History Podcasts

In current times is it impossible to win a war if the people of invaded country are determined not to lose?

In current times is it impossible to win a war if the people of invaded country are determined not to lose?

When the United States lost the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese showed another face of war:

With a big difference of power, the weaker country can win.

This is happening again in Afghanistan and in Iraq. In Afghanistan the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, fights with one of the poorest and even with this difference it isn't able to win the war.

So, what I'm asking is: can an invading country win the war if and only if the people of this invaded country are not willing to fight hard enough?


It is impossible for a modern power to conquer an invaded country. The reason for this is the current aversion to atrocity - the large scale massacres, enslavement, forced migration, etc. that were used to control a foreign occupied population are no longer acceptable.

Thus, a powerful country can destroy an existing regime, but establishing a favourable replacement is near impossible if a large enough proportion of the population are prepared to oppose it, even if they are only armed with rifles and IEDs.

(It's even becoming difficult for native minorities to maintain unpopular regimes without resorting to atrocity and incurring the condemnation of the international community, despite the advantage of local knowledge and established institutions that a foreign force lacks.)


No. The USA had won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in any military sense. Their problems there are that they cannot keep the countries secure, safe and politically stable.

This is much different from Vietnam where they were opposed by a regular army, supplied from abroad and did not control the whole territory.

But indeed if an occupying army is very sensitive to casualties, a sparse insurgency and instability can force it leave.


can an invader country only win the war if and only if the people of this invaded country want to lose it?

This doesn't make much sense, was there ever a war where someone wanted to lose? Did Nazi Germany want to lose WW2? No


It's still possible for an invaded people to lose if the odds are TOO overwhelming. One example was the so-called "battle" of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, where there were only 70,000 Jewish residents, armed with only a few hundred rifles, against crack German police and army units.

But the thrust of the question is, have modern times made it possible to mobilize the civilian population in such a way so that even if one army is decidedly smaller/weaker than the other, can the civilian population supporting the weaker army prevent a defeat. The lesson of Vietnam was yes. That is, the Americans had to defeat not only the regular Vietnamese forces, which they basically did, but also the North Vietnam civilian population, which was a much harder task.

Going back to World War II, the Germans failed to capture Stalingrad, because they had to fight not only the defending Soviet 62nd army, but in also the civilian population, which provided food, information, militia, and "replacements" to the Soviet army.


"Not willing to fight hard enough" Hard ENOUGH to do what? To win? I guess by definition you could say that if they are not willing to fight hard enough to win, then they will lose.

While there have certainly been cases in recent times where one country has invaded another and then been defeated or forced to withdraw, I think the answer to your question is pretty clearly that it IS possible, because there are several instances where it has happened.

In 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and subjugated the country. They did not leave until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Arguably that's not a good counter-example as the Soviets were ultimately forced out of all the countries they occupied, though the exact circumstances are complex.

North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam and conquered the country in 1975. They still control it. I think this is a clear counter-example.

In 1983 the U.S. invaded Grenada and installed a friendly government. The U.S. didn't conquer the country in the sense of annexing the territory, but the U.S.-friendly government is still there.

The case in Iraq is pretty ambiguous. The U.S. clearly defeated the Iraqi military, took over the country, and installed a friendly government. But then a new regime came to power in the U.S. that had little interest in retaining control, and began a voluntary withdrawal. Partly this was because of resistance, but mostly because they just didn't have any desire to retain control of the country. Iraq was then invaded by an outside power, ISIS. I say "outside" because they originally came from Syria. ISIS has support from some Iraqis, but I think it's fair to say that a majority of Iraqis do not support them. It's not at all clear how this will end. If ISIS ends up in control, that would be a counter-example.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. goal was to destroy the Taliban. It was never to conquer the country and make it a 51st state. So the U.S. achieved its goal and is leaving. That's not really a test of your thesis.


The USA Will Be Unrecognizable After Harris – Biden

Today, I continue to write about our present “current event”. The most important election in U.S. history. It is THE most important thing going on right now as to how it will absolutely affect our lives as we head into the (unknown) future. Articles on traditional preparedness topics take a back seat to all this.

So, although I’ve already written about the topic of “what if Biden wins”, and what might happen afterwards, I’m going to present some further possibilities of what they would like to do, or what they might actually do.

The following points have been gleaned from various recent comments and opinions. They are not my words. However I tend to agree with some of the possibilities to varying extents (yet to be determined).


Taiwan Can Win a War With China

When Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to the 19th Party Congress about the future of Taiwan last year, his message was ominous and unequivocal: “We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot. We will never allow any person, any organization, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form.”

This remark drew the longest applause of his entire three-hour speech—but it’s not a new message. The invincibility of Chinese arms in the face of Taiwanese “separatists” and the inevitability of reunification are constant Chinese Communist Party themes. At its base, the threat made by Xi is that the People’s Liberation Army has the power to defeat the Taiwanese military and destroy its democracy by force, if need be. Xi understands the consequences of failure here. “We have the determination, the ability and the preparedness to deal with Taiwanese independence,” he stated in 2016, “and if we do not deal with it, we will be overthrown.”

When Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to the 19th Party Congress about the future of Taiwan last year, his message was ominous and unequivocal: “We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot. We will never allow any person, any organization, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form.”

This remark drew the longest applause of his entire three-hour speech—but it’s not a new message. The invincibility of Chinese arms in the face of Taiwanese “separatists” and the inevitability of reunification are constant Chinese Communist Party themes. At its base, the threat made by Xi is that the People’s Liberation Army has the power to defeat the Taiwanese military and destroy its democracy by force, if need be. Xi understands the consequences of failure here. “We have the determination, the ability and the preparedness to deal with Taiwanese independence,” he stated in 2016, “and if we do not deal with it, we will be overthrown.”

China has already ratcheted up economic and diplomatic pressure on the island since the 2016 election of Tsai Ing-wen and the independence-friendly Democratic Progressive Party. Saber-rattling around the Taiwan Strait has been common. But China might not be able to deliver on its repeated threats. Despite the vast discrepancy in size between the two countries, there’s a real possibility that Taiwan could fight off a Chinese attack—even without direct aid from the United States.

Chinese commanders fear they may be forced into armed contest with an enemy that is better trained, better motivated, and better prepared for the rigors of warfare than troops the PLA could throw against them.

Two recent studies, one by Michael Beckley, a political scientist at Tufts University, and the other by Ian Easton, a fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, in his book The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia, provide us with a clearer picture of what a war between Taiwan and the mainland might look like. Grounded in statistics, training manuals, and planning documents from the PLA itself, and informed by simulations and studies conducted by both the U.S. Defense Department and the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense, this research presents a very different picture of a cross-strait conflict than that hawked by the party’s official announcements.

Chinese commanders fear they may be forced into armed contest with an enemy that is better trained, better motivated, and better prepared for the rigors of warfare than troops the PLA could throw against them. A cross-strait war looks far less like an inevitable victory for China than it does a staggeringly risky gamble.

Chinese army documents imagine that this gamble will begin with missiles. For months, the PLA’s Rocket Force will have been preparing this opening salvo from the second war begins until the day the invasion commences, these missiles will scream toward the Taiwanese coast, with airfields, communication hubs, radar equipment, transportation nodes, and government offices in their sights. Concurrently, party sleeper agents or special forces discreetly ferried across the strait will begin an assassination campaign targeting the president and her Cabinet, other leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party, officials at key bureaucracies, prominent media personalities, important scientists or engineers, and their families.

The goal of all this is twofold. In the narrower tactical sense, the PLA hopes to destroy as much of the Taiwanese Air Force on the ground as it can and from that point forward keep things chaotic enough on the ground that the Taiwan’s Air Force cannot sortie fast enough to challenge China’s control of the air. The missile campaign’s second aim is simpler: paralysis. With the president dead, leadership mute, communications down, and transportation impossible, the Taiwanese forces will be left rudderless, demoralized, and disoriented. This “shock and awe” campaign will pave the way for the invasion proper.

This invasion will be the largest amphibious operation in human history. Tens of thousands of vessels will be assembled—mostly commandeered from the Chinese merchant marine—to ferry 1 million Chinese troops across the strait, who will arrive in two waves. Their landing will be preceded by a fury of missiles and rockets, launched from the Rocket Force units in Fujian, Chinese Air Force fighter bombers flying in the strait, and the escort fleet itself.

Confused, cut off, and overwhelmed, the Taiwanese forces who have survived thus far will soon run out of supplies and be forced to abandon the beaches. Once the beachhead is secured, the process will begin again: With full air superiority, the PLA will have the pick of their targets, Taiwanese command and control will be destroyed, and isolated Taiwanese units will be swept aside by the Chinese army’s advance. Within a week, they will have marched into Taipei within two weeks they will have implemented a draconian martial law intended to convert the island into the pliant forward operating base the PLA will need to defend against the anticipated Japanese and American counter-campaigns.

