Korea: Lessons from the Past

By Joe Ragonese

Today someone asked if it looked like we would end up going to war in Korea.  He was worried because his daughter was about to graduate from college, and having taken four years of ROTC, was going to accept her commission in the U.S. Army.  The question caused me to research the past and what was learned is a complicated history of what not to do if you are going to avoid another war in Korea.

Japan invaded and controlled Korea in 1910.  When World War II ended, Russia was given possession of the northern half of the peninsula, as part of an agreement with them to declare war on Japan when fighting ended in Europe.  It is recorded that so little thought was given to the area that two legislative aides were the ones who drew up the border between the American and Russian zones of Korea, at the 38th parallel.  When the Cold War began in earnest, after the Berlin blockade, the U.S. sponsored the formation of a government in South Korea under Syngman Rhee, an American educated politician, who was a dictator in his own right.

Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, sponsored a dedicated communist, who had fought for Russia during World War II, as well as for communist China in its war against the Republic of China, who went by the name of Kim il-Sung.  Both Rhee and Kim stated that they were going to invade the other half of the peninsula.  America reined in Rhee while Stalin did the same for Kim, until at a press conference in January of 1950, when Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, made a reckless statement where he said, “South Korea is not a vital part of the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia.”

That was the green light needed for Kim to invade South Korea.  The next time he went to Stalin, he was given permission for the invasion.  Acheson’s statement alone would not have provoked a war, as reckless as it was; however, in light of our unpreparedness to fight a war of any type, Stalin thought the risk was worth the reward.  Stalin wanted to expand communism worldwide.

At the end of World War II, our military budget was cut to the bone, taking an armed forces of 16 million men and women down to 1,459,462 personnel on active duty.  Of those, we only had a few combat ready battalions and they were facing the Russians in Europe.  Personnel on active duty in June, 1950 were 593,167 in the Army, 411,277 in the Air Force, 380,739 in the Navy and 74,279 in the Marine Corps.  We were too weak to hold off the dogs of war, and our enemies knew it.   Weakness breeds war.

Today our armed forces are even less ready for war.  In 2017 there are 483,000 personnel in the Army, 317,000 in the Air Force, 317,237 in the Navy and 182,000 in the Marine Corps; for a total force of 1,299,237 on active duty; 160,225 less than in 1950, when our weakness led to war in Korea.  It would appear that we have learned nothing from the past, as it seems likely that once again we will do battle in Korea because we are not ready for war.

In June of 1950 on the Korean peninsula there were only 500 American military advisors, on the day the North Korean Army stormed across the 38th parallel and overran the South Korean Army, forcing them south.  The South Korean Army was not much better equipped than America to fight a war.  The closest American forces were in Japan, and of the four divisions stationed there, none were combat ready.  One of those under-equipped units was the 24th Infantry Division.  It was sent, undermanned and under supplied, to Korea to stop the invaders from the north.

Miraculously, they were able to slow the juggernaut from the north long enough for General Douglas MacArthur to counterattack.  His plans worked so perfectly, that an airborne invasion of the north was not needed as infantry units stormed forward on the battlefield.  General MacArthur sent troops all the way to the Yalu River, on the border of North Korea and China.  China reacted by attacking across the Yalu with several hundred thousand troops, driving the American forces back to the 38th Parallel.  MacArthur and President Truman disagreed on the proper course of action.  MacArthur wanted a victory, and Truman did not.  Had Truman listened to MacArthur, the world would look very different today.

In fact, Truman, who was the least prepared President prior to Obama to conduct a war, wouldn’t even call the war a war.  Instead he called it a police action in support of the United Nations.  His lack of leadership and understanding of the consequences of his actions, would set the precedent that would lead to the loss of every war, except Gulf War I.  His actions set up the failed actions of Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Bush 41 and Bush 43.  Yes, even though Bush 41. won Gulf War I, he did not have the intestinal fortitude to go all the way to victory.  He followed in the failed footsteps of those Presidents before him.

Truman was unprepared to fight for a victory and instead had the military fight a static war while he pleaded with the North Koreans to secure a cease-fire.  Those negotiations ended with the troops of both sides remaining in place, with a demilitarized zone separating them.  At the end of three years of fighting, and the loss of over 38,000 American servicemen, there was no treaty to end the war; everyone simply agreed to stop shooting at each other.

Technically we are still at war with North Korea.  Today there are 28,500 American servicemen stationed in South Korea to maintain the cease-fire; and all are prepared to do battle at any second.  The infantry units sit in slit trenches looking across at their North Korean counterparts; all with loaded guns.  These troops would be the first ones facing the nuclear threat posed by Kim, due to Clinton and Obama’s failings.

The Kim family has ruled North Korea since its inception.  First was Kim il-Sung; followed in 1994 by his son, Kim Jong-il, who ratcheted up the nuclear quest for his nation to a point that he came near succeeding.  Bill Clinton was the U.S. President at the time and he had to make a choice on how he would handle the North Korean’s quest for nuclear armament.  He decided that paying off the communist leader would solve the problem.  It was the last time that America could have stopped them from becoming the nuclear threat to the world that they are today.  Clinton was a weak leader who had no clue what he was doing.

Kim took the multi-billion payment, two nuclear power generating plants and a constant supply of fuel oil from America, but did not dismantle his nuclear plants as was required by the trade.  Instead, he continued to develop a nuclear arsenal.  As Clinton was stepping down, in 2000, the intelligence community confirmed that the nuclear quest was going strong and making headway.  President George W. Bush suspended the trade with North Korea.  In 2003 Kim admitted to possessing a nuclear bomb, which he said he needed for security because President Bush was a threat.

Kim Jong-il died in December, 2011 and in 2012, his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un became the supreme leader.  Kim Jong-Un, since assuming power, has consistently threatened America, Japan and South Korea with a nuclear attack.  While Obama was President, he did what he always did as President, nothing; which led to even more provocations.  During this time of danger lurking from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS, Obama continued to cut our military down to levels that this country has not seen since before World War II.   It is also interesting to note that Obama could have stopped Iran’s nuclear quest, before the multi-layered anti-aircraft system was in place, if he had taken any action to stop them.  Instead, he chose to go the Clinton route and paid off Iran with a multi-billion payment for their promise to stop their nuclear development…oh yeah, I believe them, they’re just as trustworthy as North Korea.

Today our military is at its lowest point, as far as readiness is concerned.  Aside from cutting our military to the quick with personnel and modern equipment, the Obama administration implemented a vast array of social engineering changes to our military, the likes of which has never been seen before in America.  This has wreaked havoc on the military order and discipline necessary to fight a war; at least successfully.  The result of this weakness is that America is exposed to military threats from every despot and dictator around the world; including Kim Jong-Un.

Had anyone in the Obama administration looked at the causes of the Korean War, they would have seen that our emaciated military of 1950 caused it; and would have taken the precautions to avoid a repeat.  That did not happen.  In response to the man who was worried about his daughter going into the Army as a young second lieutenant, the research done only confirmed his deepest fears.  America is on the brink of war, most likely with North Korea, but if changes aren’t implemented quickly, others might join them.  Weakness breads war, and God help us, we are in a severely weakened military state.

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