The Korean War by Max Hastings

The Korean War by Max Hastings

A great narrative of the Korean War. Before reading this, I had no idea what happened in this war, despite living in South Korea for 2 years. I knew this war was very important to Taiwan’s history and this was quickly confirmed while reading this book.

“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.”

Now there’s a truth about Taiwan’s dictator/first president if I ever heard one.

“America’s cash investment in Chiang’s creakingly corrupt regime had been enormous: $645 million in aid and $826 in Lend-Lease during World War II, followed by another two billion dollars in the years that followed…”

The Taiwanese ‘miracle’ was financed by America in their ‘fight against Communism". Taiwan was in the right place at the right time.

“Third, his area of command (General MacArthur) would be extended to include Formosa. The Seventh Fleet would deploy immediately between the island and the Chinese mainland, to ‘quarantine’ the Korean struggle, and discourage either Mao Tse Tung or Chiang Kai-Shek from embarking upon a dangerous escalation of Asian hostilities.”

This action was probably a pivotal change of direction for the fate of Taiwan. This decision has reverberations to this day in Taiwan. Taiwan was seen to be an important location to defend against communism. I wonder how history would’ve played out if the Korean War didn’t break out and the navy didn’t get in between China and Taiwan. These are the questions that will never be answered. In a way, it feels like the Korean War ‘saved’ Taiwan.

Clueless officers! General Almond making small talk to the soldiers…

“‘Well, men, and how are you today? Pretty cold, isn’t it.’ The bearded, muffled scarecrows peered out at him from the inch or two of exposed flesh around their eyes. ‘Do you know I wear a plate?’ persisted Almond conversationally. ‘When I got up this morning, there was a film of ice on the glass by my bed.’ ‘That’s too fucking bad, General’, said one of these men who could not dare to dream of ever seeing a bed again. Almond strolled on, oblivious of the impression he had made.”

The following quote probably could be attributed to most wars after World War 2. World War 2 will probably be remembered as the last ‘just’ war with truly villainous bad guys like Hitler, the SS, and the Japanese Empire.

“A patrol from A Company of the British 1st Gloucesters came upon a huddled mass of Korean civilians lying in a river bed. Some were dying - of exposure, weakness, hunger, exhaustion. The British soldiers formed a human chain to pull them up. ‘Thank you ver much,’ said a woman, in perfect English. ‘I teach English at the university,’ she explained, answering their surprise. The Gloucestors asked if there was anything more they could do for her. ‘Haven’t you done enough already?’ she demanded bitterly. ‘Just all go away and leave us with what’s left of our country.’ She turned on her heel and walked away across the hill.”

Time and again there are reminders of what the purpose of the war was, it wasn’t to help the Koreans. Rather, it was to stop the insidious spread of communism from infecting South East Asia. Very little thought was given to the Koreans, on either side of the 38th parallel, throughout the war that ravaged the country. Countries pay a very high price when America brings the ‘gift’ of freedom to people. The most recent examples being in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It feels like this review was mostly how the Korean War was important for Taiwan but the book was really quite good in explaining the Korean War. I always wish for more maps while reading history books and this was no exception. Luckily, the Korean war has lots of photos of the soldiers and maps online. Kepe your phone handy as you read this because many of the places where battles were fought will be unknown to you. I feel like I lived just a bit of the war now and know the pivotal battles of Imjin River, and the Chosin Resevoir. I know the politics behind MacArthur and the other follies of the war. I appreciate the writer, who’s a Brit, writing about more than just the American troops in the war, too.

If you are interested in Asian history, especially the history of China, you must become acquainted with this almost ‘forgotten’ war.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #1 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

Built with Hugo
Theme Stack designed by Jimmy