Book Reviews

The heart of the book is the Battle of the Bulge, that stark testing of American nerve triggered by Hitler's desperate last-ditch offensive in the Ardennes, which caught Eisenhower and Bradley by surprise. The headlong thrust launched at first light on a bitter cold 16 December 1944 created instant confusion and terror. Some units resisted bravely, even though outnumbered and outgunned. But massive German artillery barrages and tank charges caused others to break and run. A trickle of U.S. soldiers fleeing from battle became a stream on the second day, and began colliding with reinforcements sent by Eisenhower. The 101st Airborne Division columns moving toward Bastogne marched on both sides of the road, while down the center rushed defeated American troops away from the front, in disarray and panic, babbling "Run, run—they'll murder you . . . they've got everything, tanks, artillery, machine guns, everything." A major with the 101st said, "It was pathetic. We felt ashamed."

In contrast to the static trench lines of World War I, the war of movement gave birth to the foxhole—"Big enough for your coffin"—which had to be dug at the end of every exhausting day. In the bitterest winter of 1944-45, it had to be dug in frozen ground. "Battalions that didn't dig in didn't last long." One night in a cold foxhole was "memorable." Ten, 20, 30 nights were "hell." An added misery in the Ardennes was a shortage of winter clothing, especially of proper boots to cope with mud and freezing temperatures. Waterproof footgear arrived in the theater by mid-December, but was appropriated mainly by rear-echelon service forces—a situation Ambrose rightly labels "an everlasting disgrace." The result was a near-epidemic of frostbite and debilitating trench foot in the front lines which led to feelings of anger and helplessness. One soldier told him," When you were wet, cold, hungry and alone, Death looked very inviting."

When fighting was heavy, some 25% of frontline soldiers, though not hit by enemy fire, were unable to function, from fear and exhaustion. In battalion aid stations, they were given hot food, a change of clothes, and a few hours of rest. In most cases, that was sufficient to restore them to coherence and combat duty. But the human desire to escape the fear and tension always was present on both sides. Many German soldiers—some hardly more than children—gratefully surrendered. One night a U.S. company commander went into a wooded area to check his outpost line and bumped into a two man German patrol. He dropped his rifle and put his hands up. The Germans did the same. After a strained exchange of fractured German and English, the Germans persuaded the American that he must accept their surrender. They became POWs whose war thus ended. The captain's bitter war continued.

The winter battle saw its share of atrocities. The cold-blooded murder of 150 U.S. prisoners at Malmedy sent an electric shock through the U.S. Army and had two effects: many SS troopers who thereafter surrendered were immediately shot; and GIs contemplating surrender had second thoughts.

Ambrose is severely critical of the U.S. policy of individual replacements, which differed sharply from the British and German practice of replacing with entire units that had trained or fought together. In the Battle of the Bulge, four of five infantrymen were green replacements, individually slotted into war-toughened platoons without any psychological or practical sense of identity with their fellows; they suffered disproportionate casualties. A replacement was an orphan. "Only [Franz] Kafka could truly describe the depersonalizing effects of the replacement system."

From this swirling cauldron of war, Ambrose draws an appealing moral conclusion that would carry more weight if it did not seem to finesse the decisive factor of U.S. war production: "The American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn't want to live in a world where wrong prevailed. So they fought and won." A more measured assessment comes from a surviving staff sergeant: "We are all proud of having been so severely tested and found adequate."

 

Marine Air Power: Real Heroes Volume III

Randy Jolly. Garland, TX: Aero Graphics Inc, 1997. 192 pp. $29.95 ($26.95).

Reviewed by Major General Drax Williams, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

According to the author, this book is "a tribute to the Air Combat Element of the United States Marine Corps." A very fine tribute it is.

This is the third volume in the author's popular and respected series of photo essay books featuring U.S. military capabilities. The series has attained collector status among its loyal readership owing to its stunning, original photography and sparse, fact-filled text.