Treacherous Conditions in the Taiwan Strait

Month Storm Seasons Average Wind/Wave Conditions Other Factors Suitability for Amphibious Operations
January Gales High Low clouds Poor
February Gales High Heavy fog* Poor
March N/A High to low** Heavy fog Varies
April N/A Low Heavy fog Good
May Plum rains Low Heavy fog Varies
June Plum rains Low Fog, currents*** Poor
July Typhoons Varies with storms Strong currents Poor
August Typhoons Varies with storms Strong currents Poor
September Typhoons Varies with storms Strong currents Poor
October N/A Low to high** N/A Good
November Gales High Low clouds Poor
December Gales High Low clouds Poor

*Fog is a major operational factor from Feb. 15 to June 15, with the worst fog in the morning hours of April and May. Overall, average visibility is 1.2 miles in spring, 2.4 miles in winter, and 6.2 miles in summer.
**The wind and wave conditions start out as high in early March and become very low by the end of the month. By October, that is reversed.
***Currents in the strait tend to be stronger in summer and weak in winter.
Sources: Ian Easton, The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan ‘s Defense and American Strategy in Asia, p. 172.

This is the best-case scenario for the PLA. But an island docile and defeated two weeks after D-Day is not a guaranteed outcome. One of the central hurdles facing the offensive is surprise. The PLA simply will not have it. The invasion will happen in April or October. Because of the challenges posed by the strait’s weather, a transport fleet can only make it across the strait in one of these two four-week windows. The scale of the invasion will be so large that strategic surprise will not be possible, especially given the extensive mutual penetration of each side by the other’s intelligence agencies.

Easton estimates that Taiwanese, American, and Japanese leaders will know that the PLA is preparing for a cross-strait war more than 60 days before hostilities begin. They will know for certain that an invasion will happen more than 30 days before the first missiles are fired. This will give the Taiwanese ample time to move much of their command and control infrastructure into hardened mountain tunnels, move their fleet out of vulnerable ports, detain suspected agents and intelligence operatives, litter the ocean with sea mines, disperse and camouflage army units across the country, put the economy on war footing, and distribute weapons to Taiwan’s 2.5 million reservists.

There are only 13 beaches on Taiwan’s western coast that the PLA could possibly land at. Each of these has already been prepared for a potential conflict. Long underground tunnels—complete with hardened, subterranean supply depots—crisscross the landing sites. The berm of each beach has been covered with razor-leaf plants. Chemical treatment plants are common in many beach towns—meaning that invaders must prepare for the clouds of toxic gas any indiscriminate saturation bombing on their part will release. This is how things stand in times of peace.

As war approaches, each beach will be turned into a workshop of horrors. The path from these beaches to the capital has been painstakingly mapped once a state of emergency has been declared, each step of the journey will be complicated or booby-trapped. PLA war manuals warn soldiers that skyscrapers and rock outcrops will have steel cords strung between them to entangle helicopters tunnels, bridges, and overpasses will be rigged with munitions (to be destroyed only at the last possible moment) and building after building in Taiwan’s dense urban core will be transformed into small redoubts meant to drag Chinese units into drawn-out fights over each city street.

To understand the real strength of these defenses, imagine them as a PLA grunt would experience them. Like most privates, he is a countryside boy from a poor province. He has been told his entire life that Taiwan has been totally and fatally eclipsed by Chinese power. He will be eager to put the separatists in their place. Yet events will not work out as he has imagined. In the weeks leading up to war, he discovers that his older cousin—whose remittances support their grandparents in the Anhui countryside—has lost her job in Shanghai. All wire money transfers from Taipei have stopped, and the millions of Chinese who are employed by Taiwanese companies have had their pay suspended.

Our private celebrates the opening of hostilities in Shanwei, where he is rushed through a three-week training course on fighting in the fetid and unfamiliar jungles of China’s south. By now, the PLA has put him in a media blackout, but still rumors creep in: Yesterday it was whispered that the 10-hour delay in their train schedule had nothing to do with an overwhelmed transportation system and everything to do with Taiwanese saboteurs. Today’s whispers report that the commander of the 1st Marine Brigade in Zhanjiang was assassinated. Tomorrow, men will wonder if rolling power outages really are just an attempt to save power for the war effort.

But by the time he reaches the staging area in Fuzhou, the myth of China’s invincibility has been shattered by more than rumors. The gray ruins of Fuzhou’s PLA offices are his first introduction to the terror of missile attack. Perhaps he takes comfort in the fact that the salvos coming from Taiwan do not seem to match the number of salvos streaking toward it—but abstractions like this can only do so much to shore up broken nerves, and he doesn’t have the time to acclimate himself to the shock. Blast by terrifying blast, his confidence that the Chinese army can keep him safe is chipped away.

The last, most terrible salvo comes as he embarks—he is one of the lucky few setting foot on a proper amphibious assault boat, not a civilian vessel converted to war use in the eleventh hour—but this is only the first of many horrors on the waters. Some transports are sunk by Taiwanese torpedoes, released by submarines held in reserve for this day. Airborne Harpoon missiles, fired by F-16s leaving the safety of cavernous, nuclear-proof mountain bunkers for the first time in the war, will destroy others. The greatest casualties, however, will be caused by sea mines. Minefield after minefield must be crossed by every ship in the flotilla, some a harrowing eight miles in width. Seasick thanks to the strait’s rough waves, our grunt can do nothing but pray his ship safely makes it across.

As he approaches land, the psychological pressure increases. The first craft to cross the shore will be met, as Easton’s research shows, with a sudden wall of flame springing up from the water from the miles of oil-filled pipeline sunk underneath. As his ship makes it through the fire (he is lucky others around it are speared or entangled on sea traps) he faces what Easton describes as a mile’s worth of “razor wire nets, hook boards, skin-peeling planks, barbed wire fences, wire obstacles, spike strips, landmines, anti-tank barrier walls, anti-tank obstacles … bamboo spikes, felled trees, truck shipping containers, and junkyard cars.”

At this stage, his safety depends largely on whether the Chinese Air Force has been able to able to distinguish between real artillery pieces from the hundreds of decoy targets and dummy equipment PLA manuals believe the Taiwanese Army has created. The odds are against him: As Beckley notes in a study published last fall, in the 1990 to 1991 Gulf War, the 88,500 tons of ordnance dropped by the U.S.-led coalition did not destroy a single Iraqi road-mobile missile launcher. NATO’s 78-day campaign aimed at Serbian air defenses only managed to destroy three of Serbia’s 22 mobile-missile batteries. There is no reason to think that the Chinese Air Force will have a higher success rate when targeting Taiwan’s mobile artillery and missile defense.

But if our grunt survives the initial barrages on the beach, he still must fight his way through the main Taiwanese Army groups, 2.5 million armed reservists dispersed in the dense cities and jungles of Taiwan, and miles of mines, booby traps, and debris. This is an enormous thing to ask of a private who has no personal experience with war. It is an even great thing to ask it of a private who naively believed in his own army’s invincibility.

This sketch makes sense of the anxiety the PLA officer manuals express. They know war would be a terrific gamble, even if they only admit it to each other. Yet it this also makes sense of the party’s violent reactions to even the smallest of arms sales to Taiwan. Their passion betrays their angst. They understand what Western gloom-and-doomsters do not. American analysts use terms like “mature precision-strike regime” and “anti-access and area denial warfare” to describe technological trends that make it extremely difficult to project naval and airpower near enemy shores. Costs favor the defense: It is much cheaper to build a ship-killing missile than it is to build a ship.

But if this means that the Chinese army can counter U.S. force projection at a fraction of America’s costs, it also means that the democracies straddling the East Asian rim can deter Chinese aggression at a fraction of the PLA’s costs. In an era that favors defense, small nations like Taiwan do not need a PLA-sized military budget to keep the Chinese at bay.

No one needs to hear this message more than the Taiwanese themselves. In my trips to Taiwan, I have made a point of tracking down and interviewing both conscripts and career soldiers. Their pessimism is palpable. This morale crisis in the ranks partly reflects the severe mismanagement of the conscription system, which has left even eager Taiwanese patriots disillusioned with their military experience.

But just as important is the lack of knowledge ordinary Taiwanese have about the strength of their islands’ defenses. A recent poll found that 65 percent of Taiwanese “have no confidence” in their military’s ability to hold off the PLA. Absent a vigorous campaign designed to educate the public about the true odds of successful military resistance, the Taiwanese people are likely to judge the security of their island on flawed metrics, like the diminishing number of countries that maintain formal relations with Taipei instead of Beijing. The PLA’s projected campaign is specifically designed to overwhelm and overawe a demoralized Taiwanese military. The most crucial battlefield may be the minds of the Taiwanese themselves. Defeatism is a more dangerous threat to Taiwanese democracy than any weapon in China’s armory.

Both Westerners and Taiwanese should be more optimistic about the defense of Taiwan than is now normal. Yes, the Taiwanese Army projects that it can only hold off its enemy for two weeks after the landing—but the PLA also believes that if it cannot defeat the Taiwanese forces in under two weeks, it will lose the war! Yes, the disparity between the military budgets on both sides of the strait is large, and growing—but the Taiwanese do not need parity to deter Chinese aggression. All they need is the freedom to purchase the sort of arms that make invasion unthinkable. If that political battle can be resolved in the halls of Washington, the party will not have the power to threaten battle on the shores of Taiwan.

Tanner Greer is a writer and strategist based in Taiwan. Twitter: @Scholars_Stage


How a War Against China Could Cripple the United States

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series on what a U.S.-China war over Taiwan could look like. You can read part one here.

