On Point: Sixty Years of War in Korea: "This Kind of War"

by Austin Bay
September 1, 2010

North Korea's sneak attack at sea this past March, whichsank the South Korean corvette Cheonan, provided a murderous reminder that theKorean War is not over.

This continuing tragedy serves as a lesson in the difficultyof change, the limits of hope and the necessity of vigilance.

June 25 marked the 60th anniversary of North Korea'spremeditated attack on South Korea. The attack, which scattered South Korea'sweak and disorganized defense forces, began a vicious two and a half months ofcombat. The North Koreans would smash the ill-starred U.S. 24th Division's TaskForce Smith, then shove remnant South Korean troops and U.S. reinforcementsinto the Pusan Perimeter, at the southern tip of the peninsula.

In the weeks since June 25, I've re-read T.R. Fehrenbach's"This Kind of War," still the premier Korean War history. (ClayBlair's "The Forgotten War" is also an excellent book.) Published in1963 and reissued in 2000, "This Kind of War" is lyric history,delivering analysis in elegant, honest prose. Fehrenbach is also a decoratedKorean War veteran, a man in touch with the emotions as well as the facts.

"This kind of war," Fehrenbach writes, "isdirty business first to last." Fehrenbach's commentary on those firstbattles of July and August 1950 depicts the confusion of initial defeat andretreat, as well as the courage and intellect required to stem the onslaught.His chapter on the Inchon landing of September 1950 -- the American amphibiouscounter-stroke -- is incisive. Its 60th anniversary is two weeks away.

Analogs to current events, beyond Korea, are striking.Fehrenbach points out on page 3 that the North Koreans tipped their hand onJune 8, 1950, when newspapers in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, printed aCommunist Central Committee manifesto announcing elections "were to beheld throughout North and South Korea, and the parliament so elected (was) tosit in Seoul no later than 15 August." The manifesto completely ignoredthe fact South Korea existed as a separate political entity backed by theUnited Nations.

"The manifesto," Fehrenbach writes, "madeinteresting reading. It was a storm signal. It seems a pity no one in the Westbothered to read it. But then, if it had been read, it would have been ignored.Storm signals had been flying for more than four years. But the West did notprepare. It did not make ready because its peoples, in their heart of hearts,did not want to be prepared."

The Iran's radical regime continually issues threats. Onewonders if Iran is in the process of convincing itself it can get away with anattack on Israel or Iraq.

Reading ahead to March 1951, President Harry Truman's reliefof Douglas MacArthur as Korean commander connects -- in a roundabout fashion --to President Barack Obama's relief of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. After the Trumanadministration said it would settle for the status quo ante, MacArthurthreatened to take the war into China's "coastal areas and interiorbases."

Fehrenbach's analysis of MacArthur remains trenchant:"MacArthur was no Ceasar. ... He was a servant of the Republic who felt sostrongly that the course of the administration, eschewing triumph over theaggressor, was immoral that he had to put himself into public opposition. Hewas trying to influence policy. Under the Constitution of the United States, nosoldier has that privilege." 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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