Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lessons from Korea: ‘This Kind of War’

Review by Bill Doughty

The Marines remember Korea.  Lessons learned in frozen battlefields and bloody ridges of Korea influenced a generation of U.S. Marine Corps and other military leaders.

T. R. Fehrenbach’s “This Kind of War” turns 50 years old this year.  Subtitled, “The Classic Korean War History” (and originally subtitled “A Study in Unpreparedness”), the book is a key pick on the Commandant’s reading list.

The book opens with a passage from Sun Tzu, translated from Chinese, from “The Art of War.”

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even into death.  If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt, kind-hearted but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoiled children; they are useless for any practical purpose.” -- Sun Tzu

Itself a lesson of warfighting, Sun Tzu’s admonition and description comes to mind throughout Fehrenbach’s book as he describes toughness, will, pride, training and a commitment to fight “on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”

That’s especially true for the United States Marines, then and now.

“Except in holy wars, or in defense of their native soil, men fight well only because of pride and training -- pride in themselves and their service, enough training to absorb the rough blows of war and to know what to do.  Few men, of any breed, really prefer to kill or be killed.  These Marines had pride in their service, which had been carefully instilled in them, and they had pride in themselves ... and they had discipline.”
1st Marine Division Marines board a ship in San Diego, heading to Far East.

The author sees the Korean War as an ongoing conflict between two blocs -- Communism and the freedom-loving West, rooted in the past, with Korea, or Chosun, doomed for inevitable continued conflicts.

Because it was written just ten years after the armistice in the midst of the Cold War and just as the Vietnam War was getting started, some of the author’s insights are best appreciated as fresh observations of their time, of the past, but Fehrenbach makes his points with an eye to the future, too, almost predicting drone warfare and radical islamic terrorism:

“Nothing had happened to pushbutton warfare; its emergence was at hand.  Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on earth were at hand -- at too many hands.  But pushbutton warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon , hopefully will never be an end of national policy ... There is another kind of conflict -- crusade, jihad, holy war, call it what you choose.  It has been loosed before, with attendant horror but indecisive results.”

U.S. Marine infantrymen in Chosin, Dec. 5, 1950. (USMC photo)
Along with fiery descriptions of Heartbreak Ridge and Pork Chop Hill, among other battles, much of the book focuses on the political and social influences that affected they way the war was prosecuted, especially by the Army.  The author also touches on the Air Force’s role and says this about the Navy:

“It was hard for all the services.  The Navy, forced to blockade and patrol, had lonely cheerless duty in the China seas, unrelieved by much action.  Its carrier pilots flew dangerous patrols, and sometimes its landing parties went ashore on North Korea -- but the rest of the time the Navy sowed mines, or harvested them, and merely stood on station in the gray waters off Korea.  Without its utter control of those seas, there would have been no U.N. stand in Korea ... the Navy was fulfilling its primary mission -- keeping control of the seas, and holding the sea lanes open.”

Fehrenbach sees the Korean War as a bulwark against communism overtaking Asia.  Again, his conclusions have to be appreciated in the time they were made -- when the Soviet Union still existed and before Communist China embraced capitalism.

“The Korean War ended inconclusively on 27 July 1953,” the author writes in his concluding chapter.  “The lesson of Korea is that it happened.”  

He warns against forgetting the lessons of history:  “Aristotle wrote, ‘Almost all things have been found out, but some have been forgotten.’

Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” by the way, is listed on the Commandant’s Professional Reading list as “book of the month.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos says "Reading is a critical continuing action ... a critical aspect of our commitment to the profession of arms."

Remembering the Legacy

Today, July 27, 2013, Commander-in-Chief President Barack Obama remembered the veterans who served and preserved freedom for the Republic of Korea 60 years ago.  He put the so-called “forgotten war” in context of its legacy, focusing on some of the reasons it should be remembered.  Here is part of his speech to Korean War veterans and their families at the National Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Freedom is not free.  And in Korea, no one paid a heavier price than those who gave all -- 36,574 American patriots, and, among our allies, more than one million of our South Korean friends -- soldiers and civilians.  That July day, when the fighting finally ended, not far from where it began, some suggested this sacrifice had been for naught, and they summed it up with a phrase -- 'die for a tie.' 
“It took many decades for this memorial to gain its rightful place on this great Mall where we tell our American story.  It has, perhaps, taken even longer to see clearly, and understand fully, the true legacy of your service.  But here, today, we can say with confidence that war was no tie.  Korea was a victory.  When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom -- a vibrant democracy, one of the world’s most dynamic economies, in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North -- that’s a victory; that’s your legacy.
“When our soldiers stand firm along the DMZ; when our South Korean friends can go about their lives, knowing that the commitment of the United States to the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver -- that is a victory, and that is your legacy.
“When our allies across the Asia Pacific know -- as we have proven in Korea for 60 straight years -- that the United States will remain a force for peace and security and prosperity --that’s a victory; that’s your legacy.
“And for generations to come, when history recalls how free nations banded together in a long Cold War, and how we won that war, let it be said that Korea was the first battle -- where freedom held its ground and free peoples refused to yield, that, too, is your victory, your legacy.” -- President Barack Obama

