What follows are excerpts from The Korean War by General Matthew B. Ridgeway, US Army (ret):
The Korean conflict marked the end, in the United States, of the Fortress America era and the beginning of an age when it would no longer be possible for our nation to ensure peace merely by avoiding foreign entanglements. When war broke out in Korea, we found ourselves for the first time in our history plunged headlong into war without even a week's warning and involved half a world away in a struggle our people neither understood nor felt a part of.
In every previous war, beginning with the one that gave our country birth, there had been time to gird our loins, recruit our spirits, and deliberate over where and how best to apply our force. In other conflicts, our ocean moats and our distance from the battle enabled us to delay long enough to tool our industries for war, to train our armies, build our stockpiles, and take counsel with ourselves over the disposition of our forces.
Korea, however, burst into flame without apparent warning. There was no time allowed in 1950 to arrive at our major decisions through conferences, debate, legislative action, and careful clearances. The outbreak of hostilities found us at peace and awoke us to full-scale war. It took young family men, hardly settled down after dreary months of warfare, and transported them at airplane speed straight to the fighting front. It found a prosperous nations, with a new era of labor-management peace apparently dawning, with taxes diminishing, wartime restrictions vanishing, and a tranquil future unfolding -- and it offered it, once more, shortages and strife and sacrifices and doubt.
In the course of the conflict we met and decided several questions of major import, some of which have been only dimly understood by the masses of our people. Facing the issue of whether to act in concert with other free nations, or go it alone, we decided that our national security lay in collective action. Forced to choose between civilian authority and military, we emphasized once more the constitutional supremacy of the civilian authority. Abruptly faced with the need to decide whether to stand up to aggression or abandon the Republic of Korea to her enemies, we chose the path of honor and met the aggressor head-on. And for the first time in our history, we became acquainted with the concept of "limited" war.
Before Korea, all our military planning envisioned a war that would involve the world, and in which the defense of a distant and indefensible peninsula would be folly. But Korea taught us that all warfare from this time forth must be limited. It could no longer be a question of whether to fight a limited war, but of how to avoid fighting any other kind. Unlimited war, now that many nations own thermonuclear weapons or the skill to build them, is no longer thinkable, for it would mean mutual annihilation. Our dealings with friends and potential enemies, after Korea, would all be colored by this realization.
Perceptive people then foresaw that this change in our thinking would bring other changes in its train. The realization began to dawn that military force alone could no longer solve problems such as faced us in Vietnam, Laos and the Congo but that mutually supporting political, economic, and military policies must be evolved that would be acceptable to all peoples concerned, and they would have to be implemented through strong leadership. It became clear too that policy could no longer be formulated by the White House alone, or by the Department of State, or by the Defense Department; that neither civilian statesmen nor military professionals, working in separate compartments, could by themselves lay down the lines that would give direction to our intercourse with other sovereignties. It is clear now, or should be clear, that best results flow from intimate day-to-day collaboration among military and civilian leaders, wherein the civilian leaders propose the ends that must be achieved and the military leaders supply their estimate of how much can be attained by military means and how those means may be best employed.
Such collaboration is possible only when civil and military authorities seek and earnestly consider each other's point of view. Sound decisions will not be reached through automatic overruling of the preponderant recommendations of the nation's senior military advisers by their civilian superiors. The civilian authority, under our Constitution, of course, remains supreme. But a failure to seek, hear, and weigh the counsel of our experienced military advisers is to court disaster.
Many of our citizens, absorbed as they properly are by the struggle to maintain the security and health of their families and to educate their children, have not had the time to grasp the full significance of these changes in our situation and in our thinking. Too often they are still beguiled by the thoughtless old slogans of "all-out war." and "unconditional surrender" and "complete victory," slogans that are frequently employed to serve partisan ends. It is no wonder then that widely divergent views on foreign policy, heated debates, confused thinking, and feelings of frustrations still persist throughout the country.
Fortunately there seems to be a growing body of citizenry who, while perhaps themselves not fully understanding the depth and force of the changes that have engulfed us since Korea, still perceive that we live in a wholly new world that calls for new ways of thinking and planning. And in between the unthinking and the more perceptive, there remains the group of people who, confused by the vehement utterances of the opposing schools of thought, find it more and more difficult to decide which group to support.
More to come. . . .