Korea, The Coldest War
Category: News & PoliticsBy: john-russell • 2 weeks ago • 13 comments
The Korean War has gone largely unrecognized by average Americans over the decades, coming so soon after the ultimate horror of World War Two.
A soldier who was 20 years old when the war started in 1950 is 90 today.
On this Veteran's Day, here is the introduction to the book "The Coldest War" by James Brady.
The Korean War, which President Truman called a police action and Averell Harriman “a sour little war,” and which today is largely forgotten, began forty years ago, on the morning of Sunday, June 25, 1950, when 90,000 North Korean troops pushed across the 38th Parallel and came south. Before it ended thirty-seven months later it killed more than 54,000 Americans. In the three years of Korea nearly as many of us died as in the decade of Vietnam. No one will ever know how many Koreans and Chinese we killed. Korea gave us a brief shelf of history books, no great war novel or film, not a single memorable song, a wonderful combat journal by Martin Russ called “The Last Parallel.” And it gave us “M*A*S*H.”
Because it began along an artificial frontier dividing a single nation effectively into Soviet and American zones, a deal cut in part to lure the Russians into attacking the Japanese in 1945, Korea might be thought of as the last campaign of World War II; because of the vague way it ended in 1953, as the opening battle for Vietnam. Korea was a strange war in a strange land, a war the generals warned we should never fight, a ground war on the Asian mainland against the Chinese. It anointed few heroes, ended MacArthur’s career, helped elect Ike. Korea didn’t arouse America as the Second World War did, nor did it, as Vietnam would, scar a generation. There are men today lying in VA hospitals who were broken by Korea, but those of us who came home intact pretty much picked up our lives and went back to school or out to look for a job. They didn’t stage any parades, but then neither did people spit at us in the streets. In some ways, it wasn’t a modern war at all, more like Flanders or the Somme or even the Wilderness cam- paign. There were jets and tanks and warships but you didn’t see them very often. Korea was fought mostly by infantrymen with M-l rifles and machine guns and hand grenades and mortars. There was artillery, of course, quite good on both sides. And barbed wire, lots of that, and mines, always the mines. We lived under the ground, in sandbagged bunkers, and stood watch in trenches.
Men who fought in France in 1917 would have understood Korea; Lee’s and Grant’s men would have recognized it. The war in that first year was a dashing affair, at least until the snow came, a war of movement, tanks and planes, up and down the peninsula, with Seoul fought over and changing hands four times. The armies marched up the land and marched back down again. There was much fervor and martial oratory. MacArthur thought the “boys” might be home for Christmas. When the marines were surrounded up near Manchuria at the “frozen Chosin,” General Smith said, “Retreat, hell”; they were advancing in another direction. Col. “Chesty” Puller remarked of the encircling Chinese, “Good, now they can’t get away.” By November of 1951 there was no more oratory. The line had stabilized, partly from exhaustion and cold, partly because the truce talks occasionally flickered into promise. The Chinese, a million of them, and what was left of the North Koreans dug in. And we dug in, six American divisions and our UN allies. Two armies stood and faced each other in the hills with another damned winter coming out of Siberia. That was when I got there, Thanksgiving weekend, 1951. Most of us hated the war or feared it; a few loved it. No one was neutral on the war. Sergeant Wooten, who had fought in the Pacific, said people shouldn’t knock Korea: “It ain’t much but it’s the only war we got.”