94 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 1999
As a young U.S. Army company commander in Korea in 1975, my battalion commander issued me a paperback copy of "This Kind of War" with instructions to read it and discuss it with him. I carried the much refered to, tabbed, underlined and used book for 15 years, when I again returned to Korea. I was pleased, when during in processing, I was issued a hard back copy of the book, as were all officers and sergeants. In 1994, during the Normandy 50th Anniversay Commemoration in France, I presented a copy to President Clinton. Today, as a Colonel with 28 years service, I still find it a readable, honest, timeless, useable source. I think all members of congress and senior administration leaders, as well as anyone concerned about America's military, should read chapter 25. Fehrenbach's insight about America's volunteer military is timeless...his counsel is again being verified today in Kosovo and in our peace keeping missions in Bosnia and Macedonia. Smug, psuedo-intellectual military analysts often disregard Fehrenbach's insight and conclusions. His ability to present complicated issues in a human, realistic, understandable manner circumvents any argument that his opinions are dated. History, to include our Iraq/Bosnia/Kosovo adventures, have proved his premise.
74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2000
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I read THIS KIND OF WAR almost 20 years ago. It stays with me as one of the best and most important books I've ever read.
Fehrenbach was, as another reader-reviewer says, too close to the story to write with the objectivity he later displayed in his excellent histories of Texas, Mexico, and the Comanches. But that kind of detachment will show up in other histories by different authors. What Fehrenbach gives us is the view of someone whom was there, and whom witnessed it all from the inside -- confusion, complacency, cowardice, stupidity, valor.
I'm very glad that this book is so popular in the Army and Air Force. I hope it continues to be read, and learned from. I just wish it were a standard high school textbook, both to let our youth know why we should stay out of war when we can, and what we MUST do when we are in one.
Not a perfect book, but a necessary one for those whom would understand the nature and requirements of war.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2005
Unpreparedness is a major theme in American military history. In his popular and unsympathetic view of America's involvement in Korea, T.R. Fehrenbach argues that the American armed forces were psychologically unprepared for the type of limited war that took place in Korea ("this kind of war"). The author questions whether the citizen-soldier and the society from which it breeds were willing to fight and die for an intangible foreign policy in Asia. Originally published two years before a full American commitment in Vietnam (1963), the author warns that this type of conflict will become the rule rather than the exception and America had better train a professional force both physically and mentally to deal with such future conflicts. Fehrenbach's reporting contains many lessons learned and leadership analysis which appeals more to current active duty military personnel. Fehrenbach's book is considered a classic, and is listed on many of the professional military reading lists. Fehrenbach's strengths lie in his combat narrative, particularly at the small unit level, however, when the author attempts to place the conflict in its overall political perspective, he falls short. Many paragraphs contain merely two or three sentences, that for this reviewer, made this book a chore to read in places. In this regard, Fehrenbach trails behind other authors on the subject such as Roy Appleman, and a recently published series edited by Allan R. Millett. Having himself commanded units at platoon, company, and battalion level in Korea, Fehrenbach is direct and pulls no punches. In contrast to those who argue that Korea was a success in that the United States accomplished its mission of re-establishing the Republic of South Korea, Fehrenbach holds the war was a stalemate resembling trench warfare on the Western Front from 1914-1918. Although stating that his evidence is compiled from many sources: official records, operations journals, memoirs, newspapers, and oral histories, the reprinted edition reviewed here contained no notes or bibliography: inexcusable for a work of history! The author is adamant in his conclusion: "A nation that does not prepare for all the forms of war should then renounce the use of war in national policy." He adds: "A people [America] that does not prepare to fight should then be morally prepared to surrender. To fail to prepare soldiers and citizens for limited, bloody ground action, and then to engage in it, is folly verging on the criminal." I've read better books, but this one deserves checking out for the author's uncanny foresight and solid analysis.
