Every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine I am confronted with arguments for and against the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq. I recently decided to go back and read everything I could about the Korean War, a war that most of us want to forget if we ever knew much about it in the first place. (See my book review of “The Forgotten War” in the book review section of this website for a little more information concerning our war with Russia, China and the Korean Communists from 1950-1953.) It is worth analyzing the strategic thinking of Mao Zedong in order to grasp how China’s leadership may be approaching developments in the world today.
I was actually shaken when I realized how brutal the limited “police action” in Korea was. Seoul, the capital that the U.S. defended (we were a member of the United Nations Forces fighting North Korea, a proxy for the Soviet Union and Communist China), changed hands four times with many lives lost by civilians, and military personnel on both sides. The United States, five years after the end of WW II, was totally unprepared in leadership, training, manpower, equipment and intelligence. For me, the most surprising aspect of the war was the realization that Mao Zedong cunningly enveloped whole divisions and battalions and slaughtered Americans after Mao’s troops crossed the border of China at the Yalu River and quietly infiltrated U.N. lines. The waves of Chinese and North Koreans were often coming from behind, in front of and from all sides of the U.N. lines.
Mao took great pride in his ability to carry on what we now refer to as “asymmetrical” warfare from mountain strongholds against opponents with much more well equipped armies. Mao’s economics may be out of fashion in China, but Chairman Mao’s strategic thinking is still influential within Chinese military circles. The following are some salient features of Mao’s thought:
· Political factors are more important than technology and material factors in determining who ultimately wins the war;
· A liberal democratic society has many conflicting priorities and interest groups that can be exploited in times of war;
· Given patience and time, an adversary with an advantage in numbers and material resources can eventually be defeated.
The Vietnam War is the oft-cited example of how patience and time work in favor of a determined military force that is less well equipped with technology and weaponry. Mao taught revolutionaries all over the world how domestic political dissension and other cultural peculiarities of liberal democracies could be turned into weapons that were more effective than aircraft carriers and missiles.
Many of the Chinese leaders fought through years of civil war in China and were assisted, then and now, by Russia’s huge military-industrial complex. In recent times, China has developed anti-satellite weapons, including land-based laser weapons that can destroy the sensors of satellites. I even understand that China can now destroy military satellites with a high-altitude nuclear burst launched from its own satellites.
Aircraft carriers are America’s chief instrument for projecting U.S. military supremacy around the world. In this category of “hardware”, the US has no equal. We maintain a total of twelve aircraft carrier battle groups; China has none. But in naval war games, our carriers were eliminated repeatedly. Many of our naval experts are reported to be very concerned. Of course, no one in the Navy is going to stand up and declare that carriers may be all but obsolete. In view of the current technologies, the carrier groups may be as effective in a war between superpowers as the Maginot line in France which Hitler merely by- passed and then mopped up after the dust settled on his blitzkrieg. Medium- and short-range ballistic missiles which China seems to be on the verge of perfecting can hit slow-moving targets at sea up to 2,500 km away.
China possesses missiles, some with a range of 300 km that can be armed with electro-magnetic pulse warheads. China has purchased much of this new technology, which includes nuclear warheads, from Russia. There are also massive torpedoes in China’s arsenal against which aircraft carriers are virtually defenseless.
Furthermore Chinese and some U.S. military experts believe that our high-tech military is vulnerable to electro-magnetic pulse attack (EMP) which can blanket the US with an electro-magnetic pulse that will damage all electrical grids on the US mainland, shutting down everything that is operated electronically, including computers in vehicles and other military equipment. Such an attack is a corollary to cyber-warfare, which is basically a very sophisticated form of computer hacking. Experts tell us such electronic sniping and pinging goes on constantly in preparation for economic and social confusion that will create a “perfect storm” converging with the other tactics discussed herein.
So if all this is true, what is the motive and what can a patriotic citizen do? Hasn’t China invested a great deal of money in the U.S. economy and would they want to risk their investments?
Financial manipulation and maneuvering for control of oil are additional weapons in an asymmetrical arsenal but are also motives for the scenarios outlined above. It is interesting to see how much aid China has received from Japan, the U.S. and Europe over the years even as China increases military spending and aid to countries which have gradually entered the Chinese sphere of international influence.
China’s immediate objective, however, is Taiwan. China has announced the goal of “repatriating” Taiwan unequivocally. The U.S. position on Taiwan over the years has been equivocal in the extreme but also provocative from the Chinese standpoint. The ambiguity of our own foreign policy and the lack of any U.S. national interest at stake in Taiwan (or at least an interest that is clearly articulated and discernable to the American public; i.e., the electorate) is an invitation to China to make a gambit at almost any time. China has boldly enunciated its intention to use force to seize Taiwan by force. In the event that China deploys force across the Formosa Straight, how will we as a people deal with being asked to make sacrifices based on the United States’ past commitments to Taiwan? Especially where we stand to lose many more lives than we have lost in Iraq or even Vietnam?
