KOREA: The First War We Lost by Bevin Alexander

KOREA: The First War We Lost

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The best overview of the Korean conflict since T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War. Like Fehrenbach, Alexander served in Korea (as commander of the Army's 5th Historical Detachment), and his firsthand experience enables him to put the conflict into human-scale focus. He also knows the truth of some enduring battlefield myths, including the misconception that Chinese forces stormed UN positions in human waves; supply constraints forced the Chinese to rely on flanking maneuvers and infiltration. The author also notes that many war-weary warriors did more sleeping than carousing during their R&R leaves in Japan. Alexander is equally good at providing big-picture perspectives. Using recently declassified material, he offers fresh interpretations of the causes and course of the Korean conflict. To illustrate, he convincingly argues that the US, whose forces bore the brunt of the fighting, could have avoided the confrontation with the Communist Chinese had it heeded the clear warning that they required North Korea as a buffer state. Among the key reasons: the obstinancy, even stupidity, of General Douglas MacArthur, whose daring Inchon assault had invested him with an aura of omniscient invincibility. ""In a real sense, the Korean War ended when the peace talks started at Kaesong,"" Alexander reports. But it took two more years to negotiate a cease-fire; during this time, American and Chinese forces engaged one another, sustaining tens of thousands of casualties in the bloody, purposeless process. Strife in the UN's POW compounds took a heavy toll as well, again with virtually no effect upon the outcome of the stalemated conflict. In brief, a balanced, perceptive accounting of what was won and lost in a clash of arms that aroused little interest, let alone passion, on the home front. Campaign maps and scores of photographs complement the scrupulously documented text.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1986
Publisher: Hippocrene