[William Rosensteel is a Korean War veteran who served as SFC, Tank Company, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.] 


My nephew, age 42, asked me about the Nogun-ri story: "What are your thoughts about the disclosure of the killings in Nogun-ri?  Maybe we should stop sending our soldiers ANYWHERE.   Many South Koreans want us out.  Maybe it’s time.  Maybe it’s time to attack North Korea.  Reaction?"  This was my response: 


  1. There is no proof, as of now, that it happened. 
  2. If it did happen, it was probably because North Korean soldiers would dress as civilians and infiltrate our lines along with the fleeing refugees.  Once behind our lines they would kill our troops where they could find them until they were captured, killed, or overtaken by their own troops moving South.  [Comment – When soldiers dressed as civilians are captured they are treated as spies and shot – which is why soldiers wear uniforms.] 
  1. War is the province of suffering.  Would you rather have an artillery barrage brought down to kill the armed enemy from getting through our lines, or, assuming [your son] is one of the defending troops, not fire on the crowd because of the civilians, let the enemy come through, and because of this great humanitarian act [your son] is killed by a North Korean who is behind our lines.  [Comment – This puts it on a personal basis and makes you think doesn’t it – when your son may die because someone was afraid to give the order to fire.] 
  2. Sometimes there just isn’t time to sort it all out, and so expediency takes over and to save American lives everybody gets it from the artillery or small arms.  It isn’t nice and it isn’t right, but then as Sherman said, "War is Hell."  The mission is all important.  Think about standard rules later.  War means killing people.  That’s all there is to it.  If we are to win we must kill before they kill us.  There is no other way to win.  Wars must be won for God’s sake.  He has a part in every war!  The quicker we can kill the enemy, the quicker we can go home to our mothers, wives, and children. 
  3. Armies kill people and break things.  Consideration of others has its place, however, when faced with time constraints or other combat circumstances—consideration of the civilians or death of myself or my troops because I failed to kill the enemy among the civilians, the following represents my rules of engagement and consideration of others:  My mission and the mission of those I command is to seek-out, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire or maneuver.  Those are my ‘considerations’—PERIOD!
  4. Korea is the last bastion of freedom in Asia that is directly protected by United States troops.  If we abandon Korea, the North Koreans will surely attack, and there would be a great blood bath as the North Korean Army hates the South Koreans and would slaughter them en mass if allowed to occupy South Korea.  We would lose face, and our word would never again be trusted by our allies and friends, especially in Asia.  If we abandoned South Korea, it will be a sign to the Chinese that we would probably not defend Formosa, so they would attack them.  It isn’t just a matter of one little country in Asia. 
  5. Attacking North Korea without severe provocation or in response to an aggressive move by them is not going to happen.  We would have a full scale war on our hands.  The North Koreans would undoubtedly be assisted by the Chinese.  We do not have sufficient troops (37,000 in South Korea, I think) to launch an attack without a massive buildup of men and material.  The North Koreans are not a bunch of wimps like the Iranians.  They will not fold up, throw down their arms, and run at the first sign of an American uniform.  They are well armed, well equipped, well trained and WILL FIGHT TO THE DEATH.  Any such build up requires time, lots of time.  Such a build-up without provocation from North Korea would certainly tell them we are going to attack.  The only thing they would not know is where and when.  North Korea is pure hell to fight in.  Mountainous terrain, hills that go almost straight up and straight down.  And winters that defy description.  Such an attack would require the strongest resolve on the part of the American people—I think the American people don’t have that kind of resolve.  Seven of our Rangers were slaughtered in Somolia.  Their uniforms were torn off and Somolians were dancing on their dead bodies and nothing happened – No response from the present administration – No response or massive outrage from the American people.  No, the American people don’t have that kind of resolve – They are too soft. 


[Comment – There is a difference between killing a bunch of civilians who have been infiltrated by the enemy because you don’t have time to sort them out or for any other reason that will save American lives – and killing thousands of civilians by fire-bombing Dresden – or killing civilians (also American POWs by the way) by fire-bombing Tokyo or killing civilians by dropping Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?] 


American troops captured by North Korean soldiers had their hands bound behind their back with telephone wire, and then [were] killed either by summary execution or [by] having gasoline poured on them and then burned alive.  American troops facing this kind of enemy attempting to infiltrate are not too predisposed to give a damn about not killing civilians, because some civilians have be killed in order to kill the enemy.  As I wrote earlier – War is hell. 


You are in command.  What would you do?  Think about it. 


God Bless – Bill


P.S. – There was a movie that dealt with this subject.  It was titled "Target Zero", and starred Robert Mitchum (and Ann Blythe I think).  He was a combat commander faced with this very decision.  It’s been years since I’ve seen it on TV. 


P.S.S. – We killed civilians in Kosovo during bombing runs on bridges, buildings, roads, etc.  Collateral damage I think they call it.  Where was the great outcry from the American people?  Three of our soldiers, surrendered without firing a shot, giving up a 50 cal MG, a humvee, small arms and ammunition.  They were not even wounded in battle, yet when they were returned we gave them a Purple Heart, and they were treated like heroes.  This generation is certainly not like the WWII generation.  We will never see any like them again.  We are too soft. 

    The three soldiers that were captured by the Serbs were on patrol when they were forced to stop by a classic military tactic – the roadblock.  The Serbs used civilian sympathizers to orchestrate the roadblock, then three were taken under fire by the Serb soldiers.  Our brave troops, unwilling or afraid to fire on civilians who were blocking their way to freedom, threw up their hands and surrendered without firing a shot, losing as I said, a .50cal MG, a humvee, small arms and ammo.  For this brave act we gave them the Purple Heart, and treated them like conquering heroes when Jackson went and got them from the Serbs.  The Purple Heart is for wounds suffered in combat, not because you are punched around by the enemy after capture.  Makes me want to puke!  The mission was ill-defined and there were no clear rules of engagement.  When you are fired upon you engage and fire back regardless if they are dressed in civilian clothes or in uniform! 



A few months ago I was in the Dean Witter office here in San Luis Obispo (California).  At that time there was a Korean woman employed there – she was in her early twenties.  She saw "Korean Veteran" on my cap and asked me if I had been in the Korean War.  When I told her I had, she stood up, shook my hand, and said, "Thank you very much.  Thank you for saving my country."  I was impressed, especially since at her age much of what she knew of the war was what her parents or grandparents had told her.  Later I learned she had been in the USA since she was very young (two or three), and then I was even more impressed that she felt that strong about what the United States military had done for her country. 


William M. Rosensteel, Jr., Korean War veteran, SFC, Tank Company,

7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division