I have sent the following to the New York Times as
well as other places.
Anone reading this may do what you will with it.
October 7th, 1999
THE HARDER LESSONS OF NO GUN RI
A lot of ink, most of it from outside
wire services, has been spilled over the alleged
'massacre' of South Korean civilians at No Gun Ri
Korea, July 26th, 1950 by units of the 7th US Cavalry.
Editorials have appeared arguing that since bad things
happen in wars, perhaps we should never have fought there
in the first place.
Well, there are many lessons that came
out of that war, and many unreported factors which
contributed to that incident at No Gun Ri. There are much
broader issues raised by this incident that the press has
not commented on. So I will.
I think I am qualified to comment about
the Korean War, and this particular incident, and what
they all mean. For not only did I fight in Korea through
some of its bloodiest periods, I was called on years
later to analyze for high US officials, why the Chinese
Even more to the point, I served in the
7th Cavalry Regiment, arriving soon after the events at
No Gun Ri, and I have been an active member of the Korean
Chapter of the 7th US Cavalry Association, over 950
strong, with whose members of all ranks and backgrounds I
have associated for over 6 years. I personally know many
of the officers and men who were involved in this
incident. I have now talked to over 25 of them, doing my
own 'investigation' of what reporters with no
military experience have done for the press. This
includes one soldier who admits to being the primary
machine gunner firing into the tunnels at No Gun Ri.
First off, there is no question that hard
pressed and nearly disintegrating units of the 2d
Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 3 days after entering that war,
both under orders, and using their own judgement fired at
groups of people in the two culverts at No Gun Ri,
killing and wounding an unknown number of them. But
whether that was a 'massacre', or an illegal use
of force - a war crime - and whether shooting into that
culvert was justified by military imperatives, are very
different questions. I have my serious doubts it was the
crime as alleged. But I will await the outcome of the
investigation ordered by the Secretary of Defense before
passing my final judgement. Even the number and identity
of people killed there is in wide dispute.
But I don't have to wait for the
results of that investigation to point out that, under
recognized military law, there are military conditions
under which US forces may fire even though it knowingly
will cause civilian casualties. The laws against causing
civilian death in war are not absolutes. If they were,
the bombing of German and Japanese cities, and targeting
of civilian facilities by NATO Air Strikes in Belgrade
would have been war crimes. They were not. And many times
in Korea, when hordes of civilians, some pushed forward
as human shields against our troops, and infiltrated by
North Korean soldiers who fired from within refugee
columns left no alternative to our units, save death or
defeat for our men and units. That included accepting the
civilian casualties that went with it. I and every
commander of combat units during the severe fighting in
Korea knew that, and acted according to military law,
battlefield reality, and personal conscience. A respected
lawyer in this town, who landed on Omaha Beach as an
Infantry commander, was, 6 years later a military lawyer
in the 1st Cavalry Division on the ground near No Gun Ri.
He largely agrees with me and takes issue with what he
calls the 'academic' lawyers who so quickly have
branded this, and the orders given, as a war crime.
I have determined from the memories of
7th Cav soldiers who were there, and by re-studying a
detailed history of the 7th Cav in Korea by a Company
Commander whom I knew, and who was in that unit at the
time, that the military situation justified extraordinary
measures for the survival of the whole command. Our
troops were on the verge of another Bataan like
catastrophe. Hordes of refugees mixed in with North
Korean infiltrators who themselves were violating the
laws of war as a matter of high policy, gravely
threatened our forces.
The second point is that the condition of
readiness of the US Army, both in Japan on occupation
duty, and in the US, was so poor, caused by the willy
nilly cuts made by Congress after World War II, that it
was a crime to throw such ill prepared, poorly equipped
green troops into a combat against what was then a
powerful, trained, and modernly equipped invading Army.
Gen. McArthur may have been overly confident we could
beat the North Koreans, but the 1st Cavalry Division was
a hollow shell of what it had been in the South Pacific.
And a parsimonious Congress had refused modernization and
improvement of our fighting equipment. Our soldiers were
killed shooting ineffective rocket launchers at modern
Soviet tanks. The Company at No Gun Ri was fired on with
impunity by just such a Russian tank. The combat training
of the units in Japan was very poor, partly because we
did not want to damage the land of a recovering Japan.
