Sergeant Arnold gave our platoon leader the moniker of "Peter Love" (phonetic for the letters "P" and "L") on the day Tsai introduced him to us at the little schoolhouse in late May of 1952. The little interpreter explained that the officer had just been returned to duty from a hospital where he had spent many months recovering from wounds received during the fighting in China which brought the communists into power. "He does not speak or understand your language," Tsai further informed us, "So I will be interpreter for his orders to you and for any questions or requests you may have for him."
Very briefly, then, through the interpreter, Peter Love said: "I am a soldier! You are soldiers! We have both faced the dangers of battle and so we can understand each other. Even though we serve on opposite sides in this war, we can understand each other because we are soldiers. Now you are prisoners of war. But you are still soldiers. If you will conduct yourselves as good soldiers, then I will respect you as soldiers as much as you show respect for me. This will make easier and better for both of us the time we will spend together until this war is ended and we will both return home."
Most encouraging were those words. For it appeared from them that we would no more be bothered with the, political harangue we had sometimes endured from the North and had expected would continue here. It sounded as though we need only conduct ourselves in military manner and we would be treated in accordance with the long established rules for confinement of prisoners of war.
And that was very definitely "Peter Love's" intentions. His first several announcements to us at assembly (always through the interpreter, Tsai) were completely devoid of any political themes or propaganda. Just simple and direct orders, he would present, relating to such things as woodgathering or other light work details, excursions to the stream for bathing and washing of clothes, or to the larger schoolyard for exercise periods.
He was, as he said, a soldier. Though he had served the communist regime in its rise to power, he apparently knew very little of the political aspects and perhaps cared even less. If his orders now were simply to maintain order and discipline among the prisoners of war in his charge, the obvious way he saw to do it was in a military manner. His selection of leaders for the three small "squads" in his platoon was clear reflection of that. The senior officer, Capt Kubicek, was leader of the squad comprised of other officers. Sgt Arnold and myself, the two senior enlisted men, were leaders of squads composed of other enlisted men. Peter Love was probably at the outset unaware that this was contrary to the politically dictated "hungachi" policy that "there is no rank amongst prisoners of war; everybody same-same."
He definitely seemed unaware at the outset that some manner of political message was expected to be included whenever he spoke to us. Tsai was well aware of that, however. Tsai was also aware that political officer Lee, in his office nearby, was often listening in on Peter Love's pronouncements to us. It may have been because the battle-scarred platoon leader was something of a "hero" to him that Tsai soon began trying to cover for Peter Love in that regard.
The results were quite amusing. Peter Love would speak just a few words in Chinese; concise and specific statements in curt military manner. After translating what the platoon leader had actually said, Tsai would sometimes add a much longer expression of a current political or propaganda pitch. When Tsai talked far beyond what would seem necessary for translation of what he had just said, Peter Love would look at his interpreter in a manner which we ourselves interpreted along the lines of "I didn't realize such a few words in Chinese could say so much in english."
Quite obviously Peter Love was a soldier in the sense that he had proven himself to himself in battle. He would therefore look with respect upon any man whom he assumed had done the same. His reaction to my escape venture, as Sgt Arnold described it, was evidence of that. In marked contrast to the disturbed reaction of the political officer and the officer of the guard company, Peter Love seemed unperturbed and even as though he was a bit proud that some of the prisoners in his platoon had the guts and gumption to do such a thing.
To him that venture was the mark of a "good soldier." He would recognize that attempting to escape was really my duty. It was the duty of soldiers of his side to keep me from doing so. Hence, when I returned to the little schoolhouse after the period of isolation following recapture, Peter Love wanted to reinstate me as squad leader. In his view, my escape attempt would simply be proof that I was the manner of soldier others would respect.
Sgt Arnold had been present (at Peter Love's request via Tsai) when the platoon leader had argued with political officer Lee about it. Lee, of course, would not allow it. He directed instead that the little stool pigeon corporal who called himself "Watash" would replace me as squad leader. Peter Love's expression of displeasure over that was vivid to Arnold despite not understanding the words. The fact that he had witnessed the incident between Lee and myself the night following my recapture, probably influenced Peter Love's personal feelings about the political officer.
Quite possibly the fact that he did so argue with the political officer brought the beginning or intensification of demands upon Peter Love, himself, to include political spiels in his statements to the prisoners during assembly. In any event, after our move from the little schoolhouse to the "big" compound, he began to do so. These seemed still sometimes subject to expansion or refinement by Tsai when he translated.
At the same time began a markedly noticeable change in Peter Love's bearing and manner. Soon gone was the soldierly pride which had so impressed us at the outset. He looked somewhat embarrassed as he recited the political spiels, and probably was SO. He now avoided direct eye contact with Sgt Arnold, myself or any of several others to whom respectful glances had previously been directed. It must have been something of a double blow against his soldierly sense of duty and personal pride. He was compelled to say things which were not of his own choosing, and with which he may privately have disagreed. And it was being done by someone, the political officer, for whom he felt considerable of disdain and disrespect.
