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The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) Hardcover – July 27, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0679643579 ISBN-10: 0679643575 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; 1 edition (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679643575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679643579
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For many, the Korean War is remembered more for Hawkeye and Klinger than General MacArthur and Syngman Rhee. But for Cumings (Korea's Place in the Sun), professor at the University of Chicago, the critical issue is not one of memory, but of understanding. In this devastating work he shows how little the U.S. knew about who it was fighting, why it was fighting, and even how it was fighting. Though the North Koreans had a reputation for viciousness, according to Cumings, U.S. soldiers actually engaged in more civilian massacres (including dropping over half a million tons of bombs and thousands of tons of napalm, more than was dropped on the entire Pacific theatre in World War II, almost indiscriminately). Cumings deftly reveals how Korea was a clear precursor to Vietnam: a divided country, fighting a long anti-colonial war with a committed and underestimated enemy; enter the U.S., efforts go poorly, disillusionment spreads among soldiers, and lies are told at top levels in an attempt to ignore or obfuscate a relentless stream of bad news. For those who like their truth unvarnished, Cumings's history will be a fresh, welcome take on events that seemed to have long been settled. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

An academic specialist on Korean history, Cumings believes Americans have amnesia about the Korean War of 1950–53. Or is it the Korean War of 1931 to the present? Cumings goes back that far for an origin to hostilities, seating them in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and characterizing what happened in June 1950 as an intensification of a Korean civil war, though one definitely escalated by North Korea. These contexts, including the American occupation of South Korea from 1945–48, are more important in Cumings' treatment than the specifically military history of the war, which is dominant in popular American memory of the war. The picture Cumings presents does not flatter American policies, which take hits for supporting a ruthless South Korean government and for destroying North Korean cities. Chronicling atrocities perpetrated by the South, Cummings does not exonerate those committed by the North; the comparison serves his proposition that America intervened in a civil war, to its detriment. Cumings' historical expertise will be highly informative background material for those watching the current explosive potential of the North Korean situation. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

It's almost like the author is still trying to fight the war.
zl21
I know he visited Pyongyang several times, and it appears the North Korean regime didn't given him a neat bundle of documental evidence of their atrocities!
J. H. Bae
It's one thing to have an opinion, but to label your opinion as historical fact is pure deception.
Eric

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a useful introduction to the Korean War. This is not a conventional military history and anyone looking for a conventional military history will be disappointed. Cumings, a leading expert on modern Korean history, is primarily interested in debunking common American myths about the Korean war. The book is organized as a series of essays on aspects of the Korean war. Topics covered include the ultimate genesis of the war as a civil conflict between Korean clients of the Japanese imperium and anti-colonial insurgents, the essentially arbitrary post-WWII division of Korea, the nature of the American occupation and direct rule of Korea, the efforts of the US to rollback Communism in the Korean peninsula, the remarkably brutal nature of the conflict - including our use of saturation bombing, and the last consequences of the war for both Korea and the USA.

Cuming's analysis is that the War was an essentially unavoidable civil conflict between Koreans who has been Japanese clients, and who became our clients, and anti-Japanese Korean insurgents allied with the Chinese Communists. Like many local-regional conflicts of the Cold War, the local issues became entangled in the East-West rivalry, greatly exacerbating the conflict. As Cumings points out, the war was started by the North Koreans led by Kim Il Sung but against the background of constant conflict between the Northern and Southern regimes, and given the resources (approval of the US), the Rhee regime in the South would have happily struck first. Cumings devotes quite a few pages to the many, many crimes of the Korean war. As is typical of civil wars, there were enormous atrocities committed by both sides.
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90 of 107 people found the following review helpful By John Baesler on September 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
My only gripe with this book is that its title "The Korean War" is misleading. "Essays on the Korean War in Korean and American Memory" would have been a more apt, but maybe less marketable, title. Thus, interested readers looking for a quick, up-to-date narrative of the period of combat involving the United States (1950-1953) might feel disappointed. I hope they will still read this literally eye opening book. After all, there is David Halberstam's recent opus magnum "The Longest Winter" that covers the "conventional" Korean War.

Professor Cumings--who has travelled in Korea and studied its history extensively over more than four decades--dispenses with the traditional story in chapter one and then moves on to uncover the dark sides of the conflict--covered up in Korea and repressed in America for decades. He explores the beginning of the conflict in the brutal Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, which created fierce guerilla resistance fighters (many of whom would fight for the North in 1950) but also collaboration among the economic and military elite (many of whom would become "our guys" in the South after World War II). He discusses the brutal violence used by corrupt southern leaders to suppress dissent BEFORE 1950, the merciless American air war, which employed napalm, against civilians, the massacres committed on POWs and civilians by both sides, and other topics most Americans never heard of back then and would prefer not to hear about now. After all, this was one of America's "good wars," even for most liberal commentators. Yet ignoring this history, as Cumings forcefully argues, prolongs the terrible traumas the war inflicted among all participants, and it makes it impossible to understand what is currently going on in Korea.
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87 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Aloysius Oneill on October 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is only fair to start by saying that this book was not as bad as I expected, despite its serious shortcomings. On the positive side, it seems that Professor Cumings has largely, though belatedly and grudgingly, come to terms with the appalling nature of the North Korean regime. Also, there are certainly things that I agree with that may surprise many Americans for whom the Korean War came out of the blue on June 25, 1950. I made many of the same points in a lecture on the Korean War's role in US foreign policy at the Citadel in Charleston in 2008. They include:

o The war had its distant origins in the 1930's in the political struggle among Koreans, mostly in exile in Manchuria, China and the US, to determine the shape of a future independent Korea. (But it is inaccurate to say that the Korean War started then.)

o The US occupation (1945-48) was headed by John Hodge, an honest and brave general who was completely unprepared for the political complexities of southern Korea. Hodge gravitated toward the most conservative Koreans and seemed to believe that all the rest were communists, when the actual situation was far more complicated. (After I gave my lecture, I learned from the Russian scholar Andrei Lankov that the Soviet occupation of the North was every bit as unplanned and ad hoc as ours was.)

o The conflict began in earnest from 1948 with the formation of the ROK in the South and the DPRK in the North. There followed many North-South military clashes along the 38th Parallel, then just a line on the map, totally unlike the present Demilitarized Zone. Some were battalion-sized battles.
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