The flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

U.S. Marine Corps’ new anti-tank rocket is its old anti-tank rocket, the M72 Light Assault Weapon (LAW), upgraded to destroy buildings and bunkers:

Equally significant, the M72 Fire From Enclosure (FFE) is designed to be fired from inside buildings, without the flash revealing Marine positions. [...] “When firing at night, the flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol. The ability to fire from an enclosed position combined with reduced noise and flash allows Marines to maintain a covered and concealed position, reducing the enemies’ ability to identify the point of origin.”

The M72 FFE will come in two versions. The M72A8 anti-armor round will feature improved armor penetration. The M72A10 multi-purpose round is designed to destroy buildings and bunkers.

“The M72A10 incorporates an advanced warhead design with a multipurpose explosive and a self-discriminating fuse that operates in either fast- or delay-mode based on target construction,” said Richard Dooley, a Marine Corps project officer. “These advancements enable Marines to engage various targets, such as structures, bunkers and enemy personnel.”

The logistic tail continued to wag the fighting dog

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Throughout the war in Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the logistic tail continued to wag the fighting dog:

While certain commanders complained and warned, none ever took any effective steps to amend the front-to-rear ratio, which of course could not be done without drastically altering the logistical practices and standard of living of the United States Army. In fact, as the war progressed, the amount of supplies required to support the American troops increased. PX goods were assigned to every company, creating both a transport problem and a headache for some company officer who had better things to worry about.

Throughout the war, because of the continuing lack of motivation of U.S. personnel, every effort was made to raise morale by the supply of goods and luxuries to the troops. Unit PX’s carried tons of soft drinks and candy bars from battle to battle; they sold watches, cameras, and radios at tax-free prices, though the demand for these always exceeded the supply.

Actually, it was impossible to support overseas combat troops at anything like a decent American standard of living. The very nature and necessities of war forbade it. But every effort was made. Discussing the dozens of ships carrying fresh meats, poultry, and other goods from the States to Korea, one FECOM commander later wrote, “We can never again afford to support troops in battle with such logistic luxury.” But this commander took no steps to halt the trend.

The North Korean High Command concealed word of the landing from their men

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

FECOM hoped that the enemy would be demoralized by the news of the Inchon landing, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), but evidence indicates that the North Korean High Command concealed word of the landing from their men fighting on the Naktong:

The NKPA was in far worse condition than American Intelligence dared guess. Enemy losses in early September had been enormous; they will never be known with complete accuracy. Some idea of what was left to the People’s Army in middle September can be gleaned from a captured daily battle report that showed one battalion of the 7th Division at the following strength: 6 officers, 34 N.C.O.’s, 111 privates, armed with 3 pistols, 9 carbines, 57 rifles, and 13 automatic rifles. There were 92 grenades left to the battalion, and 6 light machine guns, with less than 300 rounds of ammunition for each.

All in all, the People’s Army could not have numbered more than 70,000 officers and men by 15 September, of which less than 30 percent were the original veterans of Manchuria and Seoul. Morale among the new inductees was low — only the fact that anyone who showed open reluctance to fight was shot held the army together at all. Almost all divisions were suffering badly from hunger. But the fact that the men of the Inmun Gun knew that their own fanatic officers and N.C.O.’s would shoot them kept the South Korean conscripts from surrendering.

The Navy and Marine Corps had never fully accepted the plan

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

In the summer of 1950, General MacArthur began to think in terms of strategic goals and sweeping maneuver, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), rather than grinding infantry warfare across the face of Korea:

Admiral Doyle, who would command the naval forces, told MacArthur, “The operation is not impossible, but I do not recommend it.”

[...]

There were better landing sites in other areas, true, but none that could so quickly pinch the vital nerves of the enemy. MacArthur was willing to take risks, provided the campaign could be brought to a rapid close.

[...]

Whatever the early American participation in the Korean conflict had been, amphibious assault by X Corps was no small operation. It involved more ships and men than most of the island operations of the Pacific War, and it could be accomplished only because of the skills and knowledge acquired by the Navy and Marine Corps during that war.

