by Valtin | 11/11/2007 07:35:00 PM
In January 1951, General Matthew Ridgway was appointed the new commander for the Eighth Army in Korea. U.S. forces had suffered setback after setback after a Chinese and North Korean offensive drove U.S. and UN forces back from nearby the Yalu River and well south of the 38th parallel into South Korea. Only months before, General Douglas MacArthur had promised that the troops would be home by Christmas. But by December 4, 1950, things had gotten so bad the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved President Truman's decision to use atomic weapons, if necessary, to avoid possible defeat.

General Ridgway, who ultimately would take over from MacArthur, was a World War II hero, and considered something of a character. When in public, "he always had a hand grenade attached to one shoulder strap on his battle jacket, and a first aid kit on the other." The strange regalia earned him the nickname "Old Iron Tits".

The Chinese/North Korean rout of U.S. forces was one of the greatest battlefield defeats in U.S. history. Thousands died, many thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Ridgway saw it as his duty to restore morale and discipline among troops. He issued the following memorandum, asking "why are we here... what are we fighting for?", which I offer in full here as a historical document. The attentive reader will see some interesting parallels between Ridgway's Christian apocalyptic tone and the rhetoric and policies of the current U.S. political-military leadership.

In his recent book, The Coldest Winter, the late David Halberstam describes how Ridgway, upon hearing that North Korean troops had crossed the thirty-eighth parallel,

he immediately wondered whether, in his words, it represented "the beginning of World War III... Armageddon, the last great battle between East and West." (p. 488)

Some readers may think that the "war on terror" and the war against communist Korean and Chinese forces bear little similarity. I have neither the time nor inclination to answer such critics. I think it is clear that the military and political leadership of this country are using "Terror" as they did "Communism" in the middle of the 20th century, to justify the use of new weaponry, indiscriminate bombing and endless war, to slaughter hundreds of thousands, and destroy other countries in the specious cause of saving the "homeland".

It is enough to note that this memorandum is rarely mentioned in current histories of the Korean War. Not surprisingly, it is not referenced in the Wikipedia article on Ridgway, which states:

When Ridgway took command, the army was still in a tactical retreat, after a strong foray into North Korea had been met with an unexpected and overwhelming Communist Chinese advance. Ridgway's success in turning Eighth Army’s morale around, using little more than a magnetic personality and bold leadership, is still a model for the Army for how the power of leadership can dramatically change a situation.

Ridgway's offensive extended the war for another two years, even as there were repeated pleas for an armistice from the numerically far more powerful Chinese and North Koreans. In the end, the war produced a stalemate militarily that persists to this day. The price?

The Korean War finally ended in July 1953. Left in its wake were four million military and civilian casualties, including 33,600 American, 16,000 UN allied, 415,000 South Korean, and 520,000 North Korean dead. There were also an estimated 900,000 Chinese casualties. Half of Korea's industry was destroyed and a third of all homes. The disruption of civilian life was almost complete.

Quoted from Military History Network:


Office of the Commanding General
21 January 1951

MEMORANDUM FOR: Corps, Division, Separate Brigade or RCT Commanders, and Commanding General, 2d Logistical Command

SUBJECT: Why We Are Here

1. In my brief period of command duty here I have heard from several sources, chiefly from the members of combat units, the questions, "Why are we here?" "What are we fighting for?"

2. What follows represents my answers to these questions.

3. The answer to the first question, "Why are we here?" is simple and conclusive. We are here because of the decisions of the properly constituted authorities of our respective governments. As the Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur said publicly yesterday: "This command intends to maintain a military position in Korea just as long as the Statesmen of the United Nations decide we should do so." The answer is simple because further comment is unnecessary. It is conclusive because the loyalty we give, and expect, precludes any slightest questioning of these orders.

4. The second question is of much greater significance, and every member of this command is entitled to a full and reasoned answer. Mine follows.

5. To me the issues are clear. It is not a question of this or that Korean town or village. Real estate is, here, incidental. It is not restricted to the issue of freedom for our South Korean Allies, whose fidelity and valor under the severest stresses of battle we recognize; though that freedom is a symbol of the wider issues, and included among them.

6. The real issues are whether the power of Western civilization, as God has permitted it to flower in our beloved lands, shall defy and defeat Communism; whether the rule of men who shoot their prisoners, enslave their citizens, and deride the dignity of man, shall displace the rule of those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred; whether we are to survive with God's hand to guide and lead us, or to perish in the dead existence of a Godless world.

7. If these be true, and to me they are, beyond any possibility of challenge, then this has long ceased to be a fight for our Korean Allies alone and for their national survival. It has become, and it continues to be, a fight for our own freedom, for our own survival, in an honorable, independent national existence.

8. The sacrifices we have made, and those which we shall yet support, are not offered vicariously for others, but in our own direct defense.

9. In the final analysis, the issue now joined right here in Korea is whether Communism or individual freedom shall prevail, and, make no mistake, whether the next flight of fear-driven people we have just witnessed across the HAN, and continue to witness in other areas, shall be checked and defeated overseas or permitted, step by step, to close in on our own homeland and at some future time, however distant, to engulf our own loved ones in all its misery and dispair[sic].

10. These are the things for which we fight. Never have members of any military command had a greater challenge than we, or a finer opportunity to show ourselves and our people at their best -- and thus be an honor to the profession of arms, and a credit to those who bred us.

11. I would like each commander to whom this is addressed, in his own chosen ways of leadership, to convey the foregoing to every single member of his command at the earliest practicable moment.

M. B. Ridgway
Lieutenant General, United States Army

Link to typescript

Time Magazine, 2/5/1951, excerpts

Also posted at Invictus

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Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/11/2007 8:46 PM:

whether the rule of men who shoot their prisoners, enslave their citizens, and deride the dignity of man, shall displace the rule of those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred;

How low we have fallen...