We agree with most of what columnist Pat Buchanan wrote in his commentary on this page, but he was dead wrong on a couple of his remarks, especially that President Eisenhower ended the Korean War in July 1953. He just happened to be president when the ceasefire occurred July 27, 1953, at 10 p.m.
Ask any soldier who was in Korea in late 1952 and in 1953 and they will tell you the war had been “winding down” for months. There still was fighting going on and our troops, and those of the United Nations, were getting killed and being wounded. We still were being driven back in some sectors, and still were retaking lost ground, but we weren’t moving forward. Our troops were waiting to be hit by the Chinese and North Korean troops. It had become mainly a night war.
The final months saw intense fighting, most of it aimed at South Korean forces in the central front. In early July, the Chinese launched their biggest attack in two years. A total of 150,000 Chinese troops attacked a 20-mile front in the largest attack since the spring of 1951. As reported by the AP, Republic of Korea (ROK) troops were hit the hardest and were pushed back. Gen. Maxwell Taylor committed the 2nd and 3rd American divisions to plug the gap. The 187th Airborne Regiment was rushed from Japan to help. The Chinese were pushed back, but some of the lost ground became part of “no man’s land.” It was one of the most bloody battles in the war. The Capital ROK division suffered heavy casualties. Communist forces had about 66,000 casualties. In the last four months of the war, U.N. casualties totaled 64,703, most of them ROK forces.
Peace talks had been in progress at Panmunjom for about two years. Rumors about a possible ceasefire had been circulating on the front for a couple of months. Why the big Chinese attack in the closing weeks? Our military commanders believed that the Chinese wanted a battlefield decision so they could claim a psychological victory, knowing they were gong to sign the ceasefire. They didn’t get a victory.
Getting back to Ike. He had campaigned in 1952 that he would end the war. Many people, including Buchanan, think he did end the war. It was going to end regardless of who was the president. Buchanan needs to talk to some of the troops who were there the last six or seven months of the shooting. They can explain to him that it was clearly evident the war was going to end about when it did. The United Nations, particularly the United States, always had one eye on the talks at Panmunjom, and decisions were made in the rear, not on the front lines, as to how those actions would affect the peace talks. It became fighting a war with one hand tied behind your back! The birth of fighting a limited war!
Buchanan questions why we still have 28,000 troops in South Korea when the latter is capable of defending itself. Certainly South Korea has a strong military now, but if the North attacked, and if China would lend its support, the South could not win. China doesn’t want a war and is tired of the North’s war talk against the United States and the South. But there are many unknowns. One known is that the U.S. troops stationed in the South, and our commitment to the South, clearly has been a deterrent.
We agree with Buchanan that Japan and South Korea are economic powers, but we don’t agree when he says they are fully capable of undertaking their own defense. It is true that the Cold War enemies of the 1950s no longer exist, but we could hardly call Russia and China our “buddies.” Tensions still exist. Buchanan raises the question of whether our “guarantees to Japan and South Korea are eternal?” We don’t know the answer to that question. We are aware that North Korea is dangerous because of its reckless leaders.
We do believe that the threat of communist aggression in the Far East isn’t what it once was, if it even exists today. What happened in Korea, and, yes, even in Vietnam, put an end to the spread of communism. Has any communist nation had expansion ideas in the past 20 or 30 years? Is it because of what we did in Korea and Vietnam?