“Find the enemy! Find them! Fix them! Fight them! Finish them!” Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway
My mother, highly-organized and efficient, is always harping at me for not getting rid of my excess magazines. I, highly disorganized and not very efficient, not too mention over-scheduled, don’t always have time to read every magazine.
“Then get rid of them!” my mother yelled at me.
But I ignored her. When she’d come to visit, I’d put my stack of unread magazines, mainly Smithsonian, under my bed until she went home. I have Smithsonians dating all the way back to 2007. I tried to listen to Mom’s sensible advice, but I’d always say to myself, “Noooo, there might be something good to read in here that might be useful to know someday.”
I love Smithsonian Magazine. It’s one of my favorite magazines. Even if it is edited by Liberal, Socialist, Commies. Even if it is so bent to the Left, that I have to cock my head sideways to read some of its articles. Even if the editor was a reporter for the New York Times and Time Magazine. They do have one good thing going for them; I believe one of my former bosses is their Advertising Services Manager.
The writing is great, the research is great, the photography is spectacular. The magazine has great variety – everything from articles on history to art to science to nature to foreign (and domestic) destinations. Last night, reading the Nov. 2007 issue, I was visiting the Ganges River with the Smith.
That was the article I’d held the magazine back for; I’d read everything else. But there was another article that I re-read with great interest, given the anti-American performance at the White House dinner for China’s Communist Party Chairman (no sense in calling him a “president” since elections are meaningless in China. As Rush Limbaugh rightly pointed out, here was pianist Lang Lang performing for Barack Obama’s White House, for whom he’d performed at the 2009 Nobel Prize ceremony, whose guest has jailed the 2010 Nobel Prize winner.)
“My Motherland” is an ode to the Chinese soldiers who humiliated the American and United Nations forces in Korea in 1950. But hold that note just a minute, there. Yes, the Chinese forces shellacked the American forces, who were trying to drive whole brigades up narrow, mountainous roads in Korea. Meanwhile, the Chinese had already prepared other units to attack the Americans once they found they had to retreat.
But then along came General Matthew B. Ridgway. Pres. Truman assigned him to head up the Eighth Army after he fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur (who pushed the North Koreans all the way back to the Yalu River on the Chinese border. When MacArthur insisted on pursuing them further, very much like the first Gulf War, Truman refused and recalled MacArthur).
For the year 1950, yes, the Chinese celebrated with anti-American propaganda songs. But their victory was short-lived. The account was published in an article, “Command Performance,” written for Smithsonian by David Halberstam, who died in an automobile accident in April 2007.
In the article, Halberstam writes that Ridgway was a Spartan, no-nonsense general who felt (much as the Chinese did, Halberstam observed) that Americans had become too soft. They were too accustomed to driving instead of walking. The Eighth Army, when he first arrived, was bereft of morale, filled with a defeatist attitude, unfamiliar with the territory, and clueless in terms of intelligence. The commanders were weak, old, and out of touch. Ridgway ordered the troops to make their patrols on foot, even in the cold, just as the soldiers of yore had done.
According to the author, Ridgway believed that he and the men he commanded were the direct descendants of all those soldiers who had fought before them, even back to Valley Forge. He felt George Washington was looking over their shoulders and spoke of being worthy of the hardships they endured.
Ridgway soon learned that all the American positions were surrounded by Chinese and that the commanders weren’t even sending out patrols. They had no idea where the Chinese really were or what they were up to. Ridgway made it his business to visit every headquarters, whether it was divisional, regimental, a battalion, or a company. He ordered the forward units to go out and find the enemy.
The general had no fantasies about Chinese might. There may have been more of them, but in his mind, they were still mortal and could still be killed, and that was just fine with him. He made it his business to seek out their weaknesses and exploit them. He wanted those stationary flags, sometimes four and five days in the same position, to start moving – forward. Nothing but comfort was keeping the flags in those positions, according to Halberstam. “Find them! Fix them! Fight them! Finish them!” Ridgway thundered.
The administration wanted the enemy brought to the table without expending more resources in the enterprise. Ridgway’s plan was to force the Chinese to pay so high a price in blood that victory would be as unreachable for them as the moon. The secret was greater firepower. He ordered more artillery and more artillery battalions. Ridgway intended to use the meat-grinder policy.
The one overriding problem he saw was the low morale of his own troops. According to Halberstam, the general felt that the real damage was psychological and the solution was confidence. A true leader, one of his assistants during World War II said that he was always drawn to the heat of battle. During one aerial attack, he stood right in the middle of the road as the Germans were attacking and – well – displayed his “weapon.”
Ridgway didn’t care about the Chinese culture or philosophy. This was war and he didn’t want to know what they thought; he wanted to know what they were going to do, and he studied up on their tactics, looking for those weaknesses. One thing he did was bring the CIA and its intelligence operations back into the fight.
Ridgway wasn’t afraid of the Chinese and North Koreans and he wasn’t afraid of Army Public Relations. He nicknamed his first Korean offensive “Operation Killer.” Army Chief of Staff Joe Collins wrote him to say that Army PR might have a problem trying to sell that moniker, that it was “too bloodthirsty.”
Halberstam quoted Ridgway as replying, “I did not understand why it was objectionable to acknowledge that war was concerned with killing the enemy. I am by nature opposed to any effort to ‘sell’ war to people as an only mildly unpleasant business that requires very little in the way of blood.”
Ridgway was unbothered by the prospect of a blood-soaked field filled with enemy bodies; the alternative was a field filled with American bodies. “After the Battle of Chipyongni, Halberstam wrote, “in February 1951, when the Chine finally broke and the Americans killed thousands with air and artillery strikes, one company commander had spoken of the battlefield as covered with ‘fricasseed Chinese.’
“Ridgway liked that phrase,” the author noted.
“Because Korea was such a grinding war, with such an unsatisfactory outcome, not many military men emerged from it as heroes,” Halberstam wrote. “Grim wars that end in stalemates [as the Korean War did] may produce men who are heroes to other soldiers, but not to the public at large. Thus Ridgway was revered in years to come not so much by ordinary Americans, who had largely turned away from the war, but by the men who fought there and knew what he had done.”
Halberstam also quoted Gen. Omar Bradley’s commendation of Ridgway: “’It is not often in wartime that a single battlefield commander can make a decisive difference. But in Korea, Ridgway would prove to be that exception. His brilliant, driving, uncompromising leadership would turn the battle like no other general’s in our military history.’”
And that, Lang Lang, is the true history of the Korean War, and China’s very brief “victory” in that conflict. It’s true that the United States didn’t win; but neither did North Korea and the Chinese. To this day, the demilitarized zone stands as testament to that stalemate. Had Ridgway entered the war sooner, there might not even be a demilitarized zone, but one united, and free, Korea.
Try setting that one to music, Lang Lang and Obama. Much thanks to the late Mr. Halberstam and Smithsonian magazine, and, of course, to Gen. Ridgway.