Korea; A Game Changing Legacy

June 25, 1950 dawned cool and cloudy like the day before and the day before that at the 38th parallel, an invisible but very real line across the Korean Peninsula. Like the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, seasons in Korea change smartly. In October, the Manchurian

Map of the Korean War

Map of the Korean War

and Siberian gates open, releasing bitter cold and icy winds from the northwest. In May and June the winter gates are forced shut by the southerly monsoon flows and Korea becomes hot and humid. In June the days are mostly cloudy and 98 percent comfortable, except for June 25, 1950, when the North Koreans swept across the 38th parallel and caught almost everyone by surprise. The North Korean invasion heated up the South Koreans and the remaining U.S. forces. In two days, the North Koreans were knocking on Seoul’s back door.

Gaining the reigns of Korean War history and legacy approximates the challenge of bringing a run-away 24-mule team back under harness. Everything—Korean Peninsula historical context, foreign policy, post WWII military mission re-alignments, Communist hysteria, egos, and politicians—played into the complexity. Once the U.S. finally decided the Korean situation was serious and it really, really wanted to contain the ‘communist’ threat, it came very close to having its hind-quarters kicked courtesy of politicians passing the general-for-a-day card around a table.

Historically, the poor little Korean Peninsula has been on somebody’s ‘to occupy’ list for centuries but it has been a tough nut to crack. It always amuses me to read about China’s lack of imperial ambition. Imperial ambition is why China’s boundaries are in place and it still fights for more. The Sui, Tang, Ming and Manchu Dynasties of China all had eyes on the Korean Peninsula and tried, with various degrees of success, to take it. Japan recognized the strategic value of Korea as a buffer from and path to conquer China. In the late 1500s, Hideyoshi mounted Japan’s first effort at Korean conquest. Through the centuries, Japan’s Yamato emperors, who still rule today, also tried at various times to occupy Korea. Japan, in fact, had control of Korea at the end of WWII in the Pacific. Japan was ousted by the allies and Korea was divided roughly according to the two ancient original Korean countries and is the North and South Korea we know today. In 1950, North Korea was ruled by the government the Soviet Union had enthroned. South Korea had held a successful elections and the U.S. was on its way out.

The U.S. considered Korea a victim of Japan, not an ally. The United States, China, and Great Britain issued a joint statement in December 1943, after the Cairo Conference, which said: “The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.”[1] As a victim, South Korea was assisted back to independence. The South Korean army was built to a point the U.S. considered adequate for self-protection and, beginning in 1947, the U.S. military began to withdraw to its home with the 8th Army in Japan. The Soviet Union went a different direction in North Korea and by 1947, the Soviet’s hand-picked leader, Kim Il Sung, had violently suppressed any opposition. The U.S. did not view Korea as a strategic area but it knew that Russia did. Korea, like many countries freed from the Germans or Japanese, was at risk of becoming a political football in the rising tide of American-Soviet interests, which was apparent well before WWII ended.[2]

U.S. foreign policy was in the shop for a major overhaul in 1950. The Truman administration was re-tooling for the Cold War (1947-1991). The primary mechanics were George C. Marshall and Dean G. Acheson under the direction of Truman. Their work was mostly focused on the perceived Communist threat to Europe but they also had an opinion or two on Asia. Right up until June, 1950, the folks ‘in the know’ were convinced the U.S. would not defend South Korea in the event of an attack by North Korea.

“The decision to intervene in Korea grew out of the tense atmosphere that characterized Cold War politics. On the eve of the North Korean invasion, a number of events had made Truman anxious. The Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949, ending the United States’ monopoly on the weapon. In Europe, Soviet intervention in Greece and Turkey had given rise to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, which funneled aid to war-torn Europe in the hopes of warding off communist political victories. In early 1950, President Truman directed the National Security Council (NSC) to conduct an analysis of Soviet and American military capabilities. In its report, known as “NSC 68,” the Council recommended heavy increases in military funding to help contain the Soviets.”[3]

The U.S. Military was in transition in Japan as well as in Korea on that fateful June day in 1950. Kim (don’t forget last names are first in Korea) had asked Papa Stalin for permission to invade South Korea many times before he received the two thumbs up in 1949. Stalin had waited for the U.S. to withdraw the last of its ground troops before approving any aggression. In support, Stalin sent significant amounts of both supplies and ‘advisors’ to support Kim. The U.S. was of the general opinion that the Soviets would not risk WWIII over the likes of Korea. The U.S. was wrong.  The U.S. was also of the general opinion that it could not lose, militarily. The U.S. was almost wrong; it was close.

