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Fifty years after its writing, this classic narrative history remains as relevant and effective as it ever was during the Cold War. As much a cautionary tale as a retelling of events, the author's account puts before the reader a stark dilemma whose spectre looms large at the dawn of the 21st Century.
With some wit, the author tells the tale of a nation tired of war, which cast aside any expectation of sending its soldiers overseas ever again and turned inward to domestic concerns. All the while, other players on the world stage continued to advance agendas contrary to American interests, maneuvering to exploit perceived weaknesses with a combination of diplomatic and ultimately military pressure. When the United States elected to commit to armed resistance of communist aggression, it found itself in possession of a military that had been allowed to materially and, for lack of a better word, spiritually decay in favor of those same domestic concerns, particularly egalitarian social reform among the ranks. The result was an army entirely incapable of meeting the enemy with any real hope of initial success or even survival. Troops that had not learned discipline until then, were forced to learn or die in a series of battles that will forever be remembered for their absolute waste. Even after avoiding utter disaster in the summer and fall of 1950, the United States continued to struggle with how it viewed this concept of limited war, having prided itself in victorious crusades, which it would gladly engage in again, but fearful of the prospect of total war in the nuclear age.
The lesson of this experience is that a democratic nation, though loathed to admit it, requires professional legions to fight and die in limited wars, for which the general populous hasn't the stomach, but which must be fought lest that populous fall to the myriad bad actors beyond the seas. The author in 1962 was principally, actually solely, concerned with communism, but this truth remains evident long after the Cold War's end. Those legions were raised of course, in the form of a professional, all volunteer military heavy in special forces, and highly trained technical personnel focused on joint and multilateral operations with allied nations, a subject covered admirably by Robert Kaplan. At a time when the army has announced plans to emphasize leaner less armor heavy units, and marines have trimmed back the number of companies in their tank battalions, one needn't try very hard to imagine a scenario alarmingly similar to Task Force Smith playing itself out once again on some not too distant day.
As for the book itself, the author masterfully interweaves several continuing stories that follow certain units through the thick of the fighting, all the while taking brief sojourns in Tokyo, Washington D.C. and New York to recount the deliberations of military and political leaders that plotted the course of the battles. Anyone interested in a big picture survey of the Korean War will find a great deal to chew on in this hefty work. The narration is very good, with an attempt to give character to quotes and liven up the author's humorous asides. As others have warned though, the author assembles his facts to tell a particular story, the outline of which he repeats frequently to make sure you get the point. If you are looking for a purely combat-driven or policy-oriented history, look elsewhere. One should also be mindful of the fact that as it was penned in 1962, this book predates modern conventions of political correctness and may ruffle the feathers of someone sensitive to such attitudes.
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This book, originally published in 1963 ,is THE classic by which other Korean War histories may be measured. The author was a battalion commander in Korea and had the connections to get outstanding personal interest stories of his living contemporaries. He provides an unbiased telling of a story that Americans may want to forget but he makes a clear differentiation between the American military of 1945 and that of 1950. He deals with problems of funding neglect by Congress and training shortfalls by leadership of the American military after World War II. Fehrenbach deals with the campaigns as one who has been there. His insight into the politics of coalition warfare is excellent. If you want to read ONE book about Korea, this is it. It has detail, insight and intrigue which were all a part of the time.
14 of 15 people found this review helpful