The Korean War

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In the aftermath of WWII, the United States found itself imbedded in a struggle to halt the expansion of communism. In doing so, the U.S. Military would be forced to protect its influence in nearby regions, its allies, and engage the communist forces of North Korea in 1950 and North Vietnam in 1965. In each of these initial engagements the U.S. Army, Task Force Smith in Korea and the 1st Air Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, stood heavily out-numbered against a very formidable enemy. Although being heavily outmanned influenced the efficacy of each U.S. Army engagement, it did not dictate the outcome. In this essay I will enumerate, not necessarily the course of events for each engagement, but rather the elements of contrast and similarity during each, with several instances expounded. Ultimately, there were several factors that influenced the effectiveness of the U.S. Army in each, though, in the end it came down to the milieu, the situation in which they were forced to do battle.

In the introduction to the Korean War, the efficacy in which American forces displayed relied heavily on the set of circumstance in which the Army was placed. When North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, Americans needed a swift response to confirm their abiding presence and influence in NATO, and in the region. Therefore, General Douglas MacArthur, the soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief of UN operations during the conflict, ordered an immediate ad hoc force to repel North Korean forces, and defend the Port city of Pusan at all costs. While the strategic objective, purely defensive, may have been to restore the status quo, the 38 Parallel, the main emphasis was to defend Pusan, which the American force would have to do conducting a series of tactical, successive defensives, ultimately meant to delay the enemy. Moreover, the GIs that would comprise this piecemeal assembly were labeled Task Force Smith, under Lt. Colonel Smith, with further remnants of the 8th Army ( 21st, 34th, and 19th Infantry Regiments of the 24th Infantry Division—under Maj. Gen. William Dean), which Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker held overall command, to follow. At the outset of the war, the majority of the American forces that were to be employed in South Korea were from the 8th Army, which served mostly as an occupational force in Japan ever since the end of WW2. As such, they spent a lot of time enjoying recreational activities—most likely experiencing what the geisha community had to offer—thus, they became lazy and sloppy, lacking the much needed discipline and extensive training of an Army about to be forced into combat. Furthermore, the lack of manpower (regiments and battalions were two-thirds regular size) and insufficient material strength, against a numerically superior enemy, had an overwhelming effect on American defensive measures; which were often unable to contest the North Korean combined tank and infantry offensives. Fundamentally, “good intentions and sound tactics were not enough to offset the lack of a third battalion.” Ultimately, they held impromptu positions down to the last man, until overran, very similar to the forced tactics the 1st Air Cavalry would use around the Ia Drang Valley. At any rate, Task Force Smith and the 24th Inf. Division was woefully and deplorably unprepared for the defense of Osan, and the subsequent Pusan perimeter.

In severe contrast to the impromptu position of the American forces at the outset of the Korean War, the U.S. Army’s first commitment in Vietnam, would witness, for one of the very few times in American history, an Army that was undeniably ready for war. Indeed, America benefited greatly from keeping a large standing army after the Korean War. Therefore, in the October 1965, once President Lyndon B. Johnson decided the political objective of protecting non-communist Vietnam, forces were committed instantly, not to mention the approximate 16,000 U.S. personnel that were already in South Vietnam apart of the...
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