by Bryan R. Gibby
Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press, 2012. Pp. xx, 372.
Maps, diagr., tables, appends, notes, biblio, index. $49.95. ISBN: 0817317643
Almost literally born under fire, the Army of the Republic of Korea has proven perhaps the greatest success story of American military assistance.
A former army officer and specialist in the history of military assistance, in The Will to Win, Dr. Gibby uses the experiences of the American advisors who helped to shape it to give us an account of the ROK Army from its creation as a constabulary in the aftermath of the Second World War. He traces the army through its now largely forgotten success as a counter-insurgency force during the early years of the Cold War, its desperate days during the North Korean offensive of mid-1950, and on through its recovery and resurgence during the fighting, to the end of the Korean War, from which it emerged as one of the toughest armies in the world. Gibby does a very good job of sorting through the complex issues affecting the new army. He is critical of ignorant and often bigoted American military leaders and advisors, who were frequently willing to blame reverses on the “ROKs” and to ignore their successes. Gibby also notes the influence of the poor financing of the army, and points out numerous errors and false starts in the advisory program. As Gibby follows the ups and downs of this wholly new army, he points out that even early in the 1950-1953 war many units performed with considerable effectiveness, and that well before the 1953 armistice the ROKs were doing some of the heaviest fighting. Gibby is critical of the many histories that hardly ever mention the role of the ROKs, while often inflating that of some of the smaller U.N. contingents. Along the way, Gibby provides much detail on the “how” and the “how not” of building an army.
Although The Will to Win deals with events now more than a half century in the past, it is a very relevant work, given recent efforts to create new armies in both Afghanistan and Iraq more or less from scratch, reminding us of the importance of the past to the present.