Now Max Hastings, preeminent military historian takes us back to the bloody bitter struggle to restore South Korean independence after the Communist invasion of June 1950. Using personal accounts from interviews with more than 200 vets—including the Chinese—Hastings follows real officers and soldiers through the battles. He brilliantly captures the Cold War crisis at home—the strategies and politics of Truman, Acheson, Marshall, MacArthur, Ridgway, and Bradley—and shows what we should have learned in the war that was the prelude to Vietnam.
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About the Author
Max Hastings is the author of Overlord and Bomber Command and the coauthor of Battle for the Falklands. Editor of The Daily Telegraph, he lives in London, England.
Read an Excerpt
... a considerable achievement that the United States had been able to maintain the support of the Western allies for her anti-Communist program. The United Nations Commission on Korea, charged with pursuing the eventual objective of supervising the unification of the divided nation, now maintained a permanent presence in the South, monitoring the mutually hostile activities of Seoul and Pyongyang and seeking "to observe and report any developments which might lead to or otherwise involve military conflict in Korea." It is a backhanded tribute to the vestiges of democracy that persisted in the South that, in the elections for a new National Assembly in May 1950, Syngman Rhee's bitter unpopularity was fully reflected. The parties of the Right gained only 49 seats against 130 seats won by Independents and 44 by other parties.
With the advantage of hindsight, it is evident that United States policy in postwar Korea was clumsy and ill conceived. It reflected not only a lack of understanding, but a lack of interest in the country and its people beyond their potential as bricks in the wall against Communist aggression. This failure, it may be suggested, lay close to the heart of the United States' difficulties not only with Korea, but also with China and subsequently with Vietnam. The occupiers' enthusiasm for the reproduction of American political and bureaucratic institutions in Asia held little charm for Koreans with different attitudes and priorities. Japan, alone in Asia, represented in the 1940s, as it represents today, the single glittering example of a society in which American political transplants took firm root. Only Japan was sufficiently educated and homogeneous to adapt thenew institutions successfully. In Japan alone the traditional leaders of society were not identified by their poorer compatriots with an intolerable measure of injustice, corruption, and collaboration with foreign oppressors. In those parts of Asia where they exerted influence, the Americans honorably attempted to mitigate the worst excesses of landlordism and social oppression. But they never acknowledged how grievously these evils damaged their perpetrators as credible rulers in a democratic society. Again and again in Asia, America aligned herself alongside social forces which possessed no hope of holding power by consent. Chiang Kai Shek's followers, like those of Syngman Rhee, could maintain themselves in office only by the successful application of oppressive force.
Yet the United States is also entitled to argue before the bar of history that a more enlightened and idealistic policy in postwar Korea would have caused the country to fall to the Communists. The local Communists' credentials as fighters against the Japanese, their freedom from the embarrassments of landlordism and corruption, would almost certainly have enabled them to gain some popular mandate in 1945-46. Whatever their initial willingness to form a coalition with Koreans of the Center and Right, would the moderates not have suffered the same inexorable fate of death or impotence that befell so many Eastern European politicians of that period, not to mention those of North Korea? Diplomatic historians have convincingly shown that in 1945-46, contrary to American belief at the time, South Korea did not form part of the Soviet expansion plan. Yet how were the contemporary leaders of the West to know or to guess that this was so, that Stalin had indulgently decided to exclude Korea from the fate that had befallen Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary? In the late 1940s it seemed, upon sufficient evidence, that the purpose of the Soviet Union was to test the strength of the West at every possible point and to advance wherever weakness was detected. Dr. Syngman Rhee and his followers appeared at least to represent strength and determination at a period when these were at a premium. In historical assessments of the postwar period, it is sometimes forgotten that the Russians were as deeply feared by many Europeans as the Germans a few years earlier. The appeasers of Hitler had become objects of derision and contempt. Those who observed the Red Army's dreadful record of rape and pillage i n Eastern Europe, the unquestionable readiness of Moscow to employ murder as an instrument of policy, felt nothing but scorn for the would-be appeasers of Stalin in Europe or in Asia.
Nor did American manipulation of South Korean politics seem anything like as awful a matter, even in liberal circles, in 1945 as it might forty years later. In the course of the Second World War, none of the partners of the Grand Alliance had shown any greater sensitivity toward the human rights and feelings of Asian peoples than the chiefs of the Military Government displayed in Seoul from 1945 to 1948. If Korean policemen sometimes tortured or killed civilians, if their leaders accepted bribes, if their politicians behaved like mafiosi was not this the way "these people" had always done things? Was it not merely a higher form of Western arrogance to seek to impose Western ideas of humanity upon a society in which dog was a culinary delicacy customarily strangled and depilated with a pine taper in the course of preparation and where fried crickets and boiled silkworms featured prominently in local good-food guides? The American record in Korea between 1945 and 1950 must be judged against the indisputable reality of Soviet expansionism, of Stalin's bottomless malevolence. No charge against the Rhee regime can blunt the force of one simple truth: that while the United States deliberately declined to provide South Korea with the means to conduct armed aggression, the Soviet Union supplied North Korea with a large arsenal of tanks, artillery, and military aircraft. The events that unfolded in the summer of 1950 demonstrated that American fears for the peninsula were entirely well founded, whatever the shortcomings of Washington's political response to the situation.
