Landing at Inchon: Foolish Risk or Calculated Gamble?
Campaign Analysis: Operation CHROMITE
The Ultimate Challenge for the Commander is deciding on where and when to commit forces to best leverage available combat power against the opponent.
General Douglas MacArthur has been criticized for his decision, even though it succeeded, to make the invasion of Korea at the harbor of Inchon. This paper explores the legitimacy of that decision based on the principles of military power.
A popular military aphorism is that victory has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan. The American invasion of Inchon during the Korean War must certainly be the exception to this. General Douglas MacArthur, loved by some, hated by others, rightfully deserves all of the credit for such a bold and audacious decision. In retrospect, his decision deserves perhaps a bit more circumspection. If Inchon had failed, whether tactically or strategically, not only could the war’s outcome have been different, but most certainly MacArthur would have been lambasted in his own time, as well as our own by arm chair theorists and generals. Was his decision soundly based in military principles, balanced by ends to means? Or was it a gambler’s last toss of the dice? America’s war aims at the onset of the Korean War were simple: Drive the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) out of South Korea, back across the 38 th parallel and re-establish peace on American terms. These were the explicit aims. The strategic priorities will sound strikingly familiar to those familiar with strategic debate in this era of Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and Operation Desert Storm: End the war as quickly as possible and keep U.S. casualties to a minimum. Even in the 1950s, there was a political drive to keep wars short and bloodless; to attain national ends without expending resources. Perhaps the national tendency to hope to attain something for nothing is a fundamental characteristic of America. For the North Koreans, the opposite was true. Kim Il Sung’s aim was to reunify the two Koreas. Since he could not accomplish this politically, he resorted to military means to gain a political end. He had committed North Korea’s limited resources and manpower utterly and completely to the reunification of the Korean peninsula. Kim Il Sung may not have realized it, but he had two possible branches of strategic priorities. The first was to drive the Americans out of the Pusan Perimeter and back to Japan, thus allowing him time to consolidate his hold politically, socially and militarily on Korea. The second branch, far more subtle, would have been to keep the Americans bottled up at Pusan and continue to attrit American lives, while consolidating his hold and strengthening his long logistical tail. By killing Americans, North Korea could make victory appear extremely costly to the American government and perhaps wear down the political will to fight. The political will to fight would be backed up by how the American military would actually conduct the fight. American doctrine has historically been framed by the notion of preparing to fight the next war as the last one was fought. While this type of doctrinal thinking came back to haunt the U.S. in Vietnam; strangely enough, it was the correct approach for Korea. The American military had of course, only just finished fighting World War Two five years prior to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. While the U.S. force structure had been dramatically drawn down and was unprepared to fight the next war, its doctrinal approach to waging war had not changed. American doctrine during the previous war was offensively oriented, relying primarily on the infantry to hold key terrain once the enemy had been pushed off. The attrition of enemy forces was secondary to seizing and defending ground. Offensive action was used to envelop a foe’s flank, without resorting to frontal assaults. Armor’s role was to gain the initiative either with an envelopment or...
Bibliography: Appleman, Roy E. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (June-November 1950). The U.S. Army in World War II. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1961.
Doughty, Robert A. The Evolution of U.S. Army Tactical Doctrine, 1946-76. Leavenworth Papers No. 1. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
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