The Real Meaning of the Korean War

No Picnic: U.S. Troops at Chosin Reservoir in Korea

No Picnic: U.S. Troops at Chosin Reservoir in Korea

Daniel N. White

Books on war are too important to be left to generals, or for that matter to the usual war buffs.  I suspect that the entire cadre of American lefties who read seriously about war could fit handily into an SUV.  If so, Bruce Cumings might just occupy the driver’s seat.  His one-volume history of the Korean War, titled The Korean War: A History, is superb at debunking the hoary myths created by the pro-war American exceptionalist media.

Cumings is the first author ever to place the Korean War in its proper historical context.  Other books written by American authors treat the war as an event that came from nowhere in 1950 and which then ended, to these authors’ varying degrees of satisfaction, in 1953.  Everything else in Korean history is ignored.

The main reason events in Korea before June 25, 1950 and after July 27, 1953 are ignored by American historians is that much of what happened outside these dates shows the United States and its South Korean ally/puppet state in a bad light.  We split Korea in half for no good reason one day in 1945 when a hasty decision was made by a mid-level State Department bureaucrat who knew nothing about Korea.  (This was Dean Rusk, who would later gain fame for knowing nothing about Vietnam.)

Korea itself had suffered under a brutal Japanese occupation for forty years, during which the Japanese had tied Korea’s economy to Japan’s in a typical colonial/imperialist manner that benefited the Japanese and the Korean collaborator class at the expense of most Koreans.  The large Korean merchant, military, and police class that collaborated with their Japanese occupiers repressed with even greater cruelty and brutality their fellow Koreans than their Japanese masters did.

Postwar events had this collaborator class as America’s choice to run Korea after World War II, and they and we brutally suppressed any Leftist or Korean nationalist opposition to them.  A major part of Cumings’ book is pointing out that the Korean War was in large part a settling of scores caused by decades of Japanese occupation and Korean collaboration.  Yet along with that failed settling of accounts, what resulted was a greater trauma, a terribly bloody and destructive war, which created yet another deep and painful layer of conflicts that still remain unresolved.  

Kim Il Sung, a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese, justifiably saw himself as a nationalist hero who was entitled to run the country after the Japanese defeat.  He was understandably upset that the U.S. prevented him from doing so by installing a group of Japanese collaborators headed by Syngman Rhee.  Rhee and his cohorts believed they could and should invade the North, an obvious military impossibility whose worldwide political consequences they were blind and deaf to.  They engaged in numerous military provocations; indeed, the question of just who started the war in 1950 remains open to some debate.

Cumings sets the Korean War in historical context in regards to its effects on America and American history.  Liberal opinion has held that the Korean War was a limited and successful U.S. military intervention on behalf of freeing South Korea from red enslavement, while conservative opinion has held that domestic liberals kept General Douglas MacArthur from singlehandedly defeating the Red Menace in Korea.  This tiresome feud has poisoned American political discourse ever since.

Cumings points out how wrong both sides to this debate were and are.  MacArthur was responsible for the worst and most preventable defeat in the history of the U.S. Army at Chosin Reservoir.  The notion held in conservative circles that the U.S. could have defeated and ejected the North Korean Army (NKPA) and Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) from Korea is an almost unmatchable piece of military ignorance.   That this glaring military impossibility* has remained an article of faith (combined with the associated blaming of the domestic backstabbers who kept MacArthur and the U.S. military from performing this feat) to this day indicates a severe cognitive/emotive malfunction in its proponents.**

At the same time, conventional liberal opinion conveniently overlooks the fact that perhaps three-quarters of the war’s casualties took place after U.N. forces had outflanked and defeated the NKPA after the Inchon landing.  President Truman and Dean Acheson’s decision to give MacArthur free rein to go north and unify Korea, in open violation of the U.N. war mandate, precipitated Chinese intervention and a longer and much more devastating war.  Liberal opinion also hides Truman and Acheson’s responsibility for their quick, casual, and uninformed decision to intervene in Korea’s civil war in June 1950.   This decision, mostly praised as resolute in liberal circles, marked the creation of today’s imperial presidency.

