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Back to Truce Tent and Fighting Front

The Foundation of Freedom is the Courage of Ordinary People

History  Bert '53  On Line

What had the war in Korea accomplished? While it may still be too soon to view the conflict in proper perspective, some of the immediate consequences are not difficult to discern.

Despite the claims of the enemy, there had been no victory-political or military-in Korea. At best, the outcome could be called a draw. Yet several developments were momentous. Facing its sternest test, the United Nations had weathered a challenge, which, if unanswered, might have resulted in disaster and eventual disintegration. Under the U.N. flag, the original objective of the intervention in Korea-halting Communist aggression-had been successfully carried out and the independence of its foster child, the Republic of Korea, had been preserved. This practical demonstration of how the United Nations could function when peace was threatened greatly enhanced the prestige of the organization and established a precedent for future U.N. military action if the need should again arise.

The effort had not been given unanimous support by U.N. members, it is true, but twentyone nations had contributed forces of one kind or another to sustain the U.N. decision. Although many of these countries had supplied only small token units, the mere fact that they had participated at all was encouraging, since it indicated their belief in the U.N. and their willingness to put teeth in the enforcement provisions of its charter. The Korean War marked a real departure from the dismal experience of the League of Nations in this respect.

For the United States the Korean War was also a crucial test. The United States had entered World Wars I and II at a-relatively late date and as a member of a coalition. At the conclusion of World War II, however, the realignment of power had placed the United States in a position of dominance and cloaked it with the mantle of leadership of the non-Communist world. When the foe threw down the gauntlet by invading South Korea, the responsibilities that went with the new position of power became agonizingly apparent. No longer could the nation rely upon some other country to battle the aggressor until it was ready to join the fray. Now only the United States had the resources to do the task. Fortunately, it had responded quickly, meeting force with force. By working within the framework of the U.N., it had at the same time helped give increased stature to that organization. The amazingly swift recourse to armed action had shown the Communists that the United States had accepted its role of leadership and would not permit outright aggression on their part to go unchecked. In an instance when failure to act might well have led to a repetition of the tragic events following Hitler's uncontested march into the Rhineland, the United States had won its spurs as the champion of the anti-Communist powers.

In the course of leading the UNC team during the hostilities, the United States had to devote far more attention to Pacific-Asian affairs than it had in preceding years. Before the war the emphasis had been placed upon Europe, and the NATO pact had linked many of the nations of Europe to the United States. This policy had been rewarded, for most of them had sent forces to serve with the U.N. Command. Under the impetus of war the United States decided to expand its system of alliances and began to conclude security pacts with the countries in the Pacific-Asian area. New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea entered defensive alliances with the United States during or shortly after the war and others, such as Nationalist China, followed later. The Korean experience demonstrated that allies are helpful in marshaling favorable world opinion and that their contributions in men, materiel, and political support are very valuable in the search for peace. The multiplication of U.S. politico-military ties with non-Communist nations throughout the western Pacific and on the Asian mainland was a direct consequence of the war.

In the Far East, two nations had emerged from the conflict stronger than before. The armed forces of the Republic of Korea had increased sixfold during the three-year period and at the conclusion of the truce totaled close to 600,000 men. The bulk of these troops were trained and equipped and had steadily improved in battle efficiency.

In forces in being, the ROK units had a considerable advantage over the North Koreans at the end of the war. With further training and development of the officer and noncommissioned officer corps, the ROK forces could eventually become a bulwark against future Communist aggression or, conversely, an instrument for the fulfillment of the ROK dream the unification of Korea- when the Chinese Communists withdrew from Korea.

The other state that had added to its status as a result of the war was Communist China. From the stout defensive and offensive capabilities that the Chinese had displayed throughout the fighting, the United States and its allies had learned the hard way that Communist China was a formidable foe who bore little resemblance to the feeble nation of World War II. With a tremendous pool of manpower at its disposal and energetic leadership, Communist China had also won its spurs on the battlefields of Korea and appeared ready to assume its place as the leader of the Communists in the Far East and western Pacific areas.

In the passage at arms in Korea the United States and the Chinese had an opportunity to test each other's mettle and to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses. Both had discovered that the price of military victory was more than they were prepared to pay and neither was likely to underestimate the immense task that a further resort to arms with military victory as the goal would entail.

