Today I  got a weekly email from my congressman, Rob Wittman.  He was paying tribute to the veterans.  His email contained the following paragraph:

This past year, I had the pleasure of
visiting servicemembers deployed in
Afghanistan, and forward deployed in
Singapore, Australia, Germany, Italy and
Turkey. I recently spent a day in the woods
with some of our Marines training at
Quantico. On November 2, I met with veterans
who serve on my Veterans’ Advisory Council
and veterans of the Korean War. Our nation
has learned much from what happened at the
beginning of the Korean War. At that time,
our country was not prepared to go to war.
We did not ensure that our forces were ready
for combat and we sent under-trained and
under-equipped Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and
Marines into harm’s way. From that
experience,  harsh lessons were learned that
should direct our current and future
decision makers about investing in our
service members.

I was dumbfounded.  I was barely even on this earth when  the Korean War started. However, I wondered to myself, how on earth could things have deteriorated so fast in less than 5 years.  Weren’t we in tip top shape as a nation after WWII?  Didn’t we emerge  as  the most powerful nation in the world?  Well Hell, I didn’t know so I thought I’ll ask a vet.  I emailed George Harris.  For those of you who don’t know, he is a Korean War vet.  He went in when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, right out of Oklahoma.

George set me straight, with the following response, which I wanted him to do:

Well let me begin by saying that in most instances we have never been ready for whatever war we are fighting. For instances, at the beginning of WWII,,we were still flying some bi-planes Swahili the Japanese were flying Zeros and the Germans were flying Messerschmitts, Stukas and Fowkers. The infantry was still using the M1903, 5 round, Springfield volt action rifle used in WWI even though the M1 Garand 8 round semi-automatic rifle was developed in 1939. I trained with the M1903 when I went through recruit training in 1951. The standard sidearm was the M1911 .45 calibre pistol, which was in service until 1985. It was first used in the Philippine Insurrection! We didn’t have snorkeling submarines until near the end of WWII. We still had many four- stacker, coal burning ships at the beginning of WWII.

After WWII, there was a rapid demobilization because, after all, we had just defeated the world’s greatest enemies. That is if you didn’t count Communism and the beginning of the Cold War I EUROPE (not shouting-just for emphasis). For some reason, we weren’t paying much attention to Communism in Asia (much of what went on in China was a Nationalist war against Mao Zedung and the Communists.

Despite having fought in the terrible cold in Europe, which resulted in many casualties from the cold, we weren’t ready for the bitter cold in Korea-sometimes as much as -35F. The winter I was there it was -25F. Pretty f’ing cold! The first cold weather boots simply did not protect against the bitter cold. The “Mickey Mouse” boots we had were made of a double rubber boot with insulation between the rubber layers. They made your feet sweat and if you stopped for very long, your feet could freeze because they were wet.

After Korea, we had another draw down, after all it was too damned expensive to keep a large standing military and we were really tired of war and we had been terribly stung by our defeat in Korea. We bided our time, although we were aware of the French plight in what was the. IndoChina. Little did we realize I think, that we would get drawn into that mess. I can tell you that from a medical standpoint, we were still using equipment designed in WWII but most of our physicians had gone well beyond the capability of what we had on the way of equipment. The rest of that story you pretty well know.

And then Dubya senior decides we need to invade Kuwait, I mean, hey, they got oil! Yes, we kicked some butt, however, we didn’t do enough. We stopped short and they had time to regroup while the oil fields in Kuwait blazed away.

The tragedy of 9/11 caught us completely off guard and when Dubya II decided we should wage some more war, we seemed to forget everything we ever knew about urban warfare, if we ever knew it. Yes, we deposed Saddam Hussein and we hanged him. So what! Thieves  stole national treasures, war broke out between sects and the people we armed to fight the Russians turned against us. The oil revenues that were supposed to pay for the Iraqi debacle have never materialized and sectarian war still continues. Afghanistan continues to be  a Cluster F**k with millions of dollars and countless lives lost and we are still a year away from leaving. Some of our service people are on their fifth or sixth tour of duty there and tens of thousands have been also wounded physically and mentally.  We will have that reminder with us for many decades. IEDs continue to plague us despite more than 10 years of trying to figure out how to minimize their damage.

And as sure as God made little green apples (my Mother’s favorite expression), we will draw down again and when we decide it is time to go to war again, we will once again be caught with our pants down around our collective ankles and who knows how many innocent young men and women will pay the price for our repeated ignorance.

“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

…George Santayana


Thanks for your perspective, George!

George also reminded me that this was purely his opinion, from his experiences:

Caveat Emptor.  Who know how accurate my facts are it is just what I remember.  Unless human nature changes in the military hierarchy, we will always fight the last war.”

That’s fair.  I thought it was a good history lesson.  Thanks again, George.  Your  lessons should be read by all.




