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The Korean War / Max Hastings.

By: Hastings, Max.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Pan military classics series: Publisher: London : Pan Books, 2010Description: xxii, 576 pages, [32] pages of plates : illustrations ; 20 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780330513654 (pbk.); 0330513656 (pbk.).Subject(s): Korean War, 1950-1953DDC classification: 951.9042
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On 25 June 1950 the invasion of South Korea by the Communist North launched one of the bloodiest conflicts of the last century. The seemingly limitless power of the Chinese-backed North was thrown against the ferocious firepower of the UN-backed South in a war that can be seen today as the stark prelude to Vietnam. Max Hastings has drawn on first-hand accounts of those who fought on both sides to produce this vivid and incisive reassessment of the Korean War, bringing the military and human dimensions into sharp focus. Critically acclaimed on publication, The Korean War remains the best narrative history of this conflict.

Originally published: London: Michael Joseph, 1987.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

5 11 18 19 68 184

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Chapter 1 ORIGINS OF A TRAGEDY Seldom in the course of history has a nation been so rapidly propelled from obscurity to a central place in the world's affairs as Korea. The first significant contact between "The Land of the Morning Calm" and the West took place one morning in September 1945 when an advance party of the American Army, in full battle gear, landed at the western harbor of Inchon, to be met by a delegation of Japanese officials in top hats and tailcoats. This was the inauguration of Operation "Black List Forty," the United States' occupation of South Korea. These first American officers found the city of Inchon, fearful and uncertain of its future, shuttered and closed. After a hunt through the streets, glimpsing occasional faces peering curiously at their liberators from windows and corners, they came upon a solitary Chinese restaurant bearing the sign "Welcome U.S." Then, from the moment the Americans boarded the train for Seoul, they met uninhibited rejoicing. A little crowd of Koreans waving gleeful flags stood by the tracks in every village they passed. At Seoul railway station, the group had planned to take a truck to their objective, the city post office. Instead, on their arrival, they decided to walk. To their bewilderment, they found themselves at the center of a vast throng of cheering, milling, exultant Koreans, cramming the streets and sidewalks, hanging from buildings, standing on carts. The Americans were at a loss. They had arrived without any conception of what the end of the Japanese war meant to the people of this obscure peninsula. Throughout its history until the end of the nineteenth century, Korea was an overwhelmingly rural society which sought successfully to maintain its isolation from the outside world. Ruled since 1392 by the Yi Dynasty, it suffered two major invasions from Japan in the sixteenth century. When the Japanese departed, Korea returned to its harsh traditional existence, frozen in winter and baked in summer, its ruling families feuding among each other from generation to generation. By the Confucian convention that regarded foreign policy as an extension of family relations, Korea admitted an historic loyalty to China, "the elder brother nation." Until 1876 her near neighbor Japan was regarded as a friendly equal. But early that January, in an early surge of the expansionism that was to dominate Japanese history for the next seventy years, Tokyo dispatched a military expedition to Korea "to establish a treaty of friendship and commerce." On February 26, after a brief and ineffectual resistance, the Koreans signed. They granted the Japanese open ports, their citizens extraterritorial rights. The embittered Koreans sought advice from their other neighbors about the best means of undoing this humiliating surrender. The Chinese advised that they should come to an arrangement with one of the Western powers "in order to check the poison with an antidote." They suggested the Americans, who had shown no signs of possessing territorial ambitions on the Asian mainland. On May 22, 1882, Korea signed a treaty of "amity and commerce" with the United States. In the words of a leading American historian of the period, this "set Korea adrift on an ocean of intrigue which it was quite helpless to control." The infuriated Japanese now engaged themselves increasingly closely in Korea's internal power struggles. The British took an interest, for they were eager to maintain China's standing as Korea's "elder brother" to counter Russian influence in the Far East. By 1893, Korea had signed a succession of trade treaties with every major European power. The Japanese were perfectly clear about their objective. Their Foreign Minister declared openly that Korea "should be made a part of the Japanese map." Tokyo hesitated only about how to achieve this without a confrontation with one or another great power. The Chinese solved the problem. Peking's increasingly heavy-handed meddling in Korea's affairs, asserting claims to some measure of authority over Seoul, provoked a wave of anti-Chinese feeling