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
T.R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War" is the classic military history of the Korean War. Fehrenbach addresses the strategic and operational aspects of the conflict, but much of his focus is on the tactical experience of U.S. units. His book is a searing indictment of the U.S. military and of the United States for having failed to maintain combat-ready forces less than five years removed from the end of the Second World War.
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps elements thrust into sudden conflict in June 1950 following the communust invasion of the Republic of Korea had to relearn, the hard way, all the old and hard lessons of warfare. Young soldiers who had been coddled by peacetime occupation duty in Japan found the battlefield to be a merciless place of death for those who were unprepared. In Fehrenbach's words "They were learning, in the hardest school there was, that it is a soldier's lot to suffer and that his destiny may be to die."
Fehrenbach's prose is blunt and straightforward; the narrative sketches the ancient truths of combat and their modern realities and pulls no punches with respect to the shortcomings of both the military and the political leadership. Aging General Douglas McArthur ran great risks during the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 to husband forces for the spectacular September counterstroke at Inchon that turned the tide of combat, only to underestimate the risk of Chinese intervention and suffer an humiliating defeat inside North Korea in November. In parallel manner, the Truman Administration made the hard political decision to intervene in June 1950, then failed to think through the likely implications of going north to the Chinese border in October 1950.
Fehrenbach dispenses credit where due. The U.S. Eighth Army pulled itself together after its initial defeats to successfully defend South Korea, then reconstituted itself a second time after its defeat by the Chinese near the Yalu River. It would persevere to the armistice in 1953. Thousands of individual soldiers, NCO's, and officers overcame the shock of combat to become highly effective fighters, ultimately fighting far larger formations of Chinese and North Korean communists to a bloody standstill in the nation's first modern and rather unhappy experience with limited war.
This book is highly recommended to the student of the military art and of the Korean War. Fehrenback's narrative provides a vivid reminder that we live in a world of tigers.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 1999
I read this book during the course of my undergraduate education in Military History and have made a point to reread it throughout my career. As a rifle company commander I have made it mandatory reading for all of my platoon leaders. The text still compels me today to be sure that my piece of the Army is ready to fight and win. If you can only read one chapter in this text read chapter 25, Proud Legions. It is the centerpiece that puts the guts into a well crafted work. I will continue to read this book and continue to require my subordinates to do the same.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2006
Fehrenbach's bang-up history of the Korean War is a terrific view of the conflict, written by one who was there. It is not, however, a matter of personal reminiscence.
Fehrenbach provides us both the high strategy of the war, the big picture, and the foxhole-to-foxhole fighting. He pays much more attention to other UN forces than later books.
But if it were only a great history of the war--including the years leading up to it--it would still be mandatory for a citizen.
However, Fehrenbach discusses the place of an army in a liberal society. The Korean War is his example, his subject matter. I would argue that the history of the war itself is secondary to its function as a source for his primary issue which seems to be war, violence, armies, in a liberal society which itself is in a world of nuclear catastrophe.
He makes the case that it is difficult to expect citizen-soldiers to fight and die to straighten out a bit of border here, or replace a government there. For that, we need legions who will fight for their colors, iron-hard and willing to die in the mud.
Citizen soldiers will fight when the trumpet calls jihad--an eerie use of the word forty years before the rest of us were interested--and want to see the victory.
The problem, Fehrenbach tells us, and we ought to know it, is that, if one side or the other is backed into a corner, nuclear war ensues.
The world could be considered, then, a chessboard, whose squares are not square and whose shape is irregular. If we let ourselves give up too many pawns, and too many squares ("what's an island in the middle of nowhere?), we would eventually find ourselves in check, with mate coming. Our only courses then would be complete surrender or to kick over the board with nuclear weapons.
No one square makes the difference, but after accumulating enough, the other side might decide to take their best shot. Whether they win or not will hardly be relevant. Better, TRF says, to make sure the other side never thinks it has a chance. And that requires policing the borders.
