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« Changing Reading Habits | Main | Reading Journal: "Gross National Happiness" »

June 25, 2008

An Anniversary

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Fifty-eight years ago this morning, ten-year-old me turned on the radio to catch some news. For once, the news was big. Surprising, too.

North Korean troops were invading South Korea. China, save Formosa and a few small islands near the coast, had already fallen to the communists. Eastern Europe was in Russian hands. We had gone through the drama of the Berlin Airlift. South Korea had been a U.S. occupation zone after World War 2 and was now, for practical purposes, an American protectorate. So it was war, carried out under a United Nations fig leaf -- though I suppose Truman would have fought regardless of the U.N; he was a clear thinker who risked popularity for principle.


These are troops of Task Force Smith arriving at the Taejon station, 5 July 1950. Taejon is about halfway between Seoul and the main southern port, Pusan. The U.S. had four occupation divisions in Japan, and few of their units were even close to being combat-ready. But to Korea many of them went, only to be pushed south by the North Korean army.

This map shows the Pusan Perimeter, the American - South Korean defensive line that finally held during the summer of 1950. The solid blue line represents the communist highwater mark. It also encloses the part of Korea where I was stationed 1963-64. Taegu was 7th Logistical Command headquarters. Our offices, mess hall, clubs and so forth were in a former Imperial Japanese Army post near the edge of the city. A couple of miles away was a compound containing our barracks and family housing for Military Assistance Group personnel. To the northwest, where the blue line bends, is the town of Waegwan. When I was in Korea, we were contructing a large logistical depot there. East of Taegu, on the coast, is Pohang, South Korea's steel center; I went there to cover some training exercises. At the southeast corner is South Korea's main port, Pusan, where the 7th Log had facilities. The command also had a unit at Seoul's port, Inchon, and I would have to go there periodically on army business.

This is me in the late spring of 1964 during an alert, when we had to carry weapons. This photo also appears on 2Blowhards here, where I do some reminiscing.

When I was in Korea, the U.S. had a corps with two divisions -- the 1st Cavalry and the 7th Infantry. Now we are down to one division there, a 58-year presence. We will have had troops in Germany and Japan 63 years as of late summer.



posted by Donald at June 25, 2008


Haven't South Korea, Japan and Germany been strong enough economically to have long ago taken on their own defense and dispensed with American protection?

Most ordinary Americans have no appetite for the glories of empire. You don't have to be an America hating lefty to wish, as I do, that we had long since withdrawn from these outposts and resumed the modest stance of a republic, albeit a powerful republic.

Posted by: ricpic on June 25, 2008 5:52 PM

America faced real threats back then - "existential" threats is the trendy term - yet from what I've read few people capitulated to fear, instead maintaining a strong national resolve. Today, in contrast, a rag-tag bunch of dimwitted Towel Heads has reduced America to a nation of sniveling cowards. How times have changed.

Posted by: Peter on June 25, 2008 10:12 PM

Ah Peter,

You have my admiration. While I'm sniveling here in the exurbs, You are over in Baghdad or Wazirstan chasing the dimwitted towel heads.

Oh, your looking for them on the train.

Yes, times were different then. I would have had more resolve too. I would have taken my shift as a coast watcher searching for the existential threat of a fleet of sampans crossing the Pacific to invade.

The snivelers are those who believe we need to send people to, as Greg Cochran put it, the Middle East powder thimble.

Posted by: Joseph Moroco on June 26, 2008 10:11 AM

To be precise, U.S. troops have been on the ground in Germany since September 11, 1944 - when the spearhead of the First Army crossed the German border near Trier. The first landing in sovereign Japanese territory was on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. So we've already passed the 63-year mark.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on June 27, 2008 4:27 PM

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