The rise of Communist China also raised some intriguing questions concerning the future role of the Soviet Union in the Far East. Before, the Russians had exercised a controlling interest in the affairs of North Korea. With the entry of Communist China into the struggle, the USSR had seemingly been content to provide much of the war materiel for both the North Koreans and Communist Chinese and to support their protegés vigorously in the United Nations debates. During the negotiations the North Koreans appeared to take their cue from the Communist Chinese, and the Soviet influence in the making of policy became difficult to discern. But the growth of Communist Chinese power and prestige could not fail to have an adverse effect upon Soviet leadership of Communist elements in the Far East. As the voice of Peiping gained in strength, Moscow's could not help but diminish. What the long-range consequences of this shift in power would be upon Sino-Soviet relationships were impossible to forecast, yet it seemed evident that there would be an immediate elevation in the position of Communist China in the Communist hierarchy. For the first time since 1917 a potential rival for the leadership of the Communist world had appeared upon the scene.

In an indirect fashion both Communist China and North Korea had benefited diplomatically from the lengthy truce negotiations. Although the United States recognized neither of these regimes officially and the U.S. representatives had acted in behalf of the United Nations when they negotiated and signed the armistice, it was difficult to dismiss the argument that the United States had given them a sort of de facto recognition in the process. In the meantime the Communists throughout the discussions had refused to grant either the ROK or the Chinese Nationalist Governments any official status whatsoever. The advantage in this field lay decidedly with the Communists.

On the other hand, the United States had established the precedent for no forced repatriation of prisoners of war, although this victory had been tarnished by the spate of outbreaks of violence in the camps that tended to discredit the screening process. Nevertheless, the United States had clung firmly to the concept for fifteen months, refusing to consider a settlement on any other terms. Alternatives had been proposed, including the 1952 suggestions by Harrison and others to simply free the nonrepatriates as Rhee did with many in June 1953. Such a fait accompli approach to a solution by the U.N. Command might well have afforded the Communists their easiest way out, since they could have charged the UNC with unilateral action and might have avoided the loss of face that came from having to meet the problem directly. But until the archives at Peiping are opened to researchers, the Chinese reaction to such a move in 1952 will remain merely a matter for conjecture.

The long-term effects of no forced repatriation may also be a matter for conjecture, but the fact that 50,000 prisoners had taken advantage of the UNC stand and had rejected return to Communist control cannot be disputed. Yet the humanitarian approach in protecting nonrepatriates had been expensive. To safeguard their rights had cost over 125,000 UNC casualties during the fifteen-month period while the enemy lost well over a quarter of a million menkilled, wounded, and captured, according to Eighth Army estimates. Viewed from this angle, the precedence given the 50,000 nonrepatriates and the 12,000-odd prisoners held by the enemy over the hundreds of thousands of soldiers at the front raised a complicated question. In negotiating a military truce, should the prime consideration be for the men on the line and in action or for those in captivity? Such a decision would always be difficult to make. Comparatively speaking, the casualties incurred during the fifteen-month span were but a small part of the over-all total suffered during the war. The UNC suffered over 500,000, including more than 94,000 dead.1 For the Communists the estimates reached over 1,500,000, including prisoners of war. The monetary costs were more difficult to compute, especially on the Communist side, but one U.S. expert figured that the war and its by-products had cost the United States over 83 billion dollars by 1956, placing it second to World War II in this department.2

Since the territorial adjustments in Korea had been minor in character, the absence of a clearcut winner, frustrating as it might have been to the participants, was not necessarily a poor solution under the circumstances. Both sides had sought an armistice and the compromise that had resulted had not generated a disgruntled loser seeking revenge. Syngman Rhee might be unhappy over the truce, but as long as he was dependent upon the United States for military assistance, it might be difficult for him to rekindle the flame of military conflict.

In addition to these international consequences, there were several significant domestic developments. In the course of fighting this indecisive bout in Korea the United States had begun to overhaul and strengthen its own military machine once again. The deterioration of the once-powerful U.S. military organization after World War II had been checked and rebuilding and renovation had been started. In this respect, the Korean experience had been salutary and the failure to defeat the enemy served to remind leaders and public alike that the country could not afford to relax its vigilance or its capability to act in the face of future challenges. After the armistice there was no effort to disband the armed forces, to junk the implements of war, and to return to the military status quo, as there had been after World Wars I and II. The Korean War helped to convince most of the U.S. leaders that military spending on a large scale to provide adequate forces and weapons in a state of readiness to counteract the growing Communist threat must be sustained. In the postwar period the huge sums allocated to the defense budget were stark evidence that the need for preparedness had not been promptly forgotten.

The United States had also gained valuable experience in the difficulties of fighting a limited war. The lack of definite military objectives had complicated the task of military planners, since all plans for large-scale operations had to be placed on a contingency basis. As the war dragged on, the problem of budgeting its costs followed the same pattern. The length of the conflict argued strongly for the maintenance of a liberal rotation program that was uneconomical and inefficient as a practical solution, but valuable as an answer to the morale problem.