Saturday, July 20, 2013

‘Did You Have a Friend on the Good Reuben James?’

by Bill Doughty
Woody Guthrie wrote “Sinking of the Reuben James” in 1942, a poetic ode to a mighty destroyer, the first American ship sunk in World War II.  

Guthrie’s song concludes with this verse, showcasing the resolve of the Navy and nation during the war:

Now tonight there are lights in our country so bright
In the farms and in the cities they're telling of the fight.
And now our mighty battleships will steam the bounding main

And remember the name of that good Reuben James.
The refrain: “What were their names, tell me, what were their names?  Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?”

Guthrie’s song, about the sinking of the original USS Reuben James (DD 245) by a German submarine (just weeks before Imperial Japan’s attack of Oahu, Hawaii) was also performed by the Kingston Trio, the Highwaymen and Johnny Horton (of “Battle of New Orleans” and “Sink the Bismark” fame), among other performers.  

With the sinking of the destroyer Reuben James, the Navy lost 115 Sailors, with only 44 survivors.

That original USS Reuben James had been first commissioned in 1919 and served with the Atlantic Fleet.  The ship was decommissioned in 1931 but was recommissioned 13 months later to serve in the Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean, before being assigned to fateful duty escorting war materials to Britain in WWII.

In song, film and books, USS Reuben James has captured the imagination of artists and the public.

It started with the ship’s namesake.  

James saves Decatur in an engraving by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.
Boatswain's Mate Reuben James was a hero aboard the American frigate Philadelphia in the Barbary Wars against piracy, putting his body in harm’s way to protect Lt. Stephen Decatur.  He served in the War of 1812 and aboard early frigates including USS Constitution and USS Constellation.  Taken prisoner, James was released after the war and went on to serve again with Captain Decatur, aboard the Guerriere.

When Woody Guthrie, who hated fascism in all forms, sang about mighty “battleships” steaming the bounding main, we can imagine not only the surface forces and actual battleships (BBs) but also the American submarines, air power and ground forces and other warfighters that came back with a vengeance to win peace and freedom 70-plus years ago.

“Back with a Vengeance” is the motto of the “world-famous” recently decommissioned guided-missile frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57).  The latest of three ships to bear the proud name of the boatswain of two centuries ago, the frigate Reuben James made its own mark in the history books. 

Its first mission was Operation Earnest Will, in which the Navy provided protection to Kuwaiti oil tankers threatened by attack during the Iran-Iraq War.  The “Fightin’ 57” had a key role at the end of the Cold War, provided maritime security in the 80s and 90s, and deployed to provide extended support in Operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in the 21st century.  

From its homeport of Pearl Harbor, Reuben James operated forward to build partnerships, trained with international navies including in RIMPAC, provided humanitarian assistance, interdicted drug smugglers, and protected fishing areas alongside the U.S. Coast Guard.

USS Reuben James has been featured in novels (and movies) including Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” and “Hunt for Red October.”

Nonfiction and fiction writers have included references to the original Reuben James destroyer and now decommissioned frigate in their works.  These include, “Blood on the Sea” by Robert Sinclair Parkin, “Chosin File” by Dale Dye, “The Malacca Conspiracy” by Don Brown, “Battle for the North Atlantic” by John R. Bruning, “The USS Reuben James,” by Harold Charles, “Shepherds of the Sea” by Robert F. Cross, “Ghosts of the USS Yorktown,” by Bruce Orr, “Turning the Tide” by Ed Offley, and “Linebakers of the Sea” by Ray Lubeski.

The older frigates are leaving the Navy as littoral combat ships (LCS) such as USS Freedom (LCS 1) with near shore capabilities, are now operating forward.  

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class William Shammas, one of the crew members at the decommissioning ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam this past week, said he’s sorry to see the frigates retire from service.

