Read any Good Books Lately? (#12) – The Korean War: A History

We all live through historical events. Some we don’t recall and others are only vague memories. Even the ones dimly remembered can continue to have significant impacts on our daily lives. Case in point – The Korean War of 1950-1953. Almost before my time of course. I was barely a teenager with other things on my mind at the time. The recent political theater with Donald Trump and Kim Jong has prompted my interest. What was the Korean War really about? I came across this publication on Kindle and I think it is well worth the read.

The Korean War: A History  by Bruce Cummings –


“For Americans, it was a discrete conflict lasting from 1950 to 1953. But for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long struggle that still haunts contemporary events. With access to new evidence and secret materials from both here and abroad, including an archive of captured North Korean documents, Bruce Cumings reveals the war as it was actually fought. He describes its origin as a civil war, preordained long before the first shots were fired in June 1950 by lingering fury over Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Cumings then shares the neglected history of America’s post–World War II occupation of Korea, reveals untold stories of bloody insurgencies and rebellions, and tells of the United States officially entering the action on the side of the South, exposing as never before the appalling massacres and atrocities committed on all sides.

Elegantly written and blisteringly honest, The Korean War is, like the war it illuminates, brief, devastating, and essential.”

This book is not about the battles and the gory aspects of the battle field. This book is about the political back ground of the lead up to the war, a pencil sketch of the war,  and some of ramifications of the outcome of the war. I am not a war buff so that aspect did not particularly interest me. I was more interested in the larger picture and the larger issues. At the time, and even now, the perceived wisdom of the conflict was a simple case of Northern Communist aggression against a democratic Southern Korea that was friendly to the west. Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see that was not the case. In truth it was a civil war with the protagonists representing anti-Japanese and pro-Japanese points of view. The anti-Japanese Koreans had spent years battling the Japanese colonization of Korea and Manchuria. They had fought along side their Chinese compatriots in Manchuria and at the end of  WWII there was an expectation that the allies would dismantle the Japanese (French, British, Dutch etc) colonies and foster national aspirations of those “former” colonies. Of course that never happened. The French were reinstalled in Vietnam, the British in Malaysia, the Dutch in the east Indies, etc). Despite the war crimes tribunials and the establishment of Japanese  guilt for the war, shortly after the completion of hostilities the Americans realized that they needed to re-establish Japanese industry and economic interests to stabilize the area and prevent Communist expansion into the Asian political vacuum. Virtually, that meant re-establishing Japanese interests in Korea.  The result was civil war between those Koreans who were anti-Japanese and those Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese before and during WWII. Like most civil wars it was a brutal conflict with many large scale atrocities  perpetrated by both sides. The war was fought to a stand still and technically a state of war still exists between a Northern communist regime and a somewhat more liberal South Korea. The American had hoped that a popular democratic government in South Korea would eventuate. That did not really happen. As we speak there is a perception that South Korea is a democratic entity much like those of the west but in reality the country has existed with a rotating door of coups and corrupt governments. Unfortunately the North has not fared much better. There has been a stable regime in place since the end of the conflict but the general population has suffered under a brutal dictatorship with a siege mentality. It is that siege mentality that governs the north’s position in any dealings with outside interest. It is the very reason that North Korea will never give up their understandable pursuit of nuclear options. Trump came away from the recent discussions with an assumption that the North will denuclearize. But that will never happen. Why would they give away a trump card when history has shown them what happens to regimes that buckle to American pressure.

Some where, some one, has stated that that the actions of a crazy person are those of some one that keeps on doing the same thing over and over and over again with the expectations of a different outcome. With that in mind haven’t the American been doing that for years and years. They didn’t succeed in Korea or Vietnam. In broad strokes the Vietnam situation a was repeat of the Korean experience. A communist north, a corrupt southern regime, a nationalist determination to achieve independence, a divided country and a civil war with the Americans entering the war on the wrong side of history. The outcome is some what similar. The war did end but the Americans lost that war. In the long run the final outcome is somewhat better with a united Vietnam without war and some semblance of peace and prosperity. With Korea and Vietnam behind them once again the American ended up in a divided Iraq with warring factions in the semblance of a civil war. They may have won  the battles but I suggest they lost the war. Similarly in Afghanistan where I also suggest they have won the battles but have lost the war. I think they have been involved in the region for over ten years and there is still no end in sight.

The book is not exactly holiday reading but it requires very little effort and the possible understanding obtained is worth the effort.


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