Marine Air Power features nearly 200 previously unpublished photographs taken by the author, many snapped while airborne in formation. Jolly has a chapter on each aircraft in the Marine Corps tactical inventory at present, and a chapter each on the combined arms exercises at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, and the weapons training instructor courses at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona.

The author sprinkles terse, readable text among his superb photos outlining the capabilities and weapon systems of each aircraft. He discusses combat loads and strike packages from Saudi Arabia to Bosnia. He discusses the training squadrons and the various syllabi leading to a fully combat-ready pilot. He shows how helicopters and C-130s work together at forward arming and refueling points (FARP), in air-to-air refueling, and in austere base operations. He talks about maintenance, low-altitude terrain flight (TERF missions), night- vision goggles, shipboard operations, and deployments as part of the Marine expeditionary unit. From air superiority to close air and assault support, Jolly speaks knowledgeably. It is obvious that he has flown the birds and talked extensively with their crews. In his chapter on the Harrier, for instance, he discusses both versions of the Maverick missile—laser-guided and infrared—as well as the strong and weak points of each. He talks about the differences between the AV-8B and the AV8B Plus, and touches on sortie rates and ordnance carrying-capability, citing examples from the Gulf War and the rescue of Captain Scott O'Grady.

The chapter on the EA-6B Prowler tells the reader how the nation's premier tactical electronic warfare aircraft fits into the combat strike picture while the section on the CH-53E Super Sea Stallion lists the capabilities of our largest, fastest, and most powerful helicopter. Whether it's an AH-IW Cobra firing 20mm cannon, TOW or Hellfire missiles, the F/A-18 firing Sidewinders or popping flares, or the C-130 Hercules passing gas, Randy Jolly packs a generous amount of information about each aircraft into each chapter.

While the text is readable and highly accurate, the book's strength lies in its photographs. Knowledgeable readers will feel the tension and exhilaration of smoking across the desert low-level in a section of Hornets or feel the Gs pulled out of a high-altitude, contrail-producing whifferdill. They will remember the familiar pucker associated with a low-fuel, must-plug sortie during aerial refueling. They will be with the Frog crews thumping along on TERF missions, taste the whirling dust in a desert LZ, smell the JP-5 fuels at a FARP, be padlocked on the yellow shirt while translating over the deck for a blue-water landing, and feel the wind through the open doors of a low altitude Huey. They will hear the cacophony of the flight deck during high tempo ops, the whoosh of a Maverick missile departing the rails, the rise in rotor power as a Sea Stallion slows to deliver an external 155-mm howitzer.

This book is a celebration of Marine aviation and how it works together as a fighting team in support of the single most important weapon system the Corps employs—the Marine rifleman.

 

The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History

Don Oberdorfer. Reading, MA: AddisonWesley, 1997. 41 I pp. Ack. Ind. Maps. Notes. Photos. $30.00 (27.00).

Reviewed by Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, U.S. Army, (Retired)

Don Oberdorfer, veteran reporter and long-time chronicler of events on the Korean Peninsula, retired from The Washington Post five years ago to write this "history of the past quarter century of North-South conflict and conciliation in Korea." It is a complex story of both personalities and elemental forces, in which outside powers, especially the United States, have played major parts. Benefiting from recently opened archives and from candid interviews granted him by participants of all persuasions, the author has told that story very well.

In 1972, Park Chung Hee, South Korea's president since his 1961 military coup, dispatched a top official of his Korea Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), in the guise of a "Red Cross" delegate to Pyongyang to meet with counterpart "Red Cross" (actually senior party or intelligence) officials—and to be received by the North's demigod dictator, Kim II Sung, in the first high-level North South contact since Korea was divided at the end of World War II.