The desire to minimize the war in Korea politically made it hard for the U.S. administration to convince the nation's manufacturers that they should convert to war production on what might well have turned out to be a short-term basis. Since war conversion was expensive and domestic civilian consumption was at a high level, the manufacturers were very reluctant to disrupt normal production. In this instance, the need for a war production base sustained in peacetime by regular orders and capable of immediate expansion was demonstrated once again. The inescapable fact that it took eighteen months to two years to develop and get new production into the fighting areas was clearly shown by the ammunition situation, yet only limited mobilization of industrial resources was put into effect. The civilian economy was scarcely disturbed by the butter and guns policy. Perhaps it was only by making it as easy as possible upon soldiers and civilians alike that the United States was able to be so patient in the negotiations at Panmunjom. Excessive hardship upon either category might have generated strong sentiment for an end to the war either through direct action or through further concessions on the prisoners of war.

The Negotiations

The initiation of the negotiations in July 1951 was in many ways a turning point in the war. As long as fluid conditions had prevailed on the battlefield during the first year of the conflict, the United States, which had been supplying the bulk of the forces and carrying the financial burden of supporting the war, had largely determined the policy pursued by the U.N. Command with only token opposition. After the static phase began, however, the UNC allies and the Republic of Korea became less reticent. The length of the armistice negotiations gave ample opportunity for the disagreements to be aired privately and publicly. Disturbed by the drains of the Korean commitment, some of the European members of the United Nations Command became anxious to redirect the attention of the United States towards the needs of NATO. But until the war was concluded, there was little hope for a shift in emphasis. Thus, NATO national interests dictated that an armistice be negotiated quickly, so that they could devote their efforts to their own domestic and colonial problems and, at the same time, secure more sympathetic consideration, militarily and economically, from the United States. For the ROK Government, the opposite was true. A truce would mean, in all probability, the end of ROK aspirations for a united Korea and the eventual waning of U.S. concern for Korean affairs.

With pressure mounting from both groups, the United States had to play the role of mediator. Self-interest argued for the liquidation of the Korean diversion and a return to the primary task of safeguarding the NATO community, but the protection of South Korea and Japan was a responsibility that could not be denied. For two years, therefore, the United States sought an equitable solution that would permit the attainment of both objectives. The continuing effort to end the fighting in Korea was matched by the concomitant drive to establish in the ROK and in Japan adequate defense forces that one day would be capable of resisting the Communist threat effectively. As has been noted, the expansion of the ROK forces was far more significant than that of the Japanese, but this was not the fault of the United States; the Japanese, for a number of reasons, had chosen to move cautiously down the road to rearmament.

The dissension from within the alliance was all too usual in coalition warfare. With so many diverse national objectives involved, agreement upon a common goal was but the initial step. Generally all could agree that the enemy must be stopped, contained, or defeated, as the case might be. The debates on the means and methods, however, were quite another thing and even in general war, such as World War II, were likely to occasion some heated and tense moments. The Korean War was no exception to this rule, despite its limited nature.

After the United States had decided to open negotiations with the Communists, it had refused to be hurried by its U.N. allies into an agreement or to be deflected from its objective by ROK opposition to an armistice. Fortunately the enemy had shown no disposition toward seeking a military solution during the negotiating period, although limited pressure had been applied by both sides to induce swifter consent to a truce. But extreme measures had been shunned. The U.N. Command had not wilfully violated the Manchurian sanctuary nor had the United States pushed strongly for sterner military or economic steps against the rest of Communist China. The enemy in turn had made no hostile moves against the Japanese base or even against the crowded port of Pusan. To localize the war politically and militarily both sides had voluntarily imposed limitations upon their military operations.

The manner in which the United States opened the negotiations has been attacked by some critics as overhasty. Admiral Joy felt that the quick response given by the United States to Malik's offer of June 1951 created the impression that this country wanted or needed a cease-fire badly and that this was interpreted by the Communists as a sign of weakness.3 Perhaps the United States might have avoided the injection of a sense of urgency into the atmosphere by a slower and more devious approach and deprived the enemy of a psychological and propaganda edge. But it is doubtful whether the truce would have been concluded any sooner in the long run, since the UNC actions at Kaesong and on the battlefield during the summer of 1951 must have quickly dispelled any illusions that the enemy might have had concerning the UNC need for an armistice.

Among the UNC delegates and newsmen who attended the first meetings at Kaesong, there had been an initial note of optimism on the length of time that it would take to arrange a truce. Just three days after the negotiations opened, Admiral Burke wrote to his wife and closed with: "Hope I'm not in this orchard [at Munsan-ni] when the apples ripen." But, by the end of the battle of the agenda in late July, he sent a far different postscript: "Maybe leave in a year or so if things don't break soon."4 Exposure to Communist demands and tactics had quickly induced the admiral to discard his expectation of a fast settlement.