For the U.S., the Korean War made permanent the Cold War American state, with a large and permanent peacetime military for the first time in U.S. history.  It froze in place the post-World War II standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, preventing any possibility of a gradual easing of tensions.   The notion of an eternal faceoff between the West and the USSR was an idea completely alien to many world leaders prior to Korea, including George Kennan, arguably the intellectual father of the Cold War.   A further result of the war was the extension of U.S. military bases abroad, an imperial presence that ever since has grown like Topsy.  Finally, the Korean War contributed to McCarthyism.  The new domestic climate of fear engendered by the war, fear largely I think of a military defeat (and the actuality of one, too—Chosin could have been far worse had the Chinese army been better generalled), made large numbers of Americans take McCarthy’s rants seriously, which prior to 1950 they simply hadn’t.

Cumings argues that the Korean War shaped American history and society more than any other 20th century war.  Seeing as the U.S. still maintains a huge national security state and apparatus, a permanent military-industrial complex, an empire of foreign bases across the world, and a Keynesian economy driven by military spending, I’d say Cumings is right.  He deserves much credit for this observation, and one must ask why no other American historian has seen this.

Cumings answers this question in part by focusing throughout the book on history and memory.  All parties to the war have selected what events they want to commemorate and what parts they want to repress.  The nature of history, the nature of human remembering and coping with hard times and painful events, makes that inevitable, perhaps even necessary.  But that doesn’t mean the historian should forget.  Cumings argues that the historian’s first duty is to provide a societal psychotherapy of sorts for explaining the how and why of what is remembered and what is repressed.  A fair lick of that is done here in this book, most commendably and credibly.

Cumings’ book is a small gem and a must read.  It should go down as one of the essential books to understand 20th century American history, but it won’t.  Too many hard questions about America and American society get raised if you look too closely at the Korean War.  To date Americans just aren’t willing to look.  Forgetting things is easier, and that’s mostly what we’ve done as a country and people.  This book will almost certainly be a casualty of that willed unconsciousness.

And that’s too bad.  America needs a complete and honest accounting of the real Korean War, which is exactly what Cumings provides.   Overall, America’s actions in Korea reflect poorly on our country, raising serious questions about our commitment to ideals of liberty, democracy, and freedom.

Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to.  He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about.  He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now.  He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb.  He can be reached at  Louis_14_le_roi_soleil@hotmail.com.

*Why was that impossible?  For starters, by December 1950 the U.S. had committed every single combat ready division to Korea, save the 82nd Airborne.  We had no more infantry reserves.  The Pentagon’s own analysis at the time showed that to defeat the Chinese Army would require a war effort comparable to World War II’s, with the same number of divisions put into the field, with no guarantee of success either. 

**The same people arguing for the possibility of military victory in Korea almost all also argue about the certainty of a successful invasion of Cuba by the Bay of Pigs Brigadistas if Kennedy hadn’t sold them out by not committing the U.S. Air Force to their rescue.  But the order of battle (OB) numbers there were:  1300 Brigadistas, 2/3rds of whom were only partly trained, versus a 60,000 man Castro regular army backed by 250,000 militiamen.   The military impossibility there is beyond obvious.   That this impossibility remains so deeply entrenched in so many conservative American’s minds requires sociological and perhaps even psychiatric investigation.  I’m not joking.

18 thoughts on “The Real Meaning of the Korean War

  1. The Korean War as it’s taught in America is a fascinating case of “conventional” one-sided history. I learned all about Mig Alley and how intrepid American pilots flying Sabre jets defeated the Migs over the Yalu River. What wasn’t mentioned was the incredibly destructive and indiscriminate bombing of North Korea, which formed a prelude to the even more destructive and indiscriminate bombing of Vietnam. Chosin Reservoir in U.S. history books is treated as a remarkable defensive stand rather than a perilous defeat. MacArthur is praised as a military genius at Inchon who got a little too full of himself, creating an opportunity for Truman to teach him and the country a valuable lesson in civilian control of the military. The war itself is ultimately treated as a victory for containment even though it ended in stalemate at tremendous cost to the Koreans and the Chinese (and a considerable cost to Americans as well).

    Korea also influenced Vietnam. In many ways, we tried to repeat the Korean experiment in Vietnam, allying ourselves with dubious leaders, using conventional big battalions and massive firepower (especially airpower) in an attempt to preserve South Vietnam and contain communist aggression from the north. This time, we failed.

