The Forgotten War

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Name: ________________________ Date: ___________________________
English 7, Period: _________ Ms. Skolnik/Mr. Koondel/Ms. Harwood
Sentries (Chapters 15-16): Connected Reading and Writing 5 Quiz
The Forgotten War
By Paul Greenberg
The Forgotten War, it's called. Which is why it was so good to have it remembered so ceremoniously and extensively this past weekend on the 60th anniversary of the tenuous armistice -- certainly not peace -- that has uneasily endured on the Korean peninsula ever since.

The Korean War is worth remembering and so are all those who fought in it, the living and the dead, the great and small, the worthless politicians who knew only how to continue it and the unsung heroes who died in the snow and ice.

And let there be no mistake: It was a war, not a Police Action, just as Iraq and Afghanistan in our time have been wars, not Overseas Contingency Operations. As always, euphemism1 is the first and clearest symptom of a lack of national resolve. Seldom since Korea, at least till now, has the disparity between this country's political leadership -- first unprepared and then vacillating -- and the heroism and endurance of its fighting men been so clear.

The war that seesawed across the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s should have left a permanent impress on the American memory, yet it was somehow distant even while it was going on, and the country grew to yearn only for it to stop. Any lessons to be drawn from that conflict could wait. Indefinitely. In important ways, they still do. To this day, the heroism of those who fought there, like the suffering of the Korean people, has never been accorded the attention both deserve.

In a masterpiece of strategic thinking still studied, MacArthur's landing at Inchon in September of 1950 represented a dramatic end run around the entire North Korean army, which was sent, shocked and shattered, fleeing back north, pursued all along its collapsing lines, ripe for unconditional surrender.

As daring and masterful -- as historic -- a stroke as Inchon was, MacArthur's letting himself be surprised by the massive Chinese entry into the war only a couple of months later would prove an historic debacle.

A veteran Marine general, Lewis Burwell Puller, found his 1st Marine Division posted to a remote part of North Korea, the Chosin Reservoir, early in November of that year -- just as the first great wave of fresh, well-equipped and well-prepared Chinese troops began to sweep into Korea from the north, the northwest, the west. The 1st Marines were just establishing their perimeter defense when the horde engulfed them on all sides.

Correspondents accompanying the American troops asked the general what his plan was now. Chesty Puller explained: "We've been looking for the enemy for several days now. We've finally found them. We're surrounded. That simplifies our problem of finding these people and killing them." The Marines did.

It wasn't just the press that was concerned about how Gen. Puller proposed to get out of that trap. A worried major made the mistake of asking the general what his line of retreat would be. Chesty Puller picked up a field telephone and told the commander of his artillery, all of it, to zero in on the Marines' own position and open up on any unit retreating without authorization. Then he turned to the major. "That answer your question? There will be no withdrawal." There wasn't.

Against all odds, the Marines held through November, then into December, until on December 6, 1950, the 1st Marines were ordered to break out and head for the port of Hungnam on Korea's east coast for evacuation. When someone referred to the retreat, Chesty Puller set him straight: "Retreat, hell! We're just advancing in a different direction."

By then the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees. That's 25 degrees below zero. Fighting every mile through a frozen Hell on roads that had to be carved out of the ice and snow, the marines advanced in a different direction. Make-do bridges had to be constructed in the harshest of Korean winters as a Siberian cold front moved south across the peninsula, but the 1st Marines drove on. They would take with them their wounded, their dead, and every jeep, half-track, tank, howitzer, gun and every other piece of equipment that could be salvaged. And they drove on.

By the time they reached Hungnam some 80 twisting miles away under constant attack, staving off every enemy ambush on the way, and prepared to embark, the Chosin Frozen had broken through seven Chinese divisions, leaving nothing behind. They had saved everything, honor above all.

As he was moving his men aboard ship, Chesty Puller was approached by another pack of reporters. All he had to say was: "Remember, whatever you write, this was no retreat. All that happened was we found more Chinese behind us than in front of us. So we about-faced and attacked."

The 1st Marines had marched across a frozen wasteland into American military history -- and Marine lore and legend. And so had Chesty Puller. At day's end on many a Marine base, the last announcement before Lights Out used to be: "Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are." Let's hope that's still the custom. General, you are not forgotten. And neither is your war and all the Americans who fought in it.

1euphemism: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing. For example, “downsizing” as a euphemism for “cuts."

