On the Korean battlefield in the closing days of December 1950, there occurred the most remarkable display of leadership in the history of American arms—the resurrection of the 8th United States Army by its new commander, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway.
It was an army defeated and demoralized by the unexpected intervention of Chinese Communist Forces that had sent it reeling back hundreds of miles in confusion and disarray. The situation was precarious, and the total evacuation of the Korean Peninsula was being seriously considered. But if the 8th Army was defeated, its new commander was not. Dismissing plans for further retreat, General Ridgway ordered the 8th Army to prepare the attack. Within days he had seized the moral initiative and begun to dominate the battlefield. Three months later, Seoul had been recaptured, and the Chinese and North Koreans pushed back across the South Korean frontier.
Fascinated with technology and with the weapons of war, we are liable to forget that at its most fundamental level, war is a contest of wills. A century and a half ago, that master military theoretician, Karl von Clausewitz, observed that in the face of battlefield disaster, “[all] gradually comes to rest on the commander’s will alone. The ardor of his spirit must rekindle the flame of purpose in all others; his inward fire must revive their hope. ” General Ridgway did precisely that. In so doing, he serves as a constant reminder that human spirit, not weaponry, is the true foundation of our national security.