Korean War Continues to Provide Valuable Lessons Worth Learning

By Skibbie, Larry | National Defense, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Korean War Continues to Provide Valuable Lessons Worth Learning


Skibbie, Larry, National Defense


It has been almost two months since the United States commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Today, I will ask you to give some thought to a unit called "Task Force Smith," which fought in Korea. In the Army, which is the service I come from, we refer to "Task Force Smith," as a metaphor for unpreparedness. The term has been used for so long that to those former and current members of the military services, it is shorthand for lack of readiness.

Unfortunately, those outside the-- services don't always make that connection. But they should.

Briefly, Task Force Smith was a composite force of infantry and artillery that was moved on short notice from peacetime occupation duty in Japan to block the advance of the on-rushing North Korean People's Army, south of Seoul, Korea. That unit's unpreparedness was evident in a number of ways: Communications systems often broke down or didn't work, anti-tank weapons couldn't slow the North Korean tanks, there were shortages of ammunition and weapons, and there was an utter lack of overall combat training. And those were only a few of the problems.

The bottom line was that the 540 men in Task Force Smith took on between 5,000 and 20,000 North Korean soldiers, who were spearheaded by Russian T 34 tanks. While they fought valiantly, they were defeated. Almost two hundred young soldiers of Task Force Smith were killed or missing.

Of course, what happened in Korea is part of our military history and, as we often hear, history is worth learning from. A comparison with today's national defense posture is enlightening. The Army of June 1950 was 591,000 strong; the Army of June of 2000 has 480,000 active duty troops; the Army of 1950 had argued for 12 active divisions but was making do with 10; today's 10 Army divisions are overstretched with their frequent and repetitive deployments. The Armed Forces budget of 1950 was $14 billion. It was widely believed at the time, within the military establishment, that $25 billion was needed. That $11 billion shortfall equates to $78 billion in today's dollars-and is eerily similar to today's defense shortfall.

The bottom line to this discussion is straightforward. Wars tend to break out when they are least expected-- often in places our American tongues have difficulty pronouncing-and are truly "come as you are."

When the U.S. military is unprepared, it is not the so-called "brass" who get killed, wounded or end up missing in action.

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Korean War Continues to Provide Valuable Lessons Worth Learning
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