Articles

THIS IS THE ENEMY

Chinese soldiers in Korea fight like demons with makeshift weapons or none at all on two bowls of rice a day. But when they are captured they discover the lie in their own propaganda: UN troops don’t chop their prisoners up alive

PIERRE BERTON July 1 1951
Articles

THIS IS THE ENEMY

Chinese soldiers in Korea fight like demons with makeshift weapons or none at all on two bowls of rice a day. But when they are captured they discover the lie in their own propaganda: UN troops don’t chop their prisoners up alive

PIERRE BERTON July 1 1951

THIS IS THE ENEMY

Chinese soldiers in Korea fight like demons with makeshift weapons or none at all on two bowls of rice a day. But when they are captured they discover the lie in their own propaganda: UN troops don’t chop their prisoners up alive

PIERRE BERTON

MACLEAN S ARTICLE EDITOR

ARMY H.Q., KOREA

WHO IS the enemy and what is he like?

On Korea’s stubborn ridges this is a question often asked and seldom answered. To the infantry soldier, peeping from his foxhole, the enemy is often enough a featureless adversary on the opposite slope, living below the ground like a mole. Seldom in contemporary times has the fighting man known so little about the man he fights.

What sort of creature is this yellow man in the queer padded clothing who melts into the countryside with the skill of a chameleon, fights like a demon until he dies where he stands, and buries his dead on their backs, their faces exposed to the sky? Is he a rapist and a, looter, a wild Oriental animal scourging the land he captures —or a political intellectual who goes into battle with the phrases of Marx and Engels ringing in his ears?

Actually the Chinese private soldier is something far simpler. He is, in the main, a peasant, under thirty years, married with a wife and children back home whose picture he may carry in a thin canvas wallet. He has a rice paddy in his native village which he worries about, for he is not home to work it. He would prefer to be home working than slogging through Korea’s sticky clay, and like all soldiers he beefs continually about the length of the marches he has to endure.

He cannot read or write and he knows little about the world; the lectures he gets on politics often confuse him. His main concerns are not with the coming world revolution or with the imperialistic aggression of the blood-thirsty Wall Street bankers or even with the liberation of the Korean people, but with the simpler and more pressing business of getting two bowls of rice a day. But he is a disciplined soldier who does what he is told and he will, when ordered, stay in his slit trench and fight to the end, without flinching or changing expression.

He lives an austere and disciplined life, fraught with hardships which by Western standards would be intolerable. But he is used to hardship and, if he is eating, he is fairly content. The case histories of three Chinese Chong, a former Nationalist soldier; Li, a former Communist officer, and Wu, a young recruit—tell a good deal about the enemy we fight.

Chong is twenty-four years old and about the size of a healthy Canadian fourteenyear-old. His egg-shaped head has been cropped to a short bristle and his face is more brown than yellow. He has been a soldier for six years. The first, two years he spent in the Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek. Prisoners taken by the Communists were occasionally returned to the Nationalist forces and they invariably reported that they had been well treated, well fed, well rested and newly equipped. This ingenious propaganda point, plus Communist leaflets which promised to return surrendering Nationalist troops to their homes, persuaded Chong to desert Chiang’s army and give himself up.

Instead of being sent home he was put into the regular Communist army and sent to Manchuria. He was allowed to send one letter home to his father, a small merchant in Central China. A professional letter writer inscribed it for him, for Chong is illiterate. He got no answer and after crossing the Manchurian border he was not allowed to send or receive any more mail.

Chong found discipline tighter under the Communists. All contact with civilians was prohibited. Raping or looting was punishable by death. The troops did not go into the cities. As in the Nationalist army, leave was unheard of. In six years Chong has had no leave and he has never been out with a girl.

In the barrack areas, in the short period before bed, Chong and his friends amused themselves by singing Chinese folk songs or putting on impromptu acts of their own. Sometimes they played fan-tan, a game in which the players guess the number of fingers the leader will produce from his closed fist. The vast and complicated network of special services which distributes Coca Cola, comic books, doughnut machines and movies to the Allied forces does not exist in the Communist armies, which do not even have padres. Very rarely Chong and his friends would see a stage show along traditional lines, put on for the forces. They were in bed by 8.30 p.m. and up again at first light.

Chong drew the equivalent of thirty cents a month in pay. From this he had to buy his personal toilet articles—a short straight razor with which he occasionally dry-shaved his chin, and a small toothbrush— and pay his Communist Party fees. There was hardly enough left over for tobacco. Chong rolled his own cigarettes, sometimes from cut tobacco, sometimes from dried leaves and only occasionally smoked Red Star tailor-mades.

