Tag Archives: Korean War

Preparing to Fight and Die on Distant Hills

Mattis suggests that troops read sobering Korean War history

By Michael M. Barrick 

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – When U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently advised soldiers to read, “This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness” by T. H. Fehrenbach, I immediately walked over to a book shelf and grabbed my copy of it. It is just one of many books I own and have read about the Korean War, but I knew instantly why Mattis recommended it to the troops. Fehrenbach’s book is the ultimate After Action Review (AAR) of the Korean War.

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U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis. Photo by Monica King.

The diplomatic, political and military failures are mercilessly explored. So are the successes. However, based on other remarks that Mattis made at Ft. Bragg, I believe he was warning the troops to study about the dangers of unpreparedness.

I am particularly interested in the Korean War because my uncle died there on 12 July 1950, six years before I was born. However, to people who knew him, such as my dad and grandmother, he remained very much alive in their memories. So, his life narrative was an integral part of our family history.

His name was George M. Barrick Jr. I have written about him before, here. He was among “ … the majority (that) had fought and died” (Fehrenbach, p. 87) in the early days of July, 1950. His death, recorded in detail by a surviving companion, was horrid. Fehrenbach’s version is sanitized; “And on the retaken ground Jensen found six American soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head” (p. 87). In short, it was routine for POWs, especially officers, to be executed by the North Koreans.

In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.” – T. R. Fehrenbach

With Mattis doing his duty – preparing soldiers for war with North Korea as diplomatic options dwindle – his advice is good for all Americans: pick up a copy of Fehrenbach’s book. Be prepared though. He pulls no punches. On p. 84, in summarizing the slaughter of American troops after their arrival in South Korea around 1 July, he writes, “What happened to them might have happened to any American in the summer of 1950. For they represented exactly the kind of pampered, undisciplined, egalitarian army their society had long desired and at last achieved.”

Ouch. Yet, he continues, “They had been raised to believe the world was without tigers, then sent to face those tigers with a stick. On their society must fall the blame.”

This last assertion by Fehrenbach is severe. Yet, he wrote this book just 10 years after the cease-fire was signed at Panmunjom on 27 July 1953. In that three years, more than 50,000 U.S. troops and millions of Koreans died. Since then, millions more have died in North Korea at the hands of its Communist leaders, people just as ruthless as the ones that shot my uncle in the back of the head after he had surrendered.

Fehrenbach and others also point out that the Truman administration had sent signals to North Korea, as well as Russia and China, that the United States would not go to war over Korea. In short, everyone miscalculated.

So, let’s just consider one more section from Fehrenbach’s book about those miscalculations. “In the first terrible, shattering days of July 1950, casualties among officers of high rank in the United States Army were greater in proportion to those of any fighting since the Civil War. They had to be. There were few operable radios with the regiments in Korea, and almost no communication from command posts down to the front positions.” He continues, “If commanders wanted to know what was happening, or make their orders known, they had to be on the ground” (p. 85).

He added, “The high-priced help was expendable, true. They too were paid to die. But it was no way to run a war” (p. 85).

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Photo by by Andrew Pons on Unsplash

No, it was not. And despite many heroic actions, including the delaying action in which my uncle was killed, we accomplished no diplomatic objectives through the military action. The 38th parallel was the demarcation line between North Korea and South Korea the day the war started and was roughly so three years later, when the cease-fire was signed.

Writing in July, 1962 in the book’s Preface, Fehrenbach asserted, “In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.”

He added, “Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or spirit.”

It is no wonder Mattis wants his troops to read Fehrenbach’s history. It is full of sobering words for our nation and our leaders. Are we, as a people, committed to sending more troops to fight and die on distant hills in Asia? For too long, we have asked too few to sacrifice too much. That is symptomatic of a nation “not ready, either in body or spirit.”

Mattis has issued a wake-up call about the existential threat caused by unpreparedness – of mind, body and spirit. How shall we respond?

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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U.N. Resolution Needs Time to Work

Trump’s threat of ‘fire and fury’ against North Korea undermines Nikki Haley’s incredible diplomacy – and the Constitution

By Michael M. Barrick

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, did what none of her 28 predecessors were able to do – get a unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council. The 15-0 vote, in short, is intended to deny North Korea of roughly $1 billion in revenue annually in hopes it will bankrupt the nation’s nuclear program. It also sends an unprecedented unanimous message to the North Korean leadership.

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Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the U.N.

Ms. Haley hit a diplomatic grand slam. Naturally, President Trump immediately undermined her work, threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea. That’s war, not diplomacy. And, it’s amateurish, as noted by Senator John McCain (R- Ariz.). He told the Associated Press, “You got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do. That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure it helps. The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure that President Trump is ready to act.”

So, we’ve just leap-frogged over a moment to achieve peace to almost certain war.

It is not unreasonable for there to be skeptics as to whether or not nations voting for the resolution will actually abide by it. Nevertheless, it is inconsistent with the values of the United States to initiate war. In fact, one would think that recent history would have taught us that.

I’ve got a stack of books about the Korean War sitting on my bookshelf. I offer them to the White House. Chief of Staff General John Kelly can sit the president’s butt in a chair and read to him just a few select passages of the madness that a war on that peninsula would unleash. It would be an apocalyptic example of man’s inhumanity to man.

I’ve even got the word-for-word account of my uncle’s death there on 12 July 1950. It makes for sobering reading. I’ll also be happy to provide a copy of my grandmother’s letter to President Truman, a letter saturated with anguish that only a mother can feel.