Once China has decided to use military force to reunify Taiwan, their first actions will be covert actions designed to quietly set the stage for the assault of their main combat forces. The first action that will signal a full-on war has begun will be an initial, major barrage of ballistic missiles screaming across the strait at multiple civilian and military targets. Once that happens, everything happens at warp speed.

The first barrage of missiles will target critical infrastructure and seek to destroy Taiwan’s ability to respond to the Chinese onslaught. They will target military airfields to make them unusable, seek to destroy aircraft on the ground, especially those with the ability to conduct command and control and to direct other weapons (like AWACs-type craft) missile boats and Aegis-type destroyers in their births anti-air and missile batteries on the ground.

“We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements – those who play with fire will burn themselves, and Taiwan independence means war.”

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian

In the early hours of the battle, Taiwanese troops are shocked, confused, lack clear communications, and are fighting in the rear and from the front at the beaches. China’s initial objectives will be to secure at least one of the three airfields and capture one or more beach landing sites by the end of the first day of fighting. If they do, they will have a chance to open an airbridge and beach landing site through which they can pour more and more material with limited opposition. Like at the Normandy beach landings in 1944, once the invading force breaks through at the beach, it is almost impossible for the defenders to win.

The defenders’ primary objective is to identify and destroy all Chinese efforts on the island as quickly as possible, retain control of all airfields, and keep the beaches impregnable. If China is not successful in landing the knock-out blow within the first 48 hours, it will likely have to switch its efforts to dramatically increasing its use of ballistic and cruise missiles, fighter and bomber sorties, and ship-to-shore missiles to try and force an opening at one or more beach landing zones. They will try to overwhelm the island through brute force.

If Taiwan is successful at preventing any large scale incursions either on the beach or via airborne or air-assault operations, their chances of thwarting the invasion increase dramatically. But they still won’t be out of the woods. If China cannot penetrate the beach after two weeks of fighting, they may shift to a siege mentality, in which they will continue sustained bombing of the island, but at a reduced rate while putting into effect a naval blockade.

If things broke well for Taiwan, it is entirely possible that they could prevent China from opening any beachheads against their defenses. A naval blockade, however, will be more difficult to overcome. Without any ability to replace the missiles and other ammunition they expend, no way to medically evacuate their wounded, or to import oil to power their warships, fuel their armored vehicles, and generate electricity – not to mention feed the population.

Though Taiwan can inflict serious damage to the PLA military, China’s capacity to absorb the damage and replace losses – while maintaining a blockade – is unlikely to be enough to stave off eventual defeat. Taipei’s hope that by holding out long enough the U.S. will come riding to a the rescue will, one way or another, be dashed.

Constraints on U.S. Response

As Admiral Philip Davidson said in recent Congressional testimony, it would take American ships based in Alaska 17 days to reach Taiwan 21 days from the U.S. West Coast. Beijing’s attack will require a no-notice launch to minimize the Taiwanese defender’s ability to man their positions, but possibly the greater purpose will be to ensure the U.S. Navy and Air Force are caught flat-footed and unable to mount an effective response.

To even have a chance at success, U.S. Forces in the Pacific region would have to have months to prepare. They would have to bring personnel strength up near 100%, make all their ships and aircraft combat ready and fully supplied with wartime ammunition and fuel stocks. Any shortfalls in personnel, ships, and planes would have to be redeployed from other theaters to bring the Pacific naval and air fleets up to full capacity. None of those will be possible with a no-notice surprise attack by Beijing – and that vulnerability will put the U.S. president in a real bind.

Crisis in the White House Situation Room

The instant the first report reaches the Situation Room, the White House will assemble a crisis response team of senior advisors to begin analyzing the situation and debating potential responses. Some will suggest the president order immediate long-range missile attacks against Chinese invasion air and naval forces in an attempt to aid the defenders.

Others may advocate hitting the Chinese bases supporting the invasion. China will likely warn Biden that any attack on China-proper will result in missile strikes on American cities with conventional warheads (still very lethal). As Mike Sweeny recently wrote for Defense Priorities, such attacks against targets on the Chinese mainland will inflame the Chinese domestic audience against the United States in increase the pressure for a nuclear response. The risk of a war between Washington and Beijing escalating to nuclear is higher than many understand.

But the president will face enormous pressures to act militarily in the face of Chinese aggression. Taiwanese officials will certainly be pleading for the U.S. to intervene. Those in the United States who are already China hawks will almost certainly advocate “limited” military retaliation. They will argue that Washington cannot stand passively by while China swallows a leading democratic country in Asia. To refuse to act would be tantamount to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous appeasement at Munich and encourage China to try and conquer other nations militarily.

In all fairness, such concerns would not be without merit. But Biden’s ability to respond militarily would be far more limited than would be commonly understood. If Congress declared war on China or gave Biden authority to launch a military strike, the best he could do would be to unleash a relatively few cruise missiles and order some long-range bombing sorties from regional bases. Those would have some impact but be insufficient to stop China’s invasion.

“China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific.”

Congressional Research Service analysis

To engage in sustained operations in support of Taiwan’s defenses, it would take the U.S. Navy and Air Force months to properly enter the war theater. Trying to rush our military into a fight as soon as it can reach Taiwan would be near suicidal, as we would be arriving to the fight in sub-optimal condition, not fully resourced – and would face the full brunt of the Chinese air and naval forces (which are about double the size of the U.S. Pacific fleets).

As importantly, PRC air and naval forces have long had existing plans to fight a U.S. force sent to aid Taiwan and have conducted countless computer simulations and field exercises. We would be outnumbered, out-prepared, and out-gunned while fighting a motivated enemy engaged in what it considers an existential battle. Recent U.S.-based computer simulations reach similar conclusions.

Our Navy “gets its ass handed to it” in one scenario examining a fight against China over Taiwan and the Air Force “is going to lose fast.” In short, if Biden rashly sends the military to Taiwan’s defense, he could be sending us to our greatest naval defeat in our history. If the president’s military advisers convince him to attack military targets on the mainland, the results could be mushroom clouds over U.S. cities. Fortunately, however, there are superior options for Biden to choose that don’t involve dead Americans.

Preserving U.S. Military Power, Maintaining Security and Freedom

If China bull-headedly turns to violence to take Taiwan by force, the U.S. Government’s overriding priority will be to safeguard American security, freedom, and prosperity. If Biden resists the temptation to respond immediately, he can dramatically shift the balance of power back in America’s favor by adopting realistic and attainable diplomatic and military strategy that features isolating, resisting, and containing China.

If China is foolish enough to gamble its future by attacking Taiwan – and America is smart enough to stay out of the war – the PRC will be severely weakened from its current status. The United States has, for some time, championed Taipei building a defensive fortress that would make any Chinese attempt to invade prohibitively expensive. If anything, we should encourage Taiwan to expand further their defenses.

Even if China were successful in catching Taiwan unprepared, the surprise would not be complete, and Taipei would still have the ability to launch retaliatory strikes against the Chinese. Unlike the United States, Taiwan would have no incentive to resist attacking mainland targets and would attack mainland airfields, naval bases, rocket and missile launch sites, and Chinese defense industry targets.

They would also successfully sink some Chinese warships, knock out some fighter jets, and destroy thousands of their troops. The net result of even a successful attack would gouge the PLA, severely weakening their ability to wage war if Taiwan somehow held out and prevented an island takeover, the PLA would be set back decades and the PRC itself at risk of falling internally. In either event, America’s advantage over China would be significantly increased, our ability to protect U.S. interests global continue to be unmatched, and our people continue in complete freedom.

Moreover, we would then have decades to increase our defenses from Guam to Hawaii to the West Coast – should that be deemed necessary – to ensure China could never, even decades into the future, successfully mount a cross-Pacific attack.

In sum, by staying out of a China vs. Taiwan war, not only would we maintain our current strength, our national security would be stronger. Conversely, if we foolishly insert ourselves into their fight, we will suffer severe damage to our Armed Forces at a minimum, placing our national security around the world at higher risk in a worst-case, American cities could smolder in radioactive waste for years to come.

No matter how one calculates it, fighting China over Taiwan would harm American interests and security without even holding the potential for benefit. We must resist the temptation to act on the presumption that we can always choose to fight because we will always win. The future of our country might hinge on getting this right.


'Take the Oil'

Trump's pullout of Americans from Syria following his deal with Erdoğan was short-lived. U.S. troops eventually moved back in, including to areas near the Turkish border now guarded by the Russians. Trump repeatedly claimed that their mission was to "take the oil" or guard the "oil region."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and other hawks had used the promise of oil profits to sell Trump on their plans to keep U.S. forces in the region, according to Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which lobbies for the Syrian opposition in Washington.

"If you want to feed the baby medicine, you put the medicine in candy or something. That's what happened with the oil," Moustafa told me in November 2019. "It's like, 'Oh, you want to take the oil? Yeah, take the oil. We've got to take the oil.' So that ended up becoming the reason that he would keep anyone there."

The actual oil in the region is not worth much. Syrian petroleum production was falling even before the civil war, and the Islamic State at its peak only made about $1.5 million per day from Deir al-Zor's wells.

But its location is important. Deir al-Zor lies right along the line of contact between the SDF and the Assad regime. By holding that "oil region" as well as the U.S. base at Al-Tanf, U.S. forces can surround Iran's military supply lines on two different sides. This makes Iranian forces in Syria vulnerable to an attack by U.S. forces or allies.

