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The Korean War: A History (Modern Library…

The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)

by Bruce Cumings

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“The same kind of inquiry is needed into American massacres such as Nogun-ri, the unrelenting firebombing of the North, and one of the most astonishing cover-ups in postwar U.S. history, the black-and-white reversal of the truth of what happened in Taejon.”(Cumings page 174)

Cumings details many aspects of the Korean War, including:
Nations involved (Korea, China, Japan, Russia, US, Britain)
Firebombings and massacres
US napalm use
Peasant uprisings
Infrastructure bombings
Political motivations
Perspectives of many differing points of view, and how they interacted
Firsthand testimonies

I learned how the Korean War marked the beginning of the building of permanent US bases in foreign nations. These foreign occupations are what US is, and deserves all the attention Cumings gave. ( )
  Michael.Bradham | Nov 19, 2013 |
This short book is hard to evaluate because it contains a lot of inside baseball/score-settling with other historians, which only serves to reinforce the author’s point that Americans know virtually nothing about the Korean War, generally misperceiving it as being about the Cold War when it was and remains primarily a civil war and the outside country of most importance is probably Japan, whose occupation set the stage for rebellion against former collaborators (who made up a big chunk of the political class of South Korea until very recently). Cumings emphasizes the atrocities committed by South Koreans and occasionally Americans, while acknowledging that North Koreans also did plenty of harm which has yet to be exposed via a truth and reconciliation commission as in the South. There are meditations on the nature of history and memory that strive for poetry, but don’t quite get there; still, I did learn something about the intractability of the conflict and the ridiculousness of seeing Korea as simply a stage on which the West-Communist Bloc struggle played out. ( )
  rivkat | Oct 24, 2011 |
An immensely frustrating book. Cumings has an important argument to make: that the Korean war is properly understood as a civil war between Koreans who collaborated with Japanese occupiers in the 1930s (and became the leaders of South Korea) and the Korean guerrillas who resisted that occupation (and became the leaders of North Korea). When the United States essentially saved South Korea, it froze in place Korea's natural evolution, keeping the civil war from resolving up to the present. In addition, Cumings argues, the United States was complicit in atrocities committed by South Korean leadership against innocent civilians in both South and North Korea, and committed atrocities of its own by carpet bombing much of North Korea with napalm and high explosives.

This is an important reinterpretation (or recovery) of the history and context of the war, and I imagine there are many Americans like me for whom this is a new and valuable, if horrifying, perspective. But it deserves a much better presentation than this. The book entirely lacks a clear organization; the chapters form a series of overlapping essays, but even taken as distinct essays, they don't sum to coherent arguments. The tone of the writing lurches back and forth between staid history, personal essay, and fierce polemic. Finally, it doesn't help that Cumings' cultural touchstones are Friedrich Nietzsche and Ambrose Bierce -- brilliant observers of human nature, but also bitter, troubled, and often making their compassion deliberately inaccessible. I'm grateful for the research Mr Cumings has assembled over his career, but this book doesn't seem the best way to encounter it. ( )
1 vote bezoar44 | Feb 19, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679643575, Hardcover)

A bracing account of a war that lingers in our collective memory as both ambiguous and unjustly ignored
For Americans, it was a discrete conflict lasting from 1950 to 1953 that has long been overshadowed by World War II, Vietnam, and the War on Terror. But as Bruce Cumings eloquently explains, for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long fight that still haunts contemporary events. And in a very real way, although its true roots and repercussions continue to be either misunderstood, forgotten, or willfully ignored, it is the war that helped form modern America’s relationship to the world.

With access to new evidence and secret materials from both here and abroad, including an archive of captured North Korean documents, Cumings reveals the war as it was actually fought. He describes its start 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, the untold stories of bloody insurgencies and rebellions, and the powerful militaries organized and equipped by America and the Soviet Union in that divided land. He tells of the United States officially entering the action on the side of the South, and exposes as never before the appalling massacres and atrocities committed on all sides and the “oceans of napalm” dropped on the North by U.S. forces in a remarkably violent war that killed as many as four million Koreans, two thirds of whom were civilians.

In sobering detail, The Korean War chronicles a U.S. home front agitated by Joseph McCarthy, where absolutist conformity discouraged open inquiry and citizen dissent. Cumings incisively ties our current foreign policy back to Korea: an America with hundreds of permanent military bases abroad, a large standing army, and a permanent national security state at home, the ultimate result of a judicious and limited policy of containment evolving into an ongoing and seemingly endless global crusade.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:56 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

As Cumings eloquently explains, for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long fight filled with untold stories of bloody insurgencies and rebellions, massacres and atrocities. He incisively ties America's current foreign policy back to this remarkably violent war that killed as many as four million Koreans, two thirds of whom were civilians.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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