and a corresponding surge of enthusiasm for the Japanese, who could now claim popular support from at least a faction within Korea. In 1894, Japan seized her opportunity and landed an army in Korea to force the issue. The government in Seoul, confused and panicky, asked Peking to send its own troops to help suppress a rebellion. The Japanese responded by dispatching a contingent of marines direct to the capital. The Korean government, by now hopelessly out of its depth, begged that all the foreign troops should depart. But the Japanese scented victory. They reinforced their army. The last years of Korea's national independence took on a Gilbertian absurdity. The nation's leaders, artless in the business of diplomacy and modern power politics, squirmed and floundered in the net that was inexorably closing around them. The Chinese recognized their military inability to confront the Japanese in Korea. Tokyo's grasp on Korea's internal government tightened until, in 1896, the King tried to escape thralldom by taking refuge at the Russian Legation in Seoul. From this sanctuary he issued orders for the execution of all his pro-Japanese ministers. The Japanese temporarily backed down. In the next seven years Moscow and Tokyo competed for power and concessions in Seoul. The devastating Japanese victory at Tsushima, a few miles off Pusan, decided the outcome. In February 1904 the Japanese moved a large army into Korea. In November of the following year the nation became a Japanese protectorate. In a characteristic exercise of the colonial cynicism of the period, the British accepted Japanese support for their rule in India in exchange for blessing Tokyo's takeover of Korea. Whitehall acknowledged Japan's right "to take such measure of guidance, control, and protection in Corea [sic] as she may deem proper and necessary" to promote her "paramount political, military and economic interests." Korean independence thus became a dead letter. In the years that followed a steady stream of Japanese officials and immigrants moved into the country. Japanese education, roads, railways, sanitation were introduced. Yet none of these gained the slightest gratitude from the fiercely nationalistic Koreans. Armed resistance grew steadily in the hands of a strange alliance of Confucian scholars, traditional bandits, Christians, and peasants with local grievances against the colonial power. The anti-Japanese guerrilla army rose to a peak of an estimated 70,000 men in 1908. Thereafter, ruthless Japanese repression broke it down. Korea became an armed camp, in which mass executions and wholesale imprisonments were commonplace and all dissent forbidden. On August 22, 1910, the Korean emperor signed away all his rights of sovereignty. The Japanese introduced their own titles of nobility and imposed their own military government. For the next thirty-five years, despite persistent armed resistance from mountain bands of nationalists, many of them Communist, the Japanese maintained their ruthless, detested rule in Korea, which also became an important base for their expansion north into Manchuria in the 1930s. Yet despite the decline of China into a society of competing warlords, and the preoccupation of Russia with her own revolution, even before the Second World War it was apparent that Korea's geographical position, as the nearest meeting place of three great nations, would make her a permanent focus of tension and competition. The American Tyler Dennett wrote presciently in 1945, months before the Far Eastern war ended: "Many of the international factors which led to the fall of Korea are either unchanged from what they were half a century ago, or are likely to recur the moment peace is restored to the East. Japan's hunger for power will have been extinguished for a period, but not forever. In another generation probably Japan will again be a very important influence in the Pacific. Meanwhile the Russian interest in the peninsula is likely to remain what it was forty years ago. Quite possibly that factor will be more important than ever before. The Chinese also may be expected to continue their traditional concern in the affairs of that area." And now, suddenly, the war was over, and the Japanese Empire was in the hands of the broker's men. Koreans found themselves freed from Japanese domination, looking for fulfillment of the promise of the leaders of the Grand Alliance in the 1943 Cairo Declaration -- that Korea should become free and independent "in due course." The American decision to land troops to play a part in the occupation of Korea was taken only at the very end of the war. The Japanese colony had been excluded from the complex 1943-45 negotiations about occupation zones between the partners of the Grand Alliance. The Americans had always been enamored of the concept of "trusteeship" for Korea, along with Indochina and some other colonial possessions in the Far East. They liked the idea of a period during which a committee of Great Powers -- in this case, China, the U.S., and the U.S.S.R. -- would "prepare and educate" the dependent peoples for self-government and "protect them from exploitation." This concept never found much favor among the British or French, mindful of their own empires. And as the war progressed, concern about the future internal structure of Korea was overtaken by deepening alarm about the external