Korean War – all but forgotten

If it weren’t for the insane antics of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, we would probably never remember that a war–that’s technically not over–divided up the country. I remember the war because it was in the news when I was a child. Little to nothing was said about the war in my history survey courses other than President Truman firing General MacArthur in April 1951.

Even now, I think most viewers of “M*A*S*H” reruns assume the TV show was set in Vietnam even though the co-authored novel by a M*A*S*H surgeon (under a pseudonym) was based on this wartime experiences in the Korean War.

I research the war from time to time because characters in my novel Fate’s Arrows and in my short story “The Smoky Hollow Blues” (in the recently released Thomas-Jacob anthology The Things We Write) served in Korea. The novel in progress has these same characters, so I find myself wanting to know more about the near-disaster for the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

You can learn about this battle online on more sites than Wikipedia, and they give a decent overview of the battle. Yet I feel it’s through the lens of somebody watching it from outer space. I can’t afford to buy books about the war just to fill in background information about my characters. Fortunately, I have most of Jeff Shaara’s historical novels including The Frozen Hours about Korea. The novel brings me a close-in view of what it was like to be fighting a superior-in-size Chinese force in sub-zero temperatures where weapons malfunctioned and frostbite was a killer.

I bought the book before I knew I would ever use it as a reference. I like Shaara’s work and probably have most of his novels on my shelf. As an author, I go everywhere I can for background information, and sometimes historical fiction works out very well.


За Україну (for Ukraine)

Я читав, що американці не воювали б так, як ви воювали, якби на нас напали, як на вас.

Ви надихаєте нас і соромите нас, тому що ми не втручалися. Ми надіслали зброю та припаси, і ми чули, що вони були корисними. Якщо наша відправка допомогла, то ми можемо спати вночі.

Ми погано спимо. Образи з щоденних новин про смерть і руйнування в Україні переслідують наші мрії. Деякі з нас мріють, що ми бачимо жах на власні очі, тому що саме так ми повинні бачити його – а не на телебаченні, як ніби ваша боротьба – це фільм.

Можливо, ваша сміливість одного дня надихне нас знайти власну мужність, щоб врятувати себе, якщо до цього трапиться, і врятувати інших, які просять нашої допомоги. Сьогодні ми відпочиваємо в цілості й здоров’ї в наших домівках, далеко від звуків бомб, танків, ракет та останніх слів загиблих. Завтра, можливо, ми схаменуємося і відповімо на ваш дзвінок.

Поки не настане завтрашній день, ви перебуваєте в наших думках і на нашій совісті. Мені шкода, що ми не робимо більше, коли наші боги говорять нам, що ми повинні робити більше.

Ми любимо вас більше, ніж дозволяє наша влада.



I have read that Americans would not fight as you have fought if we were attacked as you were attacked.

You inspire us and you shame us because we did not intervene. We sent weapons and supplies, and we hear that those were helpful. If our shipment helped, then we can sleep at night.

We are not sleeping well. Images from the daily news of death and destruction in Ukraine haunt our dreams. Some of us dream we are seeing the horror first hand because that is how we should be seeing it–not on television as though your struggles are a movie.

Perhaps your courage will one day inspire us to find our own courage to save ourselves if it should come to that, and to save others who ask for our help. Today we rest safe and sound in our homes that are far away from the sounds of bombs and tanks and missiles and the last words of the dead. Tomorrow, perhaps, we will come to our senses and answer your call.

Until that tomorrow arrives, you reside heavily within our thoughts and upon our consciences. I am sorry we are not doing more when our gods are telling us we should be doing more.

We love you more than our government will allow.

That long line of refugees

When Ernest Hemingway’s dispatches from the Greco-Turkish war of 1922 began appearing in a Toronto newspaper, readers discovered a new style of war reporting that read, in some ways, like a novel, telling a story that put readers in the story.

When I read these dispatches during my journalism school days, I was most taken  by his description of an endless line of refugees: “Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Andrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. No end and no beginning. Just carts with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walking along, keeping the cattle moving. The Maritza river was running yellow almost up to the bridge. It rained all through the evacuation.”

But what impacted me most strongly, was that in a dispatch sent several weeks later, he wrote: “No matter how long it takes this letter to get to Toronto, as you read this in the Star you may be sure that the same ghastly, shambling procession of people being driven from their homes is filing in unbroken line along the muddy road to Macedonia. A quarter of a million people take a long time to move.”

The power was not only the writing, but the fact that in between reports while the world went about its everyday business, this line of people was still on the road.

