Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to find Korean memoirs about the Korean War, because most books in Amazon are from the perspective of English speakers, i.e., American soldiers. None-the-less, a lot can be learned from their experience. I picked this book, because of a rather provocative statement that the war did not end in a stalemate. What the author means is not that the Americans were on the verge of breaking through the Chinese lines and taking the entire peninsula. He means that the American objective was not to take over the entire peninsula but rather push the North Koreans back over to their side, which they did. Of course, they went further to the Chinese border which led to the Chinese entering the war and pushing them back to the old border.
The memoir is limited in that the author only entered the war at the very end. There was still ferocious fighting all the way to the end, but he didn’t really get to experience a lot of the Korean country and the entirety of the war which included the Southern retreat, the US push back to the Chinese border, and then the Chinese push back to the 38th Parallel where it ended. What I really wanted out of the book was a closer look at the suffering of the Koreans throughout the entire war both at the hands of the North Koreans as well as the US bombings and Chinese. None-the-less, I peeked briefly into the single experience of a lucky American infantryman who fought side-by-side with South Korean soldiers.
One of the shocking things about the book are the photos. The soldiers were so young, fresh out of high school. It almost seems like child abuse to send such young adults to war. I don’t consider you an adult unless you’ve lived outside your parents’ home and earned your own living. Many of them were not adults, so we were basically sending kids to war. While I would love to have 40-year-olds be drafted, they would argue that 40-year-olds have poor health and skills needed at home. A compromise would be setting the minimum draft age at 24. You’ve had the opportunity to live on your own, become an adult, and hell, with the frustrations of young adulthood, a lot of 24-year-olds would be happy to end it all in a blaze of war glory. While 18-year-olds are naïve and willing to take orders, they’re fragile, and they haven’t even lived life yet. Give young adults a chance to experience life first before sending them to war.
One interesting aside was how religious the author was and how it seemed to provide him with comfort and security. You can’t deny that. When I was training for a marathon, I noticed that I would heal quicker and feel better if I had faith in myself, if without any evidence, I forced myself to believe that I could jog 26 miles. When I doubted myself, my body tightened up. It took longer to heal, and I felt terrible. Your mind likes to play games with you. It constantly tests you like a child, and if you show weakness and a willingness to give in and quit, it grows stronger and meaner. Religion gives many people that added confidence and comfort in the future. If you don’t believe in the future, that you will make it to see the future, your mind can easily mess with you and encourage you not to pay attention or walk into an enemy ambush. Of course, we have selection bias here.
Another interesting aside was how shitty the author was treated after it was all over but he still had to serve time in Korea. You would think that being a combat veteran would afford you much greater respect and better treatment, but they still demeaned and belittled him. All that ill treatment is supposed to put you in your place and make you fearful of higher-up’s but if you’ve survived combat, doesn’t that prove anything? Doesn’t that prove that you are an asset to the army and won’t run or hide? Certainly, there is still a chain of command, but the demeaning and ill-treatment should be for newbies who have never faced combat.
Finally, the author attends a reunion and is impressed by how he is treated and all the fancy new equipment, but all I could see was horrific sadness. We are not the same military we were in World War II or the Korean War. We have lost our heroic and savior image. Back then, the British Empire, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany were the global menaces. We were just minding our own business, making a lot of money. Today, we have become the British Empire and Nazi Germany combined. We are a military monopoly and bully. Never in the history of humankind has a single entity been so dominant globally. I no longer see our military as a force of good or a counterbalance to fascism or Communism. I see it as the evil empire, a profit-mongering destructive cancer upon the globe. The author was treated well, because the military has all the money in the world, at least one-tenth of everything earned in America goes to it. That wealth is unimaginable. So it makes total sense that they could spend a few bucks to honor the author, but the goal of the ceremony was not so much to honor them but rather to perpetuate this military glory and patriotic bull-fuckery so younger generations feel good about themselves going into combat and getting similar treatment when they get old. What I saw in that reunion was fluff and self-congratulatory pageantry. It’s a sad juxtaposition, the innocent, young soldier who believes he fought the good war against Communist aggression (and he did), but then it seems he’s still stuck in the 50’s and still believes the US military is force of good and probably voted for Hillary or Trump and continues to vote for more and more military spending causing untold catastrophic misery throughout the world and generations of fervent anti-Americanism that puts generations of Americans in more danger.