Sunday, August 28, 2011

This kind of war

I'm reading "This Kind of War" by T.R. Fehrenbach, which is a history
of the Korean Conflict. Fehrenbach has now become my favorite writer
of History, taking over the spot from Barbara Tuchman (Guns of August).
He also wrote a fantastic history of Mexico that explains why this
country is the way it is. (Fire and Blood, a history of Mexico).

In the same way that Fire and Blood really does a good job of
describing Mexico in such a way that what is happening today
is easy to predict, "this kind of war" tells the story of Korea
in such a gripping way that it is hard to put down. It is also
apparent to me that much of our relationship with China has it's
seeds in the Korean Conflict.

The tale begins with the North Koreans sweeping south over both the
ROK armies as well as ill-trained, ill-equipped american soldiers who
are no longer the professional army of the 1930's, but one that has
been gutted by congressional reforms to make it nicer. The UN forces
finally overcome the NK's and drive them up to the Yalu when they
are almost overwhelmed by the Chinese.

I've read other books and seen movies (even MASH showing the 'buguouts')
that imply what happened, but always presenting US victory as foregone
conclusion. Dr Fehrenbach's book really brings to life the struggle
faced by the army and marines while fighting a limited war.

It is also more apparent to me that the normal presentation of chinese
troops either being Russian catspaws, or allies of the North Koreans isn't
so true, it really was a war between the USA and China, with a slight
veneer of North Koreans and some tech assistance from Russia.

We've mostly forgotten that we fought a bloody war with the Chinese just
60 years ago, but I'm not so sure that the Chinese have. In the letter
that MacArthur published that got him fired, he speaks about how the chinese
have not enough manufacturing to support a modern army, and it would be
possible for the USA to use just a few nukes to completely remove their
industrial capacity. Dr Fehrenbach goes into detail about how MacArthur's
letter upset embassy's around the world.

I imagine the comments about china's backwardness and lack of industry
really hit home in China. In the USA the Korean conflict is long forgotten,
the 50,000 men who died have a nice memorial in washington. Maybe
it's not so forgotten in China and has been a major driver of
the competitiveness and the willingness to spend almost any amount
of money to shut down american industries.

I guess we'll see in a few years, if they have evil intentions we're
almost at that point whatever nefarious plan they have can come to fruition.
If there is no nefarious plan, just plain old mercantilism the same
result could happen, probably just slightly less gloating will occur.

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