David Bales's Reviews > The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
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's review
Nov 19, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 52-books-in-52-weeks

I was deeply moved by this, the last book by David Halberstam before his untimely death in a car accident in 2007. Halberstam got the idea for a book on Korea while talking to officers who had served there when he was reporting from Vietnam in the early 1960s. Halberstam went to Vietnam in 1962 and ended up writing a book called "The Making of a Quagmire" in 1964 which proved prophetic. "The Coldest Winter" is about the terrible fighting in 1950 and 1951, after North Korea invaded South Korea and the U.S. and U.N. intervened to stop them. Called the "forgotten war", the Korean War had some of the worst battles since World War I and featured the longest retreat in the history of the U.S. Army after American troops were surrounded in North Korea after the Chinese intervened with 300,000 troops in November, 1950. The winter is cold, the soldiers surrounded, the Chinese disciplined and seemingly their leadership indifferent to casualties.

There are many heroes, and many villains, including a scathing assessment of General MacArthur, who pushed north of the 38th parallel and provoked an intervention with China. Halberstam covers all the bases in this one, (as he always did) and lets us in on the motivations of Kim Il Sung, Syngman Rhee, (the president of South Korea) Mao, MacArthur, President Truman and the real-life Dark Lord, Stalin, who originally gave the go-ahead for the North Koreans to invade, (but don't expect us to give you our troops! That's what the Chinese are for!) After early 1951, the Korean War was simply a stalemate for the remaining 2 and a half years, a "limited war" the strategy for both sides resembling the Battle of Verdun. "Bleed the other side white" was the goal. In many ways, the "Forgotten War" was the worst war this country ever fought, in the worst terrain, mountain after mountain, no roads to speak of, terrible cold and terrible heat and humidity, rain, mud, the works. This is a great book.
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