The North Koreans were well supplied. Kim, in possession of a Soviet invasion plan, controlled an

A member of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion at the 38th Parallel in Korea. (Courtesy of George Brooks)

A member of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion at the 38th Parallel in Korea. (Courtesy of George Brooks)

invasion force of 135,000, about half of whom were trained veterans. He also controlled eight complete divi­sions and two half-strength divisions, an armored brigade with 120 Soviet tanks; and 5 border constabulary brigades. The Soviets also supplied 180 Soviet aircraft, mostly fighters and attack bombers, and a few naval patrol craft. However, Stalin drew the line at permitting the Soviet advisers to accompany the North Koreans once they crossed the 38th parallel.

The South Koreans, on the other hand, controlled an Army of 95,000 men, which was a light infantry force. Its artillery totaled eighty-nine light 105-mm howitzers, which could shoot farther than North Korea’s artillery, which is handy. Unfortunately, South Korea had no tanks or antitank weapons that could have countered the Soviet tanks. While the North and South Korean navies were fairly evenly matched, the South Korean Air Force had only a few trainers and other light airplanes. “U.S. equip­ment, war-worn when furnished to South Korean forces, had deterio­rated further, and supplies on hand could sustain combat operations no longer than fifteen days.”[4]

The ranking U.S. officer in South Korea was Major General William F. Dean and, according to

Major General William F. Dean

Major General William F. Dean

military historians, he fought gallantly as the U.S. rushed to fortify the south. Eventually, he was wounded and captured. General MacArthur’s Pacific survey showed he had limited capacity to respond. He would be able to muster the “1st Cavalry Division and the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions, all under the Eighth U.S. Army in Japan, and the 29th Regimental Combat Team on Okinawa”, according to the military records. It took until about the middle of July to even mount a faint-hearted counter attack.

Meanwhile back at the United Nations, UN, fifty three countries ratified United Nations Security Council Resolution 82 on June 27th, 1950 clearing the way for an internationally sanctioned military response. Twenty nine of the approving countries offered a variety of types of support that ranged from medical and logistical support to full military support. The Soviets could have blocked the resolution with a veto but did not do so because they were, at the time, boycotting the UN. Truman was in a tough spot. Senator Joseph McCarthy was ramping up his anti-communist rhetoric. Then, too, the Alger Hiss espionage trial was fresh. Truman certainly didn’t want to come across as ‘soft’ on Communism and, like Stalin, he did not want a third world war. Both leaders danced. Stalin refused to have his Soviet troops cross the 38th parallel and Truman stopped just short of saying the Soviets were behind the June 25, 1950 invasion. Instead, the invaders were labeled ‘communists’ and the Soviets were never directly blamed.

The Korean War’s legacy continues to define today’s conflicts. It was a political war fought to ‘contain’ an enemy; not to win. Today Korea looks very much like it did 60 years ago. The 38th parallel still cuts the country in half, including the road and railway infrastructure and over 50 rivers. There has never been a peace treaty so the war never officially ended and no one ever won; the Soviets were not out by the end of 1950, the Koreas were not united, and the U.S. did not significantly impede the progress of ‘communism’. A Kim ruled North Korea and repeatedly made threats, eventually carrying one out. A Kim still rules North Korea and repeatedly makes threats but, so far, has not carried any out. Political wars fought with political egos playing general-for-a-day do not accomplish anything except the loss of American service members. Over 50,000 died in Korea. The U.S. maintained in Korea but lost in Viet Nam, and accomplished little in Bosnia. The U.S.failed in Nicaragua and the Congo, and broke even in Panama and Grenada. At the moment the U.S. is engaged in another political war it has no intention of winning, just fighting. So far, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade with no end in sight and little progress. The only difference is the technology. Now the politicians can ‘see’ what each soldier ‘sees’ and direct the soldiers’ actions on a moment-by-moment basis without ever leaving the comfort of the command center. As John Wayne would say, “that is a helluva way to run a railroad.”

 

 



[1] Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, Dept., of State Publication 7187 (Washington, 1961), p. 448.

[2] American President: A Reference Resource; http://millercenter.org/president/truman/essays/biography/5

[3] National Archives; Teaching With Documents: The United States Enters the Korean Conflict; (Originally published in Social Education, the Journal of the National Council for the Social Studies).