    That we thought we won (sort of) in Korea emboldened us to pursue more aggressive policies in Asia regardless of history and context, thus setting the stage for massive intervention (and ultimate failure) in Vietnam ten years later.

  2. I, too, am guilty of reading more than I’m “supposed to.” I don’t think I was aware of the book discussed here, but decades ago I read those of Aussie journalist Wilfred Burchett and I.F. Stone, who debunked the official US version of events on the Korean peninsula. Korea and Vietnam share the fact that they were both artificially divided after World War II and then the “Socialist” part was accused of committing “aggression” against the part occupied by a colonial power, none other than the USA (preceded by France in the case of Vietnam, and hiding behind the UN figleaf in Korea). You should have mentioned that virtually every surface structure in “north” Korea was leveled by bombs. Could this possibly have something to do with Kim Il-Sung’s regime being a tad hostile to the US subsequently? You might also have pointed out that the US is still, technically, at war in Korea, since a ceasefire is in place but no Treaty of Peace, and thousands of US troops have been stationed in the south for 60 years now. As for Gen. MacArthur, as I have absorbed the story, he was really “fired” for pushing for a nuclear attack on the People’s Republic of China. It was “the loss of” China (i.e. the success of Mao Zedong’s revolution) that emboldened the Senator from Wisconsin, ‘Tailgunner’ Joe McCarthy, and his allies in accusing the Federal Government–even the Pentagon!–of being riddled with “Communist agents” and launching their witch hunts. One last point: the decision to divide Korea in the first place, which you attribute to “no good reason,” must be viewed from the perspective of imperialist USA sitting in dominance of the globe post-WW II. The USSR had suffered terrible losses, including occupation of chunks of its territory by German forces; and Europe was in physical and economic ruin as well. The US, in contrast, suffered no damage whatsoever on its home turf. (Hawaii, home of Pearl Harbor Navy Base, was a string of volcanic islands occupied/colonized by the US back in Mark Twain’s time, when they were known as the Sandwich Islands, and 3000 miles from continental US.) To attempt to maintain this dominance of the planet and its resources, the Dulles brothers, etc. declared that the Red Menace of Communism MUST BE CONTAINED and where possible, actually “rolled back.” This Red Menace served splendidly to justify the swollen Pentagon budget until, oops, “Communism” did a vanishing act around 1990. What to do, what to do? Is there actually to be a goddamned Peace Dividend?!? The horror! Thank goodness Radical Islam was available to play the role of the New Global Menace and the “defense” contractors have been happy as those proverbial pigs rolling in sh_t ever since.

  3. Very informative post. As an amateur historian, I must admit my limited understanding of the larger context of the Korean War aside from the direct military confrontation. Some surprising revelations here.

  4. I am not sure if it is the writer or the author referring to “liberal opinion has held that the Korean War was a limited and successful intervention…..”
    As probably the only one responding, including the writer, who was an adult at the time of the Korean war I find this statement puzzling. I had just returned in 1946 from three years in the army in WWII when I found my country rushing into another war that begged for the unintended consequences that come from warmaking.
    I was not alone.Political liberals in America were generally not supporters of that military adventure and many opposed the war. The book’s author is correct in connecting this war to the rise of the surveillance state apparatus. To speak out or question that war took courage much like the post 9/11 atmosphere that was created years later. At that time the country was still basking in the political unity fostered during WW II so ordinary liberal Democrats and Republicans didn’t get into hissy fits over the war. It was a war decided on by the political elite and I felt most Americans accepted it but did not consider it “their ” war.
    Nevertheless the oppressive ,anti Communist atmosphere, the state used to suppress opposition made it quite uncomfortable to be openly anti war. Strong opposition to Vietnam came later because the youth who were beginning to rebel against the traditional Victorian mores of our society were being asked to fight that war because of the draft.
    I was always proud of my military service during WWII in the interests of humanity at large. As I look back now I see that there were others in power who looked at our victory as a stepping stone to world dominance. Today they have succeeded in hijacking that victory over the dark forces of humanity and using the slogans of our victory for their dark purposes. “Liberals” do look for the light not the darkness and they did that during the Korean War, but iit was not easy then and it isn’t easy now. .

  5. Perhaps you could use some free association from the vantage point of someone who was there, albeit for the last year of the war, not the first, but who meets annually with men who were at KU-NU-RI.

