To Acknowledge a War: The Korean War in American Memory

By Paul M. Edwards | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Introduction

The war was a defining event in the long peace between the Soviet Union and the United States.

William Stueck

War is about fighting, and killing, and dying. While the field of battle is often a place of heroes and honor, wars are not heroic nor do nations engaged in war act honorably. War is an aspect of human life that has been with us since men and women first decided to record their past, and probably long before. Fighting seems to be as much a part of the human condition as is love. Many feel that the condition of war is a natural state. There may be some truth in this idea. The difficulty in understanding war as phenomenon is compounded by the fact that while killing may be natural, it does not necessarily follow that war is. The desire to kill appears to be conditioned; is the willingness to kill more the product of rational consideration?

There is still considerable disagreement concerning the methods by which the figures of combat firing are collected. But there appears to be general agreement about what they suggest. S. L. A. Marshall provided most of these figures. During the fighting in World War II, only 15 percent to 20 percent of those on the line actually fired their weapons. In Korea, it is suggested that something like 45 percent of the infantry engaged actually shot their weapons with the intent to kill. But in Vietnam, the percentage of those firing their weapons rose to nearly 90 percent. Without jumping to too many conclusions, it does seem clear that the circumstances, the conditioning, or perhaps the natural reluctance to kill, has changed. More and more American men and women are willing to kill when in combat.

The jury is still out about which came first; violence and then conditioned behavior, or conditioned behavior and then violence. But one thing is clear. While the military has been fairly successful in conditioning young men and women to kill, they have made little or no effort--nor has anyone else--to recondition those who were taught to act on impulse rather than reason.

It is in part this conditioning to the act of killing, and the desire to control

-1-

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To Acknowledge a War: The Korean War in American Memory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Long Silence 15
  • Chapter 3 - Naming the War 27
  • Chapter 4 - Who Is to Blame 41
  • Chapter 5 - Some of the Controversies 53
  • Chapter 6 - Leaders and Scoundrels 75
  • Chapter 7 - Operations 89
  • Chapter 8 - The United Nations Force 103
  • Chapter 9 - Revising the Revisionists 121
  • Chapter 10 - The Fighting Just Stopped 135
  • Chapter 11 - The Wrong War 147
  • Bibliography 155
  • Subject Index 163
  • Military Unit Index 173
  • About the Author 177
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