Friday, January 2, 2009
"There is a fight coming and race plays no role in it."
Fighting with the 2nd Infantry Division north of the Chongchon River, Sgt. 1st Class Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out a North Korean position to his machine-gun crew Nov. 20, 1950.
This has always been one of my favorite photos of the Korean War. It is not just the image that impressed me, but the probability that all of these men were dead, wounded or captured in the Chinese counteroffensive that overwhelmed the Eighth Army five days later.
The clues in the photo are tantalizing, haunting. From the perspective of the photographer, it is obvious that no lead is flying. He would hardly be in front of the position if that were the case, although I suppose he might be in a fighting position dug lower down and off to the left flank of the team using a telephoto lens. The 2nd Infantry Division was fighting slowly north at this time, expecting to launch itself in one last offensive to victory against a broken, running North Korean enemy. Everyone expected the war would be over by Christmas.
As S.L.A. Marshall wrote in his history of the campaign, The River and the Gauntlet:
On Thanksgiving night, 1950, two armies confronted each other along the valley of the Chongchon River, a broad but shallow stream which flows southwestward to the Yellow sea through northwestern Korea. Both armies were poised to attack on the morrow. . . Here we look only at the unequal struggle along the Chongchon between one army which, though attacking, had no expectation that it would be strongly resisted, and a second host which, hidden, watched and waited the hour opportune to its own offensive design. One knew. The other didn't.
SFC Cleveland points at a target, and the 1919A6 gunner and assistant gunner are apparently following his directions. Their gazes parallel and each is serious. The gunner's brow is furrowed. The young white ammo bearer in the rear seems disinterested, unconnected with the scene, yet not even he is smiling. Indeed, he seems tired, unhappy. A staged photo? Probably, yet there are clues to the sort of noncom SFC Cleveland must have been.
For one thing, they all have their helmets. Again, here's Marshall talking about another company in their division:
For all its heaviness of spirit, Baker was remarkably light of foot on that particular morning. In fact, it was much too light. This was what the preceding days of relatively light action and the promises that the war was wearing to an end had done to the company. All but twelve men had thrown away their steel helmets; the pile cap was better insurance against frostbite and the steel helmet wouldn't fit over it.
Not so with SFC Cleveland's light machine gun team. They still have their helmets -- heavy, cold, unpopular M-1 steel pots. Yet they have them because someone has determined that they still need them, that the war is not over and they still must be prepared. Just by themselves, the presence of these helmets is proof that he commands. Even if the order originated above him, he has enforced it. Command, SFC Cleveland apparently knew, is not a popularity contest.
Then look over the business end of the Browning. The effects of prolonged firing are obvious on the flash hider. This weapon has been fired before in anger, and often. This is not a rear echelon unit. These men are a small component of the tip of the spear. And they, at least, are commanded by a black man. A very competent, confident, serious black man.
Harry Truman had only desegregated the army two years before. This was a new thing, for white men to be commanded by black men, and there were problems. But they were not insurmountable. Still, the photo captures just how much things had changed.
Just seven years before, in early June of 1943, 25,000 Packard plant workers in Detroit, who produced engines for bombers and PT boats, stopped work in protest of the promotion of three blacks. A handful of agitators whipped up animosity against the promotions. During the strike a voice outside the plant reportedly shouted, "I'd rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a nigger on the assembly line."
Said the Detroit News history of the incident:
Whites resentful over working next to blacks caused many stoppages and slowdowns. Harold Zeck, a former Packard defense worker, recalls the time when a group of women engine workers tried to get the men on the assembly line to walk off the job to protest black female workers using the white restrooms. "They think their fannies are as good as ours," screamed one woman.
Sounds goofy today, doesn't it? Yet this was in the middle of a war that everyone understood was for western civilization itself and which, in June 1943, no one was very confident that we would win. Our troops, airmen and sailors needed those engines. Everybody knew it. But that was less important than whether "their fannies are as good as ours."
Racism still exists today, of course, on both sides. Or I should say on many sides. From what I have observed watching events in LA from afar, black-hispanic racial conflict is far worse, and claims far more victims on a daily basis, than the Klan on its worst day.
Yet for all our faults, there is hope that one day we may finally bury all the collectivist-exploited hatreds in the ash heap of history. I present one small of evidence that this may yet be so in the form of an email I received in the wake of the "whigger" back-and-forth on KABA. Duane Owen is a certified NRA firearms instructor in Virginia, and this is what he sent me this morning:
I was born and raised in Indiana, a very racist state to this day.
(MBV Note: My Great Uncle Reynolds who was shot in the butt by a Jewish jewelry shop owner with a BAR in the mid-1920s while trying to light a cross on his lawn was a member in good standing of the Indiana Klan.)
The day to day life in Indy was and is still hard (but) I no longer live there. I have lived in VA for the past 20 years and find it to be a really nice place. The people are different and a lot friendlier. People think that the south is racist.... and in some places that is true, but not in most, people are just people.
I told people many years ago that Big Brother wants us to fight so he can keep doing what he is doing, the old divide and conquer, and it has worked well for them. But I think at this point in the game people are beginning to see that the government really only cares about itself and what it can do to us, how it can turn not just one class of people into slaves but all of us to follow it blindly into hell.
I am not stupid, I have never been a follower and as you can see below I am also a man of strong beliefs. There is a fight coming and race plays no role in it. The man standing beside me could be blue for all I care as long as we believe in the same goals, to get this country back on the right path, a government for the people, not a bunch of assholes trying to figure out how to line their pockets.
I don't want to get really started, I could go on for Hrs. When your book comes out send me an email.
And just so you know, there are a lot of Black men (like me) who think like I do, who know what's at stake and will fight.
Of that, I have no doubt. I keep flashing back to that moment in time in the photograph, and to the likely fate of the young men in it. When the Chinese rolled in and they went down fighting, as so many American soldiers did that awful Thanksgiving, I doubt the Chinese made any differentiation as to their race as they shot, bayoneted or clubbed them to death in their fighting position after they expended their last belt of ammo. The Chinese only saw American enemies, and gave them all the equality of their hatred and violence. In war, they were equal. Only in peacetime would they be considered unworthy because of the color of their skin.
And some, notably on KABA, consider them unworthy to this day. I can only say that if fighting beside such men as SFC Cleveland or Duane Owen defending our mutual liberty and the Republic makes me a "whigger," then I will proudly wear the slur.
(Note: If you would like to contact Duane Owen directly, his email is
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)