[4] The US Army Center of Military History; Chapter 8, the Korean War; http://www.history.army.mil/

Poseidon Smiles

Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, loves Hawaii and smiles on her shores. The sea is the best thing about working in Hawaii because travel time to cross it reduces corporate visits. It simply takes too much time out of the schedule of very busy corporate folks to fly to Hawaii. If the operation is working smoothly, profits stay good, government audits reflect appropriate behavior, and personnel are properly managed, then a manager can count on one program visit a year. The bad thing about working in Hawaii is that the east coast starts to work in the middle of the night and one is expected to answer the telephone. Of course, by noon, one is free to complete the paperwork as the east coast begins to shuffle home. With this schedule, my usual lunch hour was three minutes; time to gulp a sandwich and some fruit juice. The staff hung a sign on my door warning people that I was out to lunch and would be back in two minutes.

One bright, sunny day, however, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse; lunch on the sea wall at Pearl Harbor. I loved the Pacific Ocean and watched it every chance I got. In the middle of lunch and a budget strategy discussion with the finance manager, we had the experience of a lifetime. About 1,000 yards out of the harbor in open ocean, a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine breached. I mean that puppy came out of the water at a steep angle, showed at least half of the hull and splashed down. It was the craziest thing I had ever witnessed and, based on newspaper accounts the next day, it was a career buster for the Captain.

The Cold War (1947-1991) incubated and grew the largest submarine fleet the world has ever seen. Twenty-eight different classes of submarines glided under the water, through the mountain ranges and canyons of the world’s oceans playing tag with their counterparts and training war games with the fleet. Adjusting the count to remove the ten classes of submarines with only one vessel does nothing to the claim in the first sentence; the fleet was the largest the world had ever seen. Diesel submarines were used during the Cold War but only for the duration of their life cycle although, some lasted into the 1980s. The nuclear submarine came into its own during this time. The heavy lifting was done, and continues to be done, by two classes of nuclear submarines; the Los Angeles class fast attack submarines and the Ohio class ballistic missile submarines and guided missile submarines. According to the Navy, fifty-one of the Los Angeles class and eighteen of the Ohio class boats remain in service.[1] [2] The submarine fleet is also among the most under-appreciated piece of Cold War infrastructure.

The submarine, no matter how glorious, and it is truly awesome to behold, is a simple container, a platform to deliver goods and services. The brilliance happens because of the talent and teamwork of the individuals who operate and use the vessel. The Los Angeles class, for example, has been used for mining, search and rescue, intelligence gathering, and inserting forces. If needed, it can also fight other submarines. The Navy touts the Ohio class subs as “…virtually undetectable undersea launch platforms of intercontinental missiles.”

Submariners are a breed apart. I cannot imagine living for 70-days cooped up in forced association with people I may or may not respect. I feel tremendous admiration for the service they perform with so little acknowledgement. Life Aboard A Submarine[3] is a very humorous, illustrative, twenty-nine point essay prepared for the Submarine Centennial. What follows is a random selection using everyday examples we can all understand to explain how it feels to be a submariner:

  • Sit in your car for six hours at a time with the motor running. Keep hands on the wheel. But don’t leave your driveway. Log readings of your oil pressure, water temperature, speedometer and odometer every 15 minutes.
  • Every so often, yell “EMERGENCY DEEP!” run into the kitchen and sweep all pots, pans and dishes off of the counters onto the floor, and then yell at your wife for not having the kitchen area “Stowed for Sea!”
  • Put on the stereo headphones (don’t plug them in), go to the stove and stand in front of it. Say (to no one in particular) “Stove manned and ready” stay there for 3 to 4 hours. Say (once again and to no one in particular) “Stove secured”, then role up your headphone cords and put them away.

Once the tears of laughter are wiped away, spend a moment pondering how it would feel to be one of these service people. Acceptance into this service is completely voluntary and applicants undergo extensive, rigorous and psychologically painful testing.

A public historical milestone was met in 1953 when the U.S.Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, reached the North Pole beneath the ice. The tactical Cold War achievement was laying bare and vulnerable thousands of miles of the Soviet Union coastline. The Soviets were no longer untouchable. These great boats and their crews patrolled the U.S. shores and played touch and go with their counterparts in the old soviet Union for forty-three years. They provided an umbrella of protection that could be rapidly configured and reconfigured because submarines are agile beasts. Submarines gathered most of the precious little solid intelligence the U.S. had and most of the rest of the ‘good’ intelligence was provided by the air force. It is safe to say that the exploits and the missions of submarines during the cold war will not be declassified anytime soon and the service members don’t talk much. I am sorry to see this piece of Cold War infrastructure degrade.