Perhaps there might have been a relatively swift truce if the discussions had been limited strictly to military affairs. Originally the United States had intended to bar political questions and to restrict the delegations to the military considerations inherent in a cease-fire. There was to be no debate on the disposition of Taiwan nor on the seating of Communist China in the United Nations and these matters had been successfully avoided. Recognizing that a political settlement in Korea might not be possible in the near future, the United States had sought a long-term truce and the Communists had not contested this point. The U.S. proposal for a Military Armistice Commission had been accepted, although the Communists had inserted the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission and its inspection teams as the instruments to carry out the supervisory functions outside the demilitarized zone. Surprisingly enough, the Communists had permitted the concept of inspection, on a limited basis to be sure, to be written in the final agreement. How closely they would observe their promise not to increase their nonKorean troops or to build up material in Korea from outside sources was unknown, but they had made a paper pledge. The enemy had narrowed the demilitarized zone to four kilometers as opposed to the U.S. desire for a broad twenty-mile strip. On the other hand, the Communists had given up their insistence upon a return to the 38th Parallel and settled for the line of contact. Eventual withdrawal of nonKorean troops from the country, which the United States had maintained was a political question, had also been shelved.

It was impossible to shun the political aspects of many of these points in the discussion, for there could be no real separation of political and military matters. The Communists were keenly aware of the relationship and they let no opportunity pass to make political, psychological, or propaganda capital out of the causes they espoused. Before the negotiations began, Ridgway had accurately predicted that the enemy would make many propaganda speeches that would require rare patience on the part of the UNC delegates. The performance of the Communist delegates, who had had far more extensive political experience than their UNC counterparts, had borne him out.

Yet it had not been the enemy that had introduced the very touchy subject of voluntary repatriation, with all of its political implications, into the negotiations. The Communists had wanted to effect a simple all-for-all exchange of prisoners and it was the United States who decided, for combined humanitarian and political reasons, to insist upon letting the prisoners have the right of self-determination.

The reluctance of the enemy to accept defection from the Communist world on a wholesale scale was hardly astonishing, for it constituted a direct admission that life in the free world was better than that under the Communist system. From the beginning of the truce meetings the enemy had been extremely sensitive to any suggestion of inequality. The rapidity with which they had produced a flag and stand to match the UNC flag at the first plenary session had been followed up by swift construction of colorful sanitation facilities to outdo those erected by the UNC and by the importation of a sedan from Russia to provide transportation for Nam Il comparable to Admiral Joy's. This attitude had lasted until the very end when the Communists had persisted in their demand that each side sign nine copies of the armistice agreement.

Despite the Communists' strong denials that they were horse traders, their actions had belied their words. Back in the spring of 1951, an old China hand had offered some sage counsel to the Army high command on this score. Col. David D. Barrett, military attach to Nationalist China, had warned of the hazards of bargaining with the Chinese. If the U.N. Command would set its price and then calmly sustain a firm position, the Chinese might howl, bluster, and threaten, but they would finally give in, Barrett declared. If, on the other hand, the U.N.C. showed weakness or vacillation, the Chinese would persist in haggling until they won their point. It was only when they informed you calmly and without bluster, Barrett concluded, that you would be sure that they definitely had made up their mind not to accept your price.5

The validity of these observations was sustained during the negotiations. Time after time the Communists waited out the UNC delegation, so that they could accept the advantageous portions of the UNC proposal and probe for more concessions. Eventually, if the UNC refused to yield further, the Communists would produce a counteroffer that surrendered a corresponding part of the Communist demands. As long as both sides could give in on an equal number of items, a compromise agreement could be reached. The quickest results had come when the UNC had been able to balance the give-and-take in its final offer on an item and then had refused to discuss the matter further. For until the enemy delegates were convinced that they were not going to get a better deal, they would continue to delay and argue tirelessly.

As Barrett had cautioned, the Communist tactics had run the gamut. Admiral Burke gave his impression of their impact early in the negotiations. "No amount of reading about Communists' tactics in conferences," he commented, "can ever prepare a man completely for the rude shock he is bound to receive when he is first exposed to those tactics."6 Overnight they could shift from the harsh, brow-beating, name-calling attacks of a Hsieh Fang, which were designed to harass or to secure further concessions, to a quiet, reasonable, and businesslike approach to a problem they were ready to settle. The flow of propaganda could become a trickle if they scented a UNC concession or a veritable flood, if things were going badly for them.