    To understand the Korean War, you can’t just go back a hundred years ago and start with the Japanese occupation. You don’t have to go back to Cain and Abel, although that’s where it all began – just another episode in the unrelenting battle between those who have and want more, and those who haven’t and want some.

    But a good place from which to look both forward and back would be “Das Kapital”, Karl Marx philosophical challenge to Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” and his “Communist Manifesto” which programmed the rise of The Soviet Union via the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family (including Anastasia, Hollywood notwithstanding) the most cataclysmic event of the Twentieth Century.

    The rise of marriage of politics and the military-industrial Complex owned by the elite in both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the inevitable world war resulting therefrom was just a brief asymmetric interruption, a blip in humanity’s grand design. According to Winston Churchill, an advocate of beginning the third world war as soon as the second was over, Russia was always the ultimate threat, the Axis was merely the more immediate threat.

    So, on July 25, 1950, the world is divided, true believers on each side. On the one, unregenerate laissez-faire capitalism, tired of war, with no army to speak of relying entirely on Curtis LeMay’s fleet of B-52’s, perpetually circling the globe with enough nuclear bombs to shake the planet out of its orbit; and communism, backed by Joseph Stalin’s ever increasing standing army, in allegiance with Mao Zedong and his equally unrelenting hundred million combat hardened zealots, ready, willing and eager to explode into the world of western ideas. The Korean War was not the epic struggle between “liberty, democracy and freedom,” on the one hand, and “totalitarianism” on the other; it was just another episode in the eternal battle between capital and labor.

    Virtually all of the “factoids” set forth in the article as well as those in the comments section are true, but the resulting conclusions resemble Colbert’s “truthiness” rather than truth.

    Yes, Rusk turned out to be in well over his head and the Dulles brothers together were probably more dangerous than Dick Cheney.

    Yes, Korean collaborators were bad dudes; they staffed all the Japanese P.O.W. camps in the Philippines.

    Yes, Syngman Rhee, Princeton grad, may have been an elitist collaborator, but he became our elitist collaborator and we did a pretty good job of keeping him under wraps.

    Yes, Kim Il Sung may have considered himself entitled to rule the whole peninsula, but he did not make the move without the advice and consent of Joseph Stalin.

    Yes, MacArthur was a tactical magician but a lousy strategist, and megalomaniac incarnate.

    Yes, the bombing of North Korea was “incredibly destructive and indiscriminate.”

    Yes, we did try to repeat the Korean experiment in Vietnam and we failed to “contain communist aggression” (your words). The success of South Korea as an economic powerhouse held a lofty position in the curriculum at the War College in Newport back then.

    Yes, every surface structure in “north” Korea was leveled, but so was every surface structure in “south” Korea. I was in Seoul in 1952 after it had been gutted by rampaging armies of both sides four times before the war was even a year old, and there was only one rickety bridge across the Han. I have been back several times since. There are now fourteen bridges across the river.
    In Korean, the word gook essentially means nationality – hence Koreans are Hangook, Chinese Chingook, Japanese Jingook. We called them all gooks. What could be more American than to call a man a foreigner in his own country in his own language.

    Yes, communism is no longer the boogie man it once was. China and Russia, while still essentially “totalitarian” politically, have almost totally converted to capitalism economically. Occasionally wiser heads do prevail: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” “O.K. Who cares.”

    But to suggest that “the question of just who started the war in 1950 remains open to some debate” is North Korean propaganda that makes Josef Goebbels look like a Sunday school teacher. And to suggest that the decision to split Korea (as well as Vietnam) was “for no good reason,” and the decision to react to American causalities in the summer of 1950 was “quick, casual, and uninformed” is similar disinformation, i.e. propaganda.

    We all like to claim to be unbiased, but to argue, as the author, the reviewer and the responders seem to, that American “Imperialism” is the true source of all the world’s woes, and that Radical Islam, the “New Global Menace,” like communism of the past, is a figment of the imagination of the Military-Industrial Complex is not mere ignorance, but idiocy. And Syngman Rhee was on the grassy knoll.

    It is always self-satisfying to point out how both sides are wrong, but that apparently doesn’t help much in getting it right. When you have an axe to grind, you are oblivious to the common thread that runs through the hundred fifty thousand year career of homo sapiens sapiens.