USS Reuben James (FFG 57) CO Cmdr. Dan Valascho speaks at the July 18, 2013 decommissioning.
“The U.S. Navy’s real first ships were frigates,” Shammas said.  “The first one, and the oldest ship in the United States Navy is a frigate -- the USS Constitution,” he observed.

The Reuben James was the first guided-missile frigate homeported in Hawaii, and the last to be retired there, leaving 17 frigates operating in the Navy.  The crew is transferring to other ships on the waterfront; their ship will transfer to the inactive ships list, gone for now.

Perhaps someday another USS Reuben James will be called to sail the world’s oceans and “steam the bounding main” -- "back with a vengeance" to confront new threats from piracy, terrorism or fascism.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Boston Bombing Roots

by Bill Doughty

In thinking about the “why” behind the terrorist attacks by radical Islamic fundamentalists, can at least part of the answer be explained in books?  While the world was focused on the Middle East, the atrocity at the Boston Maraton last April 15 -- Patriots Day -- shifted some of the attention a bit north of Syria, Iraq and Iran to almost forgotten Chechnya and the fringes of the former Soviet Union.

To understand “why Chechnya?” several books provide helpful insight.  All of these were written before Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens with ties to radical Islam, conducted their vicious attack against innocent Americans.

“Chechen Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror” by Yossef Bodansky introduces readers immediately to terrorists like Shamil Basayev, AKA Amir Abdallah Shamil Abu-Idris, once tied to bin-Laden and al-Zawahiri.

Like author and historian Bernard Lewis, Bodansky attempts to explain the violent reactions of some fundamentalists against western modernization and what their jihad hopes to accomplish.

“The story of the Islamist-Jihadists’ quest to seize the strategic ground of Chechnya and the Caucasus is a unique and critical case study for anyone seeking to understand the means and goals of the worldwide Islamist jihad.  And its failure -- if failure it can be -- contains lessons that may be infrastructure as the secular world confronts continued Islamist-Jihadist surges in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
War in Chechnya in 1994 is thought to have claimed 100,000 lives.

Bodansky shows how sharia law, which called for public violence against its citizens, restricted women’s rights, transformed society, destroyed the socioeconomic infrastructure and fomented violence.  He calls it Chechenization.

In the chapter “Why Should We Care?” he writes:

“Chechenization refers to the profound transformation of a predominantly Muslim society from its traditional, largely pre-Islamic structure to one dominated by Islamist-Jihadist elements that historically have been alien to that society.  Chechenization involving not only the Arabization of that society’s value system, social structure, and way of life, but a near-complete abandonment of a society’s own cultural heritage in favor of subservience to pan-Islamic Jihadist causes, even if those causes are detrimental to the self-interest of that society.”

Under sharia law there is no separation of church and state.  In a radical Islamic state there is no tolerance for "disbelievers," nonbelievers or so-called apostates (former Muslims).

Lawrence Scott Sheets describes in “8 Pieces of Empire” how clerics in Chechnya ordered public televised lashings and public executions.  A highlight of his personal reporter’s narrative is the chapter “Three Libertine Women” in which we meet three freedom fighters, “Sabotage Women,” who fought the Russians nearly twenty years ago.

Harassed by morality police and threatened because of their secular attitudes and behavior, the women -- strong and fierce and free -- “fled Chechnya for Europe, where they are today.”

Andrew Meier, in “Chechnya: To the Heart of a Conflict,” describes a land of suicide bombings, assassinations and ongoing act of terrorism, where assassinations in the years since the first Russian onslaught in 1994, the kidnapping industry replaced petroleum crude as the primary contribution to Chechnya’s gross domestic product.”

Meier says he wrote the book as a report to “trace the convulsions” in the region.

A highlight of Meier’s small book is a timeline from the 17th through 19th centuries when “Chechens adopt Sunni Islam, but retain many ancestral customs,” through the impact of Russia, ending with the Sept. 1, 2004 terrorist attack and hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia and killing and wounding of hundreds of children.

In Moshe Gammer’s “The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule,” we learn of the history of the turmoil in the Caucasus going back to Catherine the Great in 1771, in the same decade as the birth of the United States, 1776.

The embers of violence continued to glow, flaring around the time of the American Civil War.

“In 1866 ... economic, religious, political and other tensions had gradually been building up, making Chechnya (and Daghestan) a powder keg waiting to explode.  The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-8 was the match that ignited it.”

Gammer describes another milestone around the time of World War I.

“The Islamic leaders were interested in securing the monopoly of the sharia over life in the mountains.  In the Chechen congress in Groznyi they had already raised the questions of enforcing the sharia and establishing a Terek Muftiate.”