NewsClick photo

I think of these reports now as I watch or read reports of the long lines of refugees fleeing Ukraine, fleeing from a man who claims his army doesn’t target civilains, and that all the time when I’m not reading the news, those refugees–like the endless line of people from the Greco-Turkish war–have been on the road, cold and hungry while I was having dinner, being shalled while I was sleeping, walking endlesss steps while I was watching television.

The power of the scenes on TV and Internet news sites comes partly from the horrors described. It also comes from the fact that while we come and go, the tragedy in Ukraine is a 24/7 nightmare. While I’m sitting here typing this post and drinking a glass of red wine, another man is walking toward Poland carrying his dying child, one of many in an unending line of other such men and other such children.


Trying to be more like Papa Joe, are you Vladimir Vladimirovich?

Let’s suppose Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin woke up a while back in his latest palace with a woe-is-me attitude and thought: “Проклятиеn, I’m getting old and my life has turned into nothing better than vodka, syphilis, and anonymity with reduced odds of catching up with the great deeds of Papa Joe.”

With nothing on his resume since Crimea, he was tired of oligarchs asking, “So Vladimir Vladimirovich, what have you done for us lately?”

In his heart of hearts, such as it was, he thought of the joy Papa Joe must have felt while he was deporting residents of the Baltic countries to Siberia for real or imagined anti-Soviet behavior in 1941. Since most people didn’t know anything about that, history could safely repeat itself with a “cleansing” of Ukraine, those неблагодарные ублюдки (ungrateful bastards) who dare to turn their backs on the former USSR.

Or, there’s another possibility: he’s nuts. Several days ago, the “Daily Beast” wondered if “Putin Will Throw Mother of All Hissy Fits if Kyiv Attack Fails.” Chances are, he’s already having it even though Ukraine’s survival is looking more and more grim.

Ukraine has surprised everyone with its tenacity. If Putin hadn’t threatened a nuclear attack against anyone who intervened, would we have intervened. Probably not, though in spite of its middle ground posture, Israel might have had the guts to do it.

Putin’s ego(maniac) trip is about to change Europe and NATO forever. Too bad the syphilis didn’t kill him first.


Dare we hope or are we grasping at straws?

Sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine.

We hear bits and pieces of good news. . .

Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion is stronger than expected. Putin’s not happy.

A Russian convoy ran out of gas somewhere and another turned around then confronted by civilians.

Protests within Russia are growing.

The EU, U.S., and NATO are on the same page.

Supplies are being shipped to Ukraine.

A U.S. spy plane flies above the country monitoring the war. Ukraine is receiving intel from the U.S. and others.

A growing number of organizations are protesting and/or finding ways to help.

Maybe these are all false hopes. Even so, they’re lights in the darkness Russia has brought to the world.


If the U.S. were overrun by a repressive regime, would we resist and hide targeted groups?

As I read Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew and Kirstin Hannah’s The Nightingale, I was impressed by the risks taken by people who hid Jews and others and/or led them across borders and/or blew up bridges, death trains, and other Nazi facilities.

Naturally, these novels are inspired by a minority of the people living in occupied countries. Even so, the dedication of those “fighting” or fighting against the Nazis is impressive. I couldn’t help but wonder if the U.S. would have such dedicated resistance fighters if it were overrun.

Yes and no, I suppose.

Our gun ownership levels are the highest per capita in the world, so we would have the weapons necessary for resistance. Our dedication–as a nation–for helping minority races has not been very good and is definately under debate now with, I think, a potential for positive change. Yet, if we were conquered by a Nazi Germany-style invader, would we shield, say, Jews, African Americans, American Indians, and other groups?

The brutality of the situation might inspire us to oppose it even though under peacetime, we aren’t doing a lot to help those groups now. When we turned away Jews fleeing occupied Europe during World War II, we didn’t know how bad conditions were becoming. But we did know they were bad. We were not unaware of vandalism against Jews or evem about Kristallnacht in 1938.

Many people are saying that while the Internet connects lots of people, it allows them to stay at arms’s length from each other. (The typical cartoon shows groups of people at dinner tables with no communication amongst them because everyone is texting.) So, would we keep ourselves at arm’s length from those groups an invader might repress?

I hope not, but I suspect we would react like the people who inspired The World That We Knew and The Nightengale. Those actively fighting the invader (one way or another) would be in the minority just as they were in occupied WWII countries.

So many people think that if they keep quiet, things will get better. If we’re conquered and believe keeping quiet works best, we haven’t learned anything from history.


Click on my name to find my website and my novels.

What does “Save Your Cans” mean?

When I saw this 1940 poster drawn by McClelland Barclay in support of the war effort, my first thought was “Why did they want people to save toilets? Were they re-used in barracks?”

The cans rolling out of a machine gun like spent shell casings, while probably not an accurate portrayal of how the cans were used, pretty much dimisses the toilet idea.

