Since The Second World War
Some call The Korean War the forgotten war, but for two years America fought a full fledged war to keep South Korea free. The Vietnam War was the longest war that the United States fought. Desert Storm was the last war America took part in the 20th century when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. War came to America on September 11th 2001 with an attack on NY and Washington. Not since the Battle of Antietem had so many Americans perished in a day. On March 19th 2003 the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein.
Since the Second World War the United States has engaged in five military enterprises of considerable scope -- in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, not to speak of smaller engagements as in Panama and Kosovo/Serbia. The evolving "political formula" underlying American wars since 1945 is subject to contingency and vicissitude. Nonetheless, a discernable pattern embraces changes in constitutional understandings and political practices, strategic doctrines, budgetary provision, the armed forces' place in society, and the political culture of consent and participation by citizens.
On 25 June 1950, the young Cold War suddenly turned hot, bloody and expensive. Within a few days, North Korea's invasion of South Korea brought about a United Nations' "police action" against the aggressors. That immediately produced heavy military and naval involvement by the United States. While there were no illusions that the task would be easy, nobody expected that this violent conflict would continue for more than three years.
Throughout the summer of 1950, the U.S. and the other involved United Nations' states scrambled to contain North Korea's fast-moving army, assemble the forces necessary to defeat it and simultaneously begin to respond to what was seen as a global military challenge from the Communist world.
Though America's Armed Forces had suffered from several years' of punishing fiscal constraints, the end of World War II just five years earlier had left a vast potential for recovery. U.S. materiel reserves held large quantities of relatively modern ships, aircraft, military equipment and production capacity that could be reactivated in a fraction of the time necessary to build them anew. More importantly, the organized Reserve forces included tens of thousands of trained people, whose World War II experiences remained reasonably fresh and relevant.
In mid-September 1950 a daring amphibous invasion at Inchon fractured the North Korean war machine. In the following two months UN armies pushed swiftly through North Korea. However, with victory seemingly in sight, China intervened openly, and the Soviet Union not-so-openly, on the side of their defeated fellow Communist neighbor. The UN was thrown back midway into South Korea. Early in the new year, the Chinese army was in turn contained and forced to retreat.
By the middle of 1951, the front lines had stabilized near where the war started twelve months earlier. Negotiations began amid hopes that an early truce could be arranged. But this took two more frustrating years, during which the contending forces fought on, with the U.S. Navy providing extensive air and gunfire support, a constant amphibious threat, relentless minesweeping and a large logistics effort.
Finally, on 27 July 1953, with a new regime in the USSR and the blunting of a final Communist offensive, negotiations concluded and fighting ended. However, the Cold War, considerably warmed up by the Korean experience, would would maintain its costly existence for nearly four more decades.
Fearing the spread of communism, President Kennedy committed the people of the United States of America to defending the fledgling democratic government of South Vietnam. Despite its arguably noble intentions, the war in Vietnam would prove the greatest challenge to American democratic idealism since the Civil War.
In early 1965, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered the first of many sustained bombing missions over North Vietnam , which would be known as Operation Rolling Thunder. In March of the same year, the first U.S. combat troops were sent to Vietnam.
Ultimately, lacking a credible plan for winning the war, the American government was forced to give in to the wishes of the American people and withdraw its troops from Vietnam. In early January 1973, the Nixon administration, the Paris Peace Agreement ended open hostilities between the U.S. and North Vietnam. However, the South Vietnamese continued to battle the Communists from March 1973 until the fall of Saigon and the capture of the South Vietnamese presidential palace on April 30, 1975, which brought the war to a close.
The decision to engage in war in Vietnam and Korea had its ideological root in the Truman Doctrine which found clear expression in MacNamara's so called "Domino Theory". America reasoned that if first Korea and then Vietnam fell to communists, many other nations in proximity would be at risk. The US refused to have a policy of appeasement which had allowed Hitler to fortify Germany leading to WWII. In both Vietnam and Korea, America fought the forces of communism to keep nations free from Soviet control. This was the goal throughout the presidential administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Although both wars were fought for the same reasons, the nature and circumstances of each war were quite different.
Many similarities exist between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The main reason America fought each of these wars was to keep independent nations from succumbing to communist control. If America allowed soviets to take Korea and Vietnam, other parts of Asia would be at stake. Each case demonstrates a battle between democracy and communism. As one Vietnam veteran said, "the Korean and Vietnam Wars were fought against an ideology, not an individual you can point your finger at." Ho Chi Minh began as a nationalist fighter and only turned to communism in order to support his aims.
Another similarity between Vietnam and Korea is that each of these nations became split between the communist north and democratic south. North Korea and North Vietnam were connected to communist China and received supplies, ammunition, and support from them. South Korea and South Vietnam on the other hand, favored democracy. The United States gave weapons, supplies, and military advisors to South Korea and South Vietnam, which soon led to troops actually fighting in each of these wars. Another common characteristic is that both wars ended in negotiations. Neither side won out right like they did in World War II. In Korea, a cease-fire was called and a demilitarized zone was made between the two hostile borders. In Vietnam, under the Paris peace treaty, both sides agreed to a cease fire and America agreed to pull out all military personnel, while North Vietnam agreed to release all American POWs. Although communist North Vietnam quickly violated this treaty and attacked South Vietnam after the US pulled out, both the Korean and Vietnam wars ended in some concessions for both sides. This demonstrates the cold war stale mate between the Soviet Union and the United States. Each side feared the other but neither side achieved a decisive victory.