The U.S. has lost all of the diesel electric boats and the vast majority of its nuclear submarines. Most of the nuclear boats have been lost at the refueling station. Nuclear submarines only have to refuel once every thirty or so years (wish I could get that kind of mileage) but when they do refuel it costs a bunch of money. It seems the budget just can’t handle the challenge so the boats are retired. Their reactors have, since 1986, been buried in a trench at the DOE Hanford site. I worked at Hanford for a brief time and the burial of a submarine reactor is quite a feat that takes several years to achieve. It is an ugly, sad job.

While the U.S. is busy downsizing its submarine fleet, Russia is cashing in on selling its new, improved SSK Kilo Class (Type 636) submarines around the world. The Kilo class subs are quiet and dangerous both to other submarines and surface vessels like the U.S. battle groups. So far the new, proud owners include Venezuela, Iran, China, and Indonesia. These countries are not our friends. For me this is news. I do not care that OJ Simpson is in court today, which is the Fox News the headline. I want to know why the devil Venezuela needs a SSK Kilo Class (Type 636) submarine that can carry armaments sufficient to and has the stealth to kill a carrier. I hope the few submarines we have left can patrol all seven seas because we need them now.

Poseidon must also love the company of the submariners that hunt and play in his seas. Their lives are hard and the humor unique. They give the old god some interesting times and make him smile.

 

 



[1] SSN Los Angeles Class Nuclear Submarine, United States of America; http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/la/

[2] SSBN / SSGN Ohio Class Submarine, United States of America; http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/ohio/

The Rise of the Minuteman

The year of 1962 found me sitting in a house in Great Falls, Montana; a teenager mulling

 Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

over the transfer into yet another school and wondering if I could get credit for that Washington state history course I’d taken. Probably not. I would have to take a course on Montana’s history. That January in 1962, while the Cuban Missile crisis storm was rising, I was busy hating Great Falls’ sub-zero temperatures pushed farther down the Fahrenheit scale by a wild wind that blew in directly from the Artic. Great Falls was wheat lands country and there was nothing between the Artic and Great Falls; it was all flat. My family traveled a great deal. We had lived in Chile for a number of years and through most of the northern tier of states from Washington to Minnesota. We weren’t rich. Upon his return from WWII’s Pacific theater, my Dad gave up his dreams of college and settled into the business of making a living for his family by working construction as an electrical superintendent. We were in Great Falls because he had a job supporting the construction of the Minuteman missile sites.

My sister’s poodle is responsible for my first exposure to the Cold War (1947-1991) infrastructure. When the poodle had puppies, my dachshund was not supportive of the

Minuteman ICBM

Minuteman ICBM

poodle or the puppies and that got us both unceremoniously ejected from the house and into my father’s workplace. We would rise at 4:00 am, grab a bite to eat, make lunches, and head to the local general aviation airport where we boarded a plane and took off into the Montana farmland around Great Falls. The sites we visited were each in a slightly different stage of construction and all were being readied to accept the Minuteman ICBMs that were being manufactured elsewhere. I discovered that each silo was three stories deep and, in the event of a launch, a huge concrete slab that covered it would be blown clear. One of the sites we visited was a control site. The big cables I saw at the smaller sites ran to a series of manned control centers deep underground.  It was all very impressive other than it was out in the middle of nowhere. Later I learned so much more.

The rise of the 1960s Minuteman ICBMs was the logical outcome of three major technological developments in the 1950s. The advances combined with the realization that, while many countries wanted to be protected from the former Soviet Union, few were lining up to have a nuclear arsenal on their soil. Inertial guidance system developments provided for increased ICBM accuracy.  The former Soviet Union and the rest of the allies split the science baby at the end of the WWII hostilities. The WWII Nazi V-2 rocket guidance technology was a spoil of war. Werner Von Braun, a leader in the Nazi rocket program, and about 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles joined the U.S. science community. The other major inertial guidance system players were Caltech and NASA JPL. The inertial guidance system enabled a missile to hit its target and the first piece of the three piece puzzle was in place.

The second piece of the puzzle was the development of Edward Teller’s concept of thermonuclear weapons which gave much more bang for the nuclear buck. Ivy Mike,

Ivy Mike

Ivy Mike

detonated on Eniwetok Atoll in late 1952, was the first test of the concept. The view of the Operation Ivy’s beautiful turquoise blue, crystal clear water in the craters contrasting with the dark blue Pacific waters were the first thing I saw when I flew into Eniwetok  in the early 1990s. Thermonuclear weapons are staged weapons. A little fission device is detonated to add heat, compress and trigger the second stage hydrogen fusion device. This tactic provides for much more explosive power, or yield.