Since the Communist dialectic permitted the ends to justify the means, the enemy had no hesitation in employing any method calculated to achieve success in the negotiations. The distortion of history, the manufacturing of false charges, and the creation of incidents in the prisoner of war camps were as much a part of the Communist arsenal as the yelling, cursing, insults, and discourtesy in the conference tent. They were all part of the game to discompose the opponent through every kind of pressure. If the UNC delegates became emotional, they might make mistakes. The cold war at the truce table complemented the hot war at the front, such as it was.

In this battle of nerves, Admiral Burke noted:

It is essential, of course, in dealing with these people that you have no personal feelings whatsoever. Emotion can never affect a conference at all. The only possible way of winning, in such a conference as this, is by coldly calculating every move and every statement and exercising the maximum amount of patience, calmness and stamina. Once in a while, after a particularly long series of sessions in which these qualities have been displayed, the Communists appear to be a little bit perturbed.7

Both Joy and Harrison had done an admirable job in displaying these characteristics despite the constant Communist provocations and had resisted, except on rare occasions, the temptation to lash back at the enemy in kind.

The lack of language qualifications of the UNC delegates, except for the ROK member, was a blessing as well as a disadvantage. Since they could not understand the loud harangues until they were translated, and since some of the flavor and harshness of the original speech was usually lost in the process, the effect was diminished. On the other hand, the semantic difficulties were considerable. General Ridgway had warned the delegation of this pitfall and advised the groups to take great care about possible misunderstandings. Because of the contrasts in tradition, background, and training, words like "logic," "reason," "injustice," and "democracy" meant entirely different things to each side and literal interpretation served only to complicate the problem. Only when these terms were meticulously spelled out and clarified, could they take on intelligible meaning to the other side.

As the negotiations wore on, the two delegations began to sound more and more like each other. "The peace-loving peoples of the world" were always solidly lined up behind the UNC or the Communist proposal, as the case might be, since the sincerity and reasonableness of the proposal as a "bridge to peace" was unmistakable. Sentences like "Your logic is untenable, while ours is reasonable" were freely used by both delegations. After several weeks of conferences, Admiral Burke warned his wife that: "We all will have difficulty in the future, I imagine, in writing statements without superlative adjectives. Unjust, unfair, unreasonable are becoming standard usage in our vocabularies."8

The semantic bouts with the enemy illustrated the necessity for thorough staff work prior to negotiations in order to investigate the exact meaning of each word in translation and so prevent misinterpretation. The enemy was quick to notice and take advantage of lapses when he desired to prolong the haggling.

In all the verbal encounters in the truce tents, the key qualities of patience and firmness appeared to be the most essential ones for the UNC delegates. They needed patience to endure all the attacks, slurs, false charges, and the like, that the Communists emitted to erode an opponent's resistance, and they also had to have firmness to present the UNC stand in a manner that could not be misinterpreted when the final or minimum position was reached. If the delegation weathered the storm of invective, the half truths, and distortions convincingly, the enemy eventually would come up with a better offer or even with acceptance of the UNC proposal. For representatives of a people that have frequently been accused of excessive impatience, the U.S. delegates, despite their personal feelings, acquitted themselves extremely well in the negotiations.

The Battlefield

During the last two years of the war the battlefield received its cue from the negotiations. The first reaction of the UNC to the policy of delay adopted by the Communists in the summer of 1951 at Kaesong had been a resort to military pressure. Without question, the limited operations that had followed represented the best military effort of the UNC during the last two years of the war. In October 1951 the Eighth Army had inflicted upon the enemy the highest monthly total of casualties for the negotiations period and had won valuable defensive terrain as well. Moreover, there was little doubt that the UNC success on the battlefield was a factor in the enemy's decision to resume negotiations.

But this success not been won lightly. The hard fact that 40,000 UNC casualties had been suffered in the offensive could not be ignored. For the remainder of the conflict the dominating element in making military decisions was the estimated cost in personnel losses. The development of the "active defense" in November 1951 was an outgrowth of this sentiment as well as of the resumption of negotiations, and Ridgway and Van Fleet disapproved or discarded several ambitious offensive plans during the fall and winter because of the high estimates of casualties involved.

The wisdom of relaxing the ground pressure upon the enemy and of fixing a provisional line of demarcation in November was later questioned by some observers, who maintained that this course of action permitted the enemy to strengthen his lines and deprived the U.N. Command of the means to induce the Communists to take more reasonable positions at Panmunjom.9

Whether or not sustained ground pressure would have persuaded the enemy to come to terms sooner is an academic matter. Continued heavy losses might have altered their attitude toward negotiating, but human life was one of the Communists' most abundant resources and was freely used during the war. And it should not be forgotten that maintaining the offensive would have meant a rapidly growing list of casualties for the Eighth Army as well. With mere terrain rather than military victory as the objective, how long could the Eighth Army have sustained a costly offensive before stern criticism arose in the United States?

