An overview of the 1950-53 "police action" that ranks with T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War and Bevin Alexander's Korea (1986). Having interviewed over 200 American, British, Canadian, and Chinese veterans, Hastings (Overlord, Bomber Command, The Battle for the Falklands) is able to put the bitter conflict into human-scale focus. As an Englishman, moreover, he offers fresh perspectives on the contributions of Commonwealth and other nations that, at no small sacrifice, sent troops to fight under the UN banner. In addition to obligatory coverage of the Inchon, Pusan, and Chosin campaigns, for example, he provides a musing account of the Gloucestershire Regiment's costly 1951 stand on the Imjin River, about 30 miles north of Seoul. Hastings is equally adept at capturing the big picture, offering persuasive interpretations of the causes and course of the Korean conflict, "a struggle the West was utterly right to fight." For instance, he documents the American miscalculations that' helped precipitate North Korea's mid-1950 invasion with "active assistance" from Moscow and "the connivance" of Peking. Along similar lines, the author argues convincingly that the US, whose forces bore the brunt of the combat duty, could have avoided confrontation with the Communist Chinese had it heeded clear warnings that they required North Korea as a buffer state. While the Korean War was effectively ended when peace talks started at Kaesong, Hastings makes clear that the small-unit actions and set-piece battles of the pre-ceasefire period were every bit as bloody as the dramatic thrust and parry of the first year. During the stalemate, UN and Chinese forces engaged in savage strife along the 38th Parallel, sustaining tens of thousands of casualties. Brutality and brawls in POW compounds on both sides also exacted a heavy toll while the superpowers took each other's measure at the bargaining table. A balanced, perceptive reckoning of what was won and lost in an important clash of arms that excited precious little interest or passion on home fronts. The absorbing text has photographs and maps (not seen).