The Navy and Marine Corps had never fully accepted the plan; yet they carried it out to perfection.

[...]

It had been decided to land a battalion of Marines on Wolmi-do early in the morning; they would secure the island and hold it while the falling tide forced the fleet to retire. Then, in late afternoon, the fleet would surge back into the harbor, throw its landing craft against the sixteen-foot seawalls surrounding the city of a quarter-million people. The amphibious assault could not begin until past 5:00 P.M., when the tide was high enough to float landing craft over the slimy mudbanks of the harbor, and this left the attacking Marines only two hours’ daylight to land and secure their beachhead.

[...]

It took Taplett’s men exactly one hour and twenty-five minutes to overrun and secure the rocky, caverned, 1,000-yard wide island.

The 5th Marine veterans killed or captured some 400 North Koreans of the 226th Independent Marine Regiment on Wolmi-do. They suffered total losses of 17 wounded.

[...]

At 1733 the first landing craft of the 5th Marines grated against the seawall just north of Wolmi-do, near the center of Inch’on. Marines piled over the wall on scaling ladders or poured through holes blown in the barrier by naval gunfire. Within minutes they were in Inch’on’s streets. After a brief, vicious fire fight along the wall, the enemy broke. Twenty minutes after touching shore, a Marine flare ascended into the sky, signaling the capture of Cemetery Hill, an initial objective.

[...]

There had been only 2,000 North Korean troops in the Inch’on area. By 0130 on 16 September, the Marines had completely ringed the city and taken each of their initial objectives. They had lost only 20 killed, 174 wounded, and 1 missing.

[...]

Unfortunately, many of these casualties had been inflicted by trigger-happy naval gunners aboard LST’s, who had fired into the 2/5 Marines.

[...]

While fighting still raged from barricade to barricade, and from street to street inside the Korean capital, MacArthur issued U.N. Command Communiqué Number 9 on 26 September. MacArthur stated that Seoul was recaptured.

[...]

However, for two more days inside the city, from Seoul Middle School to the Kwang Who Moon Circle, from the Circle to the Court of Lions in front of Government House, the Marines had their hands full mopping up. Official communiqués studiously ignored this action.

[...]

MacArthur spoke, briefly for him, but in his usual sonorous and dramatic style:

“Mr. President: By the grace of a merciful Providence our forces fighting under the standard of that greatest hope and inspiration of mankind, United Nations, have liberated this ancient capital city of Korea….”

[...]

Little, stooped, wrinkled Syngman Rhee rose to speak. The man who had spent the greater part of his life in exile, now aging badly but still active and courageous, for a few seconds could not speak for emotion. He held out his hands in front of him, clenching and unclenching his fingers, and blew on their tips. Only those who knew Syngman Rhee well understood why his hands worked when he was under emotional strain — over fifty years before, Japanese officers had tortured him by lighting oil paper pushed up under his fingernails, and had finished by smashing his fingertips one by one.

[...]

Before abandoning the ROK capital, however, the NKPA and Communist officialdom had wreaked a frightful revenge on the helpless bodies of the old men, women, and children of the families of South Korean policemen, government employees, and soldiers. Thousands had been shot or otherwise executed. And from this time forward, learning what had been done in their captured cities and towns, the ROK Army and Government showed no mercy to any Communist, whether NKPA, guerrilla, or sympathizer. To a certain extent, Communist frightfulness was repaid in kind.

ROK officials were adamant in their determination never again to allow a Communist-sympathizing underground to exist in South Korea.

Sustained land warfare is extremely costly in blood

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

As Americans discovered during 1861–1865, sustained land warfare is extremely costly in blood, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and there has been a pronounced American distaste for such since:

It is probably no accident that no great American tacticians have evolved since the War Between the States, while at the same time American strategical thinking has been superb. Having been once in the forest, United States military men tended to see it rather clearly — they had trouble with the trees, but rarely got lost in them.