It was evident that the thirty-day acceptance of the demarcation line late in 1951 had resulted in a de facto cease-fire that lasted until October 1952. The low casualty rate on both sides during the December 1951-September 1952 period attested to this fact, with the UNC averaging less than 3,500 and the enemy less than 15,000 (estimated) per month. By way of comparison, the totals in October 1951 showed almost 20,000 for the U.N. Command and over 80,000 (estimated) for the Communist forces.10

Given the strait jackets that the opponents had voluntarily donned for the last two years of the war, the struggle resolved itself into a pushing and shoving contest with a ten-mile strip of Korea as the arena. With both parties keeping one eye on the truce tent, the attritional battles at the front, punctuated by long and frequent pauses between the rounds, went on inconclusively. For the greater part of the fight, neither side made efforts to expend large amounts of men and materiel simply to take the terrain, since this process had proved to be extremely costly. The one ground effort of any proportion mounted under General Clark-the expensive Triangle Hill venture-had been a suction pump type operation that had gone far beyond its original plan. After this test of the formidable strength and depth of the Communist lines, Clark remained strictly on the defensive.

Only at the end of the war did the ground front return to the fore. In the spring of 1953 the Communists decided to use the battlefield to apply pressure upon the negotiations and to prepare some basis for their claim of military victory. They had little hesitation in expending lives to take a few more hills when the sacrifice seemed to promise a future political gain.

The UNC renunciation of major ground operations led to the attempt to substitute air for ground pressure in late 1951 and most of 1952. The valiant efforts by Air Force, Navy, and Marine pilots in the air campaigns hurt the enemy considerably, to be sure, but, because of the lesser logistical demands of the static war, not enough to force concessions on the vital prisoner of war issue.

How great a role the military operations of both sides played in influencing the course of negotiations would be difficult to assess with any degree of accuracy. It is far easier to show the direct relationship between the negotiations and the battlefield than to demonstrate the indirect effects of combat operations upon the truce settlement.

Nevertheless, the stalemate on the ground did establish conditions which were far-reaching in other respects, such as the very real problem of morale at the front. The liberal UNC rotation policy and the rest and recreation program in Japan helped to ease some of the frustration, but as General Taylor pointed out in May 1953, one factor tended to spoil the otherwise excellent morale situation.

That factor stems from the fluid, uncertain political circumstances which exist through the world, and which are apparent in a unique fashion in Korea. Political objectives hold little appeal and are not highly evaluated generally by soldiers in battle positions, whereas a clearly defined physical objective constitutes a goal, attainment of which tends to hold promise of a cessation of conflict, physical hazards, and the other unpleasant facts of war. Particularly to the American soldier, the mission of occupying or defending a static line during an extended period tends to create an impression of futility, as well as uncertainty regarding an ultimate outcome.11

Here was the crux of the matter in the field - the lack of meaningful battle objectives that could not help but build frustration and impatience, especially among the military commanders.

Despite its lack of purpose during the truce negotiations, the Eighth Army had performed well. There were several instances when components of the UNC forces conducted themselves less than nobly, but these were exceptions and not the rule. The Eighth Army, as rebuilt by Ridgway and later strengthened by Van Fleet and Taylor, had impressed observers as an excellent field army. It had been tested defensively and had managed to blunt the limited enemy assaults and to counterattack effectively. But the Eighth Army had not had a real opportunity to prove how good it was offensively during the last half of the war, because of restrictions on its scale of operations. The outline plans for launching major attacks northward had all encountered the same fate- oblivion- and the war had ended, as it had begun, on a defensive note.

With the infantry confined to trenches and bunkers for the most part, the artillery arm had taken on additional importance. In December 1952, Van Fleet had characterized the war as an artillery duel and told an observer team from the United States that he placed 90 percent of the task of defeating the enemy upon the UNC artillery.12 Through huge expenditures of artillery ammunition the U.N. Command helped to compensate for the enemy's superiority in manpower and to hold down its own losses. This was especially true when the Communists employed their "human sea" attacks to overwhelm UNC positions. Out in the open the enemy was completely vulnerable to coordinated firepower and suffered heavy losses. In addition, counterbattery, interdictory, and harassing fire served to continue pressure upon the Communists, to inflict damage and casualties, and to lower enemy morale while bolstering that of the UNC forces.