forces that might determine this. As early as November 1943 a State Department subcommittee expressed fears that when the Soviets entered the Far East war, they might seize the opportunity to include Korea in their sphere of influence: "Korea may appear to offer a tempting opportunity to apply the Soviet conception of the proper treatment of colonial peoples, to strengthen enormously the economic resources of the Soviet Far East, to acquire ice-free ports, and to occupy a dominating strategic position in relation both to China and to Japan....A Soviet occupation of Korea would create an entirely new strategic situation in the Far East, and its repercussions within China and Japan might be far reaching." As the American historian Bruce Cumings has aptly pointed out, "What created 'an entirely new strategic situation in the Far East' was not that Russia was interested in Korea -- it had been for decades -- but that the United States was interested." Yet by the time of the Potsdam Conference of July 1945, the United States military was overwhelmingly preoccupied with the perceived difficulties of mounting an invasion of mainland Japan. They regarded the Japanese armies still deployed in Korea and Manchuria as a tough nut for the Red Army to crack and were only too happy to leave the problem, and the expected casualties, to the Russians. The Pentagon had anyway adopted a consistent view that Korea was of no long-term strategic interest to the United States. Yet three weeks later the American perception of Korea had altered dramatically. The explosion of the two atomic bombs on Japan on August 6 and 9 brought Japan to the brink of surrender. The Red Army was sweeping through Manchuria without meeting important resistance. Suddenly, Washington's view of both the desirability and feasibility of denying at least a substantial part of Korea to the Soviets was transformed. Late on the night of August 10, 1945, barely twenty-four hours after the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb, the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee reached a hasty, unilateral decision that the United States should participate in the occupation of Korea. The two officers drafting orders for the committee pored over their small-scale wall map of the Far East and observed that the 38th Parallel ran broadly across the middle of the country. South of this line lay the capital, the best of the agriculture and light industry, and more than half the population. Some members of the committee -- including Dean Rusk, a future Secretary of State -- pointed out that if the Russians chose to reject this proposal, the Red Army sweeping south through Manchuria could overrun all Korea before the first GI could be landed at Inchon. In these weeks, when the first uncertain skirmishes of the Cold War were being fought, the sudden American proposal for the divided occupation of Korea represented an important test of Soviet intentions in the Far East. To the relief of the committee in Washington, the Russians readily accepted the 38th Parallel as the limit of their advance. Almost a month before the first Americans could be landed in South Korea, the Red Army reached the new divide -- and halted there. It is worth remarking that, if Moscow had declined the American plan and occupied all Korea, it is unlikely that the Americans could or would have forced a major diplomatic issue. To neither side, at this period, did the peninsula seem to possess any inherent value, except as a testing ground of mutual intentions. The struggle for political control of China herself was beginning in earnest. Beside the fates and boundaries of great nations that were now being decided, Korea counted for little. Stalin was content to settle for half. At no time in the five years that followed did the Russians show any desire to stake Moscow's power and prestige upon a direct contest with the Americans for the extension of Soviet influence south of the Parallel. Thus it was, late in August 1945, that the unhappy men of the U.S. XXIV Corps -- some veterans of months of desperate fighting in the Pacific, others green replacements fresh from training camps -- found themselves under orders to embark not for home, as they so desperately wished, but for unknown Korea. They were given little information to guide their behavior once they got there. Their commander, General John R. Hodge, received only a confusing succession of signals at his headquarters on Okinawa. On August 14, General Stilwell told him that the occupation could be considered "semifriendly" -- in other words, that he need regard as hostile only a small minority of collaborators. At the end of the month the Supreme Commander, General MacArthur himself, decreed that the Koreans should be treated as "liberated people." From Washington the Secretary of State for War and the Navy Coordinating Committee dispatched a hasty directive to Okinawa ordering Hodge to "create a government in harmony with U.S. policies." But what were U.S. policies toward Korea? Since the State Department knew little more about the country than that its Nationalists hungered for unity and independence, they had little to tell Hodge. As a straightforward military man, the general determined to approach the problem in a straightforward, no-nonsense fashion. On September 4 he briefed his own officers to regard Korea as "an enemy