History 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
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
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 proteg?s 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
17 Hq Eighth Army, Comd Rpt, Jun 53, p. 10.
Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation