IN MORTAL COMBAT by John Toland

IN MORTAL COMBAT

Korea: 1950-1953
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 For an ostensibly forgotten war, the Korean ``police action'' has commanded a lot of literary attention in recent years. Unfortunately, Toland (Infamy, Adolf Hitler, The Last Hundred Days, etc.) does not add a great deal to available lore. In fact, though he draws on some fresh sources, there are no new or startling perspectives in this readable, if sometimes perverse and portentous, narrative overview of the conflict. A diligent researcher, Toland makes a generally good job of putting the war's first year into human-scale focus, documenting the murderous battles that raged from the mid-1950 Communist invasion of the South through the Pusan, Inchon, Chosin, and allied campaigns. He's equally competent, if often elusively contrarian, at capturing the big picture, offering short-take interpretations of the war's causes and course. He shows, for example, how the US failed to heed China's clear warnings that it required North Korea as a buffer state. Despite a conspicuous (and admitted) lack of evidence, however, Toland leaves open the question of whether the Allies employed biological weapons. Along similar lines, he taxes Truman with prolonging the stalemated fighting by virtue of his insistence on voluntary repatriation of all POWs. Like most annalists, Toland concludes that the Korean War ended when peace talks began at Kaesong. As he nonetheless makes clear in his summary coverage, it took two more years to negotiate a cease-fire, during which time American and Chinese troops engaged one another, sustaining tens of thousands of casualties in the bloody, purposeless process. A less-than-balanced accounting of what was won and lost in a clash of arms that aroused precious little interest, much less passion, on the home front. Among other superior alternatives, Bevin Alexander's Korea (1986) and Max Hastings's The Korean War (1987) stand out. The sparsely annotated text has 55 photographs and 18 helpful maps.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-10079-1
Page count: 672pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991