Tuesday, September 4, 2018

miscellany from Halberstam's "Coldest Winter" (on the Korean War)

Halberstam also makes a number of miscellaneous observations that were interesting to me: 

-Unlike the handful of other books on American wars that I’ve read, Halberstam does not describe any immorality. One of the striking things about books on WWII is to read about the sexual and other immorality of soldiers from “the Greatest Generation.” In Korea, maybe it didn’t happen; or Halberstam didn’t write about it; or maybe given how quickly the action proceeded, they didn’t have time for any!

-The early congressional response to military action was favorable—before things started to go sideways! Sen. Smith (R-NJ) asked whether Truman was going to ask Congress for a joint resolution—“a good question, and one that, remarkably enough, in two solid days of meetings no one in the administration had really considered.” (99a)

-On 11/3/48, Nationalist forces retreated from Shenyang (where my in-laws lived for four years), the first large city Chiang abandoned (222).

-The Chinese used music (401)—bugles and whistles (417)—a creepy and semi-effective way to give military orders.

-There are “two very different kinds of courage in many military men—bravery in battle and independence or bravery within the institution—and they did not often reside side by side.” (478)

-A good quote from Harold Martin on textbooks and training vs. experience in the growth of a soldier: “Much of their wisdom is the battle know-how the individual soldier picks up as he survives fight after fight, the simple things the books have always taught, but no soldier ever learns until he has been shot at: to keep off the sky line; to spread out in the attack, instead of bunching up like quail; to dig deep when on the defensive; to treat his communications equipment as tenderly as he would treat his sweetheart; to keep his socks dry and his weapons clean; and to hold his fire until the enemy is close enough to kill.” (534)

-The Chinese Nationalists quickly abandoned their American-provided weapons as they retreated, turning them over to their enemies. This was at “an alarming rate [that] did not seem to bother them—the solution was to ask for more.” (234) In fact, Mao described Chiang as their “supply officer.” (235)

-If you’re interested, in addition to a list of his interview subjects, Halberstam provides a list of books that were key to his research (666).


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