10 Thoughts to “Are we destined to always fight the last war?”

  1. BSinVA

    In Air Force boot camp, we were detailed to the firing range for weapons training and qualification. The instructors told us in 1967 that before the Korean conflict, airmen did not receive weapons training. He went on to say that when the Chinese went into Korea, the Army and Marines withdrew to below the 38th parallel which left one American air base to defend itself. The airmen were not proficient with weapons and were quickly defeated and captured. So another Korean lesson learned was to insure every service member is qualified to operate a weapon.

  2. Pat.Herve

    Thanks George – the personal perspective and hardship of war is often lost in the history books. All too often the war mongers have never spent a day doing anything unpleasant never mind being in a foreign country with people that want to kill them.

  3. George S. Harris

    When I was in Vietnam we had doctors making telephone calls back to the States to ask friends to send them supplies and equipment that we simply didn’t have. We had a huge supply outfit next to us and we used their personnel as a walking blood bank because at that time whole blood could only be kept for a short time. Frozen blood and fractionates were still on the horizon, or at least in combat medical units that was the case. X-ray was still the old fashioned film/wet development process, cumbersome and slow. When we would get a huge bunch of casualties it, I got to do things most Medical Service Corps officers ever dreamed of–a dental officer, two senior OR techs and I did minor surgery on those cases that did not have to go to the operating room. Our senior surgeon acted as our triage officer and would circulate among the four of us in case we ran into something like a bleeder, that we couldn’t quite fix. I even had a few opportunities to go the OR. At first our patients were housed in tents, then strong backed tents, no air conditioning, no fans, no running water and limited lights at night. Eventually the Sea Bees came in and built us what were known as a Southeast Asia huts–up off the ground, wooden siding about half way up, screen the rest of the way and corrugated metal roofs. Still no air conditioning or fans and one cold water faucet on each ward. Operating rooms, post op and X-ray were in quonset huts with air conditioning. Our malaria patients were housed in a strong backed tent with air conditioning. The situation for malaria was till the same when I left the following year to return home. I am sure that others can say the same thing about war that I say–there has never been a glamorous war–war is dirty, hot, cold, frightening, horrible and all the other negative terms you can think of. I did an oral hist org for the Navy Medical Department on my experience in Vietnam and at the end of the very long interview, the historian asked me what was the one thing I would always remember about Vietnam and without hesitation I said, “The smell of blood.” The smell of blood and the sight of these young men and women missing body parts is my personal PTSD. Vietnam and some scenes from Korea 60 years ago come back. General Robert E. Lee said it best, “It is a good thing that war is so terrible, lest we become too fond of it.”

    1. That is horrifying, George. It sounds so primitive.

  4. George S. Harris

    Yes, by any modern standard it was primitive but a goodly number of lives were saved; however, not as many as are being saved today. In my time in Vietnam, casualties such as those we say today, multiple limb injuries, probably would have exsanguinated before reaching a medical facility. If there is a saving grace in today’s battlefield medicine it is that those same casualties today are surviving and most will go on to lead reasonably full, productive and fulfilling lives. And they will, for decades, serve as a reminder to the Nation of the price of war. In the past, this job was left to cemeteries with their rows and rows of headstones–the best examples are the military cemeteries in France.

    1. Those rows of white headstones are simply too sanitized, stark and clean to serve as a reminder. Even Hollywood until the past couple of decades scrubbed war up nice and clean. Private Ryan might have been the first movie that I really had to close my eyes in. By the time we got to the Code Talkers I kept my hands ready to cover my face.

      Perhaps the survivors (victims?) of the Middle East wars will serve as walking memorials to why we shouldn’t go rushing in to anything.

      I have been told that we still have 30 or 40 troops coming in a week with damaged or missing lower extremities. IEDs. Simple to make, easy to maim and destroy.

  5. @Moon-howler
    We Were Soldiers and Blackhawk Down.

    Watched them in Kuwait surrounded by Marines and Soldiers.

    Definitely a different experience than in a theater.

    1. I would say I can imagine but I really can’t. Closest I can get is Green Berets with a marine. Talk about sanitized. The incredible propaganda machine was at work.

      Was We Were Soldiers the Mel Gibson film?

      Even though I often have to close my eyes, I am glad war films aren’t gussied up and sanitized now. People need to see the gore. Having to close your eyes is not a bad thing. If you can’t stand to look, maybe you shouldn’t be able to stand to vote for it…or something like that.

      I actually got vertigo in the beginning of Flags of our Fathers. I thought I was going to have to leave. I have never had a film hit me that way…talk about the confusion and panic of battle. GEEZ.

  6. Wolverine

    Amen, George. Mrs. W was a Navy Nurse who got many of the patients you people saved at Chu Lai. She always said that you were miracle workers out there.

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