[April 18, 2019] While leaders are good at pushing the limits of their ability, they are also fully aware of their own boundaries. History is full of stories where people and nations have gone beyond the point where success is no longer possible. That is why it is a rare quality to truly know your limits.
The Korean War of 1950-53 is a classic example of a nation not knowing its limitations. Time and again, Communist North Korean offensive operations, which were always successful due to tactical surprise, slowed and halted because they had outrun logistical capabilities.
North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or DPRK, 조선인민공화국), began the war with a highly successful attack on June 25, 1950. South Korean and limited U.S. forces were thrown back repeatedly as DPRK armies outgunned and outmanned smaller Allied forces.
As soon as DPRK forces slowed due to a lack of ammunition, food, water, and equipment, the Allied forces would fight them to a standstill and throw them back. This back and forth, seesaw-like action continued for many months. Comparable to World War I, logistics played a significant role in the success or victory of battlefield action.1
A similar scenario marked the high-watermark of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Recently ISIS lost all of its territories and had nearly all of its fighters either killed or captured. While it took many years, the lesson gained was not lost on it or those forces fighting it.
The Korean War consumed about 3 million lives; for reference about 10 million were killed during World War I.2 Large numbers of civilians died in the Korean War; starvation and disease is a major factor. The DPRK should not have attacked South Korea. This is why it is imperative, as leaders, to know your limits.
- Once United Nation forces and an improved logistics capability began to arrive in South Korea, the DPRK knew the game was up. Their gamble to quickly overwhelm the south was slowly slipping away. Additionally, U.S. General Douglas MacAurther made it known that he planned to crush all of the DPRK (a close ally of China and the USSR). When U.N. forces began to gain significant territory in the north, beyond the original dividing line between North and South Korea, China sent its armies against the Allies. Chinese forces, while superior to DPRK forces, had the same logistical problems. Neither of these Communist forces had the experience to carry out complex, long-haul logistical operations.