May 7, 2021

1951. Downs Reflects on the Korean War, One Year Later

The Situation in Korea
"An American mortar crew fires on North Korean positions at Chochiwon," July 11, 1950 (source)
From the Congressional Record, submitted by Rep. Paul Kilday on July 10, 1951:

Bill Downs

CBS News

July 8, 1951

A year ago today I was one of the most frightened men in the world. The Korean war was less than 2 weeks old. CBS had just rushed me to the Far East, and I was spending my first day at the fighting front near Chochiwon.

I've spent a lot of time covering a lot of different kinds of armies, and a reporter learns that fear is as much a part of war as is noise.

But just 365 days ago today, it seemed different. And when I say I was one of the most frightened men in the world, I mean I had a lot of company.

The United States Army in Korea at that time consisted of one regiment. Its only friends, the South Korean troops, had broken. Our GIs at the time were outnumbered 100 to 1. And there seemed to be nothing that anyone could do about it.

The American soldier of that day were kids who had joined the Army for the soft touch. They were soft and badly trained. Someday there will be an investigation as to why they were allowed to sit on occupation duty in Japan and grow all the wrong calluses in the wrong places. Many of them didn't even know the importance of digging in. They knew more about comic books and Japanese women than they did about their own weapons. Many of the early American casualties can be laid directly to neglect of the men by the officers who were supposed to have trained them in Japan.

I had a chance to think these things over under fire, a year ago today, in a Korean ditch nuzzling an odiferous Korean rice paddy. And as I said, I was extremely frightened and filled with despair. At that time I would not have given a plugged nickel for our chances of staying on the peninsula.

You know the rest of the story. I have gone into this because in weighing the results of the past year's fighting at this time of imminent cease-fire, it is well to remember the deplorable state of readiness in which the United States found itself when the Communists marched in Korea.

In the 12 ensuing months, the revival of American power has been miraculous. It is something you have to remind yourself to remember.

And it may be that historians will some day record that Josef Stalin made his greatest strategical mistake when he sent his North Korean puppets across the thirty-eighth parallel and thus aroused the American military and industrial giant into action.

There has been much argument as to whether the Korean campaign has been worth the cost in blood to the United States. I admit that I was one of those who in the early days did not think it was. Korea was of no military value to us; it looked like we were headed for a disastrous defeat; we were forced into battle at the time and place of the enemy's choosing. And no one here at home, including some Congressmen, seemed to care.

Events have changed my mind. Fourteen other United Nations joined us in the fighting. Their contribution was token, but it was there. The Communists have paid a tremendous price for their adventure. The free world has proved that a deliberate breach of the peace can be disastrously costly.

And most important, the United States is becoming strong. Strong enough to prove that the ideal of freedom backed by strength can defend itself against totalitarianism.

You will not hear much argument about whether or not the United Nations achieved a military or diplomatic victory in Korea.

What we have really won is a measure of future security for the kind of world we stand for. The dangers still exist, but the men who fought and died in Korea have given us these priceless things, the time and ability to defend ourselves.

We will betray the trust of the men who died in Korea only if we waste this time or dissipate this ability through petty partisan politics at home or a relaxation of our vigilance at other danger areas around the world.