It was a sad thing, really, to observe that transformation. We were watching a justifiably proud man losing his own self-respect. But such is the consequence for any man who willfully submits (for whatever reason) to the dictates of some "higher authority" to do something which is contrary to the dictates of his own conscience or to his belief as to what is really the proper and honorable thing to do.
Peter Love's apparent embarrassment in giving political spiels was probably the reason for his arrangement in May of a rather unusual work detail outside the compound. After dismissal of an assembly at which he had delivered some of such, he sent Tsai elsewhere and had the supply officer, "Andy," call Flynn and myself aside to discuss it.
As Andy explained it, our "platoon leader" wanted to "invite" some of us to accompany him on a "work party to fix a place on the stream for taking bath and wash clothing." Some of the guard soldiers would be in the work party, and Andy would himself go to be interpreter but "also to work."
"It is all volunteer," Andy said, "not an order that you must do this. But he has noticed that some of you seem to enjoy when you went to gather wood or bring supplies from the boat. And now since no longer are such work details as used to be ordered, he thinks you might enjoy to go out and do something as volunteers."
It was an intriguing invitation to begin with. It was made the more so when Andy said the platoon leader had wanted "especially to invite" Sgt Arnold along with Flynn and myself. "Arnold is too busy with kitchen work," Andy concluded. "But if you and Flynn will go you may bring four more volunteers of your choice."
Volunteers for an excursion out of the compound were not at all hard to find. Rambo and the young marine, Ribbeck, were my selection. The names of the other two from Flynn's group are not now recalled. Peter Love was back at the compound gate very shortly with five soldiers. They carried picks, shovels and machetes, but no weapons. Very obviously a select group, most noticeable to myself was the sergeant who had escorted me back to camp after recapture and had allowed us to splash water in our faces in the stream after his officer had ordered him to give us none to drink. He nodded in response to my glance of recognition and perhaps deliberately walked beside me as departed.
Less than a quarter mile from the compound, obscured by heavy undergrowth in the woods around it, was a sizable natural pool. The project, obviously well planned in advance, was to deepen the pool by piling rocks to effect a dam on the downstream edge and to clear undergrowth from the surrounding woods. Peter Love described the work to be done to his troops, allowing time as he did so for Andy to translate to us.
In short order we were at work, not at all separately as prisoners from the soldiers, but intermingled in the moving of rocks and fallen logs, and the hacking away and uprooting of underbrush. Although we suspected that some, at least, of the soldiers could speak our language, only Andy ever did so. Motions and gestures were all that was usually needed to coordinate efforts. And despite the lack of verbal communication there was an atmosphere of camaraderie as we worked; grunting together in the hoisting of heavy rock or timber, enjoying one another's stumbles in the pool.
For about three hours we labored so. And in that time the previously overgrown area around the natural pool had been transformed into something of a wooded park, with logs and rocks for seats. The pool itself had been deepened sufficiently for swimming by the piling of rocks as a dam. Peter Love called out to his troops, at once relayed to us by Andy:
"It is finished! It is good work! It is beautiful! Now everyone must go for swim!"
Stripped to his shorts, it could be seen that Peter Love's body was virtually a mass of scars. If he seemed a bit proud of those battle scars, he perhaps had a right to be. He looked at myself, said something to Andy who in turn called to me: "The platoon leader wonders about the scars on your stomach and on your leg. How did you get those scars?"
"Tell him they are not battle scars," I replied. "This one (on the stomach) is from an operation appendicitis. This one (on the leg) from playing football a broken leg."
Peter Love smiled at Andy's translation and beckoned for me to join him on a large rock from which we dove into the pool together.
Refreshed by the cool water, that rather unusual working party then sat for a while in the park they had just created to share a few rice cakes and a bucket of tepid tea. Then they ambled together back to the compound gate. There Peter Love had a few things to say, perhaps as much to his own soldiers as to ourselves. As Andy translated for us:
"It has been great pleasure to see good men from both sides, from different armies, work together and create a beautiful park instead of try to kill each other. Bad men cause the wars and good men must fight them. I hope this war may end soon so you good men can return to your homes, and us, also. Thank you."
A glance at Flynn determined, without either of us speaking, that we both felt the same impulse. Peter Love deserved a salute. Flynn called the rest of us to attention and directed it. Peter Love, perhaps a bit surprised, hesitated but only for a moment before returning it as only a real soldier could.
Preoccupied as we were with plans for getting ourselves back home even if the war didn't end, Flynn and I did not right then try to analyze deeply Peter Love's motive for arranging that work party. We only assured ourselves that there seemed to be no ulterior motive towards ourselves on his part. More likely it was an effort to convey to us that the political spiels he now made at assembly were given because he had to, not because he wanted to. In any case, what he had Just said would not likely have pleased his political overlords. For he had not said the bad men were only on our side. And from the way he looked as he spoke we were convinced that he didn't think so.
[Years later, the old indian and I would be reminded of that work party, as we worked and sweat together similarly creating a "park" of sorts at Flynn's boyhood home on Dog Ear lake in South Dakota. Several events that had happened in the interim, made more meaningful still those parting words of Peter Love's.]