Assad is also sensitive about the oil, as his regime has had trouble meeting its people's fuel needs. Russian mercenaries attacked the SDF on Assad's behalf in February 2018 to try (unsuccessfully) to take the oil fields in Deir al-Zor.

To make matters more complicated, foreign companies are forbidden from dealing with the oil under European and U.S. economic sanctions. So the Syrian Kurdish oil ministry has been forced to rely on smugglers, whose leaky storage tanks and backyard refineries have become a serious threat to public health.

The situation looked as if it could change in April 2020, when the U.S. Treasury Department issued a special sanctions exemption to a little-known company called Delta Crescent Energy. Jeffrey and Rayburn then met with politicians in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan to discuss opening a route for Delta Crescent Energy to export the oil, The New Republic later reported.

Graham and Pompeo finally went public with those discussions during a Senate hearing in July 2020. "I talked to General Mazloum yesterday, with the SDF," Graham said. "Apparently they've signed a deal with an American oil company to modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria. Are you supportive of that?"

"We are," Pompeo responded. "The deal took a little longer, senator, than we had hoped, and now we're in implementation."

Delta Crescent Energy partner James Cain told Politico that the company's goal was "to get the production back up to where it was before the civil war and sanctions." But there was a problem: The Syrian Kurds, who control that land, were not completely on board. Ahed Al Hendi, a Syrian-American activist who works with the SDF, called Pompeo's announcement premature. Abed Hamed al-Mehbash, the Arab co-chairman of the SDF's civilian administration, told local media only that he planned to "study requests by many Russian and American companies."

Mazloum Abdi, the Kurdish general, later confirmed to Al-Monitor that Delta Crescent Energy was involved in northeastern Syria but said that talks were "advancing slowly."

The SDF knew that announcing an oil deal with America—and no one else—would be provocative. Indeed, it has been. Assad's foreign ministry quickly denounced the agreement as a scheme to "steal Syria's oil" and "an assault against Syria's sovereignty."

In August 2020, an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at a U.S.-controlled oil field in Syria. That same week, pro-Assad gunmen got into a shootout with U.S. troops at a checkpoint in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.

The week after, a Russian armored truck rammed into a U.S. humvee, injuring at least four Americans. Russian and U.S. troops in Syria had seen tense encounters with each other before, but this was the first violent clash between the two armies.

Russia and Iran did not tie the clashes directly to the oil deal, but the message was clear: A more entrenched U.S. presence in Syria would meet harder resistance.

According to a September 2020 report by Eva Kahan at the Institute for the Study of War, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have also been secretly backing Arab insurgents against the SDF in Deir al-Zor. Russia hopes to use the instability "to compel senior SDF leadership to accept a new deal in Syria that constrains U.S. forces or ejects them," Kahan wrote. In other words, the continued U.S. presence has induced Russia to play good-cop, bad-cop with the Kurds.

Several local leaders have already died in mysterious shootings. In response to the violence, U.S. forces have beefed up their presence in Syria, deploying Bradley Fighting Vehicles and advanced radar systems in September.

One bad decision after another has led to the current situation. The failed U.S. effort to take out Assad helped open the space for the Islamic State, which was only defeated when the U.S. pivoted to supporting Kurdish forces. Instead of allowing the Kurds to consolidate their gains and negotiate with Assad, the U.S. tried to use them as proxies against Assad and to make a quick buck from their oil. The situation has angered both Turkey and Assad's allies, causing them to set aside their differences and turn their sights on pushing out the U.S. presence.

National security officials kept pushing grandiose goals even as U.S. leverage crumbled away. "This isn't a quagmire," Jeffrey said at a May 2020 event at the Hudson Institute. "My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians." He later praised "the stalemate we've put together" as "a step forward" in the region.

As Rayburn explained at a June 2020 event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Trump officials think they can use sanctions to "deny the [Assad] regime access to international financial markets until a political solution can be reached." Pro-Assad and opposition negotiators have been meeting in Geneva to work on a new Syrian constitution, although the SDF and the Kurds have never been included in those talks.

But Ford—the former U.S. envoy who learned the hard way that Iran and Russia were unlikely to abandon their interests in Syria—is skeptical that U.S. economic sanctions will be enough to pressure Assad into accepting anything. "I think we are trying to do something with tools that will not deliver the results we want," he says. "They can sanction the hell out of the Assad government. He doesn't give a shit about his people!"

Syrians have faced massive inflation, fuel shortages, and breadlines over the past few months, in addition to a spiralling coronavirus crisis. (A banking crisis in nearby Lebanon is partially to blame for their woes.) But the U.S. is unlikely to lift the economic pressure: Congress passed even more sanctions aimed at deterring foreign reconstruction investment under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019.

The Biden administration may not change other aspects of the strategy, either.

Antony Blinken, the president-elect's nominee for secretary of state, gave a speech to the Meridian Group in May 2020 outlining his approach toward Syria. "Any of us—and I start with myself—who had any responsibility for our Syria policy in the last administration has to acknowledge that we failed," he said. "We failed to prevent horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people, internally in Syria and of course externally as refugees. It's something that I will take with me for the rest of my days."

And yet his prescription was more of the same.

Blinken claimed that the United States still has "points of leverage," including troops on the ground near oil-rich regions and the ability to marshall resources for Syria's reconstruction, that could lead to better outcomes next time around. He argued that U.S. leaders should demand "some kind of political transition that reflects the desires of the Syrian people" and said that it was "virtually impossible" to imagine normalizing relations with Assad's government.

Hof, another Obama administration alum, believes that the United States can turn the SDF-held zone into "an attractive alternative to Assad" for all Syrians. U.S. diplomats could push for this new government to take over Syria's seat at the United Nations while U.S. forces stay to carry out a "stabilization" mission and "keep the Iranians and the regime and the Russians out." ("We also have the ability to respond militarily to the regime with great effect and force if it resumes a program of mass civilian homicide," Hof says. "We can do a lot of damage with cruise missiles.")

But Ford wants America to focus on the "only really useful things we can do" at this point: to help refugees fleeing the civil war and to "negotiate with the Russians some kind of deal" that would allow the Kurds to govern themselves in peace.

Ford has recently taken a liking to the writing of Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War who later became a critic of the war effort. "Vietnam was a problem that ultimately we could not fix," Ford says. "That's kind of where I'm at with Syria right now."

Matthew Petti is a research assistant at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and 2021–22 Fulbright fellow.


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Shamulzayi, Mizan, Obe, Qush Tepa, Dila Wa Khushamand, Dehyak, Khuwaja Omari, and Bilchiragh districts might not mean much to you, but these are just some of the recent wins for the ANDSF towards their final victory. A combat experienced Afghan officer who understands current Afghan military policy says, “The ANDSF is firmly under the control of the Afghan government. They stand ready to continue to secure the nation against all threats. It is time for the Taliban to accept the olive branch that the Afghan government is offering.” The Afghan military and police are taking on corruption nationally, and with biometric capabilities, finding the last of the “ghost soldiers.” There are many strong ANDSF leaders throughout the ranks selecting the best leaders for advancement signals professionalism.

This has always been the Afghan’s war to win. The goal since the ANDSF formed was to allow them space to grow capable and professional. The ANDSF is now that force, and each day the NATO coalition removes more support. The Taliban have admitted they cannot win and peace talks are underway. Be patient peace talks on the Korean Peninsula are still ongoing.

Focus should be on ANDSF long-term support. Cease-fires to reduce civilian casualties are an important next step for trust building, setting up direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. It is now possibly time to economically sanction specific Pakistani citizens supporting Taliban militants.

The war in Afghanistan — just like all wars — is ugly, often cruel, and very unpredictable. Every leader that takes the helm politically or militarily will develop metrics. The multiple presidents and generals involved in this long war has made assessing the war very confusing. I feel confused some days.

Morale is THE vital metric in every war today the ANDSF have it and the Taliban do not. I see no indications that the ANDSF will lose the ability to operate day or night offensively 365 days a year.

The ANDSF have always been the key to victory. Whether NATO can claim Afghanistan as “a win” is irrelevant. A durable peace that protects the Afghan republic and human rights for all spells victory. Right now, the Afghan people through their ANDSF champions, are winning and the Taliban and Pakistan know it I thought you should, too

Jason Criss Howk is a retired military officer that has worked almost exclusively on Afghanistan since 2002. He has advised numerous generals, diplomats, and Afghan government leaders over the years. He educates and speaks about religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and national security issues. @jason_c_howk


How damaging was it?

The war devastated Korea. Historians said that between three million and four million people were killed, although firm figures have never been produced, particularly by the North Korean government. As many as 70 percent of the dead may have been civilians.

Destruction was particularly acute in the North, which was subjected to years of American bombing, including with napalm. Roughly 25 percent of its prewar population was killed, Professor Cumings said, and many of the survivors lived underground by the war’s end.

“North Korea was flattened,” he said. “The North Koreans see the American bombing as a Holocaust, and every child is taught about it.”

Damage was also widespread in South Korea, where Seoul changed hands four times. But most combat took place in the northern or central parts of the peninsula around the current Demilitarized Zone, which divides the countries, Professor Cumings said.