Today environmentalists have made combat training, even
on our federally owned bases, ever more difficult. We
paid for that set of priorities in blood the first two
months of the Korean War. The troops were also in bad
physical condition. That, however, was the clear fault of
Army comanders in Japan. Which, as today, reflects on our
efforts to recruit and retain the very best officers and
NCOs in time of peace. Something we neglect at our
The invasion of Korea was a total
surprise to the US and UN. As was the invasion of Kuwait.
We keep kidding ourselves that, since the Berlin Wall
came down, there can be no other such surprises. Or that
we can meet them all, and lower our guard, and disperse
our forces. All on the cheap. That is a fool's
When I read editorials saying, in effect,
that we should have let South Korea fight its own
battles, and not have shed American blood, young
journalists of today are probably unaware that our
government deliberately denied tanks, heavy artillery,
and modern aircraft to the South Korean Army after we
pulled our troops out after the free elections of 1948.
They could not have defended themselves after North Korea
had built up - which our poor intelligence services,
because they too had been gutted, failed to detect.
If we are going to let countries friendly
to ourselves fight their own battles, then we had either
best not supply them at all, and let them fall under the
control of more aggressive nations with no such scruples
as we have. Or else we should properly support them. We
can't have it both ways while also expecting to trade
and move freely across the world.
"Freedom Is Not Free", reads
the inscription on the Korean War Memorial in Washington.
A Memorial that neither glorifies our victories in war,
as does the Iwo Jima monument, nor displays a nation
feeling sorry for itself, as the Vietnam Memorial seems
to say to me. And I fought there too in the Infantry. The
silent, larger than life, steel soldier figures marching
forward forever doing their thankless jobs at the Korean
Monument, in our most Forgotton of Wars, perfectly
portrays what we did in Korea, without fanfare or
Reasoning, about where we come to the
defense of others taken to a logical conclusion, would
have been better for us to have capitulated at the peace
table when Stalin was ready to turn all of Korea into a
communist state. We should have let Saddam Hussain's
invasion of Kuwait stand. And if China threatens Taiwan,
we should turn our back. Instead, we stood for letting
the people of South Korea, who had been oppressively
occupied by Japan, determine their own destiny, by
democratic means. So the 38th Parallel compromise was
reached, resulting in a grim, belligerent and
impoverished dictatorship in the north, but 46 years of
ever more representative and independent democracy and
prosperity in the south.
My daughter in law, who now teaches at
the Air Force Academy, came from Communist China. Her
parents were respected doctors in the Red Army there,
trying to save lives north of the Yalu River while I, in
the 7th US Cavalry south of it, were sending them
battlefield patients in the bitter winter fighting of
1950. Ironic, isn't it? When I visited Ha Ning's
aged parents in Dalian, China, and we discussed that war,
I told Col Zhou that I thought China had made a big
mistake in pushing us back out of North Korea after we
defeated the North Korean Army. He wanted to know why.
Because, I said, the United States is more generous and
successful with its defeated enemies - such as Germany
and Japan, than it is to its friends, such as England.
Had we stayed in North Korea, it would be today as
prosperous as South Korea, and not a dangerous basket
case which China has to help feed, and prevent from
starting a nuclear war. He didn't have much to
We paid the price of 54,000 American
dead, and 8,000 still missing in action, for the freedom
and prosperity of South Korea, including that of the 30
claimants for compensation for No Gun Ri.
I do not think we owe them any more than
we have already paid in blood and treasure. We probably
should pull out of Korea, but remain ready to go back in.
Being sure, unlike the uncertain trumpet we blew in 1950,
that potential enemies know loud and clear we do not let
free nations come under their heel.
Unlike many editorial writers, I think
the Korean war was fully worth the price we paid. I am
proud that Hill 347 that I walked off of on October 7th,
1951 48 years ago today, with our handful of Company K,
7th Cavalry, survivors after our final battle before the
truce, is still part of the line of freedom. My grandsons
born of both Chinese and American ancestory, will be
taught why I think it was worth it.
I would hope American newspapers take
such a wider, educational view of the 50th Anniversary of
the Korean War when it comes round next June 25th. It
will be a time for younger Americans to relearn some very
old lessons. The Harder Lessons of No Gun Ri.
David R Hughes
Colonel US Army (Ret)
-------- David Hughes was a member of the Class of
1950 serving in the Korean War in the 7th US Cavalry. He
won the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars
during his year in combat. He served as an Army officer
until 1973 when he retired.
Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation
The Foundations of Freedom are the Courage of Ordinary People and Quality of our Arms