I’m a fan of old posters, partly due to their art work and partly due to their protrayal of the culture of another era.

According to The Price of Freedom: Americans at War website, “Posters during World War II were designed to instill in the people a positive outlook, a sense of patriotism and confidence. They linked the war in trenches with the war at home. From a practical point, they were used to encourage all Americans to help with the war effort. The posters called upon every man, woman, and child to endure the personal sacrifice and domestic adjustments to further the national agenda. They encouraged rationing, conservation and sacrifice.”

These posters, available on Amazon, show that we were a very different nation in the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:

If I were a history teacher, I would show these in class, not as propaganda, but as a window into the past that would–I would think–help start some great discussions.


At Sea by [Malcolm R. Campbell]I had the look and feel of such posters in mind when I created the cover art for my Vietnam War novel “At Sea.” I took the cover photograph with a 35mm camera while stationed on the USS Ranger (CVA-61) inthe Gulf of Tonkin. I wanted to show a typical flightdeck scene.

The Universal Soldier

He is five feet two, and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He is all of thirty-one, and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
— Buffy Sainte Marie

Donovan sang the song well, probably had the largest audience for it, but I liked Buffy’s version of “The Universal Soldier” better. The Public Affairs Office (PAO) onboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) played the Donovan version while on station off the coast of Vietnam during that waste of time, money, and life war. We loved the irony of that song aboard a warship.

The folk singers–Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Eric Bogle–have always told the truth straight about war and other injustices. We play their songs and sometimes we protest the war of the day, but I think we worship the Universal Soldier because s/he makes damn sure we are always fighting somewhere and extolling the patriotism and glory of it and keeping that defense budget high enough to create the expensive toys of war that war profitable and necessary for the economy to such a large extent that weall have blood on our hands.

Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your mask”

–Bob Dylan

In a few days, a lot of folks will Blog4Peace like children going up against monsters with sticks and posters and songs. Will these bloggers defeat the military industrial establishment. I doubt it. Will they raise our consciouness and or belief that some day, somewhere we will find better ways of conflict resolution that break the chains typing us to the universal soldier. Yes. Meanwhile, how many lifetimes will it take until we know that too many people have died, until we seriously look around and ask where have all the flowers gone and why are the graveyards full to overflowing.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o’er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

–Eric Bogle

Those who march away, at once tin soldiers (canon fodder) and the best and the brightest (flowers of the forest) pay with their lives (and more) for the country’s love of the universal soldier. When it comes to fixing the problem, Presidents promise while allowing the cycle of war to turn again and again. They’re powerless, aren’t they? Our love of battle is our universal need even though it’s fool’s gold.


New Post

‘Facing the Mountain’ by Daniel James Brown

“The 442nd Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment of the United States Army. The regiment is best known as the most decorated in U. S. military history and as a fighting unit composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) who fought in World War II.” – Wikipedia

Daniel James Brown’s highly readable, deeply researched, and illustrated with maps and photograps book Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II tells the heartbreaking and glorious story of second generation Japanese Americans who, though reviled by many Americans and thrown into concentration camps by the President while their homes and personal property were confiscated, rose up and did their duty, as they saw it, to become one of the United States’ most effective and feared regiments fighting the Germans. Their motto was “Go for Broke.”

The book is strongly personal because it follows an ensemble cast of characters throughout the shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the ordeal of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that relocated without probable cause 120,000 Japanese Americans, 2/3 of whom were native born American citizens, into POW camps, and the decision by over 12,000 of the men to join the Army and fight for their country in spite of that their country had done to them.

From the Publisher

They came from across the continent and Hawai‘i. Their parents taught them to embrace both their Japanese heritage and the ways of America. They faced bigotry, yet they believed in their bright futures as American citizens. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was ransacking their houses and locking up their fathers. And within months many would themselves be living behind barbed wire.

Facing the Mountain is an unforgettable chronicle of war-time America and the battlefields of Europe. Based on Daniel James Brown’s extensive interviews with the families of the protagonists as well as deep archival research, it portrays the kaleidoscopic journey of four Japanese-American families and their sons, who volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were deployed to France, Germany, and Italy, where they were asked to do the near impossible.

But this is more than a war story. Brown also tells the story of these soldiers’ parents, immigrants who were forced to shutter the businesses, surrender their homes, and submit to life in concentration camps on U.S. soil. Woven throughout is the chronicle of a brave young man, one of a cadre of patriotic resisters who stood up against their government in defense of their own rights. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best–striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring.

This story falls into the rather large category of history that most of us did not learn in our high school American history classes. That adds insult to injury. In one sense, Brown’s book is an apolgy. In another sense, it sets the record straight for all who will listen.