Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day I Continued and Concerns about the ChiComms

So it was an interesting day today-had a great breakfast at our hotel; Korean beef and cabbage soup with kimchi (of course). Kyang Hee University was rather neat, the buildings were all impressive on the outside, but a little bit run down (kind of old looking and dirty etc) inside. Nothing huge, just gave the sense that outward appearance was more important than what is on the inside. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't a trait the whole country shares. Everywhere you look, there is something showing off status. The cars here are pretty big, which we've been explained is a status symbol; bellboys at hotels will bow to owners of larger cars as a sign of respect but they tend to ignore (or visibly treat differently) owners of less prominent cars-according to Dr. Lee.

Every video we watch emphasizes pride and success of the whatever it is for. For Kyang Hee University, it was not merely the stepping stone for a bright and wonderful future, but something more, something "in harmony with nature". Watching the video for the planned new city hall, I felt like I was watching "The Triumph of the Will," because not only with this new building serve to show the grandeur, majesty, and culture of the Korean people, it will also shine on for the future generations. Look, I understand pride in yourselves and your country-I'm an American. I like to think we invented that. But it really starts getting a little irritating-I mean seriously, it is like watching a propaganda video. I can't really explain it, but it just rubs me a little bit the wrong way; probably because they use way too many adjectives in these videos. Almost every sentences has at least two more than are necessary to convey the general idea...

So Korean nationalism is alive and well. We had a lesson on Korean politics, which emphasized the economic progress of South Korea and acknowledged the authoritarian regimes that it has had, but argued that no countries founded or liberated since the end of World War Two have been economically prosperous and democratic their whole time. "Absolutely no examples of this anywhere in the world." I wonder what Austrians, (west) Germans, Belgians, Netherlanders, Danes, Norwegians, or any of the host of countries liberated after WWII. Heck, I think even the Japanese are pretty clean on that front, whatever crimes against history they have.

We also saw Chang Duck Palace, which was a pretty cool historical point. Interesting to see an Oriental style palace-Hai Schau (a Chinese guy on our trip) said it was just like a miniature version of the "Forbidden City" and was not too impressed. Hai Schau (a close pheonetic approximation of his name) is a neat guy. Son of a vice governor of a region in China, he says he isn't a communist and disagrees with his government. He has complained a lot about of the lack of freedom in his country and about a lot of the petty stuff the government does (like why they ban certain video games or media and its triviality). Hai is a nice guy, but I am a little concerned about China since meeting him. First, he talked about how the Chinese military training is specifically focused on fighting the US and compensates for the fire/air support disadvantages they have by practicing in situations where they operate without any support and the US OPFOR does. There is a very callous disregard for the average soldier's life, not just among the higher ups, but among the average soldiers themselves, and according to him they put completing the mission above all else; even if it means destruction of the unit.

Now who knows how much of that is accurate or to what level or how effective their training is, but Hai assures me that after a certain point, they stop taking 80% casualties and start completing the mission with much more modest (25% was his unit's best). This may all be bluff or perhaps the Chinese training is less effective than they think, but this still concerns me. While they are training to fight us and developing weapons to take away our advantage on the seas-all those damn subs you see surfacing near our carrier groups, that missile that is specifically designed to sink carriers, or all the engineers they are sending to S. Korea just to learn ship building-we're just focusing on fighting low intensity conflicts. Which is fine, I understand that's what we need now, but knowing how to do a movement to contact with a group of five terrorists and search EPWs is not going to be of much use when fighting the PLA. Hell, Hai says the buggers have these little grenades around their neck so they can detonate them when they're about to be captured. Perhaps I am always the pessimist, but we should at least be seriously training for the possibility of a conventional war-and maybe we are, but I don't hear about maneuvers like REFORGER (OK I know we don't do that anymore, but I mean large scale real to life simulations like they would do) nor do I hear much about that OPFOR Unit the NTC uses. Dad always talked about that unit and training with it, but guys who are prior service in ROTC now a-days never mention it and ROTC does absolutely no training for it.

Also, I'm literally willing to lay down money that says our government expects to over come this with the use of airpower. Dammit, I am tired of how much we expect airpower to do stuff. Air power strategists promise the moon time and time again, but they never deliver. They claimed industrial bombing could bring Germany to its knees and win on its own (don't believe me, ask "Bomber Harris" he says they could), they didn't win the Korean or Vietnam conflicts, played a much more minimal role in winning Desert Storm than they are given credit for (see my own personal research I did for that Medina ridge paper), "Shock and awe" 2003 was a complete failure, and what real use is the airforce playing now? Just support-that is all the airforce is, a support element for the ground. Airpower cannot alone win wars against any determined foe, no matter how technologically inferior. When will we realize that in America? Maybe that should be a topic I focus my history paper on next year...sorry to get on my soap box and get emotional-I'm not expert on any of this stuff and there are wiser men than me at the Pentagon so I'm sure they're taking care of this or since I have such little knowledge about actual army training maybe all my worries are for naught. This rant is just an expression of my worries, I just hope I'm as wrong and ignorant as I probably am.

Edit: I also want to comment about the average attitude that Hai describes in China. Firstly, he says that the military (and the government apparently) feels that for a country to become strong and a world power, it must beat another, and who better to beat than the strongest there is. So there is kind of an attitude that for them to become truly great they have to beat us in a war...which doesn't bode well with me. Furthermore, while they believe we are economically dependent on each other and when one of us does well, the other does too, they still have some kind of irrational dislike for us. He says when visitors from the US come to China everyone is really excited and glad to see that relations are getting better, but once the Americans leave everyone starts becoming more critical and hostile towards the Americans again. Again, who knows if this is really the case; maybe Hai is just seeing things a certain way, or he's describing extreme cases and I am taking them too seriously. Most of this post has just feelings of uneasiness talking.


  1. Alex, one question--you mention a "great breakfast." Does the rest of the group agree? I know you love Korean food, so you must be really enjoying yourself.

  2. Well it was an option of an American breakfast-french fries, sausage (or ham or bacon), two eggs, and some toast. Mine was a beef and cabbage soup with kimchis and Jake had a beef and seaweed soup-we both enjoyed breakfast very lunch. I found a new technique for gimbab-put wasabi on the rise before you roll it-excellent! Also we had bulgogi for lunch...and bloody macdonals for dinner; but I tried a bulgogi burger...which was interesting. Just a patty slavered with bulgogi sauce. It was OK as a burger, total failure as bulgogi.