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The world has now endured upheaval by a pandemic for a full year, and the aftershocks will continue long after most people finally receive the vaccine to Covid-19. Thus, you may say, this is no time to frighten the horses by highlighting another peril. However, just as nothing says that if tragedy strikes a family once, it cannot do so again — ask the Kennedys — so fate can be mean on mercy, when it comes to epochal threats.

The Council for Foreign Relations has published a new report by two respected public servants, which urges the imminence of the risk of conflict between China and U.S. over Taiwan. That territory, 90 miles off China’s coast and inhabited by 24 million people, is not a nation, but for decades has been an unofficial American protectorate.

𠇍uring 2020,” write Robert D. Blackwill and Philip Zelikow, “we came to believe that a crisis was building over Taiwan and that it was becoming the most dangerous flashpoint in the world for a possible war that involved the U.S., China and probably other major powers … The horrendous global consequences … should preoccupy the Biden team, beginning with the president.”

The White House seems to agree. President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan — the first summit of the so-called Quad since 2017. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are about to visit Japan and South Korea next week in Alaska, Blinken will have the administration’s first face-to-face talks with the Chinese. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer conducted one of the U.S. Navy’s routine exercises to reassert its right of passage through the Taiwan Strait.      

The new analysis from Blackwill, who has held a bevy of high government positions including deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, and Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, comes none too late. “Taiwan,” they write, “is one of the most successful societies on Earth.” Yet few Americans likely understand why the U.S. would risk war with China to protect it.

No matter that it might be possible to prevent such a showdown from going nuclear, or even from becoming a general conflict: The economic fallout would be horrendous. A clash between China and the West would almost certainly provoke cyberattacks, even if nobody fires guns.

A major cyberattack on the U.S. financial system could cost 2.5 times daily gross domestic product, according to the New York Federal Reserve. A cyber-induced blackout affecting just 15 U.S. states might cost up to $1 trillion in damage, not to mention many deaths resulting from disruption to health care, traffic and industry, suggests a projection by Cambridge University and Lloyds.

Coincidentally, just before the council’s study was published, I received an email from an Australian strategy guru who asked: “How do you rate the chances of getting through this decade without a Taiwan crisis?” He himself thought: poor.

A few years ago, during a period in which I frequently visited China, I was struck by how often ordinary Chinese raised the Taiwan issue. Their concern reflected years of state propagandizing. Westerners should understand that when President Xi Jinping rattles sabers, as he does with increasing frequency, he commands genuine popular support. Taiwan evokes the sort of sentiment among his people that Cuba did among Americans 60 years ago — and look where that story nearly ended.  

Xi said two years ago that China would do its utmost to achieve peaceful reunification. However he added, “We do not renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.” Blackwill and Zelikow take him at his word:

China is now in a prewar tempo of political and military preparations. We do not mean that we know that China is about to embark on a war. We simply observe that the Chinese government is taking actions that a country would do if it were moving into a prewar mode. Politically, it is preparing and conditioning its population for the possibility of an armed conflict.

Xi may not yet have decided whether to trigger drastic action towards Taiwan. But China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, and in disputes with India and Japan, shows a high tolerance for risk.

There are legitimate fears that China will seek to exploit perceived Western weakness and disarray to foreclose the Taiwan dispute on its own terms. After four years of name-calling by President Donald Trump, the Biden administration needs a considered strategy toward Beijing, which America’s allies have long called for. 

For more than four decades, the U.S. has sustained a policy of strategic ambiguity about Taiwan. Washington hasn’t provoked Beijing by challenging the One China principle accepted by President Richard Nixon half a century ago. Even Trump, speaking in August 2020, declined explicitly to commit U.S. forces to defend the island if it was attacked, saying only, 𠇌hina knows what I’m going to do.”

In perhaps the most important passage of the Council on Foreign Relations report, the authors caution against an explicit U.S. pledge to commit its own forces in the event of a Chinese invasion. Instead, they urge assistance for the Taiwanese to strengthen their own defenses, which are run down. Taipei’s current capabilities do not offer a credible deterrent to a surprise assault from the mainland. Among other things, such assistance would include supplying a network of sensors and missiles capable of providing a tripwire, time-buying defense, similar to what the West prepared for Berlin in the Cold War.

Many in the Taipei leadership assume they can rely on a swift and overwhelming U.S. military response to Chinese aggression. Yet a former chief of staff of the island’s military, Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, has correctly challenged this strategy, saying: 𠇊ll I can hear is that the United States will intervene. What reason is there to believe that the United States will sacrifice the lives of its own children to defend Taiwan? My best bet is my own strength, to stop people from bullying me.”

It is a recurring weakness of U.S. foreign policy to determine courses for other nations, often with little or no consultation with allies. Through two decades of decision-making in Indochina, for instance, no Vietnamese leader was invited to the key Washington meetings. The Council on Foreign Relations study argues that Taiwan’s independence can be protected only by a diplomatic and military strategy that has commitments from Australia, South Korea and, above all, Japan. The Australians need no awakening: They are suffering diplomatic abuse and Chinese harassment following their fierce criticism of Beijing’s recent behavior.

The Japanese are moving slowly away from their post-World War II rejection of rearmament. They recognize a need to be capable of confronting, or at least deterring, Chinese naval and military initiatives, not least against the disputed Senkaku Islands. Blackwill and Zelikow write, “We believe Japan would regard a violent Chinese takeover of Taiwan as a threat to the vital interests of Japan, even to its future independence and existence.”

It seems significant, and welcome, that Biden’s first important foreign visitor to the White House is reportedly to be Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga. It will be surprising if Taiwan is not prominent on the agenda for their meeting, which may take place next month. 

Taiwan is excluded from many international organizations, denied observer status by the World Health Organization and membership of the criminal-information exchange Interpol, because such bodies are unwilling to cause friction with Beijing. The council report urges the U.S. to conclude a bilateral trade agreement with Taipei, and also integrate it into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. abandoned under the Trump administration.

A reader of the Blackwill-Zelikow report who is not Taiwanese or American may well notice one big omission from its 65 alarming pages. Nowhere do the authors stress an issue that looms large in the eyes of the rest of the world: the possible validity of Chinese claims.

For two centuries, Taiwan was Chinese-ruled, until seized by Japan in 1895 as part of its wider Asian land grab. In 1945, when the Japanese were dispossessed, Washington did not hesitate to deliver Formosa, as it was then known, to China’s Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, America’s foremost Asian client.  

In 1949, when Chiang suffered defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong in China’s civil war, the generalissimo retired to Formosa with his remaining supporters, and made it a personal fiefdom. He sustained the myth of his own legitimacy as president of all China, solely thanks to the might of the U.S. Navy, which made it impossible for Beijing’s forces to unseat him. Until his death in 1975, Chiang and his Kuomintang Party ruled Taiwan as a dictatorship, harshly regulated by martial law.

Yet in 1972, Nixon visited China, and seven years later the U.S. belatedly acknowledged the Chinese Communist Party as the legitimate government. Ever since, the U.S. has been formally committed to the “One China” policy, while continuing to assert the minority right of the Taiwanese to autonomy.

Taiwan’s martial law was abolished in 1987. For the past quarter of a century, it has been a vibrant democracy. It endorses religious diversity, and behaves as a responsible international actor. Its technological achievements are remarkable, especially in the field of chip manufacture, in which it is a decade ahead of China.

The question today is whether the human rights of the Taiwanese and the economic triumph of their society can be sustained against Xi’s impatience to assert control. 

Almost three decades ago, China and Britain signed a “one nation, two systems” treaty, establishing terms for the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Beijing. Optimists argued that it would suit the mainland to govern the former British colony with a light touch — that the treaty terms would be respected, if only to serve Chinese economic interests. This hope has been dashed. Beijing has crushed freedoms and Hong Kong’s treaty right to semi-autonomy.  

The people of Taiwan have taken heed — indeed, they are appalled. They want friendly relations with the mainland, because of the close cultural bond, as well as their own self-preservation. Xi’s recent record, however, gives the clearest warning that if Taiwan becomes once more subject to Beijing, its inhabitants will be governed as cruelly as the rest of China’s 1.4 billion people.

Can the wishes and human rights of the Taiwanese people prevail over the power and iron will of the new China? Blackwill and Zelikow have no doubt that while Washington should avoid direct provocations, it should also seek to create a military and political reality that raises the price of an enforced mainland takeover too high to be acceptable even to Xi.

They cite the precedent of Czechoslovakia, which Britain and France permitted Hitler to seize by installments between October 1938 and March 1939, allegedly to assert the rights of the country’s ethnic German minority. The lesson Hitler took home from the infamous deal struck at Munich was that aggression paid a few months later, he invaded Poland. Britain and France, realizing that his demands were insatiable, then belatedly declared war.

The authors argue that, just as 1938 Czechoslovakia’s fate was sealed by Britain’s lack of will to fight for it, so Taiwan’s future now depends upon American strength and consistency of purpose. I am unconvinced, as a historian, by this comparison. The relationship between China and Taiwan is not analogous with that between Germany and Czechoslovakia. The latter was an independent country, and its majority had little social and cultural affinity with its conquerors. The U.S. may find it hard to persuade the rest of the world to stay in town for a High Noon with Beijing, unspeakably ugly though a Beijing takeover of Taiwan would be.