During 1941–1945, on the whole, German tactical execution of battle was superior to American; German officers and N.C.O.’s on unit level exhibited particular excellence in fighting. But throughout the war, American strategical planning remained first rate. While the Wehrmacht, under Hitler, floundered about from one crisis to another, American strategists never lost sight of their ultimate goal of destruction of the enemy.

Because Germans considered battle itself important, their technique was bound to be good, but they became lost in the trees, winning battles, losing the war. After the fall of France, Germany’s rulers never gave the Wehrmacht a clear, concise, strategical goal, because German planning never went beyond winning the West.

In the East, German planners again and again wasted their substance on transitory gains, while the Red Army never lost sight of its ultimate aim, which was to win the war politically as well as militarily. Significantly, while in 1942 Hitler struck deep in the Caucasus for oil, Russian military men always planned offensives for political effect, and for the control of populations. And while the Wehrmacht won many a tactical victory on the 1,800-mile Russian front, by 1942 it had no hope of controlling the Russian people, or of ultimate triumph.

Since the end of the Civil War, the United States has never been a massive land power. The ninety-two divisions raised in World War II never came close to matching either the almost four hundred of the Wehrmacht or the truly enormous field forces of the Soviets. But because the United States had Allies, such as Russians and Chinese, to keep the enemy heavily engaged on the ground, it was able to keep its commitment on land to a minimum.

If war is to have any meaning at all, its purpose must be to establish control over peoples and territories, and ultimately, this can be done only as Alexander the Great did it, on the ground. But because after the Civil War America’s Allies again and again took the terrible losses required to bleed the enemy, Americans gradually developed a belief in cheap victory.

In World War I, after Britain had suffered over 900,000 dead, and France more than 1,000,000, the United States threw her forces into the fray, to tip the scales at a loss of 50,000 killed in action.

In World War II, Russia lost more than 20,000,000 both military and civilian. Even agonized, stumbling France, in six weeks of 1940, lost more combat dead upon the field of battle — almost 500,000 — than did America during the entire war.

Without this sacrifice of our Allies all over the world, World War II could not have ended as it did, with the United States relatively unscathed.

More Americans died in thirty minutes at Antietam than died in thirty days of the Normandy beachhead.

But by concentrating to a large degree on sea and air power, the United States was able to add the strategic punch that knocked the Axis out of the war. Japan, particularly, as an island empire was peculiarly vulnerable to air and sea attack. And the main body of the Imperial Japanese Army, on guard against the Soviets in Manchuria, was never engaged by the United States.

It must never be forgotten that without the enormous holding power of American Allies, American industrial capacity of itself would not have been a determining factor. Even in 1944–1945, when the United States Army engaged an already strategically defeated Wehrmacht upon the ground of Europe, the effort strained the relatively small land combat power of America to the limit.

The Americans were just beginning to fight

Sunday, September 13th, 2020

By mid-September the NKPA had over run all South Korea except one tiny toehold in the southeast corner, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), but this toehold had given it unexpected trouble:

Its timetable calling for the Communization of all Korea by 15 August had been wrecked. Worse, the Inmun Gun, the People’s Army, had left the bones of its best men scattered along the Naktong River, and the survivors were rapidly bleeding themselves to death against American guns on the broiling hills and in the fetid valleys.

The People’s Army had almost shot its bolt. Less than 30 percent of the old China veterans remained, and these were dirty, tired, hungry, and in rags. Now only frequent summary executions and the threat of death could hold the newly drafted trainees in line.

[...]

The Inmun Gun had made its supreme effort, and failed — and the Americans were just beginning to fight.

He had never seen any troops so inept at first as Americans in battle

Friday, September 11th, 2020

Captain Walker had forty men left in Love Company, and about the same in Item, and no officers, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), when he reported Hill 314 secured:

In the first two hours of combat, 3/7 had taken 229 battle casualties.

On the hill Love and Item found more than 200 enemy dead, wearing American uniforms, boots, and helmets, holding American M-1s and carbines. They also found the bodies of four American GI’s, hands bound, shot, and bayoneted. And they found one officer, tied hand and foot, lying charred and blackened beside an empty five-gallon gasoline tin. He had been burned alive by the retreating enemy.

