Mao's Generals Remember Korea. (Net Assessment).
Napoleon wrote, "In war one sees his own troubles and not those of the enemy." Military historians often have trouble analyzing and presenting the plans, actions, and difficulties encountered by both sides in post--World War II conflicts. In some cases, this occurs because of language barriers; it takes years to develop the linguistic skills necessary to detect subtle nuances that often characterize military matters that, by their nature, are jealously guarded by commanders and governments. Obtaining records presents another challenge to those who seek to write about both sides of modern conflicts. Even when authors acquire the language skills and gain access to political and military archives, they may find that participants have carefully shaped their accounts to place their actions in the best light, thereby making historical interpretation difficult. In Mao's Generals Remember Korea, three eminent scholars provide one of the best compilations of high-level Chinese recollections of the "Forgotten War."
Two excellent essays, an introduction by the editors, and an essay entitled "What China Learned from Its 'Forgotten War' in Korea" by Bin Yu introduce the generals and place their memoirs in historical context. Chinese leaders celebrate the Korean War as a significant victory against "imperialist" encroachment by the United States and its allies. Despite this attitude toward the war, these leaders intervened reluctantly--only after the Soviet Union refused to provide effective support to Kim Jong Il's North Korean forces and after United Nations (UN) forces advanced toward the Yalu River following the successful Inchon landing in the fall of 1950.
Mao's government attempted to manipulate international opinion against the UN effort by characterizing the conflict as the "War to Resist America and Aid Korea" and by labeling Chinese forces that fought in Korea as "volunteers." The Chinese People's Volunteer Force (CPVF) ultimately grew to include 3 million soldiers, of which more than one-third would become casualties of the war. Chinese strategic objectives focused first on saving Korea and second on preserving Chinese independence (p. 32). Although Mao's forces had defeated the Nationalists, they were ill prepared to fight an expeditionary war against a coalition of modern industrial states. Chinese leaders learned that their army needed to emphasize "professionalism, the role of firepower, land] improving logistics capability" if it were to compete effectively (p. 24).
The brief memoir of Marshal Peng Dehuxi, the top Chinese military leader during the war, reveals the link between Chinese grand strategy and theater operational plans. Peng clearly understood the limits placed on Chinese forces by inferior equipment and inadequate logistical systems. He divides the war into five campaigns that provide the structure for the recollections of the remaining commanders' memoirs. After realizing that pushing UN forces off the peninsula would involve unacceptable materiel and political losses, Peng and his collaborators opted for a protracted war strategy in which actions on the battlefield were designed to influence negotiations. This is the picture of the Korean War after 1951 that haunts most Western accounts of the conflict.
Marshal Nie Rongzhen, who served as chief of the People's Liberation Army General Staff during the war, focuses on the decision to intervene on the Korean peninsula. Although tinged with Communist dogma, his account reveals the difficulty that the strategic situation created for China: "If the American imperialists' plot had been allowed to succeed in Korea, they would have forced us to have a showdown with them on another battleground [in China]. We could have been pushed into a passive situation. China could never have been what it is today" (p. 43). Thus, rather than being a blot on the national strategic consciousness during the Cold War, Chinese perspectives on the Korean War reflect a nationalistic battle that precluded inevitable aggression from an imperialist foe.
Lt Gen Du Ping, who directed political mobilization during the war, led efforts to place the Korean intervention in proper ideological context for the troops and their commanders. He served as a vital link between political leaders in Beijing and the operational staff that designed the various campaigns. This political effort required troop indoctrination, concern for morale, propaganda aimed at friendly and enemy audiences, and close coordination with official negotiation teams. Initiatives such as a soldier's newspaper, patriotic songs and poems, and memorials to fallen heroes cemented support among the CPVF for seeing the war to a victorious conclusion.
No amount of operational planning or political mobilization could overcome the disadvantage that plagued the CPVF in the area of combat logistics. Gen Hong Xuezhi, responsible for organizing logistics for the CPVF, candidly recalls that he tried to refuse this job because of its daunting challenges. Many CPVF soldiers went into battle with antiquated weapons--or none at all. As Marshal Xu Xiangquian observes, the Soviets were slow in fulfilling their promises of materiel aid; even when such aid was forthcoming, Chinese leaders found themselves saddled with cast-off weapons from World War II rather than the new ones they expected. General Hong contended with poor transportation infrastructure within China, a destroyed road-and-railway network in Korea, and incessant air attacks between the Yalu and frontline Chinese troops. All the memoirs in this book include comments on the effect of UN air superiority on CPVF prospects for sustaining and exploiting offensives. Moreover, as time wore on, coordination between UN air forces and field artillery effectively prevented CPVF and North Korean units from achieving campaign objectives.
The recollections of Gen Yang Dezhi, commander of CPVF's 19th Army Group and later the commander of CPVF itself during the war, provide a unique account of the war from a combatant commander's perspective. General Yang responded to political, ideological, and operational pressures as he attempted to create military conditions for victory. In one amazing section, he accuses UN forces of using bacteriological warfare in the form of "three different kinds of insects. The first kind looked like black flies, the second was a kind of flea, and the third was similar to both ticks and small spiders" (p. 157). To the editors' credit, they allow the memoir to speak for itself on this and other issues, providing a footnote that documents the evidence pertinent to this accusation. Ultimately, this charge was revealed as a Soviet--North Korean hoax intended to discredit UN forces during the war.
In the final chapter, which deals with Maj Gen Chai Chengwen's recollections of the truce talks, readers see the same issues that appear in Western narratives, but from a different viewpoint. General Chai patiently outlines the "reasonable" expectations of the Chinese negotiating team and then shows how inconsiderate and obstructionist behavior by the American-led UN negotiating team unnecessarily extended the truce talks to the detriment of world peace.
The multifaceted nature of the memoirs selected for Mao's Generals Remember Korea gives the reader a 360-degree operational view of Chinese efforts to counter UN and US actions in the Korean War. The editors allow the participants' accounts to stand on their own merits but provide excellent footnotes to guide readers to broader interpretations and understanding. Military historians, serving officers, and designers of future military campaigns should read this essential volume carefully because it provides a rare glimpse into the "troubles of the enemy."
Col. Anthony C. "Chris" Cain (BS, Georgia State University, MAS, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; MSS. Air War College; MA, PhD, Ohio State University) is the chief of the Professional Journals Division of the College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education (CADRE). Colonel Cain was recognized as the AETC Educator of the Year while serving as a faculty member of Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). While at ACSC, he directed the Theater Air Campaign and the Airpower Studies Courses. In 2002, the Smithsonian Institution Press published his book, The Forgotten Air Force: The French Air Force and Air Doctrine in the 1930s. Colonel Cain's aviation experience includes serving as a B-52 instructor radar navigator and flying 26 missions in Operation Deserv Storm. He is a distinguished graduate of ACSC and a graduate of both Squadron Officer School and the Air War College resident program.
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|Author:||Cain, Anthony C.|
|Publication:||Air & Space Power Journal|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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