The final piece of the Minuteman puzzle was the development of powerful booster engines for multistage rockets, greatly increasing their size and range. Three missile workhorses were developed. The Titan and Atlas missiles had to be fueled just before launch, which

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

made them inconvenient for ICBM use and they went on to become stars in the NASA space programs. The Minuteman I and II, which went into the field in 1962, used solid fuels stored within the missile that could lift up to three warheads, each with the destructive power of a megaton or greater. At this point the U.S. could deliver big bombs with good accuracy anywhere in the northern hemisphere, or the world for that matter, in less time than it takes for a nice hot bath.

As the technology was advancing at breakneck speed, the political arena caught fire. In Smart Rocks, Brilliant Pebbles, and all that Political Jazz, we discussed Eisenhower’s fight to defend the country from bombers dropping bombs on the countryside and his aha moment when it was realized that the threat would come from the direction of missiles. Lack of much solid intelligence from the former Soviet Union left the door wide open to build disaster scenarios on what THEY might be doing. The lobby for missile manufacturers and other defense contractors went into overdrive and the Air force hammered the fear home.

As the 1960 election approached, Eisenhower’s adherence to tight fiscal policies came under attack.  Eisenhower was a proponent of little debt as was illustrated in his funding strategy for the Interstate Highway system, discussed in Ribbons: The Interstate Highway System. During the elections the ‘missile gap’ allegations between the Soviets and the U.S. reached fever pitch and the cause for the ‘gap’ was laid directly at the feet of the Eisenhower administration’s fiscal policies. In November 1958, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the future presidential candidate, initiated the ‘missile gap’ charge when he claimed that the Eisenhower administration placed fiscal policy ahead of national security. As a result, he said, the nation faced “a peril more deadly than any wartime danger we have ever known.”[1]

Eisenhower wasn’t worried about a ‘missile gap’. The veil of secrecy prevented President Eisenhower from disclosing the U-2 photographic evidence that confirmed the lack of a ‘gap’. The secrecy code sword cuts both ways and the well-earned lack of trust in the government allows fear games and manipulation. Shortly after the 1960 presidential election ‘missile gap’ discussions were muted. They flared again in February 1961 when Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that there was no missile gap during a press briefing. The next big surge of fear mongering arrived when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in April 1962. As a teenager, I will attest to the fact I was terrified along with millions of others.

Patriotic farmers from across America’s breadbasket gave up two or more acres of their land to the federal government for the deployment of 1,000 ICBMs to protect us from the Soviet menace. Thousands worked on the construction, thousands were employed to manufacture the missiles and their parts, and thousands more worked to support the installations. Many have tried but failed to tally the total cost of our ICBM defense but it runs to the trillions of dollars.

Did it work? Many say yes. We didn’t have a nuclear war, did we? Others say no and we placed millions of innocent civilians in harm’s way.  I am a proponent of military strength as a deterrent.  I also respectfully disagree that there is such a thing as ‘innocent civilians’ during a war. Historical cycles tend to support those positions. Weak countries are overrun and citizens, by virtue of their status, are responsible for their governments’ actions. How we got strong is another matter. Rather than a discussion with the American people coupled with disclosure of evidence, the federal government opts for lies, secrecy and manipulation.

Personally, I resented the fear I felt as a kid. I was manipulated and that makes me feel stupid. As soon as I gained a broader world view from within and without the U.S., I began to question, read, and apply the principles of skepticism to everything that emanates from the federal government and its minions. Whenever the government wants something-oil, resources, and so on-they drop a big rock in the population bathtub and, just before everyone drowns, they provide ‘the answer’. Predictably, the tactic is becoming more and more acute, the dropped rock is getting bigger and the bathtub more crowded. Now, the bathtub population is being assaulted with a mind-numbing economic strategy. Individuals within the bathtub population can hardly breathe, let alone think. The next rock dropped in the tub will drown many, I think.

The teenager I was in 1961 was definitely going to be a medical doctor. Instead, I became an engineer and the decades rocketed by at close to the speed of light. The twine of my life was bound around the core of the Cold War (1947-1991) and, although I am sliding into home all used up, I had a great ride. Ideas are the most powerful force in the universe so just keep thinking.