Epilogue: Korea and the American Way of War

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The past just is not what it used to be. Once we believed that 54,000 Americans died in the Korean War, but we have learned that slippery math and double-counting swelled that death toll by 18,000. Perhaps that should make the war seem less terrible; but Korea still is seen as a loss by many people--including Koreans--because it did not end, like World War II, with victory parades. When General Mark Clark, USA, signed the armistice on behalf of United Nations Command on July 27, 1953, he remarked that he was the first American soldier to conclude a war without a triumph. The Chinese gloated because Clark said what they wanted to hear, that they had fought the war to a standstill. If Korea is a puzzlement, it is because so few people ask the right questions.

First, the conflict had an internal dimension of people's war that could not be eliminated by internationalization. How many researchers investigate the precursor to the events of June 1950--the pacification, nationbuilding, and counterinsurgency phase of the Korean War from 1945 to 1950? The published accounts of the Korean Military Advisory Group are not very good, and no one reads them anyway, yet advisory efforts and internal war characterized the Cold War and the years since. What did we learn about the challenges of creating an effective military institution in a non-Western culture? That is what the Nation did in Korea with a degree of success not obtained elsewhere. Why did the lessons go unlearned?

And what did Korea teach the Armed Forces about conducting joint and coalition warfare? It should have provided lessons galore since by 1953 almost a third (20 of 63) of the infantry battalions in Eighth Army--excluding the South Koreans--were not American units. How did we coordinate artillery fire, close air support, weapons, food, and training for those battalions? How many people know that the commander of 1st British Commonwealth Division refused to establish a combat outpost line because he knew it would only cause unnecessary casualties? How many know that the legendary Foreign Legion officer, General Ralph Monclar, who went to Korea as a lieutenant colonel, did not lead a French battallion, but spent his time insuring that American corps and division commanders did not squander French lives? …