An Address by WILLIAM BOSS
Korean Correspondent, Canadian Press
Wednesday, September 5th, 1951
CHAIRMAN: The First Vice-President, Brig. Colin Campbell.
MR. BOSS: It was a terrifying thing to be invited to speak to you today, much more terrifying to come and see you in your glory, your greatness and your numbers, and a very comforting thing, somewhat mitigating my experiences as I come here to find myself buttressed by friends who have been fellow correspondents with me, and fellow soldiers, and fellow newspaper men here in Canada.
I have usually made it a principle--I first enunciated it in the pulpit of Dominion United Church in Ottawa, to speak my good things second and my unfavourable things first. I don't like to say, "He is a nice fellow, but", and then lay in. However, I will vary from that principle today by saying the favourable things which should be said about our troops out there, then I am going to follow up with a seriously intended, and what I hope will be a favourably considered "but".
The troops over there, the 25th Infantry Brigade Group, are terrific. I went over last November with the Patricias, I stayed with them from the time they first began their training in the field, through their operations, watched them grow from a bunch of guys just thrown together to a battalion which has earned, as you well know, very great credit and a terrific reputation for Canada in Korea.
The Patricias I feel are the best thing the Canadian Army has ever created. They have now an esprit de corps which in my experience in war and in touch with the Army since, I have never seen matched. It is the sort of thing that battalion commanders and regimental commanders like to have, want to have. It is an indispensable part of their equipment-which they try to inculcate in their example and teaching, but which sometimes catches and sometimes does not.
In the Patricias it began by example at the top, and it grew by conviction from the bottom, conviction based on training, based on performance and based on the confidence that comes of knowing that you can do a good job.
Now, as the Patricias are about to come home by companies, or in company strengths, it is my hope--and I put this forward personally--that somehow the way will be found for the battalion to remain as a battalion in the Canadian Army. We are at a time when our armies are very important elements in our system. The Army has to attract unto itself the best, or its share of the best, of young Canadian manhood, and I can think of no better way of going about this than letting these men, individually, when they come home, spread across the country from Coast to Coast. This battalion is representative of the whole country, and by the force of their personal example speak for the Army. They don't have to go out as recruiting officers-they don't want to do that-but they are walking advertisements of what the Army can do for a man. And then bring this outfit together and see how it functions-it will be a revelation.
The Royal 22nd Regiment, the Royal Canadian Regiment, the Lord Strathcona Horse's "Charlie" Squadron, the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, the other units represented in the Brigade, arriving in May, were ready for action toward the end of May-just about the time that the thing seemed to come to a stop. They have seen action, they have had two or three fair battles, enough to know they can do a job, but they have not yet had occasion to pull out the "stops". They feel somewhat cheated at the moment but it looks as though very conceivably they may yet have work to do. This is an aggressive brigade and a good one. It is the 2nd Brigade in the 1st British Commonwealth Division, commanded by Major-General Jim Cassels. It is the first British, and because our interests are particularly Canadian, we in Canada have not perhaps heard as much as perhaps we would like. I feel that because your boys are serving under this man, that you should know that he is in every way an outstanding soldier, young (he is only 42), a gentleman, of a family with military tradition. His father was a Major-General. He is an accomplished soldier, a diplomat, which he would certainly have to be, handling troops from five nations, and one in whom in every way you should feel confident your sons are serving.
Now the summer which your troops have spent has been a boring one. As you know, we reached the Parallel, and a line somewhat north of it early in June, spent July and until now in raids at depth, trying to pin-point the Chinese positions, find out where they were, in what strength, and keep our fingers on them. In other words, knowing not too much about the situation, except keeping ourselves abreast of it. This has meant perhaps one or two days real soldiering a week, that is going out on a job and coming back through your own lines once completed. The rest of the time they have spent in this country (Korea), putting in time, doing training, doing drilling, weapons familiarization, keeping themselves fit--but just sitting under canvas, and the soldier has had a dull time while things have been taking place at Kaesong.
