The Chinese defeated the US Army in 1950: how the US lost the Korean War in the long term through arrogance and ignorance

Carlton Meyer, “The Chinese defeated the US Army in 1950” (Tales of the American Empire, 18 February 2022)

Compared to his other short history documentary videos on his channel, this latest installment in Carlton Meyer’s “Tales of the American Empire” Youtube series might not look quite as colourful, based almost entirely as it is on old 1950s black-and-white newsreel film archives. Yet the narrative here is relevant to contemporary audiences 70 years later with the world edging closer to a global war between the United States and its allies on the one hand and Russia, China and their allies on the other. Everyone concerned about such a potential war would do well to watch this video about how, during the Korean War in late 1950, the Chinese fought American military forces in the Battle of Unsan and then later in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (at Lake Changjin) in North Korea.

While the Chinese suffered much heavier casualties than the Americans did in both battles, in the long term the battles had the effect of shattering US confidence in capturing North Korea and US hopes of reuniting the Korean peninsula under Western domination. In the end, the Chinese and North Koreans pushed the Americans and South Koreans back to the 38th parallel near the present-day border between North and South Korea. Narrator Meyer puts much of the blame for American blunders during US conduct of the war in North Korea in 1950 onto General Douglas Macarthur who failed to study Chinese fighting tactics in North Korea, relied more on military technology and less on strategy, and pursued the Chinese into traps they had set for the Americans.

Meyer may take a rather eccentric view of the outcome of the Battles of Unsan and Chosin Reservoir in suggesting that the Chinese really won these battles despite their heavy losses and being unable to make good on the gains they made during the fighting due to overstretched supply lines on their side. His argument that American losses were as much due to arrogant assumptions that the US could easily push the Chinese back to the Chinese-North Korean border (and even beyond) and that the fighting would be over by Christmas, as to the enemy’s determination and resilience, is worth noting. In the current age, with Americans assuming that Russia will conduct a hot war with Ukraine using outdated World War II strategies and military hardware, and both China and Russia having reformed their armed forces and supplied them with new technologies that are leaving the US behind in the way of military technological innovation, the US really cannot afford to rely on old stereotypes about other nations’ capabilities in waging war, and to conduct military policy based on those stereotypes.

The video is much stronger on the details of the battles the Chinese and the Americans fought, though less so on the outcomes of the battles and the consequences those outcomes had for the US and the Korean peninsula in the decades that followed. Still, Meyer is to be commended for introducing current audiences to aspects of a war the US government would prefer people not to know – because Americans would discover that their nation’s armed forces are much less powerful than the propaganda spread by the Pentagon and Hollywood suggests, and that their political and military leaders really are much more stupid and incompetent than they suspect.