Sad it was, indeed, to see such a respectful and respectable man as Peter Love compelled to abandon or at least obscure his own sense of honor, by persons of far lesser qualities of manliness and humanness. The sadder still when one realized that he had no reasonable alternative but submission to those demands. To resist the demands of his political overlords, or even strongly argue against them, could bring upon himself an assignment to one of the Party's programs for "attitude adjustment." It could also mean difficulties with the Party for whatever of close family Peter Love might have back in China. Such is the totality of inhumanness which dwells fundamentally in any dictatorship, and most especially in one of the Marxist and atheistic variety.
Thus did the transformation of Peter Love from man of pride to reluctant puppet, demonstrate the power of the communist Party apparatus over individuals under its rule. But it demonstrated also a prime weakness of the system in the conduct of military affairs, in peace or in war. When political officials control the tactical conduct of military action, as well as commitment of armed forces into conflict, the morale and therefore the efficacy of combat troops is bound often to be adversely affected.
Even in the limited sphere of observation from the prison circumstance, it was easy to perceive the resentment by enemy military officers of the power which the political officer wielded over them. On a larger scale, over the entirety of a military force, it could be so inhibiting of military commanders as to render them virtually powerless to conduct, on their own, the manner of tactical operations which could bring a quick and decisive ending of a battle or of a war. And since such complete political control of military commanders is essential in the armies of a dictatorship, it constitutes a basic and exploitable weakness in the military forces of a communist regime.
That weakness will be exploited, however, only if it is recognized and taken advantage of by commanders of the opposing forces. Unfortunately in the course of the second Korean war, against the armies of Communist China, the tactical restrictions imposed upon our own military commanders by our own political leaders were far greater than those inherent political handicaps which commanders of the enemy forces had to deal with.
It has often been said in some self-esteemed "intellectual" circles that "war is much to important to be left to the generals." Which is quite valid with respect to the decision as to whether or not a Nation of free people should declare war on some other power. But the record of the Korean wars (and the subsequent war in Vietnam) clearly show that, once it has begun, war is much too tragic to be left in the hands of politicians and diplomats especially to those same politicians and diplomats whose failures in statesmanship have led to or allowed the tragedy of armed conflict.
It is the quite natural desire of men whose lives are on the line in combat, that a war once started should be ended as quickly as possible; consequently minimizing the losses of life on both sides of the battle line. Such is the philosophy of the truly professional military leader. The men who endure the personal risks of combat, on opposites sides of the conflict, don't try to kill each other because they want to, but because circumstances often require and compel them to do so. Over the long term, they come to realize that in that respect they have more in common with the men they face in battle than they do with some of their own countrymen.
Political types, on the other hand, ensconced in the safer regions of the rear echelons or back home, may not be so much concerned about getting a war ended quickly. Some of them may even benefit personally by letting it continue. Those who are part of an established dictatorship know that continual war serves to justify continuation of their dictatorial powers (as Orwell depicted in his classic, "1984"). Those who aspire to such total power might see protracted war as a way to achieve it. (An inversion of James Madison's "Political Observation" in 1795 that "No nation could preserve its freedoms in the midst of continual warfare.")
The Korean wars well demonstrated that difference in attitude between professional military men and and the political or "diplomatic" types. The first one, against the North Korean invaders of South Korea was ended quickly, in victory in a matter of four months, by military professionals over and against efforts of political types to hold them back from liberation of North Korea. The second one began only after "diplomats" had assured Soviet and Chinese communist leaders that "if" they sent an invasion force of Chinese Communist troops into Korea, our forces would not strike their support and supply installations across the border in Manchuria. Subsequently, when the communists had regained essentially that territory in North Korea which they had previously lost, those same U.S. and U.N. "diplomats" bogged our military forces down in protracted negotiations which, according to the top army commander in Korea at that time (General Edward Almond) cost us more casualties, dead and wounded than the most pessimistic estimates of what we might have suffered had we driven the invading Chinese forces back out of Korea. Those negotiations dragged on, tying down our forces quite consistently with the strategy of protracted war prescribed by Mao Tse Tung. The negotiations, and the continued loss of lives in combat, ended only after President Eisenhower threatened to order whatever of military action was required to defeat the communist forces again..
The subsequent war in Vietnam demonstrated even more vividly another aspect of the difference of viewpoints between military professionals and political types regarding war. For in that war something called "body count" was the criteria by which the American public was asked to judge "success" in the conflict. Because, at least purportedly, about ten enemy soldiers were being killed for every one of ours who died, top civilian officials in our government claimed we were "winning" the war. Defeat of the enemy forces was not the object of those civilian officials but only, as President Johnson expressed it, "to teach them that aggression doesn't pay." A young army lieutenant was their scapegoat when questions were raised about that policy, in the much publicized case of the My Lai "massacre." And there may have been some high ranked officials in military uniform who went along with that policy for their own reasons. But no real "soldier" of any rank would accept "body count" as proper measure of progress in war. And many of military professionals who objected to that policy, suffered damage to their careers for openly doing so.
Now in retrospect one might add a comment to Peter Love's parting words to us in May, 1953: What a pity it is that the men who cause the wars are not the ones who must fight them; thus leaving the good men of all nations to creative works, instead.
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.