Another factor, although often overlooked, is that both leaders of the democratic countries were Christians. Both Dien Bien Phu of South Vietnam and Syngman Rhee of South Korea followed Christ. Perhaps this did not have a great impact on the countries while at war, but it has certainly had a huge impact now. Korea is now a hub of Christianity. Nearly 25% of it's population professes to be Christian and it sends out more missionaries per capita than any other country. Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho in South Korea has the largest Christian church in the world. In contrast to South Korea where Christianity flourishes, Christians in Vietnam are relatively few in number. They have had to deal with an oppressive communist government which outlawed Christianity altogether. However, Christians are gaining support in Vietnam due to a less oppressive government.
The Vietnam and Korean wars also differ in many aspects. The fundamental difference between the two wars was in the outcome. The United States and other democratic nations protected South Korea from the communists, while it lost to them in South Vietnam. Much of this had to do with the way in which each of these wars were fought. In Korea, communists tried to defeat the US with sheer numbers. North Korea could not defend themselves effectively, so China sent more than a million troops.General Douglas MacArthur wanted to expand the war into China. Each side fought most of their battles on open ground. This gave America the strategic advantage because of its superior air power and more technologically advanced weapons. Battles tended to be quick and fierce, resulting in an effective campaign for the Americans that drove the communists back to the original line of division. Vietnam on the other hand, resorted to guerilla warfare given its smaller fighting force and environment. The Vietnamese had previously built some underground tunnels in their resistance movements against the Japanese and then the French. They expanded on this network of tunnels and made a huge network stretching more than 250 kilometers. Most of these tunnels were invincible from American air attacks and were sometimes built right under US military stations. For months, Americans could not figure out how enemy fire came right into their camp. Finally, when the military realized the problem, they went into the network of tunnels, but often got lost, ambushed or ran into booby traps. Another reason why America lost Vietnam and not Korea, was that the Vietnamese turned the war into a "people's war". The Chinese mainly fought the US in Korea without much popular support from the people. In Vietnam, however, everyone joined the war effort. One motto of the communist Vietnamese was, "If the truck is struck, tear down the walls of your house." Americans had no way of telling between neutral civilians and Viet Cong supporters. This is one of the main reasons why America could not defeat the Viet Cong.
The difference in the fighting methods of each war gave rise to sharp differences in casualties. 54,000 American soldiers died in Korea and the war ended within three years. In Vietnam, however, 58,000 soldiers perished over a course of ten years. The Korean War was characterized by short bursts of fighting whereas Vietnam tended to be long and drawn out. Because of the psychological impact of this, their was an enormous difference between how the veterans of both wars were received back in the USA. The timing and ideological justifications for the wars also contributed to the differing moral support the US troops received.
Vietnam and Korea differed greatly during the wars, but their distinctions have grown even farther apart. Even the differences between North Korea and South Korea are huge. Vietnam has finally gotten its economy on track again after discarding communism. South Koreans enjoy abundance and a flourishing economy. North Koreans starve every day. It is easy to conclude from these examples that communism fails to provide prosperity for the people. Almost every county in the world has abandoned communism because its failure to produce social and economic success.
In the late summer of 2001, another incredibly horrific tale of hijacking and terrorism caught the world's attention. Unfortunately, history is replete with unsettling precedents. Terrorism is probably as old as human society. In the ancient Roman world there were no words for 'terrorism or terrorists. However, the acts of terrorism inflicted in those days were not unlike those of modern times. Then, as now, there were people willing to employ a calculated use of force and terror to accomplish their ends. Though the ancients may have called them rebels or brigands or tyrants, the motives, the methods, and the outcomes are familiar to people of our era under the collective name of terrorism.
Studying ancient terrorism, though, is hampered by a dilemma that is still with us today: determining exactly what terrorism is. Who decides what constitutes terrorism and who the terrorists are? Is it merely a matter of perspective? Can one group's terrorist be another group's freedom fighter? Acts of war also terrify. What differentiates a legitimate act of war from a terrorist attack?
Broadly speaking, those who are terrified decide what qualifies as terrorism. If this is a matter of perspective, it is not just narrow opinion, because most people have a shared sense of what makes for a legitimate use of threats or force. Thus ancient and modern people alike realize that war brings horrific acts, even against civilian populations. Yet people of all eras have a keen sense that as barbaric as war can be, it remains different from mere barbarism.
It may well be that in the Roman world the acceptable limits of warfare were more liberally drawn than today, but even so people sometimes recoiled in shock and horror at acts clearly beyond the pale. War is terror within bounds; terrorism is terror beyond those bounds. Today the Federal Bureau of Investigation defines terrorism as the unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives.
The Roman world certainly knew the kind of horror the FBI described as terrorism. On the one hand, Rome could terrify its own people, as well as foreigners. The use of terror by the state already had an ancient lineage by the time Rome rose to dominance. Aristotle reflected on the matter in his Politics, for example. On the other hand, others frequently targeted Romans, both at home and abroad, in terrible and terrifying acts. State terrorism and revolutionary terrorism often followed one another in a vicious reciprocal cycle: Terror begets terror. In other words, little has changed in the pattern of atrocities.
Ancient Rome, like the United States today, was the sole superpower of its world. Rome exercised immense influence even where it lacked outright control. Roman rulers possessed certain advantages over those who opposed them. In their use of power, they could claim to be the legitimate arm of the body politic. Thus Augustus could proudly note in the official record of his acts, I pacified the sea of pirates. He did not note his feat was accomplished against Sextus Pompeius Magnus, son of the renowned Pompey the Great and heir to the leadership of his father's followers in a great civic struggle. By the time Augustus was finished with him, Pompeius was officially nothing more than a pirate — a terrorist of the seas.
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