Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights

By Christine Knauer | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
A Country They Never Knew

Korea was at “its modern nadir”1 when a new war began in the Far East country at the end of June 1950. Rural and scarred by an economic depression, war, and Japanese repression, Korea remained poverty-ridden and its people mostly illiterate. Its economy was deeply grounded in laborintensive rice agriculture and technological advances remained scarce. In Korea, American soldiers faced an uninviting topography and climate. Often scorching hot and humid in the summer and freezing cold in winter, the rugged mountains and valleys drained soldiers and civilians alike. The dirt roads made advances difficult and slow. Against this background, feelings of senselessness and frustration ran high. Most Americans did not know much, if anything, about the country or the conflict. As one soldier put it: “I am here because the goddam president of the United States would put me in jail if I didn’t report for duty.” Yet the question remained, “What the hell am I doing here?”2

On Japan’s surrender in August 1945, which ended forty years of Japanese occupation,3 the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on forming a trusteeship and arbitrarily divided the small country along the 38th parallel. Three years later, the Republic of Korea under American purview and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under Soviet purview were founded in the South and North respectively. The situation had been tense in the Asian peninsula since the Second World War ended, as often violent altercations flared up between the country’s divided parts. It reached a breaking point, however, when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel and quickly invaded their Southern neighbor on June 25, 1950. The invasion of South Korea startled the United States and left it concerned about the possibility of a third world war. Most Americans suspected that

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Let Us Fight as Free Men: Black Soldiers and Civil Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Fighting for Respect 13
  • Chapter 2 - Coming Home 33
  • Chapter 3 - Stepping Up the Fight 55
  • Chapter 4 - Mass Civil Disobedience 82
  • Chapter 5 - Truman’s Order 112
  • Chapter 6 - A Country They Never Knew 130
  • Chapter 7 - Black Men at War 163
  • Chapter 8 - A Mixed Army 195
  • Epilogue 224
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms 231
  • Notes 235
  • Index 329
  • Acknowledgments 339
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