Name: ________________________ Date: ___________________________

English 7, Period: _________ Ms. Skolnik/Mr. Koondel/Ms. Harwood
Sentries (Chapters 15-16): Connected Reading and Writing 5 Quiz
The 'Forgotten War' Caused Americans to Go Temporarily Nuts
By Clancy Sigal
Sixty years ago this week the "forgotten war" came to an inconclusive end.

The Korean War was perfectly mistimed for me. On 25 June 1950, the day I graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles as a GI Bill student, North Korean troops in their Soviet-made tanks smashed across the 38th Parallel that was born out of the political division of Korea between Russia and the US at the end of Second World War.

This artificial boundary, splitting the Korean peninsula in two, was meant to keep the Russians from taking the whole country after Japan surrendered. The line had been hastily drawn with pencil using a National Geographic map by two junior American officers in President Truman's White House. But five years later, supported by Stalin's Russia and Mao's China, the North Koreans under Kim Il-sung had decided the time was ripe to force the reunification of Korea under communist rule. And within days communist troops overran the surprised ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers and entered the capital, Seoul.

A genocidal1 three-year war followed.

Almost all of the ex-Second World War soldiers I knew were, like me, scared to death of being called back to fight in a war nobody but psychopaths wanted. Most of us were vague even about where Korea was located in the Pacific. We certainly didn't know the ins and outs of Korean history or that fighting between North and South was just another violent chapter of a long-brewing civil war whose roots lay in Japan's brutal 19th century occupation of a country that geographically seemed a mere appendix to China. But what was obvious even to the most ignorant ex-GI was that this new war in the Pacific came out of a cold war that pitted Stalin's Soviet Union against the United States in a constant game of Armageddon chicken.

General Omar Bradley, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Korea "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong enemy." Nevertheless, once the North invaded, the world was brought to the very precipice of all-out nuclear war.

President Truman called it a UN-sponsored "police action" even though 90% of the troops on our side were American (with a smaller participation by Turkey, Australia and New Zealand). In three years (1950-53) of frustrating trench combat reminiscent of World War I, fought on a miserable barren lunar landscape of hills forever taken and retaken, refugees and prisoners-of-war were machine-gunned indiscriminately. Roughly 36,000 Americans died in combat, with Korean casualties on both sides well into the millions.

The savagery was unphotogenic, unromantic and uncivilized. General Curtis LeMay, boss of the strategic air command, boasted that his bombers may have killed 20% of the population of Korea. Ground commander Matthew Ridgeway, who liked having his photo taken wearing primed hand grenades, said he wanted to "'wipe out all life'" in enemy territory. In effect, this meant that all of Korea, North and South, friend or foe, became a free fire zone.

It predicted Vietnam.

The overall Pacific commander was the half-mad General Douglas MacArthur, whose intelligence aide, General Charles Willoughby, had quite open Nazi sympathies. (MacArthur jovially called him "my pet fascist.") MacArthur and some of President Truman's generals urged that atomic bombs be used against the communists, especially when MacArthur's prediction that the Chinese would never enter the war proved fatally stupid. In fact, in "Operation Hudson Harbor," USAF B-29 bombers, using dummy nuclear or conventional bombs, seriously practiced raining nuclear death on North Korea before saner heads prevailed when Ike Eisenhower succeeded Truman.

Today it's hard to imagine the hysteria that infected the nation, especially after the North crossed the 38th parallel. Americans went temporarily nuts. Senator Joe McCarthy told us that traitors in the US State Department had deliberately "lost" China to Mao's Reds. Ordinary dissent, like signing a petition or reading The Nation, was a KGB plot organized in the Kremlin. Liberals met behind drawn curtains, and friends stopped seeing friends. The
mounting hysteria was a dream for the American right and a nightmare for the rest of us. Of course the "atomic spies" Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had to be executed comme un exemple pour les autres2.

And all through that last war year of 1953, as men and women died in massive numbers on both sides, US and North Korean armistice negotiators, neither willing to surrender an inch of bloody worthless frozen ground, took their own sweet time dawdling in the comfort of a heated "peace tent" at the abandoned village of Panmunjom.

In America, surviving soldiers came home to an embarrassed welcome or none at all. South Korea recovered to become a successful capitalist economy. North Korea paid for its war in a coin we're all too familiar with.

1genocidal: the systematic killing of all the people from a national, ethnic, or religious group

2comme un exemple pour les autres: (French) “as an example for the others”

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