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Answers To HIDE AND SEEK—No. 3 (See page 46) 1. Walter Pidgeon; 2. Jean Simmons; 3. Lana Turner; 4. Dick Powell; 5. James Stewart; 6. Joan Crawford; 7. Rosalind Russell; 8. Laurence Olivier; 9. Trevor Howard; 10. Margaret Lockwood.

The American-issue clothing which he wore in Chiang’s army was taken from him when he joined the Communist forces. He got the familiar cotton-padded uniform, which he exchanged each summer for a lighter, cooler one, a fur hat, greatcoat, two suits of underwear, one pair of cotton socks, a pair of rubber-soled shoes with canvas tops, three meters of thread, two needles, a haversack, a blanket and a water-resistant cloak. By Canadian standards this is sparse issue—our soldiers draw close to eighty-five pieces of equipment in Korea. But it is a long step from the days in the 1930’s when bandit generals recruited their men by pulling them off the streets, tagging them with name and unit and letting them forage for the rest. Some Chinese in Korea, incidentally, have been captured wearing their old Nationalist uniforms under their new issue.

Slung over his back Chong carried his mess kit: a canteen, a metal bowl with a lid and a pair of aluminum chopsticks. He was used to a rice diet in China—about one and one third pounds a day—but in Korea the fare was more often maize, potatoes and a thin cabbage soup. Meat was a rarity and it was a treat when the troops got a piece of salt pork on Chinese New Year. Chong was used to eating his food cold, because it had to be cooked at night so that telltale smoke wouldn’t attract Allied planes. Occasionally he or his platoon came upon discarded American C-rationscans of beans and wieners, chicken and vegetables, beef stew and ham and lima. These they usually threw away, retaining only the tinned pineapple of which they were very fond.

In action Chong carried a cotton bandolier containing three days’ ration of rice, or usually millet. This he ate when he had the opportunity. But most Chinese are apt to husband this ration carefully. Indeed, one was captured, starving, with a full bandolier of rice. He had not eaten for three days and said he hadn’t intended breaking out his ration until he was really hungry—in about another week.

Chong and his fellows fought with a hodgepodge of weapons. Chong himself had an American carbine. Others carried rifles of Spanish-American War vintage and Czech weapons designed in 1891, as well as Russian, British and French weapons. Some had no weapons at all.

In their training almost as much time was spent on political lectures as upon weapons. The syllabus included one to two hours of political talks each day. Chong was told by his political officer that American troops were strafing civilians, raping women and running down people in the streets with trucks. He was told that China had entered the Korean war because the Americans were following the pattern set by Japan in the Far East: to conquer China by first invading Korea and then Manchuria. The United Nations was never mentioned in these lectures. The reference to troops in Korea was always to the U. S.

When UN leaflets were dropped over the lines urging Chinese troops to surrender and get good treatment, Chong was told that if he were captured he would first be beaten and questioned and then dismembered alive. Chong, who had seen a good deal of the Americans during World War Two in China, did not believe any of this. When surrender became inevitable he did not resist but asked his captors if he might serve with Chiang Kaishek’s forces in Formosa. Thus far the request has been denied.

It’s estimated that about fifty percent of the Chinese Communist forces is made up of ex-Nationalists like Chong. It’s possible, but not certain, that Mao Tse-Tung has put a preponderance of these “soft troops” into the line in Korea to test their loyalty or to weed out by casualties those he is still unsure of. Nationalist officers, stripped of their rank on capture, have been told they may regain it if they prove themselves in Korea.

Only about ten percent of the private soldiers in Mao’s army are figured to be out - and - out doctrinaire Communists. Among the officers, of course, the percentage is higher. It’s a good guess that 35 percent of platoon commanders are solidly Red, along with 55 to 60 percent of company commanders, close to 90 percent of battalion commanders and 100 percent of all ranks above battalion level.

One of the most ardent Communists was an assistant battalion commander from Kiangsi province named Li. In our army he’d be a major. Li joined the Communist forces as a private when he was eighteen and rose to field rank over a ten-year period.

He joined up partly because he wanted a military career and partly because he believed that only Communism could solve China’s agrarian muddle. He had had four and a half years’ primary-school education, which is a lot for a Chinese, and he was sickened by the tenant farmer’s plight, which saw millions of wretched people mortgaged for life to rich city merchants. This, plus the corruption of the bandit generals and of the Kuomintang, convinced him that Communism was the answer.

In the army he was quickly caught up in the careful political web which the Party has spun through its army, from section to division. Each battalion has its battalion commissar who is as powerful as the battalion commander and must countersign each written order. In addition there is a battalion political officer who deals with propaganda and indoctrination, and a cultural instructor who resembles, in some respects, our Special Service officers; he is responsible for morale. At present the Communist Party in China has a three-year plan to wipe out illiteracy among its troops, and this comes within the cultural instructor’s realm.