However, as long as the Communist troops remained in their well-prepared field fortifications, they were extremely difficult to hit. During the relatively inactive month of April 1953, the UNC artillery had fired over a million and a quarter rounds at the enemy and Communist battle casualties from all causes had been estimated at 10,500 men.13 Even assuming that all of the casualties had resulted from the artillery fire- which they did not-the ratio would still be well over a hundred rounds per casualty.

The UNC advantage in artillery lay in better fire control equipment and techniques and in the supply of ammunition, rather than in numbers of battalions and pieces. The Communists had over twice as many battalions in Korea as the UNC had and a considerable edge in the number of guns as well. The big difference stemmed from the number of rounds fired by each gun and here the UNC, with more ample stocks and a speedier resupply system, had the advantage. In this respect, the UNC air interdiction campaign did yeoman service, for it made the enemy task of bringing ammunition to the front especially hazardous and laborious. By restricting the number of rounds on hand at the front, the air forces helped to curtail enemy operations and to save UNC lives.

Control of the air over Korea and of the sea approaches gave the U.N. Command other advantages as well. It meant that all of the enemy's supplies had to come in on the limited overland route and the strain on the line of communications was greatly increased. On the other hand, the UNC had a free rein in using both sea and land lines to supply its own forces. The air and sea domination also provided a valuable psychological advantage, for the threat of a major enemy attack from the air and on the water, although it was always a possibility, never materialized and the challenge offered to the Communists to break the UNC control was ignored. This was perhaps very fortunate since areas like Pusan were very vulnerable to surprise attacks.

As the war became more static, the Communists were able to improve their supply situation. Despite the air attacks on enemy lines of communication, stockpiles of ammunition grew and enemy fire techniques became more skilfull. Artillery fire in June and July 1953 was both heavy and accurate in support of their final offensives.

The greater supply of ammunition enjoyed by the U.N. Command and its control of the air meant that the Communists had to construct field fortifications that would be able to take severe poundings from artillery and air attack. In organizing the defense, the enemy troops dug deeply, using overhead cover effectively to absorb heavy punishment, and then carefully camouflaged their positions. As one senior observer later commented, they built their fortifications much closer to the specifications set forth in the U.S. Army field manual than most Eighth Army soldiers did.14 Only a direct hit by a large bomb or from a flat trajectory weapon could penetrate the enemy's defense bunkers and gun positions, in most cases. Many outfits in the Eighth Army were not so thorough and built their bunkers and shelters without adequate interior support or overhead cover. After a heavy Korean rain, cave-ins were all too common, especially before the winter of 1952-53.

The Chinese Communist concept of tactics had in the past embraced a fluid rather than a positional type of warfare, and the shift had been rapid and adept. Fortifying their lines in great depth, the Chinese defended their positions skilfully. And, within the framework of positional defense, they still clung to vestiges of the fluid concept. Often when a UNC attack was launched, they would fall back quickly, let the UNC take over an objective, and then mount a swift counterattack.

In late 1952, the U.S. 2d Division compiled a volume of data on the Chinese in battle, which the Eighth Army considered worth reproducing. The following excerpts are from this study:

a. The enemy makes good use of the terrain during an attack. He maneuvers his troops regardless of the size of the unit and habitually attacks from more than one direction.

b. When using artillery and mortar support in the attack the Chinese follow their preparatory artillery and mortar fires closely. This is done to the extent of accepting some casualties from their own fire.

c. Positive steps must be taken to protect and to insure communications. Heavy Chinese bombardments prior to an attack have usually rendered our communications useless.

d. The Chinese employ a system of mutually supporting strong points in the defense. The areas between and the approaches to their positions are covered with fire.

e. The Chinese soldier digs in quickly and deeply which effectively protects him from all UN bombardments. He immediately takes up his fighting position to defend his sector when the shelling subsides.

f. Chinese patrols are well planned, have a definite purpose, i.e., reconnaissance of UN positions to determine strength and disposition of weapons. He also watches our patrol routes and habits in preparation for ambush patrols.

g. The enemy's implementation of maneuver also applies to his patrols. Elements of Chinese patrols move to the flanks and rear of our patrols in an attempt to encircle them.

h. The enemy makes a determined effort police the battlefield of material and both his own and friendly dead and wounded. Therefore, we must control the scene of a battle when the fight is over.15

The report then sums up:

The Chinese soldier is not a superman. He is well and courageously led at the small unit level and the results of actions at this level offer definite proof that he is thoroughly disciplined. His industry is shown by his thorough fortifications. His conduct of the defense is accomplished in spite of UN air superiority, UN liaison aircraft, lack of his own liaison aircraft and inferior communications equipment. He is operating on a shoestring basis as is evidenced by the hodge-podge of equipment picked up on the battlefield after every encounter.16

