Every day of my life, I think about my fallen buddies in North Korea. My body and mind have never fully recovered from my time in war, 63 years ago. I have participated in, and studied wars. I have a degree in propaganda--called Advertising Design. I do know something about promoting and surviving war. I do have some qualifications to point out why most "human shield" reports are cynical lies used to demonize an enemy, and to also excuse the killings of civilians. I have seen and studied how "human shield" works, or does not work. I will explain why "human shield" has extremely limited use. It's always criminal. All belligerent countries use a similar propaganda play book.
When I was 17, I joined the army to get a job. This was in 1948, a time of peace--this was also the year that President Truman first integrated the U.S. military. Coming from a family that could not afford a car or even a phone, the Army was a slight upgrade. I signed up for three years, was given a number of tests, and qualified for Officer's Candidate School. By the time I was 19, the required age to attend, I had decided, that for me, the army was not a good career choice.
I had a unique army career, serving in the first two UN military operations. The first one was in Trieste, in 1948. This was where the the Allied Eastern and Western fronts met at the end of WW II. The city was divided by the UN into two zones--the disputed Morgan Line, separated USA/Britain from Yugoslavian troops. Soldiers on both sides of the line would watch each other with apprehension. Tito had threatened to invade the whole area.
In the fall of 1951, after returning home to be discharged, I was extended a year and sent to Korea. That also was a UN operation. When I arrived, I knew nothing about war. I was a pfc, had studied all manuals, heard war stories, and was the only one in my Trieste company who had qualified as expert with the three weapons used in a rifle squad: the M1 rifle, the BAR, and the hand grenade. The basic infantry rifle squad had 12 men, had the same organization, and the same weapons as were used in WW II. An infantry company had about 240 men: three rifle and one weapons platoon.
We crossed the Pacific and arrived at a large army compound in Hokkaido, Japan. I was assigned to an infantry company and sailed to Korea a couple weeks later. We were never told what the war was about, where we landed, and where we would serve. The Army was very segregated by rank. No officer ever talked to me in Korea. They did not live on the front line with the grunts. In the infantry, the front line was the place where we dug in, and where there was no one else between our position and the enemy. While news report and movies usually credit officers for leading ground attacks, it was almost always a first-scout, who was either a pfc or a corporal. The decorations seen on the chest of officers are largely campaign ribbons, awarded to entire regiments, even if a thousand mile away from the fighting. Many medal ceremonies are political propaganda used to promote war and militarism. There are real and fake heroes.
On the front line we envied "fly boys," that we would see daily, flying three runs at the Chinese positions. The bombs would drop on their first circle, rockets were fired in the next, and on the final circle they would spray with their machine guns. Then they would go back to bases with all the comforts of home. We on the other hand, were on duty 24 hours a day, month after month, living like animals in holes and trenches. The only way out seemed to be getting killed or seriously wounded. Many hoped for a million dollar wounds to get a break away from the line.
The Chinese infantry was the better armed, clothed, and led. The American infantry rifle squad was equipped just like it had been in WW II. The M1 rifle with an eight-round clip was excellent for daytime, long-range targeting, but was a poor weapon for nighttime combat. Because the Chinese had no air support, most of their operations were at night, where they use of a lighter and superior rifle that could automatically spray about 60 bullets with a single magazine. We called them "burp guns." We had night vision goggles available, but the poor quality made them useless.
Many grunts were never issues proper Winter clothing. I wore what is called a light "field jacket" and slept in the field all winter with temperatures below zero. Most of us had various degrees of frostbite, some froze and died. It was not glorious. Having lived in on the Canadian border, I had an understanding of survival in below zero weather. The Chinese soldiers had warmer quilted uniforms. We were not allowed fires. There were no radios, cameras, nothing to read.
General MacArthur, the overall commander was a racist who belittled the Chinese communist soldiers as being
"laundrymen."Yet, they sucked the U.S, generals into a huge trap using the same strategy they had used to defeat the Nationalist in 1949. This caused thousands of casualties and led to the biggest retreat ever by the U.S. military.
Korea was the last war fought with a front line that extended across the entire country. This line, for both sides, would normally be on the top of very steep mountain ranges, with rice fields and incinerated villages in the valleys. We were on duty 24 hours a day, for many months at a time. All front line positions were in teams of two. At daylight, my first day on the line, I saw my first battlefield. It was covered with bodies that were not picked up. Faces bleached and drained of the blood that stained the ground with dark patches. I developed a strange, heavy feeling in my chest that stayed with me until the day I left. The inhumanity and the apparent cheapness of human life was horrific.