The weather has been not quite as hot as you know here in Toronto, but the humidity has been intense, so that in Korea although you can be doing nothing you still perspire by the pint: you just seem to dissolve. It is a most incredible experience. The rain has bothered us very little. The rainy season was much advertised, much discussed before it came. It was a matter of having two or three days intense rain with lashing winds, and clearing, with three or four days of sunshine and humidity, then more rain.
I feel that where the troops are now, along the present line, is a line which can be held against anything the Communists want to throw against it. Minor adjustments may be necessary, will be necessary, but I think that when you read, with the skepticism you do have I know, about the Chinese and the North Koreans hurling themselves against our positions in massed hundreds, wave upon wave, and more waves following, and being slaughtered and decimated not by tens, and not by hundreds, but by thousands, you may have confidence in what you hear. I have seen them on the 2nd Division front at the rate of 2,000 corpses to a battlefield. I have seen them in front of the Patricias key positions after the April 24th battle at the rate of 17 dead to a section position. Now that simply means that troops are being thrown at us on a scale that you and I recoil at. You hear people say "That was good killing". You see Army officers quoted as saying, "That was good killing". And sometimes even the soldiers themselves exclaim so while they are at it. But killing the enemy is the thing that they are there to do, and if the enemy affords it on that scale, there is no alternative. It was an impressive thing, I assure you, to see bodies strewn that way.
So when I read yesterday that the Eighth Army had revised its casualty figure from 2,000 to 8,000, after examination of a battlefield, I felt there was no reason to doubt that particular report. It will happen definitely if the Communists act on the scale on which they seem to be equipped to do.
Now this country of Korea in which the troops are fighting is one which conveys certain impressions on first sight, which impressions last with the soldier, because living the life he leads, he has no opportunity to go out and discover what he can about the country's culture, its history, its traditions, to make the sort of friendships that cement impressions, and help to build that international bridge which we have succeeded in doing in Europe, and now that we are oriented to the East, it would seem that the opportunity was open to do. The country stinks and smells; it is dusty, dirty, filthy. You can't imagine the impact these have on the senses, and they create the most unfavourable impression; as I say, an impression which lasts.
The Koreans to the soldier are a strange people. They dress differently, they have different conventions, different customs. He sees some of the more obvious ones; he hasn't any idea what goes on in the Korean home. All he knows is that they are there, this is the way they live, and that their country not only creates this unfavourable impression on his mind, but that he has to slug through it, and go up its interminable succession of hills and mountains to do his job. Korea is an unbroken succession of hill after hill, mountain after mountain: you climb one to find the prospect of the next one-climb it in turn to see the next. To the soldier this means work, and hard work, with 75 pounds on his back to carry.
Under these conditions it is not surprising that the Canadian soldier has had, or has developed, an unfortunate attitude to the Korean civilian. I want to put it to you, Sir--and these are my "Buts",--as suggestions, that if the Koreans have become disenchanted with us of the West, and if our soldiers have developed this attitude, that the answer may lie in Education. The second point I would like to put is that if the answer lies in education, that there may be something in this that is a challenge to us right here in Canada.
Look at it from the point of view of the Koreans. The war has meant the destruction of their country on a massive scale. From the south, as far north as Taegu the country has been relatively untouched. From Taegu north as far as you want to go to the Manchurian border-that will be as far as the 38th Parallel, as far as you are concerned, but I am sure that the destruction has been even more intense and the sufferings more widespread north of the Parallel-you will find homes, clusters of dwellings, or the sites of what were homes and clusters of dwellings -mere piles of ash-the ash of rice straw burnt. At first it is gray, then it turns into a sort of pink violet. And this ash is the thing, which to my mind, connotes Korea today, not necessarily the hills. Korea has been levelled. Its buildings, the public ones-most of them moderndestroyed, or made shells, its intellectual life pillaged by the abduction last year of its leaders, the professors, the teachers, the professional men taken prisoners by the Communists and marched north. God only knows what happened to them. Its libraries destroyed or taken away--destruction on a scale estimated by the Korean government at three billion dollars, in a poor country, and on a scale which the United Nations Rehabilitation Agency estimates at two billion 500 million dollars. We plan, incidentally, to help Korea to the tune of 250 million dollars.