There was no place left to go, and all across the thin Perimeter Line American soldiers were stiffening. Hatred for the enemy was beginning to sear them, burning through their earlier indifference to the war. And everywhere, the first disastrous shock of combat was wearing off. Beaten down and bloody from the hard lessons of war, troops were beginning to listen to their officers, heed what their older sergeants told them.

A man who has seen and smelled his first corpse on the battlefield soon loses his preconceived notions of what the soldier’s trade is all about. He learns how it is in combat, and how it must always be. He becomes a soldier, or he dies.

The men of the 1st Cavalry, the 2nd, 24th, and 25th divisions in Korea were becoming soldiers. For underneath the misconceptions of their society, the softness and mawkishness, the human material was hard and good.

There had been many brave men in the ranks, but they were learning that bravery of itself has little to do with success in battle. On line, most normal men are afraid, have been afraid, or will be afraid. Only when disciplined to obey orders quickly and willingly, can such fear be controlled. Only when superbly trained and conditioned against the shattering experience of war, only knowing almost from rote what to do, can men carry out their tasks come what may. And knowing they are disciplined, trained, and conditioned brings pride to men — pride in their own toughness, their own ability; and this pride will hold them true when all else fails.

[...]

Erwin Rommel had written that he had never seen any troops so inept at first as Americans in battle — or any who learned the hard lessons more quickly once the chips were down.

They could not exploit their local successes

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

When the North Korean People’s Army made a dramatic breakthrough early in the war, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), it revealed what was to be a continuing weakness of the Communist armies in Asia:

They could break through the U.N. lines, but they could not exploit their local successes. With poor communications and even poorer systems of supply, dependent solely upon manpower to move their resupply, the enemy could not move quickly enough to exploit, particularly in the teeth of superior airpower, armor, and artillery. To put it simply, faced with breakthrough, the U.N. forces could retreat, and counterattack faster than the Inmun Gun could press their advantage. Whenever the heavier-armed United States Army could form continuous battle lines and withhold a reserve, the Communist tactics were doomed to failure.

If the NKPA had had a mechanized force capable of moving on Miryang, and an air force able to keep the Fifth Air Force off their backs, their tough and aggressive infantry might easily have split the beachhead and precipitated a U.N. disaster.

The larger strategic goal was to puncture the myth of communist inevitability

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

I don’t know how I missed this story by Steve Sailer about sci-fi author and polymath Jerry Pournelle:

Back in the mid-1960s, Jerry, his mentor Stefan Possony, and Leka, Pretender to the Throne of Albanian — who, by the way, is seven feet tall — started to organize an invasion of Albania by patriotic exiles to overthrow communist dictator Enver Hoxha.

The larger strategic goal was to puncture the myth of communist inevitability by rolling back one country. Hoxha had alienated the Soviets by denouncing Khrushchev’s 1956 policy of de-Stalinization. And he had earlier broken with Tito’s Yugoslavia, making his nearest ally Red China. So, invading Albania wasn’t likely to start WWIII.

King Constantine II, last King of the Hellenes, lent them his summer palace in Corfu, from which the hills of Albania are visible, as their headquarters.

Their sponsors in the U.S. government didn’t want to be seen providing the crucial air cover needed to allow the invaders to cross the channel from Corfu. And without air cover, it would just be another Bay of Pigs.

So Jerry and Co. persuaded King Hussein of Jordan, who owed a lot of favors to the U.S. and was amenable to liberating his fellow Muslims in Albania from the godless Communist tyranny, to promise his British-built air force would wipe out the 11-airplane Albanian air force on the ground in a surprise attack. Jerry thus spent a lot of time in Jordan training their pilots on how to pull off a sneak attack.

Back in Corfu on June 5, 1967, Jerry was called to the radio to hear the news: the Israelis had pulled off their own sneak attack, wiping out the Egyptian air force, and in the subsequent fighting later that day destroyed most of the Jordanian air force.