Speaking of reading, somebody needs to read the president a copy of the Constitution. The same thing is true in Congress. When President Harry Truman sent troops into Korea in 1950, he started our 67-year history of unconstitutional wars. A journalist called it a “police action” and the president claimed it as his own. Those books I mentioned have a lot of colorful quotes from soldiers that actually participated in that “police action.”

If reading just isn’t an option, then show the president episodes of “M*A*S*H.”

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It’s time for that executive abuse of power to stop. Indeed, the lesson here is that while the U.N. resolution is impressive, it is not legal cover for war. Only Congress can authorize war. I can think of no more appropriate time in our nation’s history than now for Congress to re-assert its rightful authority. At least men like my uncle will not then have died in vain.

Today, the media is just as irresponsible, talking and writing about a “conflict.” No, it’s a war, and it is very, very ugly. So, it’s time for everyone to do their job, especially Congress. It seems only it can check the White House. It must send a clear signal to the president – if you do not come to the House chamber for a Joint Session of Congress with a Declaration of War that will be debated live for every American to see, there will be not one cent made available for war. There will be no such declaration. And, Articles of Impeachment will be introduced the second you should initiate an unconstitutional war.

We can hope.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Related Articles:

Article about Lt. George M. Barrick Jr. and his death in the “Police Action”

Solving the North Korea Problem: No Nukes for anyone

Memorial Day not about Celebrating War, but Ending it

We honor those who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ by working for peace

By Michael M. Barrick

George Barrick

George M. Barrick Jr.

It was May 1950, about five years since Morgantown, W.Va. native Lt. George M. Barrick Jr. had returned from World War II, recipient of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for meritorious action and wounds received during the Battle of the Bulge. During those five years of peacetime, Lt. Barrick – a direct descendant of Morgantown, W.Va. (then Virginia) founder Colonel Zackquill Morgan – had graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Arts, received his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army, had fallen in love and started a family.

On May 12 1950, a short paragraph in the social pages of The Morgantown Post noted a visit by Lt. Barrick. It read, “Lieut. and Mrs. George Barrick and their infant son George Barrick III, arrived last night from Ft. Benning, Ga., to visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers and Mrs. Margaret Barrick on Park street. Lieut. Barrick has been assigned to Japan for 30 months duty and will leave for San Francisco, May 29. Mrs. Margaret Barrick and Mathers Barrick (his brother) motored to Fort Mead, Md. to meet the visitors.”

Though it spoke of a new deployment, it did so without alarm. As it turned out, this brief account of a family gathering is also an account of the last time the family was together, for in less than two months, Lt. Barrick was dead, killed in action in Korea.

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George Barrick Jr. with his son, George III and wife, Sara, in Morgantown, W.Va. in May 1950.

The social announcement hinted at no such danger. Nearly five years since Japan’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces in August, 1945, the United States military continued to serve as an occupying force. So, the assignment seemed routine. That changed, however, on June 25 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in overwhelming force, quickly capturing the South Korean capital and driving the surprised and disorganized army further and further south. Soon afterward, the United Nations condemned the action and authorized the use of force to repel the invasion. Based on this resolution, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. troops into the war. The closest – those overseeing the transition in Japan – were among the first to be airlifted into areas still under South Korean control, soon to be positioned in defensive positions among unfamiliar hills and valleys, with rifles and bazookas to hold off tanks.

So, in just over two months, a much different story was being told in the local newspaper. The Morgantown Post of July 26, 1950 carried this headline: “Local Officer Reported Missing in Korea Action.” Beside his photo, the newspaper reported, “This area’s first casualty of the Korean War was reported here today with the receipt of word that 2nd Lieut. George M. Barrick Jr., 26, has been missing in action since July 12.” The article continued, “Lieut. Barrick, son of Mrs. Margaret Barrick, was serving with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division, the first American unit to go into action against the North Koreans.”

George and Mike Barrick

George Barrick Jr. (left) with his brother, Mike, ca. 1934

It wasn’t until November, 1950 that his family learned for certain that he had been killed. It was even longer before he returned home. Indeed, it was more than a year since his last visit in May. Again, the local paper tells the story. In the June 20, 1951 edition of The Dominion-News, the headline read, “Body of Hero Brought Home: Barrick Rites Set for Saturday.” Again accompanied with a photo of Lt. Barrick in his uniform, the first full paragraph read simply, “The last full measure of devotion.”

The account continued, “Home yesterday from the faraway battlefield in Korea on which he died last July fighting under the country’s colors accompanied by a military escort, came the body of Lieutenant George Milton Barrick Jr., son of Mrs. Margaret Mathers Barrick and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers of this city.”

Max Mathers holds George Barrick Jr

Max Mathers with his great-grandson, George Barrick III in May, 1950.

After detailing funeral arrangements, the story continues, “Lieutenant Barrick was one of the most popular young men to reside in this city. He was a direct descendent of Colonels Zackquill Morgan and John Evans, Revolutionary War heroes and pioneer settlers of what later became Morgantown and Monongalia County.” The account revealed, “He was killed while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of the Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Division.”

He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on June 25, 1951, one year to the day that the Korean War began. Those present at his funeral Mass prayed, “O Jesus our Savior….Grant peace and eternal rest to the souls of all who were engaged in this whirlwind of war and were swept unto death.” Now, 67 years since these events unfolded, with peace still quite tenuous on the Korean Peninsula and around the world, there is no greater time to pray and work for peace – so that accounts of pleasant family gatherings such as those from May 1950 are not nullified by battlefield dispatches just two months later. Such prayers and efforts make the sacrifice of Lt. Barrick – and every person who has given “the last full measure of devotion” – worthy of honor.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016-17. The author is the nephew of Lt. Barrick.

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Praying [Stefan Kunze]

Credit: Stefan Kunze