On the 15th of April 1969, just two short months after my arrival in country, at 1:30 p.m. local time, a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane, an EC-121 Warning Star, was shot down by North Korean fighters over the Sea of Japan, killing all 31 aboard. North Korea claimed it had violated their air space.
“That’s bullshit,” I thought, but then remembered, “It’s Kim Il-Sung’s birthday! There’s got to be a connection.”
In response, I Corps (GP) executed Eighth Army’s order to DEFCON-2[i], which drove the immediate deployment of 500,000 South Korean regulars to defensive positions spanning the entire length of the DMZ. In under 24-hours, a far greater force, 2,300,000 home guard troops, was moving up online, too. It was staggering to witness. There were endless trucks, jeeps, tanks, aircraft, and soldiers. American compounds were sealed as part of this increased readiness. Troops on leave and in-country were recalled. All military members within the I Corps (GP) area of operations was armed and made battle ready. The shit had indeed hit the fan.
As the signal officer―the battalion hadn’t had one in over six months―I was saddled with implementing our command and control (C2) plan, one that had not had the dust brushed from it in months, if not years. I found, therefore, that dozens of radios were still in storage rather than being properly mounted on their assigned vehicles, and so I started to correct this, a process that took several, 24-hour days. Many jeeps had to be modified more than once, as various staff activities quarreled over possession, which made some jeeps soon look like Swiss cheese because of the mounting, dismounting, and remounting of radios; as demands shifted between the S-1, 2, 3, and 4 staff functions. The commander’s vehicle needed an additional AN/VRC-46 FM radio to supplement the one already installed, this, so he could monitor two “nets” simultaneously, as specified in the war plan. My crews updated dozens of jeeps and trucks to comply with that plan. The firing batteries (outlying, subordinate units) did analogous work to ensure their readiness as well.
On April 20th, Sunday morning, I was ordered to attend the Corps Commander’s brief at the I Corps TOC (Tactical Operations Center)―DEFCON-2 had by then been fully implemented. I reported as instructed and found the TOC jam-packed, perhaps fifty senior officers representing the Corps HQ, 2nd and 7th Division, three Korean Divisions and a Korean Marine Corps Armor Brigade, totaling, I was told, 160,000 men. When General Yarborough, the Corps Commander, entered in civilian dress−he’d just come from church−all present snapped to attention. He sat and received briefings from the G1, G2, G3, G4, and G5 in order. When they were finished, the room fell silent, all eyes on the general. He asked one or two questions of the G2. Satisfied with the response he stood up, quietly stepped over to the briefing map, touched it at a specific point, dragged his finger to another point and said, “Move 7th Division there,” and as he turned to depart, the room again snapped to attention. As the general left, the Chief of Staff replied, “Yes, sir.”
The impact of those few words was astonishing. In moments, literally moments, the order was flashed throughout the Corps AO[ii]. Units were alerted. Phone lines and radio nets jammed up, and tens of thousands of soldiers in the Corps area began to move. It was a sight to behold. Fortunately, my work was largely done. All communications assets were in their proper place, tested and fully operational, and this because we’d been working nonstop since entering DEFCON-2. My platoon was ready, so I could observe the 2nd and 7th Divisions in motion, South Korean soldiers, too, by the hundreds of thousands moving up online across the breadth and depth of the DMZ; two and one-half million men entering their final defensive positions. It was exhilarating and mesmerizing, but I understood, too, that such a force could not long be restrained. Given enough time, defense must turn offense, and I wondered.
That same afternoon, I saw, flying overhead, a large fleet of fighter aircraft with three McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs in the vanguard. [iii] They led a fleet of aging North American F86 Sabers, 99 aircraft in all. It was a deliberate show of force, one traversing the demilitarized zone for all to see, east to west. It was a powerful show, which started me thinking globally, both physically and mentally. North Korea’s behavior was, is, and remains bad. It has not, in the intervening decades, improved a whit. They kill, cheat, lie, torture, steal from and starve their own people, and spew their venomous hate without surcease. Should we then negotiate? Talk? Find common ground? “No!” I say, “Talk is cheap, and in this case, most demonstrably fruitless.” In truth, the North Korean government ought to be destroyed, lock, stock, and barrel. General MacArthur had been right; Truman wrong. No good can come of North Korea’s continuance. Lawyers−who comprise an inordinately large percentage of our three branches of government−endlessly argue this. That’s what they do, argue.[iv] Yet it remains true that “The law‐abiding pace is a cold, deliberate, and constrained one, and is not the kind that can hold up against a lawless and unbridled pace.”[v] North Korea is, however, a lawless and unbridled pacer, 46,000 square miles of trouble, controlled by an undeniable, demonstrably evil dictatorship, yet legal ‘thinkers; politicians, continue their endless protests; their trifling language, wholly foreign to the rest of us, yet nothing more, in fact, than full employment for lawyers. Montaigne saw this with great clarity more than 400 years ago.[vi] Lawyers like to claim they are concerned with justice and truth, but what does that mean? Are not justice and truth the same? Wiser, more astute and knowledgeable people than I have considered this question in great depth, and happily; they agree with me: No. Justice and truth are not the same, not at all.[vii] Even so, because few understand this completely, I record it here in the fervent hope of improving understanding, and this with as much objectivity as I can muster, and unvarnished, undecorated, and unadorned. I have thus concluded that the word negotiation ought to be removed from our language. It is more trouble than it is worth. It is, in fact, mere talk, and again, talk is cheap, which a blind man can see: North Korea=unmitigated poverty; South Korea=unimaginable prosperity. Which embodies virtue? Which would you choose?