So, the liberation of Albania had to be called off.

Decades later, Jerry met the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who had been Chief of Operations in the Six Day War. Jerry explained how Weizman had wrecked his invasion of Albania. Weizman exclaimed to the effect that: You were that foreigner who was training the Jordanians how to pull off a sneak attack? We thought you were a Russian training the Jordanians to attack us!

Ben Espen mentioned the story in his review of Pournelle’s first novel, Red Heroin, a thriller written under the pen name Wade Curtis.

Saving lives obviously had preference

Monday, September 7th, 2020

The American way of street and town fighting, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), did not resemble that of other armies:

To Americans, flesh and blood and lives have always been more precious than sticks and stones, however assembled. An American commander, faced with taking the Louvre from a defending enemy, unquestionably would blow it apart or burn it down without hesitation if such would save the life of one of his men. And he would be acting in complete accord with American ideals and ethics in doing so. Already, in the Korean War, American units were proceeding to destroy utterly enemy-held towns and villages rather than engage in the costly business of reducing them block by block with men and bayonets, as did European armies. If bombing and artillery would save lives, even though they destroyed sites of beauty and history, saving lives obviously had preference. And already foreign observers with the United States Army — not ROK’s — were beginning to criticize such tactics.

Observers from France and Britain, realizing that war was also highly possible in their own part of the world, were disturbed at the thought of a ground defense of their homelands. For the United States Army, according to its history and doctrine, would choose the lives of its men over the continued existence of storied cathedrals. These observers wrote news releases — and soon Frank Muñoz could get no artillery on the enemy assembling in plain sight in the villages below him. When he asked Battalion to fire on the village, and burn it down, Battalion replied it could not. Fortunately, such orders in Korea were soon changed.

I saw an opportunity and I took it

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

Officer Ellifritz got a call about a stolen bicycle:

While I was speaking with my prisoner during the arrest process, I recognized that most of you will never be in such a position to talk candidly with a thief (who also had past arrests for felonious assault, kidnapping, rape, and a host of other crimes). Since I get this “honor” quite regularly, I’m happy to share the what I learn with you all.

Our thief today is homeless. He’s 32 years old and overweight. He’s a regular consumer of crack cocaine. He has no job and no place to live. He sometimes stays at friends’ apartments, but his permanent address is a local homeless shelter. The sum total of his possessions consisted of a change of clothes, a broken phone, and less than $4 cash.

When I asked the man why he stole the bike, his comment was enlightening:

“I took it because I have the chance to stay at my friend’s place tonight instead of the shelter. My friend lives in (the next town over) and it would be about a four hour walk to get there. It rained all day yesterday and it looks like it’s going to rain some more today. I just didn’t want to spend four hours walking in the fucking rain and getting soaking wet again. I figured a bike would be faster.”

He continued by saying: “I knew it was wrong to steal the bike, but I just don’t care. I didn’t want to get wet no more. I saw an opportunity and I took it. I’d do the same thing all over again if I got the chance. Biking is just faster than walking.”

The guy wasn’t rude or trying to play the role of a badass. He was just describing the daily realities for someone who lives in a world very different from the one in which you and I reside.

He wasn’t mentally ill. He knew right from wrong. But he had absolutely no remorse about taking a bike from some girl who probably needs it as just badly as he did. The thought of what the victim would experience didn’t even register in his mind. He “saw an opportunity” and took it. He took a college girl’s only means of transportation, because he didn’t want to be inconvenienced by a long walk.

This is what most folks don’t understand about serious criminals. The fact that the victim of the crime would be affected in a negative manner is not even an afterthought. Your feelings and concerns mean absolutely NOTHING to the criminal. He doesn’t care if you live or die, let alone how “inconvenienced” you will be if he takes all of your stuff or beats you within an inch of your life. If you literally had ZERO concern about the well being of your neighbors and fellow humans, what kind of atrocities would you be capable of committing? That’s something that few people consider.