Although this meeting led to exchanges of visits by official delegations of both sides, suspicion, intransigence, and diametrically opposed agendas stifled even such limited initiatives, just as for 25 years these same factors have frustrated progress in reconciliation. Oberdorfer lays out the background against which reconciliation fitfully was pursued: the growth of South Korea's economy and the strengthening of its armed forces; the North's economic failures, while yet building a garrison state with ever more powerful offensive forces; in the South, the 1979 assassination of Park Chung Hee, the military dictatorship that followed of Chun Doo Hwan, then the democratic reforms fostered by Chun's military successor, Ro Tae Woo, and finally open elections and a peaceful change of power in 1992 to a civilian, Kim Young Sam. Meanwhile the North, building its military strength and retaining its vision of reunifying the peninsula by force, remained implacably hostile to the South under Kim II Sung's iron rule, almost until his death in 1994.

Along the way, Oberdorfer weaves one interesting tale after another. One of these is of President Jimmy Carter's stubborn and single-minded fixation in 1977 with removing all U.S. ground forces from South Korea by 1982 or so. I was in Korea at the time, commanding the Korean-American field army that defended the Western Sector of the DMZ and the approaches to Seoul, under General John Vessey, U.S. commander in Korea. We all were deeply opposed to Carter's policy as increasing the risk of war; Vessey in soldierly fashion fought it at every turn. But Oberdorfer reveals, for the first time to my knowledge, that Cyrus Vance, Carter's Secretary of State, and Harold Brown, his Secretary of Defense, also disagreed with Carter—to no avail, until events proved that Carter's policy had no chance of prevailing and Carter gave up as his one term in office was ending.

More fascinating is the story of North Korea's effort to become a nuclear power, begun in great secrecy in the late 1970s, its threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula, and its resolution in 1994 and since.

The North's nuclear program's first installation—at Yongbyon near its capital Pyongyang—was detected by U.S. overhead photography in 1982. Persuaded by the Soviet Union to do so as a condition of the Soviets supplying four nuclear power reactors, North Korea in 1985 signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with a deadline of December 1988 for its signing an inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A few months after this deadline passed with no North Korean action, the United States told South Korea and Japanese officials in highly classified briefings that North Korea might be able to produce atomic weapons by the mid1990s. This information leaked to the press, and in mid-1989 the fat was in the fire—where it would remain for five years of crisis, during which Kim II Sung would exploit his alarming and conceivably imminent nuclear capability for all that it was worth toward achieving his own objectives.

One North Korean objective was to eliminate U.S. nuclear weapons from Korea, where some 700 were deployed; another was to halt the annual ROK/U.S. Team Spirit exercises that called for U.S. reinforcements to flow temporarily to South Korea and which the North took to be a grave threat; a third was to engage in direct negotiations with the United States, which the United States had long resisted. In coping with all of these the United States had to consider the anxieties of its South Korean partner.

In the last years of the Bush administration, U.S. nuclear weapons were taken out of Korea, as part of a decision to eliminate U.S. ground and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons worldwide. The 1992 Team Spirit exercises were cancelled, whereupon North Korea signed the inspection agreement with the IAEA. But by then, after the Gulf War, the world had learned that Iraq, although subject for years to IAEA inspections, had secretly brought to near-completion a major effort to develop an operational nuclear capability. So when IAEA's inspections in North Korea began in mid-1992, they were far more rigorous than the North had expected.

The resulting climate of suspicion, antagonism, and accusations of North Korean cheating—plus a worsening of North South relations—led to resumption of the Team Spirit exercises in March 1993; the angered North announced that it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tensions increased; North Korea said that the IAEA inspectors would have to leave; sanctions against the North were contemplated (which the North said would be an act of war); there was talk of war; and military measures and countermeasures were spoken of by both sides. Full-blown crisis ensued.

The dramatic climax occurred while, in a June 1994 meeting with his national security advisors, President Clinton was on the verge of approving both further reinforcement of U.S. forces in Korea and a U.S. effort in the United Nations to impose sanctions—when former President Jimmy Carter telephoned the White House from Pyongyang to say that Kim II Sung had agreed to freeze his nuclear program and to allow the IAEA inspectors to remain. And the story goes on.

But read Don Oberdorfer's fine book. It is an excellent tale of events, personalities, and policies in a critically important corner of the world, and a real contribution to the history of recent times.

 

 
 

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