This country has contributed materially to what has been going on, she has not only been the site of the battle. She contributed her blood--in our bombing raids, and all the bombing raids have been done by us. Our Napalm air strikes in support of our infantry, on villages oftentimes not defended by the other side. Our artillery fire-all these have taken their toll in civilian life, and in the maiming, mutilation of civilian bodies.
The Koreans have contributed their soldiers' lives. Here I would like to say and my authority is not only my own experience, on the basis of which I wrote a story last June, my authority is General James A. Van Fleet, Commander of the Eighth Army in an interview with myself about a month ago. The Republic of Korea soldier can be as good or better a soldier in the defence of his country than we produce. There is nothing against the South Korean, or the Korean, nothing in his make-up, to prevent him from being as good a soldier as our boys. He is diligent, he is cheerful, he is industrious, he is inured to hardship. He knows his country. He can be a good soldier. Why hasn't he been? Because he has not been trained.
Korean soldiers were fed into new divisions after five or six days training last December, last January and last February. The Korean Government would be told, "We will have equipment for a division, say, the 16th of January." The Government would go out on the old chain gang principle, levy men on the streets, bring them in, give them anything from five to 16 days' training-16 days' training is the maximum training any Korean soldier has had who has been levied, since last August, and put them into these new divisions, which have never before functioned on any level, let alone the platoon, the company, the regiment or the brigade level. How can you form military divisions on this basis and expect them to function?
Naturally the other side probed out to find where they were on the line. Naturally it built up on the front held by those divisions, and naturally there it struck, and naturally there they fell.
This has been recognized. It was recognized, it was all too apparent at the time, but nothing could be done. A front has since been created which makes it possible to do something. The Korean Army is being withdrawn from the line at the rate of a division every six weeks, and the divisions are being retrained from basic level up to divisional. The country, guided by the Eighth U. S. Army, has worked out a training programme covering 16 weeks for the preparation of the new soldier entering the Army. That 16 weeks is two weeks longer than the U. S. Army provides its troops.
These soldiers will be trained under conditions much less comfortable and much less equipped with the amenities than those provided for the American troops. They will get rough basic soldiering.
Now I think, having made that point, I think it is pretty evident that the Koreans have contributed to this thing in their country. They have a stake, and they are entitled to some consideration. But in point of fact, the attitude worked in our troops by the various factors that have been operative in them since they arrived, is a feeling of superiority, an arrogance, a condescension, that can lead only to resentment by the Korean civilian. And when it reaches the point that it takes away their pride, the humiliation they feel can turn to things other than mere unpleasantness. They do not yet, but they can come to hate us. Such things, for instance, as the elbowing of civilians off the road. "Get out of my way". The shaving of an oxcart by a jeep going by just to see how close you can come. And give the Korean leading his oxen a bit of a scare. Snarling when they approach Company areas and sending them away rather forcefully. These are the sort of thing that indicates the attitude. I shall describe an incident to you. I was driving along the road to Uijongbu two weeks ago last Saturday, and reached a military check point, where military police from the three powers represented among the troops in that area were stationed. As I was about 300 yards short of that check-point, I saw one of the military policemen kick a Korean civilian across the road. Having kicked that civilian, he went across the road and kicked him again. I drove up and stopped the jeep, and I called to the Canadian corporal who was with the other two policemen, and I asked him to have the man who had been so active to come to my jeep. I still remember my upper lip quivering as I spoke to that man. I said, "Soldier, I don't like seeing United Nations policemen kicking the Korean civilians around." And he said, "Well, what do you expect me to do when they get in my way?" I said a few crisp things about the conduct that we expected from Military policemen.
There are two things which I remember about this. One is that a soldier found it possible to behave in this way. The second is that another soldier, one of our boys, found it possible to see a man do this and not register some protest. And indeed, I said to the Canadian corporal, "Corporal, if you had been half a man you would have done that for me."
Now this lack of concern for the Koreans can be dangerous because our friends are few in the East, and we need every one we can get, every one we can hold. If our troops-and I am not speaking exclusively of our Canadian troops-but of our Western troops, if our troops can behave this way, have this attitude, and yet back home, back here in Canada be to all appearances good, law-abiding in every way, respected citizens, as I am sure they are and you would accord them that status, is it not possible that any one of them might be the representative of any one of us over there, that you might be transplanted to Korea, I transplanted, or any of us here transplanted there, possibly that we might react in the same way, have the same attitude?