Moreover, the circumstances created by the pandemic and America’s profound political divisions make it hard, perhaps impossible, for the Biden administration to focus with conviction on foreign policy. The hardest part of the council report’s recommendations to fulfil would be re-arming Taiwan without precipitating a violent Chinese response.

Diplomatic dialogue between Washington and Beijing has almost broken down, not least because China’s representatives have become so rude and aggressive, apparently uninterested in compromises. There is no hope of a grand bargain between the two sides, but they need to get talking again, if only to clarify positions.

The best chance of deflecting a Chinese assault is surely not military. Even if the White House summoned the will to commit U.S. forces against Chinese aggression, they might not prevail in Xi’s backyard. The goal should be deterrence, with a focus on economic incentives for improved Chinese relations with the U.S. A forcible occupation of Taiwan would incur a massive cost to all parties.

Unfortunately, recent history — the oppression of Uighur Muslims in Western China, for example —suggests that Xi is willing to bear economic pain, and to shrug off international abuse, in order to assert and extend Chinese power. The world will be fortunate to escape a Taiwan showdown. Whether or not we accept Blackwill and Zelikow’s prescriptions, they are right that the U.S. needs urgently to dust off its options to meet a looming threat.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.


Here’s what would happen in a war between North and South Korea

These days, it seems like countries don’t invade each other like they used to. It just seems like they’d rather do small, covert raids or just outright overthrow a hostile government.

Countries do still invade one another. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006. Israel invaded Lebanon that same year. America invaded Iraq because… well, just because. But the world’s most recent invasions weren’t really conducted with the idea of actually annexing territory.

Okay, everyone except this guy’s invasions.

Still, there are plenty of powder kegs out there: India vs. Pakistan, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, or China vs. all of its neighbors. And then there’s the Korean Peninsula – the most volatile country vs. country situation in the world.

After almost 70 years of animosity, a constant state of war (there was never a real end of the war, only an armistice… and North Korea pulled out of that in 2013), and the continued acts of violence between the two, here’s a situation that could blow up at any time.

It’s actually that threat of widespread mutual destruction that keeps the conflict from boiling over. The 1950-1953 Korean War was a disaster for both sides, and that fact is largely what drives North Korean military policy. It’s what keeps the people supporting the regime: animosity toward the U.S. and South Korea.

North Koreans either remember the war firsthand or through the stories from their grandparents. Fighting between North and South Korean forces was particularly brutal and as a result, there is no reason to believe either side would pull punches today.

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.

Both countries have significant military power. South Korea has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with 3.5 million troops. North Korea has 5 million troops with another 5 million who can fight in a protracted war. The North Korean Songun policy means the military comes first in terms of food, fuel, and other materials before any are given to the population at large. Mandatory conscription (for a 10-year enlistment) means that most North Koreans have some form of military experience.

The North also boasts 605 combat aircraft and 43 naval missile boats, but the (North) Korean People’s Air Force’s most numerous fighter is the subsonic MiG-21, which first debuted in 1953. Their latest model is the aging MiG-29, and it dates back to the 1970s. And they’re all armed with Vietnam War-era ordnance.

In terms of military technology, North Korea’s pales in comparison to the South. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

The South’s GDP is 50 times greater than the North’s and they spend almost five times as much as North Korea on defense. Since it can’t keep up in traditional combat arms, the North is beefing up its unconventional warfare capabilities, including chemical and nuclear weapons, along with the ballistic missiles to deliver them. It can’t deliver the weapons by air because their antiquated air forces would be easy pickings for the U.S. F-22 Raptor squadron on the Peninsula.

The North is also hampered in terms of alliances. During the Korean War, the Korean Communists were pushed all the way to the Yalu River. It was only after the Chinese intervened with massive manpower and materiel that the Communists were able to form any kind of counterattack. Chinese intervention for the North these days is questionable at best, given its extensive overseas economic ties.

In fact, it might even be in China’s best interest to invade North Korea itself, to give a buffer zone between China and a collapsed North Korean government or worse, U.S. troops right on the border.

Whereas South Korea maintains a tight alliance with the United States, who has 30,000 troops of their own stationed there, 3,800 in Japan, and 5,700 on Guam, along with significant air and naval forces in the region.

A North Korean attack on the South would give the north a slight advantage in surprise and initiative… for a few days. Allied forces will respond instantly, but the North will still have the initiative.

Retired Army General James Marks estimates they would have that initiative for four days at most. When the first war was launched across the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ wasn’t quite as defended as it is today. No one was expecting the attack and the bulk of U.S. forces had been withdrawn to Japan.

Today, an assault across the 38th parallel (the North-South border, along which the lines are divided) is tantamount to slow, grinding, probably explosive death.

South Korean fists aren’t the only things clenched here.

North Korea will open with artillery and rocket fire from positions on the North slopes of the mountains just across the border. The North has the world’s largest artillery force with 10,000 pieces in their arsenal. The bulk of these forces are at the border, with much of the rest around Pyongyang and near Nampo, the site of their electricity-producing dam.

It is likely that the South Korean capital of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, would be the first target and would be devastated in the opening salvos. With the artillery on the North side, hidden in the mountains, there would be little warning of an attack and U.S. and South Korean air forces would have trouble penetrating the North Korean air defenses.

Air operations would be tricky because the North keeps tight interlocking lines of antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missile systems. Pyongyang itself is a “fortress.” North Korean special operations forces would be inserted via submarines along both coasts and through tunnels dug under the DMZ (many have been found in previous years).

Latest reports suggest they would use special operations to deliver chemical attacks and dirty bombs in the South. They also have significant biological weapons facilities in the North that they tested on their own citizens.

The North would also activate sleeper agents in the South to direct missile and artillery fire. South Korean intelligence estimates up to 200,000 special operators are in the North Korean military, trained to fight Taliban-like insurgencies.

The U.S. air assets in the area will establish air superiority over the region, destroy air defenses, attempt to take out the artillery and missile batteries, and then destroy Northern command and control elements.

Allied airpower will target infrastructure like bridges and roads, especially the unification highway linking the capital at Pyongyang with the border, to keep Northern forces from being able to move effectively inside their own country. The U.S. would also make humanitarian air drops outside of major cities to draw noncombatants out of the cities and make targeting regime figures much easier.

After the conventional fighting, the question is if North Korea will use its nuclear weapons. It is estimated to have up to eight weapons and ballistic missile technology capable of reaching U.S. and South Korean forces in the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and all the way to Guam.

However, experts cannot confirm that the North has ever successfully used a warhead on any of its missiles. If the North does use its nuclear arsenal, nuclear retaliation from the U.S. isn’t a forgone conclusion, especially if U.S. forces have the opportunity to destroy most of the North’s nuclear weapons.

A recent Pentagon war game against the fictional country of “North Brownland,” a country whose dynastic family regime had nuclear weapons that had to be recovered during a regime collapse, found that U.S. troops didn’t fare well in retrieving those weapons. V-22 Osprey aircraft were cut off from the rest of the allied forces and surrounded by the enemy.

The result was the United States would have to fight through the countryside to the North’s estimated 100 nuclear-related sites. In all, it took the U.S. 46 days and 90,000 troops to secure those weapons.

In the end, the North – despite some early successes – would lose. They would be able to inflict massive devastation with conventional weapons in Seoul and near the border areas. The toll on civilians would likely be massive if they used their biological and chemical stockpiles, and even more so if they used the nuclear arsenal. Special forces would likely detonate their nukes in the border areas for fear of being caught trying to move South.

The U.S. would quickly establish air superiority while ground forces bypassed the heavily defended DMZ area. Once the artillery and missile batteries were taken out, the advanced technology, mobile armor, helicopter support, and airpower would quickly overwhelm the large infantry formations and their associated WWII-era tactics. The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.

The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.

The U.S. and South Korean governments might want to just keep the North at bay instead of overrunning the government completely. A 2013 RAND Corporation research paper estimated the cost of unification to be upwards of $2 trillion dollars. This is not only to pay for the

This is not only to pay for the war but for food for the population and the restoration of all the infrastructure the Kim regime neglected over the past sixty-plus years. Gen. Marks believes the North and South will continue to only use short, contained attacks on each other, making a full-scale war unlikely.


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Beached and burning after being hit by Japanese bombs and torpedoes the Nevada would be rebuilt, modernized serving as a fire-support ship in the invasions of Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. (National Archives)

Lieutenant Lawrence Ruff, USS Nevada‘s communications officer, rose early that Sunday. He had turned in after the ship’s movie the night before, planning to attend church services on the hospital ship Solace. Since his transfer to Nevada, he had lived on board as a “geographical bachelor,'” leaving his wife back on the West Coast. They had both decided that life in the islands, while idyllic, was too uncertain and potentially dangerous for a family household. Emerging on deck, Ruff stepped into another day in paradise. High clouds lingered over the Koolau Mountain Range to the east, but the sun had already burned off most of the early morning overcast. Lieutenant Ruff joined Father Drinnan in the boat headed for Solace. Chugging in leisurely fashion across Pearl Harbor, the launch deposited the two officers at Solace‘s accommodation ladder shortly before 7 a.m. Ruff waited in the officers’ lounge while Father Drinnan assisted in the preparation for services.