To these encomiums might be added the observation that the enemy was not only brave and resourceful, but also tough. Growing up in an underdeveloped nation, where famines were common, the Chinese could subsist on very little and endure great privation. They had to be tough to survive in an atmosphere where life was held so cheaply. And the comment about "operating on a shoe-string basis" could be applied to the whole Chinese effort in Korea in many respects. Pitted against opponents who had attained a high degree of technological skill and who were able to bring superior materiel into play against them in the air, on the ground, at sea, and in matters of communication and transportation, they still managed to hold their own by the prodigious use of manpower. Lacking construction equipment, Chiang Kai-shek had used hand labor to construct the airfields for U.S. planes in World War II and had successfully completed the huge task.

In Korea the Chinese again demonstrated how manpower could be used in quantity to take the place of machines. Although this process might be uneconomical and wasteful in principle, it was effective as an expedient and as a countermeasure. In this case superior technology, far from leading to an easy victory, produced no victory at all.

But the enemy's armor was not without weaknesses and the Chinese were by no means "supermen." Their practice of informing the troops of the objectives before an attack and discussing the operation in open session frequently led to desertion by soldiers who had decided that their chances for surviving the action were not particularly good. From these deserters the U.N. Command was sometimes forewarned of an approaching assault and had time to prepare a warm reception for the enemy. It was on such occasions that another flaw in the Chinese system appeared. Once the orders for an attack were issued, a certain amount of inflexibility crept in. Unit leaders persisted in trying to carry out the original plan even when it became clear that unpredictable factors had entered the picture and had made the execution of the plan impossible.17 The failure to use initiative and to cancel the operation led to some of the heaviest enemy casualties of the two-year period, as the battle for White Horse Hill bore witness.

Neither the strengths nor the weaknesses of the UNC or the Communists are absolute, and a second encounter, even if limited in nature, might find an entirely different set of circumstances in operation and might result in an outcome quite unlike the first. The frantic efforts to industrialize Communist China might remedy some technological deficiencies, only to breed others in their place. As industrial development moves forward, weapons and tactics would probably change and the relative capabilities of the opposing sides would shift as well.

On the other hand, a later clash might prove to have a great deal in common with the Korean venture. Even if much of the military experience had to be scrapped because of the growth of the new weapons and tactics, the knowledge of the foe gained in Korea would help to formulate future plans and strategy and should avert the possibility of again underestimating the opponent. And since the Communist objective of eventual world domination is not likely to change, regardless of the variety of means adopted to achieve this end, the political experience with the Communist techniques obtained in Korea could turn out to be invaluable in working out a settlement if it came to open conflict again or to counteracting Communist efforts on the political level. It would indeed be unfortunate if the hard-won lessons learned in the Korean War, both on the battlefield and in the negotiations, should be ignored or forgotten because of the absence of victory.


1 U.S. losses: 33,629 dead, 103,284 wounded, 5,178 missing or captured- total, 142,091.

2 Raymond E. Manning, Cost of U.S. Wars, prepared by the Library of Congress, Legislative Reference Service, 1956. Manning deducts the costs which would presumably have been incurred regardless of whether there had been a war or not and includes the cost of expanding U.S. forces at home and abroad, foreign aid, stockpiling, etc., which grew out of the war and the atmosphere it created.

3 See Joy, How Communists Negotiate, p. 165.

4 Ltrs, Adm Burke to Mrs. Burke, 13 and 27 July. In OCMH.

5 Msg, AT 174, Barrett to DA, 17 May 51, in FEC 387.2, bk. 1.

6 Ltr, Adm Burke to Comdr Alan Brown, USN, 13 Aug 51. In OCMH.

7 Ibid.

8 Ltr, Adm Burke to Mrs. Burke, 4 Aug 51. In OCMH.

9 (1) Joy, How Communists Negotiate, p. 129. (2) Memo, Kinney for CINCUNC, no date, sub: Armistice Negotiations, in FEC Gen Admin Files, CofS, 1952 Corresp, Paper SGS 3718.

10 Casualty figures are based on UNC/FEC, Comd Rpts, Jul 5i-Jul 52 and Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpts, Aug 52-Jul 53.

11 Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpt, May 53, pp. 55-56.

12 Summary Sheet, Eddleman for CofS, 17 Dec 52, sub: Survey . . . Artillery Units in Korea, in G-3 091 Korea, 109.

13 Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpt, Apr 53.

14 Conversation of author with Maj Gen Patrick H. Tansey, 11 Feb 60.

15 Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpt, Dec 52, sec. I, Narrative, pp. 25-27.

16 Ibid.

17 Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpt, Jun 53, p. 10.

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