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THE KOREAN WAR by Bruce Cumings Kirkus Star


A History

by Bruce Cumings

Pub Date: July 27th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-679-64357-9
Publisher: Modern Library

An eloquent, squirm-inducing account of the war's long background and murderous destruction, which began well before the fighting.

Cumings (History/Univ. of Chicago; Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power, 2009, etc.) dismisses the convention that war was launched in 1950 by Stalin's puppet, Kim Il Sung, and ended in 1953. It began, he maintains, in 1931-32 when Japan invaded Manchuria and, as a civil war, hasn't yet ended. Nearby Korea, a Japanese colony, provided most of the resistance. To suppress these resisters, Japan recruited Koreans willing to collaborate, and many rose to high positions. After Japan's 1945 surrender, Kim's circle organized a government in the Soviet-occupied North. The collaborators moved south and, in 1950, formed nearly all of the command of South Korea's army. Ignorant of Korean hatred of Japan, U.S. forces occupying the South retained the colonial system, appointed collaborators to high positions and imported Syngman Rhee from the United States as leader. Knowing which American buttons to push, Rhee announced that he faced vast communist subversion and proceeded to brutally eliminate opposition. Following the war's outbreak, the American media described numerous civilian massacres as North Korean atrocities. Only recently have historians—and declassified U.S. government papers—made known that South Korea committed most of them. American conservatives regularly denounce Cumings for favoring North Korea, but he is widely honored in South Korea, whose researchers have turned up many of the long-suppressed atrocities he reveals.

Few conservatives will change their minds, but Cumings makes a convincing case that Korea, not Vietnam, was the first modern war America entered abysmally ignorant of what it was getting into.