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), had most of his ships in port that Sunday. While his aircraft carriers were at sea delivering planes to some of America’s outlying Pacific islands, he felt it would be prudent to keep his remaining ships under the protective cover of land-based aircraft. Nests of destroyers bobbed together, tethered to mooring buoys about the harbor. The larger cruisers and auxiliaries rode alone or occupied the limited berthing space at the naval station. The heart of the fleet, seven battleships, rode at their moorings east of Ford Island. An eighth battleship, Pennsylvania, rested on blocks in dry dock No. 1.

While the smaller ships swayed gently in the wind, the broad-beamed, immense battleships were unaffected by the lapping water. In the atmosphere of rising tensions with Japan, Admiral Kimmel wanted to keep his fleet concentrated for any eventuality. For the officers and men, Sunday in port meant holiday routine, with liberty for most of the men and reduced work schedules for those standing watch. As the tropical heat rose and the clouds retreated, December 7, 1941, promised to be an excellent day for relaxation.

Nevada occupied berth Fox 8 alone at the northeast end of the line of battleships. At 583 feet long and 29,000 tons, Nevada and its sister ship Oklahoma were the smallest and oldest. Nevertheless, each possessed a powerful main battery of 10 14-inch guns. Twelve five-inch guns, four six-pounder antiaircraft guns and eight .50-caliber machine guns provided antiaircraft protection. Six Bureau Express oil-fired boilers powered a pair of Parsons turbines generating 25,000 shaft horsepower for a top speed of 20.5 knots.

While Lieutenant Ruff waited for services to start, the reveille watch on Nevada polished brass, piped away breakfast and woke the forenoon watch. The assistant quartermaster of the watch woke Ensign Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., the forenoon officer of the deck, at 7 a.m. Taussig was the junior gunnery officer in charge of the starboard antiaircraft batteries. He did not have to relieve the watch until 7:45 and had ample time to dress and eat breakfast.

Ensign Taussig was descended from a proud naval family. His father and namesake had led the first American warships to Europe in World War I. Destroyer Squadron 8’s six ships had barely arrived in Ireland following a rough North Atlantic passage when British Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly asked when they would be available. Commander Taussig answered confidently, “We are ready now, sir.” Truly a fine example for the young Taussig to live up to.

Taussig relieved the watch promptly at 7:45. His first duty of the day was to execute colors at 8 a.m. A 23-member band and color guard, with proper holiday colors for Sunday, stood ready. Taussig had to precisely follow the lead of the senior officer present afloat, Rear Admiral William R. Furlong on the minesweeper Oglala. At the proper signal, they would raise the national ensign aft and the blue, white-starred jack forward and play the national anthem, simultaneously. Taussig was determined to execute this ceremony in precise military fashion. The rest of the watch was easy in comparison. First call to colors sounded at 7:55. Few on deck noticed the planes buzzing around the harbor. The watch piped colors at 8 a.m., the flags went up and the band played. Only what they thought to be an inconsiderate Army aviator roaring low over Battleship Row marred the ceremony.

But this was no ill-timed Army drill. At 7:40 a.m. Japanese naval aircraft, led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, approached Kahuku Point, the northernmost tip of the island of Oahu. There, the main force broke into smaller attack groups, each proceeding to its primary target. Fuchida, in a Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber, accompanied the high-level bombers. Nevada was his plane’s target. Torpedo bombers, dive-bombers and high-level bombers formed up northwest of Kaena Point at 7:50. Five minutes later, the first bombs began to fall on both ships and Oahu’s shore installations. Midway through the “Star-Spangled Banner” on Nevada, the first bomb exploded on Ford Island’s seaplane ramp.

Hard on the heels of the first blast came several more. A torpedo struck USS Arizona, just ahead of Nevada. As the B5N torpedo bomber (later given the Allied code name of Kate) pulled up over Nevada, its rear gunner sprayed the fantail, shredding the flag but, amazingly, missing the tight ranks of bandsmen. Through shock, discipline or habit, the band members finished the anthem before rushing to their battle stations. Ships’ klaxons sounded all over the harbor, mixed with the wail of air-raid sirens from the nearby airfields. Smoke from fires and spray from near-misses obscured the sights of gunners bringing their mounts into action.

Ensign Taussig rushed through the press of men to his battle station in the starboard antiaircraft director. From there, he took charge of Nevada‘s defensive fire. The regularly manned fore and aft .50-caliber machine guns chattered, and a single five-inch gun barked. Taussig plugged his sound-powered phones into the net, linking him with the other antiaircraft stations. He found many of them already on the line. One five-inch mount had been manned at the beginning of the raid for its daily systems check. Taussig calmly passed orders while guiding his director from target to target, but the system was inadequate to handle so many attackers. Surprised men scrambled up from below, struggling into their clothes. Shortly after 8 o’clock, most of the guns were manned and firing but lacked good overall coordination. Despite the confusion, Nevada‘s gunners had already claimed a couple of enemy planes shot down, including a torpedo bomber off the port quarter. Marine Private Peyton McDaniel paused to watch a torpedo bear down on the ship. Though he expected it to break the ship in two, Nevada only shuddered and listed somewhat to port.

Then a projectile crashed into Taussig’s gun director, passed through his thigh and smashed the ballistics computer. In shock, the ensign felt no pain. His leg was shattered, and his left foot was lodged up under his armpit. Taussig commented absently, “That’s a hell of a place for a foot to be.”

Ignoring his injury and refusing evacuation, Taussig tried to regain control of the gun mounts. While the guns could still fire in local control, Taussig knew that they would be much more effective in directed mode. Most of the connections between his director and the starboard guns were cut, but the wounded ensign continued to give visual spotting reports over his sound-powered phones.

Far above, Commander Fuchida guided his bombers down Battleship Row. Although antiaircraft fire increased steadily, most of the shells burst well below his planes. The gunfire and lingering high clouds frustrated the attackers, and Fuchida’s bombardier reported that he could not see Nevada. Other planes reported similar difficulties, though some managed to drop their bombs. With resistance still largely ineffective, Fuchida did not want to rush the attacks, so he led his charges in a wide circle over Honolulu to make another run. This took only a few minutes, but on the second pass the northern end of Battleship Row was still obscured, this time by the blaze and thick, oily smoke from Arizona. Despairing of a clear shot at Nevada, Fuchida directed his pilot to try for another ship.

Lieutenant Ruff remembered saying to himself, “Uh oh, some fool pilot has gone wild,” as he heard the first explosion from Solace. A short time later, he heard a roar and rushed to the starboard porthole in time to see Arizona erupt in a ball of flame. Leaving Father Drinnan behind, he commandeered one of Solace‘s launches, directing the coxswain back to Nevada. The small boat labored across the smoky harbor, strafed but unhit. Shouting above the din, Ruff guided the coxswain under Nevada‘s stern for protection from low-flying attackers. Moments later, he scrambled up the accommodation ladder to the quarterdeck.

Ruff found himself in the midst of a full-blown shooting war. Minutes after Arizona had been torpedoed, a speeding Kate launched one into Nevada, tearing a 45-by-30-foot gash in its bow. The gunners labored to maintain a high volume of fire, but the Japanese aircraft seemed to attack with impunity. Fuses set for too low an altitude caused five-inch shells to explode below many of the attackers. Lack of coordination reduced overall effectiveness. Ruff saw only a glimpse of this as he headed below to his general quarters station in radio central. On the way he passed Ensign “Pops” Jenkins at his damage control station near the galley, but they exchanged little more than a glance. Ruff trotted down the passageway, ducking through watertight doors. He reasoned that with Captain Francis Scanland and the executive officer ashore, Lt. Cmdr. Francis Thomas, the command duty officer, would need all the help he could get. Though unsure of Thomas’ location, Ruff realized that radio central would not play much of a role under the current circumstances. He changed direction and headed up to the navigation bridge. There, higher and more exposed, Ruff could feel the intense heat and smoke from Arizona.

Upon reaching the bridge, Ruff found Quartermaster Chief Robert Sedberry on station. When the attack began, Chief Sedberry, on his own initiative, had ordered engineering to prepare to get underway. Since Nevada always kept one boiler steaming, it could sortie when most of the other large ships were resting at “cold iron” and could not. Ruff joined Sedberry in preparing the bridge, laying out charts and identifying navigable landmarks for a run to sea. Admiral Furlong had already signaled the fleet to sortie as soon as possible. None of the larger ships had yet attempted to do so.

Establishing communications with Commander Thomas in Nevada‘s internal control station, deep in the bowels of the ship, Ruff detailed the conditions topside. He filled Thomas in on the sortie signal and his readiness on the bridge. Thomas had his hands full below, counterflooding to correct Nevada‘s port list, dispatching firefighting teams around the ship and supervising engineering’s preparations to get underway. Ruff suggested that Thomas handle things belowdecks while he handled topside. Battling damage and a shortage of manpower, Thomas readily agreed.

Time was running out for a sortie. A sheet of flames from Arizona rode a slick of fuel oil toward Nevada‘s bow. Despite the spirited defense organized by Taussig, assisted by Ensign T.H. Taylor in the port director, two or three bombs struck Nevada around 8:25. Inside the bridge, Lieutenant Ruff heard a faint voice calling, “Let me in, let me in.”