of the United States," subject to the terms of the Japanese surrender. On September 8, when the American occupation convoy was still twenty miles out from Inchon in the Yellow Sea, its ships encountered three neatly dressed figures in a small boat who presented themselves to the general as representatives of "the Korean government." Hodge sent them packing. He did likewise with every other Korean he met on his arrival who laid claim to a political mandate. The XXIV Corps' intention was to seize and maintain control of the country. The U.S. Army, understandably, wished to avoid precipitate entanglement with any of the scores of competing local political factions who already, in those first days, were struggling to build a power base amid the ruin of the Japanese empire. The fourteen-strong advance party who were the first Americans to reach Seoul were fascinated and bemused by what they found: a city of horse-drawn carts, with only the occasional charcoal-powered motor vehicle. They saw three Europeans in a shop and hastened to greet them, only to discover that they were part of the little local Turkish community, who spoke no English. They met White Russians, refugees in Korea since 1920, who demanded somewhat tactlessly, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" The first English-speaker they met was a local Japanese who had lived in the United States before the war. His wife, like all the Japanese community, eager to ingratiate herself with the new rulers, pressed on them a cake and two pounds of real butter -- the first they had seen for months. That night they slept on the floor of Seoul Post Office. The next morning they transferred their headquarters to the Banda Hotel. In the days that followed the major units of XXIV Corps disembarked at Inchon, and dispersed by truck and train around the country, to take up positions from Pusan to the 38th Parallel. General Hodge and his staff were initially bewildered by the clamor of unknown Koreans competing for their political attention and by the disorders in the provinces, which threatened to escalate into serious rioting if the situation was not controlled. There was also the difficulty that no Korean they encountered appeared to speak English, and the only Korean-speaker on the staff, Commander Williams of the U.S. Navy, was insufficiently fluent to conduct negotiations. Amid all this confusion and uncertainty, the occupiers could identify only one local stabilizing force upon whom they could rely: the Japanese. In those first days the Japanese made themselves indispensable to Hodge and his men. One of the American commander's first acts was to confirm Japanese colonial officials in their positions, for the time being. Japanese remained the principal language of communication. Japanese soldiers and police retained chief responsibility for maintaining law and order. As early as September 11, MacArthur signaled instructions to Hodge that Japanese officials must at once be removed from office. But even when this process began to take place, many retained their influence for weeks as unofficial advisers to the Americans. Within days of that first euphoric encounter between the liberators and the liberated, patriotic Koreans were affronted by the open camaraderie between Japanese and American officers, the respect shown by former enemies to each other, in contrast to the thinly veiled contempt offered to the Koreans. "It does seem that from the beginning many Americans simply liked the Japanese better than the Koreans," the foremost American historian of this period has written. "The Japanese were viewed as cooperative, orderly and docile, while the Koreans were seen as headstrong, unruly, and obstreperous." The Americans knew nothing -- or chose to ignore what they did know -- of the ruthless behavior of the Japanese in the three weeks between their official surrender and the coming of XXIV Corps -- the looting of warehouses, the systematic ruin of the economy by printing debased currency, the sale of every available immovable asset. To a later generation, familiar with the dreadful brutality of the Japanese in the Second World War, it may seem extraordinary that Americans could so readily make common cause with their late enemies -- as strange as the conduct of Allied intelligence organizations in Europe, which befriended and recruited former Nazi war criminals and Gestapo agents. Yet the strongest influence of war upon most of those who endure it is to blur their belief in absolute moral values and to foster a sense of common experience with those who have shared it, even a barbarous enemy. There was a vast sense of relief among the men of the armies who still survived in 1945, an instinctive reluctance for more killing, even in the cause of just revenge. There was also a rapidly growing suspicion among some prominent American soldiers -- Patton notable among them -- that they might have been fighting the wrong enemy for these four years. McCarthyism was yet unborn. But a sense of the evil of communism was very strong and already outweighed in the minds of some men their revulsion toward Nazism or Japanese imperialism. In Tokyo the American Supreme Commander himself was already setting an extraordinary pattern of postwar reconciliation with the defeated enemy. In Seoul in the autumn of 1945, General Hodge and his colleagues found it much more