History of United States Naval Operations: Korea

History of United States Naval Operations: Korea

History of United States Naval Operations: Korea

History of United States Naval Operations: Korea

Excerpt

Perhaps the simplest way to describe the Korean War is to say that it was different, for it fell, or seemed to fall, outside the pattern of all previous American experience. It was a surprising war in a surprising place at a surprising time, and one which imperatively called for answers to neglected problems of national defense. It was begun as a police action; it developed rapidly into an undeclared war of no small magnitude; it ended as an unpopular and seemingly profitless stalemate. It was conducted, at least in theory, less as a national enterprise in defense of an easily apprehended national interest than as an exercise in collective security under the aegis of the United Nations. And while partial precedents can doubtless be discerned in battles long ago, the package was a new and unsettling one.

In addition to differences such as these in the nature of the war itself, there were others which bear upon the historian. Since the enemy had no navy, the conflict lacks the drama inherent in the clash of fleets. Since the focus of action was always on land, the three services were pretty constantly mixed up in each other's affairs, and simple single-service history becomes an impossibility. The chronology of the struggle, in which a year of violent and dramatic action was followed by two of deadlock, poses problems of selection and emphasis and makes for injustice to those who came late on the scene. The absence, in notable contrast to the situation of 1945, of any appreciable quantity of enemy records, constitutes a further obvious difficulty.

Nevertheless, an attempt to tell the story of United States naval operations in Korea has seemed worthwhile. If many of the specific lessons of the conflict are now obsolete, the general principle remains: that for those who have abjured the offensive, the main problem is how to prepare for the unexpected, or more cynically, how to be surprised at least cost. If war is to remain a political act, the Korean experience seems worth contemplating for its demonstration that the neglected problems of stalemate may at times be as important as those of advance and retreat. If the absence of contending fleets detracts from the excitement of the story, it also emphasizes the fact that since all war is an exercise in persuasion, naval activity has always been ultimately directed against the far shore. And finally, one may hope that caution will help to counteract the one-sided nature of the available source material.

To the puzzling question of how far to treat the actions of the other services, I have found no wholly satisfactory answer. I have attempted throughout to keep before the reader a general picture of the campaign, but . . .

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