They now had to play the game the way most American soldiers had learned it

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

During the early days of the war, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the North Korean People’s Army never varied its tactics:

It never had any need to do so. Its general maneuver was to press the ROK or American forces closely, engage with them by means of a frontal holding attack, while at the same time turning the enemy flank and infiltrating troops to the enemy rear. Against both ROK’s and United States troops, who were never able to establish a firm battle line, this tactic was ruinous.

But during August 1950, the NKPA tried the same tactics against the Pusan Perimeter, and failed. The U.N. flanks now rested firmly against the Sea of Japan, and the U.N. line, while thin, had no significant gaps.

[...]

In short, they now had to play the game the way most American soldiers had learned it. And frontal assault against American troops, from Breed’s Hill to New Orleans to the Pacific Islands of World War II, has always proved both bitter and bloody.

In pushing the Americans into a corner, the NKPA probably made its greatest tactical error, for, more lightly armed than the Americans, it had poor odds of smashing the American forces with direct hammer blows.

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.

Men accustomed to torture and summary execution could not be expected to behave with nicety

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

Counterattacking on Hill 303 near Waegwan, the 5th Cavalry Regiment came across a group of American soldiers, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), twenty-six mortarmen of the Heavy Weapons Company, who had been captured earlier by the NKPA:

These men lay packed shoulder to shoulder, their feet, bare and covered by dried blood, thrust out stiffly. They had been shot in the back by Russian-made submachine guns. Each man’s hands were bound tightly behind his back with cord or telephone wire.

And along the Perimeter front, as the battle increased in intensity and bitterness, worse atrocities were discovered. American soldiers were found who had been burned and castrated before they were shot; others had their tongues torn out. Some were bound with barbed wire, even around the head and mouth.

[...]

Men accustomed to torture and summary execution all their lives, both from Japanese and Communist rulers, could not be expected to behave with nicety toward foreign captives. Nor did they.

Most of the Marine troop leaders knew what war was like

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

When the Korean War broke out, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), somewhat less than 10 percent of the small United States Marine Corps had seen combat:

But fortunately for the Corps, the percentage was highly concentrated within officer and key NCO grades; most of the Marine troop leaders knew what war was like.

And the Marines, who had always been largely a volunteer organization, had escaped the damaging reforms instituted within the United States Army at the end of World War II. The public clamor rose against the Army, during the war twenty times the small, parochial Corps’ size, and ignored the Marines.

In 1950 a Marine Corps officer was still an officer, and a sergeant behaved the way good sergeants had behaved since the time of Caesar, expecting no nonsense, allowing none. And Marine leaders had never lost sight of their primary — their only — mission, which was to fight.

The Marine Corps was not made pleasant for men who served in it. It remained the same hard, dirty, brutal way of life it had always been.

The Marines may take little credit, either for courage or foresight, in remaining the way they were. The public pressure simply never developed against them in the years after the war, pushing their commanders into acquiescence with the ideals of society. Not long after the end of the Korean conflict, after an unfortunate incident one night at a place called Ribbon Creek, the commandant of the Corps showed no more ability to stand up for his rights in front of a congressional committee than had the generals of the Army.

It is admittedly terrible to force men to suffer during training, or even sometimes, through accident, to kill them. But there is no other way to prepare them for the immensely greater horror of combat.

In 1950 the Marines, both active and reserve, were better prepared to die on the field of battle than the Army.

[...]

Except in holy wars, or in defense of their native soil, men fight well only because of pride and training—pride in themselves and their service, enough training to absorb the rough blows of war and to know what to do. Few men, of any breed, really prefer to kill or be killed. These Marines had pride in their service, which had been carefully instilled in them, and they had pride in themselves, because each man had made the grade in a hard occupation. They would not lightly let their comrades down. And they had discipline, which in essence is the ability not to question orders but to carry them out as intelligently as possible.

Marine human material was not one whit better than that of the human society from which it came. But it had been hammered into form in a different forge, hardened with a different fire. The Marines were the closest thing to legions the nation had. They would follow their colors from the shores of home to the seacoast of Bohemia, and fight well either place.