Friday, September 14, 2012

Underfunded and Micromanaged

In hindsight, the U.S. government’s handling of the Korean War – a “police action” – was perhaps in some ways negligent, inasmuch as funding for the military was not directed toward ensuring that the war effort was maximized. Historian Russell Weigley writes that “government and military leaders generally agreed that the growing funds available for national security must be used to seek a larger security beyond the immediate demands of the war,” and that “therefore they early proposed to use much of the enlarged defense budget to make better preparation for the all-out Soviet aggression they still thought likely.” On a policy level, this may or may not have made sense, but to the individual soldier in a foxhole in Korea, had he known, this might have seemed like lack of support.

Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski report that the Truman

administration eventually spent 60 percent of the FY 1951 – 1953 defense budgets on general military programs and 40 on waging the war. In fiscal terms defense outlays became two-thirds of all federal spending. Supplemental appropriations brought FY 1951 defense expenditures to $22.4 billion, followed in the next two fiscal years by outlays of $43.9 and $50.3 billion. Although budgets fell short of Department of Defense requests, the administration approached a "holiday" on defense spending in its relations with Congress that approximated the halcyon days of World War II.

There was plenty of defense spending, but not much of it was going toward the effort in Korea.

William Donnelly analyzes the effect of this under-funding on the concrete details of combat. Because both civilian and military leaders saw the Korean conflict as draining resources away from the main mission – a strong defensive force in Europe – the most visible effect of underfunding the Korean conflict was a lack of manpower. The Eighth Army – the main U.S. force on the ground in Korea – found that the “cohesion of combat units” in its forces was “at a lower level than” in the Seventh Army, which was in Europe at the time. This was because the Department of the Army “churned a unit’s personnel at a faster rate.” To attempt to make up for the manpower shortage, the army scaled-back the resources it devoted to two other missions: continental air defense over the U.S., and building a strategic reserve. Despite diverting energy from these two missions, the manpower shortage remained significant, demoralized the troops and eroded the quality of leadership as less-experienced men were promoted to higher ranks. Many of the men had not volunteered – the draft – and it was clear that the political leadership was looking for an armistice, not a victory; the effect of these circumstances was “corrosive.”

President Truman had given four missions to the Army as mentioned above: European defense, Korean police action, American air defense, and the creation of a strategic reserve. Yet Congress did not give the Army the men and the money it needed for these tasks. One might inquire whether Congress or Truman is more to blame, but the results were dispiriting in any case.

The manpower shortage was seen in the rotation of troops between Korea, Europe, and “the Zone of the Interior” – the “ZI” was the military’s name for the forty-eight continental states. Men were normally stationed in the ZI for several months of training before being sent into combat – in this case, to Korea. But shortages dictated that both men and officers spent a shorter time in the ZI before shipping out to Korea; this meant that they arrived in the combat zone with less training and less organizational experience. Experienced officers were drawn from the ZI for combat leadership roles in Korea, which meant in turn that the officers in charge of training in the ZI had less experience, and training suffered accordingly. As morale fell, reenlistment rates did also. Infantrymen lost motivation as they saw that their “actions appeared to have no effect on the course of the war.” To counteract this demoralization, the Army offered combat pay for ground troops, enjoyable ‘rest and relaxation’ leaves in Japan, and an appeal to live up to the glorious history of the unit. The threat of punishment for soldiers who did not fight well lurked in the background, but was not often implemented. There were instances of ‘mass combat refusal’ – mutiny.

The secondary effects of the manpower shortage led to an ‘erosion of trust’ – lower level officers were not trusted by their men because they had too little experience; higher level officers were not trusted by the men or by the junior officers because they tended to remain out of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) as the front was known. Senior officers, with little work to do once the front had stagnated, antagonized the men by means of “oversupervision” – too much paperwork and red tape. There were too many inspections, and any type of plan had to be approved by an increasing number of officers. The Eighth Army was turning into a bureaucracy.

Given that the Eighth Army’s objective – to “hold the line” until an armistice could be negotiated – was one which could demoralize men in even the best circumstances, it was even more dispiriting to face that objective with grudging draftees, inexperienced officers, longer tours in the combat zone, and a lack of unit cohesion as manpower shortages caused more individual rotations.