Mark Desrosiers's Reviews > The Korean War: A History

The Korean War by Bruce Cumings
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Nov 13, 11

bookshelves: history, weaponized
Read from November 01 to 08, 2011

Leave it to Bruce Cumings to write a history of this forgotten war where the order of battle -- the major military operations agreed upon by most historians -- occupy only the first 36 pages. The rest of the book is both a resurrection of the tragic periphery, and an argument about what this war means, for Koreans and The United States.

Facts are facts: the U.S. (and UN) intervened in a civil war occasioned by the humbling of Korea's long-time occupier, Japan. Cumings is right on the money in comparing this with a hypothetical intervention of the British on the side of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. Yes, North Korea is nutzoid, but understanding its anti-Japan anger and resolve (which stretches back to 1932) goes a long way to understanding how North Korea became this ancient tunnel-digging blinkered worm on the international stage.

Cumings focuses on the Korean experience -- the early rebellions in Cheju and Yosu get an entire chapter -- but I think most readers will notice an absence of American soldier experience. Perhaps this is intentional, part of his theme that this war has been deliberately forgotten by Americans. But something could really be added here about how and why Americans, besotted by WWII victory, sent soldiers across the Pacific again for no obvious "good war" purpose. There was a tragic precedent -- the "Philippine insurrection" -- which gets no mention here at all, despite the obvious parallel of fucking-up-a-civil war, and the central presence of General MacArthur's five-star dad Arthur. Someday someone will tie this all together -- North Korean archives won't be burned or detonated after the occupation generation passes away, and the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going a long way toward figuring out the awkward mass-murders blackening our (and their) past.

I predict a future -- maybe 2036 or so -- where the Koreas become Korea, and this book will be the one countless Americans claimed to have read prior to the historic reunion. So read it now and notice how a historian can become a seer.
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