Gammer calls it an “alliance” between religion and nationalism.

In the ashes of the Ottoman experience and in the face of the Stalinist persecution by the Soviet Union, fundamentalist Islam attracted a greater following among the people.

A purge or “deportation” in WWII caused deep-seated resentment that took root for generations despite a “rehabilitation” during the Cold War.

Terrorism and war continued as the people adopted “Wahhabism,” the religious philosophy adopted by al-Zawahiri.

According to Gammer, “The war of 1994-6 strengthened the Islamic dimension of Chechen identity and brought to the fore memories of the Islamic resistance to Russia in the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries ... Furthermore, Islam poured he strongest rallying call inside Chechnya and more effective than secular ideologies in calling for unity and mobilising support among other North Caucasian nationalities...”

So, the history books help us understand the unholy war that has existed in the region.  Other books can also help explain the brainwashing, “divine purpose” and self-righteous attitude that causes such explosive violence.

Still, the more we understand, the more questions we encounter.  Especially as we consider the “why” behind the Tsarnaev attacks in Boston on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday celebrating freedom and independence.  What caused the two jihadists to lash out and cause so much destruction?  Why would they reject the freedom and democracy they had adopted.  Perhaps their uncle Ruslan Tsarni has the reason that goes beyond the history books: “being losers.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being arraigned this week after the formal indictment was issued last month.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

When is Independence Day for Iraq? The Gamble

Review by Bill Doughty

While contemplating independence, freedom and democracy on July 4, “The Gamble” by Thomas E. Ricks makes a sobering and insightful read.  That’s especially true this year -- ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and two years after our departure -- as we think about our men and women still serving in the Middle East and as we watch events unfold in Afghanistan, Egypt and Syria.

Ricks’s book, an "essential" title on the CNO’s professional reading program under the "warfighting" category, is subtitled, “General David Petraeus and the American Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.”  Sectarian violence continues to flare in Iraq in the first half of 2013.

Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Fiasco” and "The Generals," researches, analyzes and describes how Petraeus, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno and others took a bad situation and made it better, despite some people’s doubts about counterinsurgency and surge strategies at the time.
Petraeus and his team had a carefully-thought-out “minimalist” approach that differed from the grand vision but “lack of imagination” of those who pushed us into Iraq, wanted to stay indefinitely and advocated confronting Iran.

“For years, the U.S. military had fretted about ‘mission creep.’  Beginning with the Somalia operation in 1992-93, top commanders worried that once U.S. forces were committed to a situation, the tasks assigned them would continually expand, from security to providing a variety of services to standing up a government, until they were mired in what was derogated as ‘nation building.’ Many in the military had listened with relief (when) George W. Bush had denounced this tendency during the 2000 presidential election campaign, saying it was not a proper use of the armed forces. ‘I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building,’ he said during a debate with Al Gore, the Democratic candidate. ‘I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war.’  Then, of course, he went on to invade Iraq and inadvertently launch perhaps the most ambitious and expensive nation-building effort in the history of the United States.”

Petraeus’s minimalist position, Ricks says, was “a polite way of rejecting the grandiose Bush vision and instead acknowledging that Iraq isn’t going to be a stable, quiet, peace-loving democracy anytime soon.”

Author Tom Ricks
Ricks mourns the “blood, treasure, prestige and credibility” paid in the lack of imagination over the past decade in Iraq.  On this Independence Day we are still recovering from the impact of Iraq, and some service members and families will never fully recover.

In his clipped reporter-on-the-ground tone Ricks carefully outlines events and describes key people and places.  He pulls no punches.  “The Gamble” has an extensive appendix that includes unclassified FOUO documents and plans.  All of this makes this book a key read to help us understand how the United States turned things around after the “fiasco” and how we left Iraq in the best way possible.

Implicit in the pages of this book is the question of whether freedom and democracy can be imposed on a country through war or if it’s best to be homegrown from within through peace, encouragement and cooperation.  Independence or National Day in Iraq, by the way, is celebrated October 3 to commemorate independence from the United Kingdom in 1932.

After quoting Ambassador Ryan Crocker from 2008, Ricks makes it clear that the history of the war in Iraq is still being written as Sunni, Shiite and other Islamic and secular factions wrestle with sharing power.  Throughout the region it’s still an open question whether radical fundamentalism is winning or whether freedom and democracy will prevail over despicable warlords, tribalism and medieval thinking.

Ricks concludes, “In other words, the events from which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened.”