Within each platoon there were a number of strong loyal Communists such as Li whose duty it was to check on recalcitrant soldiers. Platoons in the Chinese army are broken into twelve man sections and each section is divided into three-man squads. In each of these squads every two men are held responsible for every third man. Thus every man is watching everybody else. If one man escapes the other two are punished. A man dare not make a pact with the other two members of his squad to escape in a group—for one of the others may be a fervent Communist, as Li was. Desertion in the face of the enemy is punishable by death and men are usually shot on the spot for it, often by soldiers especially assigned to keep an eye out for escapees.

Good Party member Li rose quickly in the ranks. He became a section leader, which corresponds to our corporal, and then a platoon leader, which corresponds to our lieutenant. The Chinese use no rank names other than “leader” and there is little to distinguish an officer from an enlisted man. NCOs wear no distinguishing rank at all and officers wear only a thin red stripe on sleeve and trouser cuffs. It is impossible, therefore, to tell a platoon leader from a divisional leader. Few Chinese soldiers know the names even of their immediate officers.

As a good officer and a good Communist Li had several privileges. He was kept in the Big Picture hy the party and specially briefed. Other troops were told nothing -especially the former Nationalists. He ate at a separate mess in the rear areas. He was paid one dollar a month and issued with two pencils and twenty pieces of paper. In China he had one or (wo weeks’ leave a year. Li wasn’t married, but married officers were allowed to bring their wives to live with them at the barracks.

Then last June something happened to Li. A message reached him from a friend that his father, a merchant in Kiangsi, and his mother had been executed by lia* Communists. He found this difficult to believe but applied for leave to go home and find out. His leave was refused, so he promptly went Absent Without Leave. Because of the scarcity of passes Ml’s are accustomed to turn a blind eye to AWLs, especially as it is almost certain the man will be Recaptured. If he goes home he will be instantly spotted by his local block leader. It is difficult for him to go elsewhere in China, which is a clannish country where itinerants are almost unknown and strangers ate shunned as an enemy,

To his horror Li found that the stories about his family were more t han true. For the sin of capitalism his father had been dragged around the village behind a horse to his death. His mother had been hung by her hair from a tree and beaten to death. His older brother had been shot. Li underwent a political about-face.

He was recaptured and sent back to his unit under guard. By this time his battalion had been sent to Korea and Li joined it there. He was stripped of his rank as assistant battalion commander and reduced to assistant platoon leader, or sergeant. He was then subjected to the harshest penalty, next to execution, in the Chinese army. By Western standards it seems quite mild.

He was made to stand in a circle of his comrades who threw abuse and criticism at him, spitting on him and calling him a traitor and a slacker. To an Oriental the loss of face involved in this is almost unbearable and the Chinese have found it a very effective disciplinary measure.

To Li, in his numbed condition, it meant little. Three days later, a tall proud figure in cloak and fatigue cap, he deserted to the Americans along with three friends. He’s now in a prisoner-of-war camp somewhere in Korea.

Private Wu’s story is markedly different, though it is just as tragic as Li’s. Wu is dead. This is a reconstruction of his life. He owned a postage stamp - sized rice paddy which he farmed with his neighbors outside his native village. Originally he paid exorbitant rent to a townsman for tne right to work the land but the Communist regime had changed that. Now Wu nominally owned the land, though the taxes seemed to come to as much as the rent.

After the young able-bodied men without dependents or responsibilities had been conscripted into the army, married men such as Wu were taken. For some time, in common with the other men in the village, Wu had been doing simple drill in the reserve army when time permitted, usually at the behest of the mayor. He was selected for the county army—a fulltime occupation—by his block leader, who with other block leaders had been asked to supply a quota of three men. The block leader assured Wu that his farm aYid family would be looked after by the other people in the block. Wu never discovered if this was so because he neither wrote nor received letters.

In the county army Wu got his first uniform. It was warmer and of finer cloth than the regular army issue he later received. He did a lot of marching to drums—a propaganda point which, along with the fine uniform, was meant to instill enthusiasm for the military in traditionally non-military China.

After three months in the county army he was transferred to the district army where his training began in earnest. He was issued with a weapon, given close-order drill and basic training and received his first, pay. In another three months he was ready for one of the independent infantry divisions from which the regular Chinese army draws its reinforcements. Before the year was out Wu was a regular soldier in Manchuria.