    Sardonius32@gmail.com

  6. .
    I think your response was very stimulating but I felt a bit let down at the end because I was not sure what your overall point was. You left me in the dust when you started out suggesting Marx had some answers to the eternal questions (were you being sarcastic) but then you ended up sounding like Dick Cheney chasing Moslems. In my opinion there are no black or white answers to the human condition. We live in a grey world and only politicians want their followers to believe that political decisions are black or white. When the politicians tell you “we are the good guys” and”they are the bad guys” you better watch out for your own democratic rights because that is what the politicians are really after.

    You were there, we weren’t but that does not mean that your politicians revealed the truth of who struck first. We went into Vietnam because we were lied to by our government ( Tonkin Gulf) and we invaded Iraq ( WMD) also with lies, and we had a relatively open society. So what you may think was the reality of “who dunnit” on the 38th parallel may be short of the truth. I might also add that we did have a big standing army of draftees still in the early fifties and a military and industrial complex itching to use it to “defend freedom” where ever they could., It’s a profitable business.

    I did a UNIDO ( United Nations Industrial Development Organization) mission in Korea and at that time( mid 1980’s) I found the Korean people very energetic and with the same sense of purpose that I had found in our country right after I got out of the army in WWII. I was in Korea during the last gasp of the military dictatorships and found the young people I worked with well educated, open minded, and interested in a better life for the Korean people. That energy has made the Korean economy the success it is today. It is sad that they inhabit a peninsula that outside powers have manipulated for their own purposes rather than for the Korean people.

    • To b. traven

      Conceding only that you are older than I am, I am constrained to rejoin. You wonder whence I come. Everyone else in the conversation seems to be coming from the same place: All politicians are in the pockets of the Military Industrial Complex; The MIC is evil; therefore all politicians are evil. Rather Mark Twains take, “Imagine you are a congressman; now imagine that you are in idiot; but I repeat myself.”

      Dwight Eisenhower, a general and a Republican was the first to use the word “beware” in reference to the MIC. Harry Truman stood up to the Joint Chiefs and MacArthur; give me a break. And a dozen years later JFK, a WWII lieutenant (Navy), once he got the message, stood up to the Joint Chiefs, where the attitude was still “Nuke first and ask questions afterwards.” Lincoln said “The question is not ‘Is God on our side?” but rather “are we on God’s side?” Was Lincoln really just shilling for Remington and Colt, when he went to war, only ostensibly to preserve the Union?

      Bush lied about WMD’s; Johnson lied about Tonkin Gulf; Therefore Truman, a WWI captain (artillery) lied about who crossed the 38th parallel first with a full array of Russian built T-34’s. No, not “short of the truth” not by a long shot.

      In your view, Rhee’s incidental provocations justified a full blown attack by a petulant “freedom fighter” who was not a genuine threat to anybody. Just as, I would suppose, American efforts to expand “western values” eastward (albeit with tons of money and heavy hardware) justified September 11th by another “freedom fighter,” who was not a genuine threat to anybody. And refusing to continue shipping thousands of tons of scrap metal to Japan’s war machine in China justified December 7th.

      For you maybe it is “sad that they inhabit a peninsula that outside powers have manipulated for their own purposes,” but it sure ain’t “sad” for them. Unlike Vietnam, where we are now tolerated by most for our tourist dollars; unlike Iraq, where we are despised by everyone; in South Korea, we, the veterans of that war are universally embraced by all those who survived the war and most of their descendants.

      And we didn’t have “a big standing army of draftees in the early fifties.” From 1946 on, newspaper headlines screamed “congress (Republican controlled) refuses to fund standing army.” What we did have was an officer corps, depleted by the departure of most of the battle hardened, leaving largely those who simply didn’t have any better place to go, to handle a uniformed military that had shrunk from about eight million to one million, ill equipped, ill trained, and underpaid, but ready to be fed into the meat grinder. At West Point, the graduating class of 1950 suffered more casualties than any class did in WWII. On the day the armistice was signed, I still drove and gunned a M4A3E8 Sherman, left over from WWII.

      And for my two years in the Army I was paid a munificent total of $964.25, Yet I wouldn’t have missed it for all the kimchi in Seoul. I left Yale in the spring of 1952 and enlisted, not because of the rantings of a Joe McCarthy, but rather a somewhat naive belief that this war, that was almost over, was going to be the last war ever, and I might never again get a chance to test my mettle.