Ruff opened the hatch leading to the bridge wing but found no one. Returning puzzled, he heard the voice again. After casting about for the location of the voice, Ruff and Sedberry traced it to the deck. They lifted the deck gratings and opened the access hatch—and found Thomas, who had climbed the 80-foot access trunk from his control station. Mounting damage had convinced him that Nevada must attempt the sortie soon or be pounded under the water. Thomas had stabilized the ship’s damage to the best extent possible, so it was now or never. Ruff and Sedberry quickly briefed him, and within 15 minutes Nevada pulled away from Fox 8.

By sheer luck, Thomas timed his departure perfectly. Between 8:25 and 8:40 there was a lull between the first and second strikes. With steam to the engines and the steering tested, Thomas directed that Nevada get underway. Chief Boatswain Edwin Hill, led a few sailors to the moorings ashore to cast off the lines. Although hindered by Arizona‘s spreading fire, strafing planes and spent antiaircraft shells falling around them, Chief Hill and his party quickly freed Nevada. They then dove into the treacherous waters and swam back to the ship.

Thomas, Ruff and Sedberry now began the difficult maneuvers involved in getting the 29,000-ton battleship out of Pearl Harbor unassisted. As Ruff remembered, it usually took two hours to build steam in all boilers, and required several tugs, a civilian harbor pilot, the navigator and the captain to get underway. The three of them would attempt the channel passage alone, under attack, their ship damaged by both flooding and fires. Ruff found the prospect daunting. With Thomas conning, Ruff navigating and Sedberry manning the helm, Nevada eased back from her berth. Ruff aligned his landmarks on Ford Island and fed Thomas positions and recommended courses to steer.

As Nevada headed fair into the South Channel, Ruff gazed in shock at the destruction of Battleship Row. Arizona blazed fiercely, forcing Nevada‘s sailors manning the starboard antiaircraft batteries to shield the shells from the heat with their bodies. The deck crew still managed to throw a line to three sailors in the water. Wet and oily, they promptly joined the crew of the nearest five-inch battery. Several of Ruff’s U.S. Naval Academy classmates had been serving on Arizona, and he could only wonder if any had survived its destruction.

West Virginia came into sight next. It had taken several torpedo hits, and was settling into the mud on an even keel, thanks to rapid counterflooding. Oklahoma had turned turtle, trapping many sailors inside. Tennessee and Maryland were moored inboard and had escaped torpedo damage. Still, smoke rose from both of them. Finally, Nevada steamed past California, the flagship of the battle force. Flames surrounded it and it, too, was settling on an even keel.

Nevada cleared the end of Battleship Row just before 9 a.m. Ahead lay the dredge Turbine and its pipeline attached to Ford Island. Maneuvering through the narrow space between the dredge and 1010 Dock would be challenging on a normal day. Now time was running out the second wave of Japanese planes began to arrive in force. Attacks on Nevada intensified, and Chief Sedberry did “some real twisting and turning” to make Nevada a difficult target and avoid the dredge.

Planes destined for Pennsylvania dove on Nevada instead. If they could sink it, they could bottle up the South Channel or, better yet, the main channel off Hospital Point, for months. Nevada‘s gun crews threw up the stiffest barrage they could, but Aichi D3A1 dive-bombers scored numerous hits and near-misses.

Casualties mounted in the gun crews. Flying splinters raked the decks, and fires set off ready ammunition. Boatswain’s Mate A. Solar, who had taken charge of his mount until its officers arrived, fell to shrapnel. Seaman 1st Class W. F. Neundorf, gun captain of No. 6 gun, also died at his post. Most of the bombs struck forward, making a shambles of the forecastle. Ruff, Thomas and Sedberry hung on. “Their bombs jolted all Hell out of the ship,” Ruff remembered. “My legs were literally black and blue from being knocked around by the explosions.”

Still, the officers on the bridge hoped that they might make it to open water. Then, a signal from Vice Admiral W.S. Pye, the battle force commander, ordered Nevada not to exit the harbor because of reported enemy submarines. Committed to their present course and continuing to absorb heavy punishment, Thomas and Ruff decided to nose the ship into the mud off Hospital Point so that it would not be sunk in the channel. Hits to the forecastle had wrecked the anchor windlass and killed many in the deck crew, including Chief Hill, who was blown over the side. Once aground, securing the ship there might prove impossible.

Fortunately, Ruff could still talk to the boatswain’s mate standing by the stern anchor on the fantail. Fires raged around the conning tower, threatening to cut him off, so Ruff relayed the plan as quickly as possible. Heedless of the danger on the open fantail, the young sailor promised to wait for Ruff to wave his hat, the signal to let go the anchor. Passing out of the channel between buoy No. 24 and floating dry dock YFD-2, Ruff backed the engines full, then hastened to the bridge wing, waving his hat out over the side. With a clatter and a cloud of rust, the stern anchor plunged into the water and took hold. At 9:10, Nevada came to rest at Hospital Point.

Thomas then turned his full attention to damage control, while Ruff headed aft to assess conditions topside. Five minutes later, he met Captain Scanland boarding at the quarterdeck. The captain had left his home in Honolulu as the first bombs fell, fighting his way through the chaos in the streets to commandeer a launch and chase down his command.

With the second-wave attacks nearly spent, firefighting and flood control became paramount. Tugboats sent by Admiral Furlong arrived alongside, bringing their hoses into action against the fires that raged from stem to almost amidships. For a time, only the tugs could fight the fires because most of Nevada‘s fire mains had been ruptured. Thomas directed his damage-control parties to splice or patch the critical ones forward.

After directing Ruff to report Nevada‘s status to Admiral Kimmel, Scanland headed forward to find Thomas, and Ruff boarded the launch that had brought Scanland. As the coxswain picked his way through smoking debris, Ruff saw Arizona, still blazing as fiercely as when they had passed it half an hour before. California also burned steadily. Shaw, the destroyer perched in YFD-2, added to the pall. Its forward magazine had exploded shortly after Nevada had grounded. Finally, great columns of smoke billowed skyward from the major airfields surrounding Pearl. Even from lowly sea level, the destruction appeared complete.

Back on Nevada, as the attacks ceased, the gun crews joined in the battle to save the ship. Sweating, smoke-grimed sailors gradually gained the upper hand over the fires. Individually, officers and sailors secured their immediate areas. Ensign Taylor climbed down from his gun director to lead the firefighting on the port gun deck. Hindered by shattered eardrums, Taylor directed hose teams to spray red-hot ready ammunition boxes before they exploded.

Escape proved considerably more difficult for Taussig. His men finally convinced him to relinquish his post, where he had fought on despite his serious wounds. Now fires licked up and around the upper works, blocking the ladders to the starboard director. Eager sailors rigged a line to lower Taussig’s stretcher directly to the deck. The young ensign remained conscious and coherent as pharmacist’s mates worked to stabilize his injuries.

With no bow anchors to hold it fast, Nevada might still slide back and block the South Channel. At 10:35, with the damage situation under control, Scanland prepared to move Nevada to a safer haven well clear of the shipping channels. Two tugs pushed her stern around until its bow slid free, then accompanied it across the channel to Waipio Point, where it grounded itself stern first at 10:45. Nevada rested there until February 1942, when it was floated for repairs. Later, the ship returned to service.

Meanwhile, Ruff had arrived at CINCPAC headquarters to find a somber staff sorting out the details of the attack and grasping for some means of retaliation. Admiral Kimmel questioned Ruff personally, his calm demeanor barely masking the anguish he obviously felt. Ruff had hardly returned to Nevada when Scanland sent him back to report the grim initial damage assessment. At least one torpedo and five bombs had hit Nevada, mostly forward. Numerous near-misses had added to the hull damage. Engineering was flooded, salting the boilers and much of the steam piping. Though it had sortied, Nevada was now neither battle-worthy nor seaworthy. Some stubborn fires burned on and would not be completely extinguished until 6:30 p.m.

Ruff made several more trips between headquarters and Nevada. He acted as Captain Scanland’s pointman ashore, organizing necessary services for the ship and crew. Most important, the crew needed shelter and sustenance. The wounded received top priority, evacuating to Solace or the base hospital. Ensign Taussig was on one of the first boats. He would lose his left leg and spend the remainder of the war in the hospital.

With the ship in such bad shape, Ruff arranged shore billeting for the crew in the base’s open-air theater. Captain Scanland left a skeleton crew aboard to serve as a reflash watch and to perform critical repairs to keep the ship defensible. Thomas remained aboard, directing much of that work. In fact, Scanland’s after-action report offered high praise of Thomas, a naval reservist, not only for his skillful handling of the ship during the attack but also for his dogged repair efforts. Two days after the attack, Thomas was on the verge of collapse from almost continuous work with no sleep.

As darkness fell, Lieutenant Ruff bedded down with the crew at the theater. Exhausted, he could only gaze into the night sky, pondering the few short hours that had shattered this tropical paradise. Friends had died, Nevada lay aground, and the war he and his wife had feared was upon them with stormlike fury. Reeking, oily smoke hung over Pearl, and the glow of fires was still visible all around. In the darkness, the desperate day finally ended.

Author Mark J. Perry has conducted extensive research on the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath. For further reading, try: At Dawn We Slept, by Gordon W. Prange and Day of Infamy, by Walter Lord.

This article originally appeared in the January 󈨦 issue of World War II.