The Marches Were Killing

After some time in barracks Wu and his battalion were moved a long distance by train. The troops were jammed onto the* train until it was almost impossible to breathe. There were no seats and everybody stood packed together. Another thirty percent. rode on the outside of the car, clinging to whatever was handy. They stayed in this cramped position for eight-hour stretches.

Only after he got off the train and had been marching for some distance did Wu come to know that he was in Korea, for no one told him this. Later, after he got into action and saw the bodies, he was surprised to find that he was fighting American soldiers. This he had not been told either.

In Korea he marched ceaselessly, usually during the night’, digging in by day and shivering under his one blanket in his wet foxhole. Nobody rides in the Chinese army and only ammunition and casualties are carried by truck or ox cart. Wu and his friends continually griped about the killing marches. Later, as the UN artillery and air power began to make inroads against the Chinese, they had more to worry about.

It has been said that there are really two wars going on in Korea. One is the war being fought on the UN side of the line. Here, last April, troops were moving by daylight in convoys jammed bumper to bumper along the roads. They were living in tents and huts that blazed with light. Nobody worried about the tell-tale tracks left in the mud hy thousands of vehicles which can serve as markers for enemy aircraft, and when a plane went by nobody need«! to look up to see whose it was. Camouflage was practically unknown.

But on Wu’s side of the line the situation was reversed. Air strikes and artillery kept up an incessant pounding of Communist emplacements. Not a light showed. Troops moved by night and trucks and carts kept a careful distance from each other. The Chinese camouflaged everything with care and ingenuity. Wu often wore white sheetlike coverings to blend with the snow. When enemy planes appeared mule drivers would throw white sheets over the mules, then crouch underneath the nethers of the beast, holding it by the tail to keep it perfectly still. Artillery men actually transplanted whole copses of pines to shield their guns from the air. Wu himself lived in a trench covered with logs and earth in which grass had been plant«!. It was almost impossible to spot from the air or from the opposing hills.

One Chinese prisoner made a wry comment on all this when he was asked if he could tell the difference between Communism and democracy. He said: “Under Communism you march all day and dig foxholes all night. Under democracy you ride in a jeep and never dig at all.”

As the tide of battle turned and the Communist advance was halted and UN took the offensive, Wu’s political officer continued to harp on what would happen if Chinese were captured by Americans: Their fingers and noses,

ears and feet would be hacked off. Most of the ideological barrage fired at him by his superiors had gone right over Wu’s head. Communism could not hit him with any impact because his knowl«lge of history was negligible and his own village had been practicing a primitive form of Communismthrough communal farms — for a long time anyway. But he could understand people’s ears and other members being cut off and he determined not to be captured.

He was stationed in the village of Pan-wol-chang, a tight huddle of mudand-straw huts north of the large South Korean town of Suwon, when the American advance gathered impetus. Wu and some others were left to hold the village. His officer told him that he was going back for a conference. Wu’s orders were to stand his ground for thirty days and then withdraw if necessary. If he withdrew before that time he would be shot.

Wu hung on until the GIs of the 35th regiment of the 25th Division were in the streets and the tanks were closing in. He crouched with a comrade in an adobe hut that commanded a section of the narrow curving road that ran through the town. Two of the villagers reported to the U. S. platoon commander that two Chinese were hidden in the house.

The platoon commander called to his interpreter who shouted in (’hiñese that Wu’s position was hopeless and that he would get good treatment if he surrendered. Wu took a grip on his captured British Enfield rifle and said nothing. The interpreter repeated his offer in Japanese and Korean. Wu replied with a shot. The platoon deployed and several soldiers moved around to encircle the house. Wu, who had a good field of fire, opened up on them, nicking a Reuter’s war correspondent in the index finger.

The battle against Wu and his friend raged for twenty minutes. A tank fired six six-pound explosive shells into the house at point-blank range. An antitank gun fired five five-pound shells from a hundred yards. Three hundred and fifty rounds of small-arms fire and two hundred rounds of .50-calibre machine-gun incendiary, explosive and ball poured into the house. When it was over the house was ablaze. Wu’s comrade was dead, but Wu was still alive and defiant. Again the call came to surrender. With the house falling about him in blazing sections, Wu made a run for a hill. He got halfway up the slope when a wave of bullets hit him. As he went down the GIs noticed that his right hand was missing at the wrist.

He lay there for about sixty seconds, then slowly raised himself to his elbow and with his remaining hand tri«l to get his rifle to his shoulder. Another volley of shots hit him and he fell back across the grooves of the paddy field, the dead stalks of last year’s harvest pricking at his torn clothing.

The troops waited cautiously for a few moments, but there was no further sign of life from the ex-farmer in the rice paddy.

The battle was over and the enemy was dead.