comfortable to deal with the impeccable correctness of fellow soldiers, albeit recent enemies, than with the anarchic rivalries of the Koreans. The senior officers of XXIV Corps possessed no training or expertise of any kind for exercising civilian government -- they were merely professional military men, obliged to improvise as they went along. In the light of subsequent events, their blunders and political clumsiness have attracted the unfavorable attention of history. But it is only just to observe that at this period many of the same mistakes were being made by their counterparts in Allied armies all over the world. "South Korea can best be described as a powder keg ready to explode at the application of a spark," Hodge's State Department political adviser H. Merell Benninghoff reported to Washington on September 15. "There is great disappointment that immediate independence and sweeping out of the Japanese did not eventuate. Although the hatred of the Koreans for the Japanese is unbelievably bitter, it is not thought that they will resort to violence as long as American troops are in surveillance....The removal of Japanese officials is desirable from the public opinion standpoint, but difficult to bring about for some time. They can be relieved in name but must be made to continue in work. There are no qualified Koreans for other than the low-ranking positions, either in government or in public utilities and communications." The pressures upon the Americans in Korea to dispense with the aid of their newfound Japanese allies became irresistible. In four months 70,000 Japanese colonial civil servants and more than 600,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were shipped home to their own islands. Many were compelled to abandon homes, factories, possessions. Yet the damage to American relations with the Koreans was already done. Lieutenant Ferris Miller, U.S. Navy, who had been one of the first Americans to land in the country, and subsequently enjoyed a lifelong association with Korea, said, "Our misunderstanding of local feelings about the Japanese, and our own close association with them, was one of the most expensive mistakes we ever made there." In the months that followed the expulsion of the Japanese, the Koreans who replaced them as agents of the American military government were, for the most part, long-serving collaborators, detested by their own fellow countrymen for their service to the colonial power. A ranking American of the period wrote later of his colleagues' "abysmal ignorance of Korea and things Korean, the inelasticity of the military bureaucracy and the avoidance of it by the few highly qualified Koreans, who could afford neither to be associated with such an unpopular government, nor to work for the low wages it offered." Before their enforced departure, the Japanese had been at pains to alert the Americans to the pervasive influence of communism among South Korea's embryo political groupings. Their warnings fell upon fertile soil. In the light of events in Europe, the occupiers were entirely ready to believe that Communists were at the root of political disturbances, their cells working energetically to seize control of the country. Benninghoff reported, "Communists advocate the seizure now of Japanese properties and may be a threat to law and order. It is probable that well-trained agitators are attempting to bring about chaos in our area so as to cause the Koreans to repudiate the United States in favor of Soviet 'freedom' and control." The principal losers in the political competition that now developed, to discover which Koreans could prove themselves most hostile to communism and most sympathetic to the ideals of the United States, were the members of the so-called Korean People's Republic, the KPR. In Korea in 1945 the phrase "people's republic" had not yet taken on the pejorative association it would so soon acquire. The KPR was a grouping of nationalists and prominent members of the anti-Japanese resistance who, before the Americans arrived, sought to make themselves a credible future leadership for Korea. More than half of the eighty-seven leaders chosen by a several-hundred-strong assembly at Kyonggi Girls' High School on September 6 had served terms of imprisonment under the Japanese. At least half also could be identified as leftists or Communists. But prominent exiles such as Syngman Rhee, Mu Chong, Kim Ku, and Kim Il Sung were granted places in absentia, though few subsequently accepted the roles for which they had been chosen. It is significant that the men of the right nominated to the KPR leadership were, on average, almost twenty years older than those of the left. It was not surprising that the Americans, on their arrival, knew nothing of the KPR. The chaotic struggle to fill the political vacuum in Korea was further confused by the arrival from Chungking of the self-proclaimed Korean Provisional Government, an exile grouping which included some nominated members of the KPR. In the weeks that followed the military government's skepticism about the KPR -- energetically fostered by the Japanese -- grew apace. Here there was more than a little in common with Western attitudes to Ho Chi Minh and his colleagues in Vietnam of the same period. There was no attempt to examine closely the Communist ideology of the leftists, to discover how far they were the