of the U.S. military, all of whose cooperation is needed for its success?
  2. Is the Marine Corps optimizing itself for the range of possible conflicts with China, or just the one it most wants to fight?
  3. What if the Marine Corps’s predictions for the future are wrong?
  4. He asks, “Does this force structure really work if the Filipinos won’t let you in, the Taiwanese can’t let you in, and the Japanese will try as hard as they can to concentrate you in a few locations?”

Most damning is this parting shot:

There will be some who claim all of these issues have been addressed at the classified level. I do not believe this. Why? I wrote this piece after talking to several Marine Corps officers inside the system who extremely frustrated with the way these reforms are unrolling. Many of the ideas I raise in the essay are not my own, but come originally from these officers, whose objections and questions have been sidelined in the rush to make these changes stick. None of them wished any credit for the ideas they gave me; rather, they feared that being cited would damage their careers. That should worry you! A Marine Corps whose officers are unable to raise very basic questions about the diplomatic and political conditions of their new operating environment is not in a healthy place.

Soviet strategy has always been devious where American has been direct

Friday, July 17th, 2020

At the time, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), it wasn’t clear what was happening in Korea:

Now, on 25 June and later, Washington could never be sure that Korea was not merely a smokescreen, to divert American attention and troops while an assault against Europe was being prepared. For this reason, even after it had committed itself to the defense of Korea, the United States Government was reluctant to throw any major portion of its strength into the peninsula.

Only gradually did American planners realize that the Soviets might attempt to achieve their ends by bits and pieces rather than in the traditional American way, with one fell swoop. Soviet strategy, like Soviet thinking, has always been devious where American has been direct.


The various intelligence agencies poured a vast amount of information into Washington; they knew the numbers of divisions, guns, tanks, and naval craft of potential enemies. But this intelligence could not be evaluated because Washington had not even one pipeline into official circles of enemy capitals; they could not even estimate what the potential aggressor was thinking or might do.

This was no change from the past. In December 1941, American Intelligence knew that strong carrier task forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy had left port. But not understanding official Japanese thinking, the fact had meant nothing to Washington.

The situation in 1950 was no change from the past, and there would be little change in the future.