[i] DEFCON=Defense Condition 1=War Imminent; 2=High State of Readiness; 3=State of Readiness beyond ‘normal’; 4=Increase Watchfulness (intelligence) and tighten Security Measures; 5=Routine Readiness.
[ii] AO: Area of Operations
[iii] These aircraft were not yet deployed to Korea, so I assumed they were likely other assets, perhaps naval aircraft, but Phantoms they were, unmistakably.
[iv] “…probabilities and plausible arguments involve no knowledge concerning truth, but trial and disputation and wrangling conflict and contentiousness and everything of that sort.” — Philo, Volume I, Book III, edited by G. P. Gould, The Loeb Classical Library (LCL 226), Page 459, year 1991.
[v] ― The Complete ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE, Translated by Donald M. Frame, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California; Copyright 1943 by Donald M. Frame, renewed 1971. Copyright © 1948, 1957, and 1958 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, Page 89.
[vi] “Why is it that our common language, so easy for any other use, becomes obscure and unintelligible in contracts and wills, and that a man who expresses himself so clearly, whatever he says or writes, finds in this [the legal] field no way of speaking his mind that does not fall into doubt and contradiction? Unless it is that the princes of this art [lawyers], applying themselves with particular attention to picking out solemn words and contriving artificial phrases, have so weighed every syllable, so minutely examined every sort of combination, that they are at last entangled and embroiled in the endless number of figures and in such minute partitions that they can no longer fall under any rule or prescription or any certain interpretation.” ― The Complete ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE, Translated by Donald M. Frame, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California; Copyright 1943 by Donald M. Frame, renewed 1971. Copyright © 1948, 1957, and 1958 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, Page 816.
[vii] “Here is the essential difference between historical and legal evidence ― or between historical and legal thinking. Law (at least in a state governed by a constitution) can deal only with actuality, not with potentiality. “The law is a coarse net; and truth is a slippery fish.” Yes, but the purpose of law has nothing to do with truth: it is the establishment of justice. Truth and justice are not the same things, even though the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of justice may, on occasion, overlap. But besides the question (or, rather, the obvious primacy) of truth over justice, there are other important differences between historical and legal evidences and thinking. One is that law, after all ― inevitably and necessarily ― is a closed system, within its own definite rules and regulations. For instance, it does not and should not allow multiple jeopardy: a case, when and if properly tried, is decided once and for all. History (and our memory) is open and never closed; it specializes in multiple jeopardy: its subjects and people are rethought over and over again, and not even necessarily on the basis of newly found evidence. . . . Another great difference ― I am again referring principally to Anglo-American law ― is the one between motives and purposes. These two are regrettably confused because of the vocabulary and the practices of twentieth -century psychology and thought, the attribution of motive having become a pestilential habit. But we must distinguish between the two. Motives come from the past; purposes involve the pull of the future. At its best, Anglo-American law will admit only a “motive” which has been, in one way or another, expressed; in other words, an actuality, not a potentiality. (As Dr. Johnson said: “Intentions must be gathered from acts.”) At its worst, unexpressed motives are sometime attributed and accepted in some courts on the basis of psychological characterization and other dubious “expertise.” A proper comprehension of the essential difference between motives and purposes is an essential condition of the pursuit and of the protection of justice and of truth ― and of all historical thinking and speaking and writing.” ― Remembered Past; On History, Historians, and Historical Knowledge, by John Lukacs, Chapter I, Page 8, edited by Mark G. Malvasi and Jeffrey O. Nelson, ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware, © 2005 ISI Books.