      You agree there is no “black and white” so why be so adamant about an indefensible position. The books have all been written; the votes are in. Nobody is ignoring the provocations of Rhee in the years up to June 1950. But Joe Stalin, on his way to world domination, started the war in the face of all our atomic bombs, knowing we wouldn’t use them.

      With the limitations of human intellect and of language, even the most ardent of truth seekers can lose his objectivity and begin to believe his own propaganda. So just evaluate all the evidence and go with the overwhelming preponderance.

      You wonder where I am coming from? Actually nowhere. That’s the point. I don’t start somewhere with an idea, and then set out to prove it. I look for connections throughout human history, and if they don’t pan out, I drop them; I don’t hang on for dear life.

      The Hegelian dialectic works for me – give it a try. Somewhere along the way, you’ll end up with John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. Or start with Stoicism vs. Epicureanism, Plato vs. Aristotle, Augustine v. Aquinas, the Benedictines vs The Dominicans. As Myron Cohen said, “Everybody’s got to be somewhere.”

      For me, I never met a heresy I didn’t like. And so it goes, and so it goes.

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  9. Note to Readers: b. traven’s reply is in bold to the original comment, which is not bolded.

    Conceding only that you are older than I am, I am constrained to rejoin. You wonder whence I come. Everyone else in the conversation seems to be coming from the same place: All politicians are in the pockets of the Military Industrial Complex; The MIC is evil; therefore all politicians are evil. Rather Mark Twains take, “Imagine you are a congressman; now imagine that you are in idiot; but I repeat myself.”

    ” No man knowingly does evil” fr. Epictitus. To understand politics, even the worst kind, one must accept that axiom. Only someone with limited brain cells like Bush would try to divide the world into “good and evil”. I am sure King George the fifth thought Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin the embodiment of evil because they opposed his god given rule.

    Dwight Eisenhower, a general and a Republican was the first to use the word “beware” in reference to the MIC. Harry Truman stood up to the Joint Chiefs and MacArthur; give me a break. And a dozen years later JFK, a WWII lieutenant (Navy), once he got the message, stood up to the Joint Chiefs,
    where the attitude was still “Nuke first and ask questions afterwards.

    JFK didn’t stand up when he pushed the go button on the ill conceived Bay of Pigs operation.

    Lincoln said “The question is not ‘Is God on our side?” but rather “are we on God’s side?” Was Lincoln really just shilling for Remington and Colt, when he went to war, only ostensibly to preserve the Union?
    Bush lied about WMD’s; Johnson lied about Tonkin Gulf; Therefore Truman, a WWI captain (artillery) lied about who crossed the 38th parallel first with a full array of Russian built T-34′s. No, not “short of the truth” not by a long shot.
    In your view, Rhee’s incidental provocations justified a full blown attack by a petulant “freedom fighter” who was not a genuine threat to anybody. Just as, I would suppose,

    How would Truman know who crossed the 38th parallel? History shows Truman to be one of our least prepared Vice Presidents, only second to Dan Quayle, to step into the President’s shoes. A Missouri corrupt Pendergast machine politician who was shoehorned into the slot to stymie the nomination of Wallace, the sitting VP.

    American efforts to expand “western values” eastward (albeit with tons of money and heavy hardware) justified September 11th by another “freedom fighter,” who was not a genuine threat to anybody. And refusing to continue shipping thousands of tons of scrap metal to Japan’s war machine in China justified December 7th.

    (Please explain this paragraph, who shipped what to whom? and when?)

    For you maybe it is “sad that they inhabit a peninsula that outside powers have manipulated for their own purposes,” but it sure ain’t “sad” for them. Unlike Vietnam, where we are now tolerated by most for our tourist dollars; unlike Iraq, where we are despised by everyone; in South Korea, we, the veterans of that war are universally embraced by all those who survived the war and most of their descendants.

    South Korea inherited thirty years of repressive military dictators, installed and maintained by 50,000 American troops following the treaty with the North. Did the end justify the means? I don’t know.

    I enjoyed and admired the Korean people when I did my UN mission there and was grateful that the South had a progressive view towards developing their economy while the North was mired in negative ideology and even greater repression of its people.I was much happier several years latter when the last military dictator was voted out.
    And we didn’t have “a big standing army of draftees in the early fifties.”

