Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Our Obligations to "the Men in the Field and the God to Whom We Must Answer for Their Lives"

It is true that nothing can match the bar set by the economics coverage of National Review. But I'm not impressed with the rest of it either. I don't think the people writing about national security for National Review know as much as they think they do.

Here's Victor Davis Hanson, saying that an earlier, better generation of Americans would not be criticizing George W. Bush and company.

Victor Davis Hanson on War on National Review Online: Due to the success of George Bush at keeping the United States secure, he, not Osama bin Laden, can... be the target of a relieved Left — deserving of assassination in an Alfred Knopf novel, an overseer of Nazi policies according to a U.S. senator, a buffoon, and rogue in the award-winning film of Michael Moore. Yes, because we did so well against the real enemies, we soon had the leisure to invent new imaginary ones.... Afghanistan... conjured up... warnings of quagmire, expanding Holy War at Ramadan, unreliable allies, a trigger-happy nuclear Pakistan... American corpses to join British and Russian bones in the high desert — not a seven-week victory and a subsequent democracy in Kabul.... Are we then basking in the unbelievable notion that the most diabolical government of the late 20th century is gone... and in its place are schools, roads, and voting machines? Hardly, since the bar has been astronomically raised... the Afghan parliament is still squabbling and a long way from the city councils of Cambridge, La Jolla, or Nantucket — or maybe not.

The same paradox of success is true of Iraq. Before we went in... had anyone predicted that Saddam would be toppled in three weeks, and two-and-a-half-years later, 11 million Iraqis would turn out to vote in their third election — at a cost of some 2100 war dead — he would have been dismissed as unhinged.... What explains this paradox of public disappointment over things that turn out better than anticipated? Why are we like children who damn their parents for not providing yet another new toy when the present one is neither paid for nor yet out of the wrapper? One cause is the demise of history. The past is either not taught enough, or presented wrongly as a therapeutic exercise to excise our purported sins... a historically ignorant populace who knows nothing about past American wars and their disappointments.... Few Americans remember that... during the bloody American retreat back from the Yalu River in late 1950 thousands of our frozen dead were sent back stacked in trucks like firewood.... [W]e of the present think that... there simply were to be no fatalities in the American way of war. If there were, someone was to be blamed, censured, or impeached — right now!...

Hanson is truly and massively in error in thinking Americans in 1950-1951 did not cast blame and censure as a result of America's defeat at the hands of Peng Dehuai's forces at the Yalu River. Here is one of the greatest of the "Greatest Generation"--Matthew B. Ridgway--casting blame primarily at Douglas MacArthur, but also at his own friend and patron George Marshall:

Matthew Ridgway (1967), The Korean War (New York: DaCapo: 0306802678): p. 55 ff: Perhaps the most shattering surprise was achieved by the Chinese in their attack on the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment west of Unsan.... The force charged with security of the bridge let men cross over unchallenged. They... were taken for ROKs.... Chinese attacked the command post from all sides.... Having gone to sleep to await the signal for withdrawal, [the Americans] crawled ot of their foxholes into hand-to-hand fighting.... By twos and threes and half-dozens the men... proceeded south and east....

The men left behind in the valley managed to draw together into islands of resistance, some of which held out until daylight, when air support gave them a respite.... Efforts to break through to rescue these remnants... were vain. The enemy was too well dug in and friendly artillery support was lacking.... The relief forces had to give up the effort.... The Chinese came at them in the darkness with a mortar barrage and an infantry attack.... Six times... the Chinese attacked.... The command post dugout at one point was overrun.... Daylight brought no air support. What rations were left were divided among the wounded... 250, while but 200 combat-fit troops remained. Early on the morning of November 4, the survivors decided they must try to escape, leaving the wounded to be surrendered to the Chinese.... They travelled all night through a drenching rain, to the east and north and finally south and southwest.... But before they could reach American lines, a Chinese force surrounded them and forced them to break into smaller groups.... Only a few... ever reached our lines and no truly accurate reckoning was mde of how many were killed, wounded, or captured....

Altogether the 8th Cavalry Regiment lost more than half its authorized strength at Unsan.... General Walker well knew that he lacked the force and equipment for a sustained offensive against an enemy whose numerical superiority now seemed clear. He sent a straightforward message to [MacArthur in] Tokyo acknowledging AN AMBUSH AND SURPRISE ATTACK BY FRESH, WELL-ORGANIZED, AND WELL-TRAINED UNITS, SOME OF WHICH WERE CHINESE COMMUNIST FORCES. The eventual response from Tokyo, however, was one of irritation and impatience at Walker's failure to move forward on schedule.... By November 9... [MacArthur's] messages to the JCS expressed confidence in... the ability of the United Nations Forces to destroy all armed resistance now before them. This was MacArthur's answer to a warning from JCS that Chinese intervention now seemed an accomplished fact. Ths wholly human failing of discounting or ignoring all unwelcome facts seemed developed beyond the average in MacArthur's nature....

[W]hatever the private attitude of MacArthur's superiors [in the Pentagon]... no voice was raised against him. I say no voice, because I do not include my own, which did express private protest and had no right to do more. I well remember my impatience on that dreary Sunday, December 3, as we sat through hours-long discussions in the JCS War Room.... Much of the time the Secretaries of State [Dean Acheson] and Defense [George Marshall] participated in the talks, with no one apparently willing to issue a flat order to the Far East Commander [Douglas MacArthur] to correct a state of affairs that was going rapidly from bad to worse. Yet the responsibility and the authoirty clearly resided right there in the room.... I blurted out--perhaps too bluntly but with deep feeling--that I felt we had already spent too damn much time on debate and that immediate action was needed. We owed it, I insisted, to the men in the field and to the God to whom we must answer for those men's lives to stop talking and to act. My only answer, from the twenty men who sat around the wide table, and the twenty others who sat around the walls in the rear, was complete silence--except that I did receive from a Navy colleague sitting behind me a hastily scribbled "proud to know you" note.... I felt no regrets at these outbursts and have never regretted them since. It has always seemed to me that a commander has as deep a duty to the men with whose lieves he is temporarily entrusted as they have to him--and part of that duty is to see that those lives are not needlessly squandered.

Several field commanders in Korea were... aware of the dangers ahead... did what they could, while still obeying MacArthur's orders... to forestall disaster. Indeed, had it not been for the foresight--and in one instance the deliberate foot-dragging--of some of these commanders the subsequent defeat might have been what some of the newspapers tried to make it into--a complete debacle.... MacArthur, like Custer at the Little Big Horn, had neither eyes nor ears for information.... General Walker moved with both courage and discretion.... In the light of his relations with MacArthur, I do not see how he could have done any better than he did...

It may well be the National Review way to tell American to shutup and be quiet when idiots in government break their obligations to "the men in the field and to the God to whom we must answer for those men's lives." It is not the American way. It has never been the American way.


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