creatures of Moscow and how far they were merely vague Socialists and Nationalists who found traditional landlordism repugnant. No allowance was made for the prestige earned by the Communists' dominant role in armed resistance to the Japanese. Hodge and his men saw no merit in the KPR's militant sense of Korean nationalism -- this merely represented an obstacle to smooth American military government. It would be naive to suppose that such a grouping as the KPR could have formed an instantly harmonious leadership for an independent Korea. The group included too many irreconcilable factions. But it also represented the only genuine cross section of Korean nationalist opinion ever to come together under one roof, however briefly. Given time and encouragement, it might have offered South Korea some prospect of building a genuine democracy. But the strident tones in which the KPR addressed the American military government ensured that the group was rapidly identified as a threat and a problem. "There is evidence [wrote Benninghoff on October 10] that the [KPR] group receives support and direction from the Soviet Union [perhaps from Koreans formerly resident in Siberia]. In any event, it is the most aggressive party; its newspaper has compared American methods of occupation [with those of the Russians] in a manner that may be interpreted as unfavorable to the United States." It was another group, which could call upon only a fraction of the KPR's likely political support, that seemed infinitely more congenial to Hodge and his advisers: "...the so-called democratic or conservative group, which numbers among its members many of the professional and educational leaders who were educated in the United States or in American missionary institutions in Korea. In their aims and policies they demonstrate a desire to follow the western democracies, and they almost unanimously desire the early return of Dr. Syngman Rhee and the 'Provisional Government' at Chungking." Barely three weeks after the American landings in Korea, official thinking in Seoul was already focusing upon the creation of a new government for the South around the person of one of the nation's most prominent exiles. Syngman Rhee was born in 1875, the son of a genealogical scholar. He failed the civil service exams several times before becoming a student of English. Between 1899 and 1904 he was imprisoned for political activities. On his release, he went to the United States, where he studied for some years, earning an M.A. at Harvard and a Ph.D. at Princeton -- the first Korean to receive an American doctorate. After a brief return to his homeland in 1910, Rhee once more settled in America. He remained there for the next thirty-five years, lobbying relentlessly for American support for Korean independence, financed by the contributions of Korean patriots. If he was despised by some of his fellow countrymen for his egoism, his ceaseless self-promotion, his absence from the armed struggle that engaged other courageous nationalists, his extraordinary determination and patriotism could not be denied. His iron will was exerted as ruthlessly against rival factions of expatriates as against colonial occupation. He could boast an element of prescience in his own world vision. As early as 1944, when the United States government still cherished all manner of delusions about the postwar prospect of working harmoniously with Stalin, Rhee was telling officials in Washington, "The only possibility of avoiding the ultimate conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union is to build up all democratic, non-communistic elements wherever possible." Rhee had gained one great advantage by his absence from his own country for so long. Many of his rivals disliked each other as much as the Japanese. But against Rhee, little of substance was known. He was free from the taint of collaboration. While the Americans struggled to come to terms with a culture and a society that were alien to them, Rhee was a comfortingly comprehensible figure: fluent in the small talk of democracy, able to converse about America and American institutions with easy familiarity, above all at home in the English language. Rhee was acerbic, prickly, uncompromising. But to Hodge and his advisers this obsessive, ruthless nationalist and anti-Communist seemed a plausible father figure for the new Korea. On October 20 the general was present at an official welcoming ceremony for the Americans in Seoul, stage-managed by the so-called Korean Democratic Party, the KDP -- in reality a highly conservative grouping. On the platform stood a large ebony screen inlaid with mother-of-pearl. In a grand moment of theater, the screen was pulled aside. The bony, venerable figure of Dr. Syngman Rhee was revealed to the Korean people. The crowd cheered uproariously. Rhee delivered a rousingly anti-Soviet speech, and disconcerted even his sponsors by denouncing American complicity in the Soviet occupation of the North. The doctor was triumphantly launched upon his career as South Korea's most celebrated -- or notorious -- politician. Overwhelmingly the strongest card that Rhee possessed was the visible support of the Americans. Roger Makins, a senior official in the British Foreign Office throughout the early Cold War period, remarks upon "the American propensity to go for a man, rather than a movement -- Giraud