    I believe we sent about two divisions or more of American occupation troops from Japan to defend the Pusan perimeter as the North pushed south. They were drafteees.

    From 1946 on, newspaper headlines screamed “congress (Republican controlled) refuses to fund standing army.” What we did have was an officer corps, depleted by the departure of most of the battle hardened, leaving largely those who simply didn’t have any better place to go, to handle a uniformed military that had shrunk from about eight million to one million, ill equipped, ill trained, and underpaid, but ready to be fed into the meat grinder. At West Point, the graduating class of 1950 suffered more casualties than any class did in WWII. On the day the armistice was signed, I still drove and gunned a M4A3E8 Sherman, left over from WWII.

    And for my two years in the Army I was paid a munificent total of $964.25, Yet I wouldn’t have missed it for all the kimchi in Seoul. I left Yale in the spring of 1952 and enlisted, not because of the rantings of a Joe McCarthy, but rather a somewhat naive belief that this war, that was almost over, was going to be the last war ever, and I might never again get a chance to test my mettle.

    Ah, Kimchi, the Korean version of Limburger cheese. A real ‘acquired taste’ but once acquired never forgotten. Next to Kimchi in Korea comes garlic, in many potent forms. Upon my arrival in Seoul my hosts took me out to lunch and with a bottle of delicious beer the first course started with a choice of Kimchi and roasted garlic buds. both tasted great but when the garlic hit my stomach after my 15 hour flight it was like a grenade going on off in my stomach.
    You must have been very young and naive to want to “test your mettle ” in war. “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.”

    You agree there is no “black and white” so why be so adamant about an indefensible position. The books have all been written; the votes are in. Nobody is ignoring the provocations of Rhee in the years up to June 1950. But Joe Stalin, on his way to world domination,

    What a quaint thought in 2013 when the US has a stated foreign policy of world domination.

    started the war in the face of all our atomic bombs, knowing we wouldn’t use them.
    With the limitations of human intellect and of language, even the most ardent of truth seekers can lose his objectivity and begin to believe his own propaganda. So just evaluate all the evidence and go with the overwhelming preponderance.
    You wonder where I am coming from? Actually nowhere. That’s the point. I don’t start somewhere with an idea, and then set out to prove it. I look for connections throughout human history, and if they don’t pan out, I drop them; I don’t hang on for dear life.
    The Hegelian dialectic works for me – give it a try. Somewhere along the way, you’ll end up with John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. Or start with Stoicism vs. Epicureanism, Plato vs. Aristotle, Augustine v. Aquinas, the Benedictines vs The Dominicans. As Myron Cohen said, “Everybody’s got to be somewhere.”
    For me, I never met a heresy

    I can agree with that, and I guess that is the reason we are doing this on the blog that encourages ” the contrary perspective'”. I believe it was Jefferson who said that Democracy survives on the skepticism of its citizens.Keep it up.

    I didn’t like. And so it goes …

  10. I am pleased to see that hyperbole is alive and well on the Internet. Only someone with truly limited brain cells embraces axioms. Epictitus had his head where the sun don’t shine on that one. Better Zoroaster. He posited two equal gods – one good, one evil. That explained all human experience. And everybody, before and since has been dividing the world into good and evil, not just Bush with his limited perspective. Oh, there’s evil incarnate out there. In our lifetime it was not just Hitler and Stalin, but Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Milosevic, and the beat goes on. Now it’s militant Islam, even if Cheney, with his pointy bald head thinks so too. The world would do well to take Islam’s ambitions seriously. (and by the way it was George III)

    My words “once he got the message” refers to JFK’s no longer trusting his illadvised advisors who promoted the Bay of Pigs.

    Your unseemly ad hominem rant directed against Harry Truman is not worthy of a response, but I will comment anyway. He was not well briefed, but that was not his fault. And yes, he was chosen to be V.P. to put an end to the political career of Henry Wallace, who, because of his endearing and enduring admiration for the Soviet Union, was deemed, in 1944, by FDR, to be a liability for the Democratic ticket, and for the nation. What has this to do with Korea or dropping the atom bomb for that matter?