Now that perhaps being the case, the answer, it seems to me, is in education. You can't tell a soldier to be good. I mean, if you say, "Be good, old boy", he will follow his own bent. But if you interest him in where he is, in what it stands for, what it means, its culture, its history, its traditions, its customs, its conventions, if you educate him in these, it is possible that you will so interest him that his attitude to where he is will change. And I feel that precisely that is called for in Korea.
It is not too late to do something to meet this situation.
The other challenge is this. These boys are the products of our Canadian homes and Canadian schools, our Canadian society. It might be that we here do not yet fully realize the significance of the conflict in which we are involved-that the principles which we say we stand for do not yet mean to us something that will guide us in our conduct when we are apart or divorced from the conventions which apply in, our own society. It is not the Army's business to teach religion, to teach philosophy. The Army's job is to take the men we give it and make soldiers of them. To make better soldiers of them in Korea requires education in the things Korea stands for.
Now it is evident to me that this thing is already operative from the troops themselves. The Vandoos, the Royal 22nd Regiment, the Regiment with a heart, has already realized the significance of what is afoot and realized it at the troop level. Company Sergeant-Major Maurice Juteau of Montreal, the Sergeant-Major who is responsible for the Scout and Sniper platoon and is as good a fighting soldier as one would want to know, one day happened to go into the Civilian Hospital at Uijongbu. There this man was electrified by the conditions he sawthe plight of the patients, their wounds, their sicknesses, the lack of bedding, the lack of medicines, dressings and the lack of food. This man, by the way, is so fighting a soldier that he does not like one of the weapons he is given--the Canadian Sten gun,--and he has written to the Minister of National Defence about it and had an answer back-he thinks we should use the American machine carbine,--he is a very active and intense soldier-and he went back to his battalion, and he said, "We must do something about this," and he went around and organized what he called "Khaki Charities", and he got the boys to go through kits and see how much clothing they could give away that they didn't need; to go through the packages from home and see what they could do away with; to go through their rations and see what they could dispose of.
And this was done, on a battalion basis, with the approval of the Colonel, and Khaki Charities now operates. It makes twice-a-week collections, and when I left three truck loads of food and clothing had gone from the "Vandoos" down to this Korean Civilian Hospital in Uijongbu--enough food alone to give 5,000 meals. And this thing, I am sure will continue and expand. But it must grow from the ground, it must be something spontaneous, which the soldiers themselves take hold of.
In the Patricias this problem has never arisen. They had their first impressions, as everyone does. Then they went into the training period in the south, and had time before finding themselves committed to battle to make the adjustment and to interest themselves a little bit in what was going on, and, further, they had their Padre, Capt. Roger Nunn, who had been a missionary in Korea, who was able to do some explaining, so that the thing worked itself out, and by the time the Patricias reached the line they had acquired some understanding, some appreciation of the Koreans, which was fed by the assistance and by the work and devotion of the laborers our boys called "rice burners," who worked with them. The reputation has been justified by the Korean rice burners, who have grown from the 75 originally detailed to us to 185. They have brought in their friends and relatives because they were well treated and these 185 have stuck with the Patricias through thick and thin, and the Patricias have had some "thick" times and pretty "thin" times.
So I say this thing is already operative.
If the people say we have failed in Korea, as some correspondents do say, I say that is quite wrong: we haven't failed, and with the sort of men we have there, I don't think we will fail. I might say we are just not doing as well as we might.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to speak to you today. I fully realize that the message I felt I had to deliver, which is a personal message is not a pleasant one. But I feel it to be one that should be delivered by any Canadian who was able to go to Korea and go around to the extent that I have, I am a civilian and not bound by the Army nor constricted in my movements, and I have had the opportunity to go around and look into the country. I feel that this message would be delivered by any Canadian coming back from there to his own people and I hope that my words will not be taken amiss.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. John Basset, Jr.