among the French in 1942, Chiang Kai Shek in China. Americans have always liked the idea of dealing with a foreign leader who can be identified and perceived as 'their man.' They are much less comfortable with movements." So it was in Korea with Syngman Rhee. In an Asian society, where politics are often dominated by an instinctive desire to fall in behind the strongest force, Rhee's backing from the Military Government was a decisive force in his rise to power. When Benninghoff identified Rhee with the Korean "Provisional Government" in Chungking, he blithely ignored the open hostility between the two that had persisted for twenty years, despite Rhee's continuing claim to be the "Provisional Government's" representative in Washington. The State Department, with lo Excerpted from The Korean War by Max Hastings All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

The Korean War has been misunderstood and neglected. Hastings had the unique opportunity of interviewing Chinese and North Korean veterans, a source denied to most Western historians. He shows how Korea served as a prelude to Vietnam and why Americans were making the same mistakes 15 years later. One minor criticism: Hastings devotes much space to the operations of the British Commonwealth Division. The Commonwealth never had more than 20,000 men in Korea; the United States had well over 500,000. Recommended for most academic and public libraries; for a more extensive history buy Edwin P. Hoyt's trilogy, Pusan Perimeter, On to the Yalu, and Bloody Road to Panmunjon . BOMC and History Book Club alternates.Stanley Itkin, Hillside P.L., New Hyde Park, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


The best general history of this near-forgotten conflict that has been produced to date. Hastings draws some chilling parallels with Vietnam. In both cases, the president sent troops without a declaration of war, supported unpopular regimes, US strategists relied too much on aerial bombing, and the American public's disillusionment led to termination of the conflict. Because Hastings is English, his views on such controversial issues as the Truman-MacArthur controversy are especially noteworthy. His interviews with British, Korean, and American civilians and combatants reveal the human side of the war. Readers will appreciate the excellent photographs of civilian and military leaders of both sides. A chronology revealing the timetable of events is especially useful because of the seesaw nature of the conflict, (e.g., Seoul changed hands four times). Footnotes indicate exhaustive research of both primary and secondary sources. Another excellent work, The Forgotten War by Clay Blair (see above), is a much more exhaustive study on the conflict. Blair's work is of greater interest to upper-division undergraduates and graduate students; Hastings's book, however, should be in all public and academic libraries.-M. O'Donnell, College of Staten Island, CUNY

Booklist Review

An accessible discussion of the military conflict and the cold war crisis at home, this draws on the personal accounts of veterans, and also includes the Chinese perspective. [BKL O 15 87 Upfront]

Kirkus Book Review

An overview of the 1950-53 ""police action"" that ranks with T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War and Bevin Alexander's Korea (1986). Having interviewed over 200 American, British, Canadian, and Chinese veterans, Hastings (Overlord, Bomber Command, The Battle for the Falklands) is able to put the bitter conflict into human-scale focus. As an Englishman, moreover, he offers fresh perspectives on the contributions of Commonwealth and other nations that, at no small sacrifice, sent troops to fight under the UN banner. In addition to obligatory coverage of the Inchon, Pusan, and Chosin campaigns, for example, he provides a musing account of the Gloucestershire Regiment's costly 1951 stand on the Imjin River, about 30 miles north of Seoul. Hastings is equally adept at capturing the big picture, offering persuasive interpretations of the causes and course of the Korean conflict, ""a struggle the West was utterly right to fight."" For instance, he documents the American miscalculations that' helped precipitate North Korea's mid-1950 invasion with ""active assistance"" from Moscow and ""the connivance"" of Peking. Along similar lines, the author argues convincingly that the US, whose forces bore the brunt of the combat duty, could have avoided confrontation with the Communist Chinese had it heeded clear warnings that they required North Korea as a buffer state. While the Korean War was effectively ended when peace talks started at Kaesong, Hastings makes clear that the small-unit actions and set-piece battles of the pre-ceasefire period were every bit as bloody as the dramatic thrust and parry of the first year. During the stalemate, UN and Chinese forces engaged in savage strife along the 38th Parallel, sustaining tens of thousands of casualties. Brutality and brawls in POW compounds on both sides also exacted a heavy toll while the superpowers took each other's measure at the bargaining table. A balanced, perceptive reckoning of what was won and lost in an important clash of arms that excited precious little interest or passion on home fronts. The absorbing text has photographs and maps (not seen). Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.