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The Korean War from the neglected South Korean Perspective
on April 4, 2005
I'm glad I found this gem of a book. I've read more then a few Korean War books and they take a decidedly American point of view. It's not to say that this is wrong, but it's certainly unbalanced. Many of these other books go on to describe the ROK army as cowardly, unreliable and prone to breaking. Finally there is a Korean commander that puts the record straight.
Yes, it was true that the ROK army at the time were not up to American Army standards, but it's not fair to put the same expectations on them. It doesn't take a genius to know what happens when militia goes against a heavily equipped professional army head-to-head in the open field. Militia loses every time, just look at how the British man handled continental armies in the first few years of the Revolutionary War. In 1950 the ROK army was the equivalent of a militia as it was very much under equipped, with no armor, air force and very little artillery (some 60mm and 80mm mortars and a few light 105mm pieces).
The U.S. had purposely left the ROK army under equipped and it was designed from the ground up as a lightly armed anti-guerilla force. The ROK army had a very poor junior officer corps, there was not school to train junior officers. The U.S. was too preoccupied in rebuilding Japan and sent very limited funds to South Korea. Proper equipment was not sent, no school for junior officers was established. Anyone who knows something about military matters knows that the backbone of an effective army are the junior officers, the lieutenants, captains and majors that lead the troops into the teeth of enemy fire. The North Korean Army (NKA), on the other hand, had an effective junior officer corps because many of the veterans were anti-Japanese guerilla fighters. Furthermore, the Russians supplied NKA with T-34 tanks, YAK fighter bombers, 155mm artillery, etc. Heavy artillery, tanks and close air support gave the NKA heavy offensive power.
It is not mentioned very often, but American trooped faired NO BETTER against the NKA during the first few months of the war. 24th ID troops ran from their positions when their antiquated WWII era bazookas just scratched the paint off NKA T-34s. It was carrier based air power that saved the Americans from being overrun.
General Paik tells stories of desperate battles, where ROK soldiers wrapped satchel charges around their bodies and threw themselves in suicide missions onto NKA tanks. ROK soldiers did the best they could with the weapons and training they had on hand. General Paik provides a fair and often underappreciated reason for why ROK units faired badly in the early part of the Korean War. As far as I'm concerned, any student of the Korean War cannot consider himself a expert unless he's read Paik's book. It is wrong to not put into consideration the viewpoint of the nation that contributed the most manpower and had the most casualties of all the UN forces. No Korean War library can be considered complete without this book (how many Korea War books have a glowing foreword by Mathew B. Ridgeway himself, huh?).
General Paik Sun Yup was the 29 year old commander of the ROK 1st division. The 1st ROK division had the distinction of the only ROK unit that never retreated from their positions without orders. It was also the only ROK unit that was attached to a U.S. Army Corp for the duration of the war and given tasks expected of a regular U.S. infantry division. General Paik was adamant about the fact that given the proper artillery, armor and air support, the 1st ROK division always performed as well, if not better then any regular U.S. infantry division. The 1st ROK also had the distinction of being the first UN unit to enter Pyongyang, beating several better equipped U.S. units in the race to the NK capital.