Read for the War Challenge with a Twist 2014 at War Through the Generations
This Kind of War: A Study of Unpreparedness – T. R. Fehrenbach, 1963
This is a sweeping account of the Korean War drawn mainly from personal narratives. Fehrenbach’s thesis is implied in the sub-title. That is, the Korean “police action” was a limited kind of war for which American soldiers were not politically or psychologically prepared. Politically unprepared in that Fehrenbach asserts that during their training, instructors never told them why the United States was fighting in Korea. Psychologically speaking, soldiers were not given a clear sense of what fighting would entail – e.g. much foot-slogging and steep hill climbing due to the ineffectiveness of the wheel and armor in a harsh country with inadequate roads.
Fehrenbach ‘s view is that the war in Korea was the only rational choice in an either / or situation of either surrender to communism or face global upheaval. Neither side, Fehrenbach thinks, realized that the other could not and would not tolerate an alteration in the balance of power. So, the Communists mistakenly thought the US and the rest of the world would tolerate its invasion of the south of Korea.
Furthermore, the US failed to halt at the 38th parallel after the amazing victory at Inchon and chasing the remnants of the People’s Army out of South Korea. The invasion of North Korea, however, was a provocation which the Communist world in its turn could not tolerate. This prolonged the war and probably cost more than two million lives. It was also yet another lesson of the 20th century of man’s inhumanity to man, not to mention the more typical exasperation and frustration of the grinding stalemate, the endless truce talks, and the acrimonious discussions over the repatriation of Chinese POWs to Taiwan or the People’s Republic.
Fehrenbach narrates the action largely from the point of view of the foot soldiers and local commanders. Readers into serious military history will get much out of the detailed and thoroughly researched accounts of major battles and small tactical engagements. On this point, Fehrenbach is like S.L.A. Marshall. But much smarter and willing to pull back and consider the general background and the strategic principles, and politics involved.
Overall, he is sympathetic to the foot-solider though he has a mixed view of men who underwent the POW experience, ironically one of the few sides of that war much remembered today (perhaps because of the brainwashing in the movie The Manchurian Candidate?). Evidence that he was as troubled about this issue as we are even today is that on one page he argues the "Old Army," like that on Bataan, "exhausted and sick" in prison camp "would have spat upon its captors, despising them to the end." 30 pages later, however, he writes "Americans and Britons in Japanese prisons retreated into dream worlds, and some informed on their buddies."
Fehrenbach predicted in the early Sixiies that the US would fight other “brushfire” wars so the country had better prepare. Too right he was, as we can see from the vantage point of 2014.