Copyright © 1987 by Romadata Ltd.
Table of Contents
|Prologue: Task Force Smith||15|
|1||Origins of a Tragedy||23|
|3||The West's Riposte||54|
|Retreat to the Naktong|
|The Pusan Perimeter|
|6||To the Brink: MacArthur Crosses the Parallel||115|
|7||The Coming of the Chinese||128|
|8||Chosin: The Road from the Reservoir||147|
|9||The Winter of Crisis||165|
|The Big Bugout|
|Washington and Tokyo|
|The Arrival of Ridgway|
|10||Nemesis: The Dismissal of MacArthur||192|
|11||The Struggle on the Imjin||208|
|12||The Stony Road||228|
|13||The Intelligence War||243|
|14||The Battle in the Air||253|
|15||The War on the Hills||270|
|17||The Pursuit of Peace||305|
|"I Shall Go to Korea"|
|The Last Act|
|Notes and References||351|
|Select Bibliography and a Note on Sources||361|
|List of Maps|
|The Invasion of South Korea||71|
|From Inchon to Seoul||108|
|The Chinese Intervention||136|
|Retreat from the Chosin Reservoir||158|
|The Battle of the Imjin River||215|
What People are Saying About This
Hugh Sidey Time A top-drawer book by a splendid historian.
Drew Middleton The New York Times Admirable...penetrating.
Stephen E. Ambrose author of Eisenhower: The President and Nixon: The Education of a Politician Rings true and will surely stand the test of time....Max Hastings has no peer as a writer of battlefield history.
Richard M. Nixon Must reading for any American who wants to understand one of the watershed events of the post-World War II period.
Alistair Horne author of The Price of Glory Fair and immensely readable...a major contribution to more than just military history....Max Hastings is among the ablest of the younger generation of British military historians....He now illuminates the struggle that changed all perceptions of the post-1945 world.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Almost Thirty years on and still arguably the best history on the Korean War. What Max Hastings did in this book was to give a truly rounded picture of these "Olympian" (as he often says) characters of history: Truman, MacArthur, Ridgeway, Sherman, and the list goes on. We see them in their greatness and their folly. Their most human and their most infallible. In reading this, you cannot help but get an overwhelming sense of how these men responded to a world which was completely new and whose rules had changed beyond their comprehension at times. What's sometimes most interesting is the subtext. The things left unsaid but suggested that the author allows the reader to imagine. The author also shows a deeply intimate portrait of the soldiers and the citizen of that blasted, frozen, and staring land that Korea would become during the years of war. One gets a true sense of the scars that marked every person who had to experience that event first hand.The writer is British, and he may sometimes give an American the sense that he his Anti-American, but nothing could be further from the truth in this reviewer's opinion. He is merely giving an accurate and balanced picture of the American troubles during the war, as well as addressing the brutality of the enemies we faced and our inability to face them at times. As an example: "Bug out fever," the troubling habit of American soldiers to run at the first sign of being flanked, was truly a problem and the writer lays it bear. At the outset of the war American the 8th Army was poorly trained and poorly equipped psychologically to fight a war, and that bore itself out in tragic ways.
Hastings hopes to remedy the neglect with which historians have treated the Korean War. He contends that, "above all, perhaps, Korea merits close consideration as a military rehearsal for the subsequent disaster in Vietnam." Indeed, in his detailed history of the conflict, he draws many parallels to the ill-fated war in Indochina. (Especially poignant: the reference to "the ferocious struggles that cost thousands of men on both sides their lives in pursuit of hill numbers or map references.") The book is well-written and stays interesting; his minute-by-minute eyewitness recollections from the front are as riveting as they are grim. The Korean War was accompanied by some critically important side-dramas: Truman versus MacArthur, the Allies' fears of both McArthur and McCarthy, China versus the Soviet Union, the questionable fate of Formosa, and the decision to use -or not to use - atomic weapons in tactical maneuvers. All of these issues are given illuminating coverage by Hastings. Among his sobering conclusions was the observation that in spite of many examples of personal bravery, the performance of the U.S. Army - at least in the first year of fighting - "ranged between moderate and deplorable." Behavior of Army prisoners of war was not much better. Furthermore, many Americans exhibited arrogance, insensitivity, and paternalism in their treatment of Koreans. In fact, he suggests, Americans had much more respect for the Chinese, whose infantrymen were considered to be excellent fighters. Hastings is scrupulously fair in his assessment of both U.S. and Chinese motives for fighting in Korea. Although he tries to convey fully the frustration Americans felt by having political limits placed on their military power, he does not hesitate to express his own gratitute that nuclear weapons were not used. He deplores the behavior of Syngman Rhee and his support by the U.S., but declares him and his regime "infinitely better than anything attainable under Kim Il Sung." One minor quibble would be that the scanty maps are inadequate. A recommended companion piece while reading this very good book is the Oxford Atlas of American Military History. (JAF)
This sample was very enlightening about what happened in Korea prior to the Korean Conflict and the role of the United States during this time frame.