TRF calls for legions, and refers to Marines as opposed to the soft Army with which we began the Korean War. At one point, he refers to Marine units which, although drawn from garrison and reserves, were prepared because their officers were sufficiently hard-nosed. Sufficiently hard-nosed officers will, in peacetime, generate congressional inquiries. This, TRF more than implies, tells us about the forces in a liberal society which inevitably tend toward soft and unprepared forces. Legions, the legions of the damned, manned by expendable lower class men and officered by landless younger sons, succeeded for centuries, in part because society was tougher then. Just living as a civilian in England in, say, 1850 would be considered something like a refugee in extremis today. But primarily nobody particularly cared what went on in the regiments. So they were left alone to train as their officers thought they should be trained.
The performance of US troops in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Iraq shows the mental and physical toughness, the discipline and the courage, the training and the equipment that TRF called for. Whether he would think of our forces today as the legions he envisioned is an interesting question.
I recall, as a grunt in the late Sixties, seeing others in my uniform in airports. I remarked not too long ago that they all looked as if they needed their hand patted. I suppose I did, too. I contrasted that with going through DFW in 2004, noticing the troops who all had their game faces on. I had no interest in patting anybody's hand, although buying a drink or two seemed reasonable.
Perhaps we've reached the equilibrium. The problem is to insist on staying there. The forces that would soften the military remain, uneducated by the blood they have shed so many times in the past. But, it was never their blood, anyway.
So, citizens need to read this book. And they need to pay attention to more than the history of the Korean War so ably presented.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
This is a timeless classic on warfare and how America responds to armed conflict. No other book that I've read during my 12 years in the Army has described battle, its effects on soldiers, and the hardships of warfare so well. If you only read one book about the Korean War this should be it. Written before Vietnam, the book foretells some of the problems of that war with eerie accuracy. I found myself shaking my head as I read similiarities between the pre-Korean army and the active army today
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 1997
This is one of the best books about war ever written. It's not history, exactly, since the author is too personally involved and lacked the historian's perspective when he wrote it. And some parts of the war are completely omitted or glossed over. But Fehrenbach's description of the first year of the war, and his analysis of how the United States got itself into the bind of Korea, are superb.
Fehrenbach's writing is hard nosed and his opinions-forcibly stated-are probably politically incorrect by today's lights. He pulls no punches in his descriptions of America's unpreparedness, why it was allowed to happen, who was responsible, and its bloody, very nearly disastrous consequences. He is equally frank in his descriptions of the sacrifices and heroism that narrowly averted catastrophe.
Fehrenbach writes in an old-fashioned style. I have heard others complain that his style makes the book difficult. I did not find it so, but admit it is not always easy to read. At his best, Fehrenbach's prose is sublime, approaching the grace of well crafted poetry. That is not necessarily a good trait in a "history", but it makes the writing at times haunting, lyrical, and unforgettable. The essential truths he tells will stay with the reader long after the details have gone.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2004
If you only read one book on the Korean War, this is the one. Fehrenbach provides a well-balanced mix of impressions of fighting at the ground level with the broader vision of the war from a strategic and political level. He is unsparing in describing the appalling unpreparedness of the US Army and, more important, the underlying reasons for it that can easily be repeated in the future.
As the book was written nearly 30 years before the end of the Cold War (1963), it frequently tends to speak in the present tense of an era fading into the past. Still, this does little to detract from the book. What would have helped the book immensely is the presence of a few maps to give the reader the ability to identify key locations mentioned throughout the book.
Overall, a "must read," but not an "only read."
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2000
I reluctantly bought a 1964 paperback edition of this book in 1984. I would have kicked myself half to death had I not after reading This Kind of War. As a citizen of a country that sent soldiers to fight side by side with American troops in the Korean War, I admire the courage of the American fighting man in a war where they were fighting with an arm and foot tied behind their backs. I also admire the candor of Mr. Fehrenbach in discussing the state of unpreparedness of the US military during that time. This is a lesson that is universally applicable. As a military history enthusiast, this is one of the five best books I have read and re-read. A timeless classic indeed.