NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99


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Forget-me-not 88 Book review Remembrance Vol.4 T he Korean War bore out fully the judgement of the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who wrote in 500 BC: "In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." For the United States, the Korean War was long and prolonged, and certainly of little or no benefit to its global situa- tion. Official military historian Bevin Alexander's comprehensive analysis shows the causes and effects of that enigmatic and destructive war. He shows how the United States could have avoided the confrontation with the Red Chinese if it had correctly interpreted clear signals from them. Using declassified information, he shows that the United States won one war when it stopped North Korean aggression. It lost another after it tried to destroy the North Korean state and eliminate this strategic shield in front of China's heartland. Red China attacked when the United States spurned China's warnings. The United States could have achieved an armistice with China after the communist spring offensive failed in 1951; but mutual suspicion thereafter led to two more years of dismal static warfare in the Korean mountains that claimed hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and in no way changed the outcome of the conflict. The Korean War endured for three years, 25 June 1950 to 27 July 1953, as an official, international act of violence. It ended only after one and a half million men, women and children had died and two and a half million persons had been wounded or injured. It was one of the most devastating wars in history, and its consequences of hate, distrust and division abide with us today. This book is an attempt to show that the war need not have been drawn out for so long, nor to have demanded so much in lives and treasure, nor to have left behind such hostility between nations that had much to lose and little to gain by enmity. This book is an effort to demonstrate that West- ern leaders, especially American, received ample signals that, had they responded to them, could have prevented the entry of Red China into the war and even after that, could have ended the war much sooner and at much lower cost. This book attempts to show that the United States - with the aid of South Korea and the support of United Nations members such as nations of the British Commonwealth - won one war against the North Koreans and lost another war against the Red Chinese. The causes of these two wars were essentially and totally different: The North Koreans were bent on overt aggression and were thwarted; the Red Chinese were trying to protect their homeland from the potential threat of invasion - and were successful. Finally, this book tries to show the Korean War as it actually was fought and as the tactical and strategic decisions, good and bad, were made. In this, the dedication and devotion of men on both sides to what they believed to be their nations' needs were demonstrated in such full measure as to suggest the awesome powers of human sacrifice and endeavour that leaders everywhere hold in their hands, and what immense responsi- bility for the exercise of those powers they assume. In the Korean War many men on both sides exhibited great heroism. Chinese tactics were similar to North Korean tactics. They were pursued with vigour and deter- mination. Their general method of attack was to get a force to the rear of enemy positions and to cut off escape routes and supply roads, and then to send in both frontal and flank attacks to bring the enemy to grips. They also employed a related defensive tactic (hachi shiki) in which they allowed an attacking enemy force to move forward in a V-formation whose sides they closed and then sent a force behind the mouth of the V to halt any troops coming to relieve the trapped unit. Occasionally the Chinese used mortars to inflict casualties and, by watching closely for movement in removing these casualties, to locate the front line of a UN position. After establishing what they believed to be the front, the Chinese dropped white phosphorous mortar rounds on the lines as markers, while assault troops crawled as close as possible and, in skirmish formation, rushed the front line. The Chinese doctrine was based on cutting the defending force into small fractions and attacking these fractions with local superiority in numbers. Thus the ambush was the favourite Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) method of fighting. And this ambush technique was employed whether the attack was directly to the front, by means of infiltration or movement to the flanks, or by setting up roadblocks to the rear of UN positions. Attacking forces as a rule ranged in size from a platoon to a company (50 to 200 men) and were built up continually as casualties occurred. The best defence for UN troops against the Chinese tactics was somehow to maintain their positions until daybreak. Then, with visibility restored, the Chinese attacks ceased, and the Allied superiority in weapons and dominance in the air usually could restore the situation by blasting known CCF positions. Chinese night attacks were so effective, however, that this counsel often went unheeded, and UN troops retreated from enemy troops attacking from all sides, or their positions were simply overrun or destroyed. But the Chinese had some tactical problems of their own. Perhaps the worst was the rigidity that developed from their lack of communications equipment. Since their radio nets went down only to brigades and telephones only to battalions, the CCF below battalion level generally had to rely on runners, bugles, whistles, flares or flashlights for signalling. The resulting tactical inflexibility was sometimes fatal. Commanders below the battalion level apparently had few or no options and a battalion once committed to an attack sometimes kept it up as long as the ammunition lasted, even though it might be futile and could result in tactical suicide. KOREA: THE FIRST WAR WE LOST By Bevin Alexander (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1986)

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