Despite the ironies involved, it’s generally a treat for old military poops like me to watch posted video of the military extravaganzas staged annually by our adversaries in various communist countries. There we sit in front of computer screens staring at polished tanks, behemoth missile transporters, and massed formations of goose-stepping troops showing fierce war faces, and we wonder what would have happened if we’d actually had to tangle with those forces on a battlefield while we were still on active service.
Not so many of the communist powerhouses remain these days but when the Peoples’ Republics of China or North Korea parade their military might, not many of my ilk that can resist the temptation to check out the folks we were all trained to fight back in the bad old days of the cold war. Maybe it’s just the formations of female soldiers flashing sturdy legs under short military skirts, but we keep clicking that mouse.
All this came to mind late last year when the North Koreans staged their war materiel circus through downtown Pyongyang. Most worrisome to observers at the time was the KN-08 ICBM, which is touted as a rocket that can deliver nuclear warheads on American and allied facilities in Japan and the U.S. mainland. After watching a half-hour or so of figurative North Korean gaudy chest-beating, I decided to call a friend of mine who fought in North Korea during the war there in the 1950s. He’s an aging Marine survivor of the brutal winter fight at the Chosin Reservoir and a source for many of the colorful scenes I described in writing Chosin File—the third book in my Shake Davis adventure series. He’s the guy who suggested Shake and his partners spy on nefarious North Korean military developments around the infamous battlefield, and he keeps a close eye on events in and around the Korean Peninsula.
“Never mind the big rockets,” he told me on the phone. “Pay attention to the infantry. I’ve faced those guys and they play for keeps.” Really? I wondered whether he thought North Korean ground forces were more dangerous than the threat of some tin-pot dictator with his chubby finger hovering over a nuke launch button. ”Listen, Bud,” the old Marine told me, “that little dude waving from the grandstands believes he needs to be the one who finally ends the Korean War, after all this time. That’s why he keeps goosing the South Koreans every chance he gets. Wouldn’t surprise me if he wakes up one morning, pushes all that infantry south and we’re back in a war with them and China.”
Those words keep percolating in my mind as I watch the American military establishment move to redirect our might to the Pacific Rim, as we gradually and painfully try to disengage from a two-decade morass in the Middle East. China is being provocative in their territorial claims—particularly with blue-water naval power—throughout the area in which we are now expanding our own interests. This may be two major military powers on a collision course. . . and that worries me a little. But the thought of North Korea in position to direct traffic and precipitate that train wreck. . . worries me a lot.
Marine officer Dale A. Dye rose through the ranks to retire as a captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, and upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors, Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. Dye has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows, including several Oscar- and Emmy-winning productions. He is a novelist, actor, director, and showbusiness innovator who wanders between Los Angeles and Lockhart, Texas.