During that first day on the front line, our idiotic company captain send a squad down into the valley to reconnoiter the area. The Chinese could easily look down from their mountain positions and see the grunts. They allowed the doomed soldiers to get to the middle of the valley, then targeted them with a mortar barrage that killed or wounded the entire squad. We could see the slaughter from our own trenches. As soon as it was dark, some of us grunts volunteered to go down and pick up the remains. I suspected that the Chinese would be expecting a rescue team, and that an ambush was likely. Both sides were using many flares, gunfire flashes and explosions were everywhere. By staying off the raised walking path in the rice fields, we avoided detection. I found a wounded soldier who was moaning softly. A medic who was with me applied quick first aid. We place that badly wounded soldier on a stretcher and headed back up the steep mountain. Climbing, falling, and tripping every few step of the way as there was no real path, and it was very dark. It was hardest physical thing that I had ever done. By the time we made it back to front line the moaning had stopped. I never knew if he had survived, or died. Most of that squad was never found.
Tours of duty in Korea were based on a point system that were beyond my pay grade. A couple days after receiving my orders to return home, and on my last day there, my squad leader nervously told me that I had been selected as lead scout for a two-company attack on dug in Chinese positions on top of a steep mountain, that our air force had tried to knock out for a couple months. All vegetation had been incinerated, and that mountain looked like one huge pile of sand. This seemed like pay back from my platoon sergeant, who for no reason that I knew, had shoved me and challenge me to fight about a month earlier. I had knocked him woozy in about five seconds, and had embarrassed him in front of his men. He had bragged about being an NCAA wrestling champion. (While in Trieste, I had been on the boxing team.) Or perhaps, it was the Captain getting back at me for a complaint to my Congressman relating to my not being able to get boots to replace my badly torn ones. In the military anyone with a higher rank can virtually order your death.
So, on my schedule last day and night in Korea, I followed order. I was resigned with the idea of being killed a few hours before my orders of departure. I would be killed by the Chinese or by friendly fires--my luck had run its course. I said a prayer, and caressed the Catholic rosary that I had put around my neck when I first arrived. At about 8:00 pm I led my company company down the mountain, through the rice fields, and beyond. Somehow, I survived. I will never know how. The next day, I said my goodbyes, and was on my way back home. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, every men, from my original squad ended up dying in that hell hole--in a foreign land, away from home and loved ones. Many were fresh high school grads, hardly more than boys. So ended my "Forgotten War."
The war devastated both South and North Korea. Atrocities were committed by both sides and serious famines occurred. The total death count of North Korean civilians was about 1.5 millions, a number that matches the entire population of Gaza. In South Korea the count was a bit under a million. U.S. military death (most in infantry) were 36,000 with another 8,000 MIAs. Total military deaths for both South and North Korea were much higher than ours, as it was the case for the Chinese army. However, I never did see, or hear of anything like a "human shield" incidence in that war.
Are "Human Shield" charges in Gaza factual?
If we have some knowledge of the respect for Hamas among most Palestinians it's easy to figure this out. In Gaza, the occupation resistance fighters (Hamas), were elected in both Gaza and the West Bank in their last free democratic election. Hamas won handily over the American/Israeli supported party. Hamas won because of their perceived bravery against a cruel and hated enemy, and also for the many important social services they had provided to the people.
Why "human shield? makes no sense?
Throughout the world, poorly armed resistance fighters, such as Hamas can only be successful with the support of the local population. A very quick and a sure way to loose that support would be for them to grab young boys or girls and use them for their own self-protection against the IDF. That would be and extremely immoral and shameful thing to do. If done, it would be a war crime, and would end all support for Hamas among the Palestinians. On the ground the Palestinian people, who are live witnesses, don't believe the Israeli propaganda.
Does using "human shields" ever make sense?
A combat veteran could take captured enemies and use them as such. It has been reported, that the IDF has used Palestinians as "human shields" to open and enter building with suspected booby traps, or believed to be shielding a terrorist. This could save soldiers lives. But, that is quite different from using your own children as a shield in your own territory. Even in this kind of use, it's still a violation of Geneva Convention rules. It's also my understanding that the Nazis were accused of using the French population for illegal "human shields."
Does "human shield" propaganda work?
When this kind of propaganda is repeated and freely parroted in a friendly media, it can deceive viewers, or readers into the racist demonization of a targeted people. In that sense, the propaganda lies can work and be successful. This seems to work on our racist tendencies. The lies can reinforce negative attitudes towards those who may already have been victimized by years of negative propaganda in a biased media.
The impracticality of "human shield" in combat.
Most experienced combat veterans understand that the exact nature of every actions in very dynamic. Every thing moves very fast, a single second can make the difference between life and death. Having to grab and move some children around would steal time away from your own self action and protection. You live or die in combat by using intelligence and by moving quicker than your enemy. Having to grab and move some children around would only steal time away from your own self action and protection. It's not intelligent.
History of "human shield" in American wars.
During our own civil war, that had the highest number of casualties in any of our other wars, I don't recall charges by either side that "humans shield' were ever used. I never saw the Chinese, or the North Koreans use civilians as "human shields." I would assume that the IDF would also never use their own children at home for "human shields." To claim repeatedly that Hamas does this all the time is a cynical racist lie. That kind of sick propaganda should be exposed in a responsible free press/media that values honesty and truth.