Thursday, January 12, 2017

The U.S. Army During the Korean War: Doing More with Less

While fighting the Korean War in the early 1950s, the U.S. Army faced significant manpower shortages. The lack of soldiers, and the impact of this lack, was intensified as the Army was, at the same time, also tasked with three other missions: maintain a large standing force in Germany, create a second force in the United States to develop a continental air defense system, and keep a large reserve ready for quick deployment to any other place on the globe.

The Army had four simultaneous assignments, each of which required large numbers of men.

But in the immediate postwar years, i.e. in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the mood of both the voters and the political leaders created pressure to keep to a minimum both military budgets and the drafting of young men.

Writing for Time magazine, John Osborne commented that the troops in Korea were “not the best army the U.S. can put in the field. It is the best army that can be put in the field in the circumstances.”

Historian William Donnelly depicts an Army stretched thin:

The Army’s senior leaders gave first priority to units in Korea. While Eighth Army did hold the line until the armistice on 27 July 1953, Osborne’s analysis of it was correct. In Germany, the service did create a second field army, but senior leaders by July 1953 had expressed serious concerns over its readiness. The Army’s contribution to continental air defense remained questionable, and the service was unable to maintain a strategic reserve. The morale of the Army declined as soldiers questioned their role in a war where the objective was now an armistice and where much of the Army was not deployed in the war zone. For some career officers, the stresses of such a war exposed aspects of the Army’s institutional culture that they found disturbing.

Combat troops in Korea, some seeing very heavy action, had to carry out their duties with the knowledge that the Army had thousands of soldiers who were doing little, and who were warehoused on bases both in the United States and in Germany.

Morale was further degraded by the knowledge that their mission was not to win, but rather to maintain a stalemate.

President Truman assigned four demanding tasks at the same time to the Army. This happened as military budgets, and therefore the total number of soldiers, were settling in at their new, lower, postwar levels.

Some of the subsequent damage done to the Army’s effectiveness and to its morale could have been reduced by more effective financial planning within the military.

When manpower is stretched thin, efficient mission staffing can maximize effectiveness. Accompanying reductions in any other expenses will free funding to increase the total number of troops.