Unless we the people can detach from our subjective feelings about Vietnam and all it symbolizes, the American voting public will continue to be the most effective weapon in a potential enemy’s arsenal, a vulnerability to be exploited in time of war. We now have many aggressive enemies all over the world and we have arguably never been so divided within since the Civil War. Whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the presidency, the chances are we will be in Iraq for a long time.
If Mao were still alive he would probably be prepared to act- not to invade America but to exploit our fixation with partisan politics and our own “cultural revolution” that seems to consume the talking classes. If we abandon Taiwan then what will be our attitude toward the Philippines or Japan? What if our economy is ailing and foreclosures are looming when a crisis develops in the Formosa Straight? A terrorist attack occurring closely in time with some other grave crisis (in the Middle East, perhaps?) could severely weaken our political will to deal with an aggressive Chinese military that goes on the move. And they have more than enough troops to operate in more theaters at one time than we can! The political will of the Chinese population is not a problem- it’s just an ideological issue for the Party to decide.
All this may be alarmist, of course and, of course, it would help if we were not so dependent on foreign oil. Men and women that possess far more expertise than I possess can list many valid reasons why the frightening scenarios I have outlined above can never happen. But the thought of all those veteran Chinese and North Korean fighters coming across the hills and crossing behind our lines in Korea in 1950 and 1951 keeps bothering me.
Even when we started taking prisoners that were obviously Chinese in North Korea, our leadership was in denial. Many of our men lost their lives. The Chinese Communists often executed prisoners after the American troops (and other United Nations troops) surrendered. U.N. troops were totally surrounded and had to fight their way across narrow mountain roadways that were controlled by heavily armed Chinese roadblocks. The Chinese did not use roads so it was hard to know when and where they were infiltrating our lines. We left a great deal of American blood on Korean soil because of faltering political leadership, faulty intelligence and positive assertions from politicians and military officers as to how the Chinese leaders would act.
In modern times, the Chinese have tried to manipulate elections in the U.S. while our corporations were transferring electronics with military application to China. When we take off our rosey lenses, we will stop being so confident and start walking and talking very carefully.
Too many folks seem to think that the real enemy is President Bush. But whoever sits in the Oval Office will probably carry on in much the same way as the current administration. The continual dissension in Washington DC will eventually bear a high cost as the people become more and more alienated and confused by the constant wrangling, subpoenas, accusations and blame shifting that goes on in both parties while our enemies (like Iran and possibly China) may be crossing our borders, probing our vulnerabilities and/or outsourcing terrorism to nongovernmental third parties in such a way as to maintain plausible deniability.
Geo-political terrain can be very different from the way it appears! We need our own American “cultural revolution” in which average Americans at the local level start looking at security issues for ourselves. At the grass roots where matters are local, it all tends to stay more focused and real when we stay informed and vigilant. How many of us have extra water and food to sustain us for even a few days in the event that the power grid is down for whatever reason? How many of us have even talked to our neighbors about methods for preventing criminal activity and dealing with disasters at the neighborhood level? The professionals in the state, local and federal government are important in safeguarding us from criminals, terrorists and other threats to our freedom and well-being but they can drop the ball (look at New Orleans).
The first item in any security agenda should be to figure out who the enemy is. If the Chinese government is the enemy, neither political party is likely to sound the alarm because both parties have invested too deeply and too long in “China-as-a-country-that-is-becoming-more-like-us”. If you think you can depend on the Democrats or Republicans in Washington, DC just remember that most of us never heard much about Osama bin Laden before September 11, 2001- even though the authorities were well aware that he was a threat. We keep hearing about how the dots were all set out for the intelligence agencies but no one at the higher levels of government connected the dots. It sounds like that experience at the Yalu that gave rise to my frightful epiphany.
Finally, history demonstrates that various perpetrators of tyranny will align with each other to victimize innocent parties even where such tyrants are supposedly on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum (like Hitler and Stalin with their Mutual Nonaggression Pact on the eve of WW II, an alliance of dictators in which the principals agreed to divide up Poland while the leaders of Europe were swooning over “peace in our time”).
We need to convey a message to our leaders that we are tired of Congressional investigations and constant chatter about scandals in Washington, DC. The brutal infighting in our nation’s capitol replicates some of the more endearing aspects of how Mao and Stalin typically dealt with their domestic foes. I respectfully suggest that we the people, including our political leaders, are our own worst enemies because we have been divided, isolated and lulled into thinking that the enemy is our fellow American on the opposite side of the partisan trench.
During the Korean War, prior to Gen. MacArthur being dismissed, Gen. MacArthur and President Truman were busy maneuvering behind the political scenery while the enemy’s human waves were pouring out of the hills and carving up our troops. While we wait for our leaders to unite around some real priorities, we the people need to remind each other that this is the time to watch and be alert. A time may come that those of us in the shooting community are the last line of defense.