    Without intending to digress further (but being regretfully compelled to do so) history is no more, no less, than one empire builder after another: Ramses, Xerxes, Alexander, Caesar, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon, Tojo, Hitler, Stalin, and that’s just the northern hemisphere. And don’t forget the grandest empire of all. I can still see all that pink in my 1945 Atlas. They were all thieves and plunderers, who invaded and conquered other nations and exploited human and natural resources for their own ends. Imposing religious beliefs on the infidels was usually just a convenient subterfuge. The Crusades were basically a turf war between the Franks and the Turks. The Pope got conned while Persia, the largest Muslim nation at the time had no dog in the fight.

    Do you notice how the US does not fit into this mold? When commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo bay July 8, 1853 and gave the Shogun a Hobson’s choice (q.v.), he wasn’t interested in conquest, he was looking for markets, and that’s what we’ve been about ever since. You sound like the guy who told Calvin Coolidge “America should mind its own business.” Coolidge famously replied: “The business of America IS business.”
    Japan was then a small island with an agrarian economy, a medieval serfdom, governed largely by Samurai, armed only with swords, entering the nineteenth century fifty years too late. Fifty years later they humiliate the Russian navy and fifty years after that they bomb Pearl Harbor. Along the way, they crush Manchuria and work their way down the China coast. A sizeable amount of steel for their tanks and artillery, not to mention aircraft and carriers, came from American scrap metal. After all, business is business. That is until FDR embargoed further shipments in order to slow down Japan’s conquest of all Asia and the western Pacific. Was Tojo’s rape and rampage just like Stalin’s quest for world domination, another “quaint thought?” Never mind Korea, what about Hungary and Czechoslovakia a few years later?

    Why do you dislike America so much? The French hate us. They can’t abide knowing that we saved them from their own ineptness in two world wars. The British tolerate us as thankless bumpkins, grown too big for our britches: 1776 – they still don’t get it. The attitude of Germany on the other hand is generally one of respect. They remember the unconscionable reparations of Versailles, where Wilson was ignored as an interloper; and 1945, where instead of even more severe reparations, urged by France, they got the Marshall Plan. They know it was not Christian charity; they know it was all about markets, And Japan, their fatalist culture allowed them simply to accept the fact that their god on his white horse didn’t have the sway to match the swagger, and move on. They lined the road ten deep and bowed every morning at 6 A.M. when their new god would travel the two miles from his residence to FECOM headquarters.

    The rest of the world pretty much just fears us – and for good reason. Every culture disrespects every other culture and we’re no different. We think young girls everywhere should have an opportunity to get an education. And yes, we think that getting an education, even for boys, consists of something more than learning to recite the Koran (to show my open-mindedness, and non-partiality, I will concede that a hundred years ago, the principal claim to fame of the Democratic nominee for president, was that he could recite all the begats in Genesis without missing a beat)

    But it’s more than that. All we want is what we wanted in 1853: to open up the world to our way of thinking so we can all make a lot of money. Is that all bad? Look, we only waterboard, they behead; we only use drones, they use sarin. When will it end? Maybe not until Armageddon when it will all be decided on horseback with 2000 year old weapons. Maybe not until the sun burns out in umpteen gazillion years. But I think it will end when everybody remembers what Cus D’Amato said: “Whenever they say ‘it’s not about the money,’ it’s about the money.”

    At my age, life is just killing time between funerals until your number comes up, but there must be a better way to do it than this. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    Over and out

    Sardonius32

    • I’d like to make two comments. To criticize America is not to dislike it. We must beware of the “America, love it or leave it” mentality. To love America is also to criticize it (when appropriate), and to organize to change it, to make it “a more perfect union.” The true patriot is willing to tolerate dissent, because dissent is always necessary as a check on the greedy and power-hungry.

      Also, as a historian, I’d like to suggest that history is not one damned empire after another. History is not just a record of the strong doing what they will and the weak suffering as they must. History is many things; it’s the record of the human experience, which includes tyranny as well as the overthrow of tyrants; the suppression of liberty as well as the empowerment of individuals.

      We suffer as a people when we see criticism as unpatriotic and when we see history as just one empire after another. We need not limit our horizons, especially since there are so many powerful forces at work trying to do precisely that.

      “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” No — We must pay attention to that man, and force him to fess up, or we’ll continue to be screwed, inhabiting a fantasyland that is really a playground for the privileged.

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