A no-holds-barred critique of U.S. involvement in the Korean War and its subsequent policy involving Korea.
In 1866, the armed U.S. merchant marine vessel General Sherman entered isolationist Korea’s Taedong River “in an attempt to reach Pyongyang.” An engagement ensued, resulting in the destruction of the ship and the deaths of everyone on board. More than 150 years later, argues historian and judge Pembroke (Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, 2013, etc.), America’s Korea policy continues to be ham-handed and obtuse. The epitome of this failed policy was the Korean War of 1950-1953, a failed operation that set the course for the “inexorable wars and interventions of the last six decades.” The author effectively chronicles the American missteps in the Korean War, particularly the push northward to the Yalu River, which provoked a devastating response by China. He also makes solid points regarding North Korea’s determination to develop nuclear weapons and the continued presence of U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan. Yet he fails to provide the proper Cold War context to put the actions of those he criticizes in a more favorable light. Pembroke offers little on the tens of millions of innocent lives snuffed out by the communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and elsewhere. Moreover, the author can be somewhat naïve, as when he asserts that the North Korean state ideology of “juche” helps explain that nation’s “remarkable success in inculcating a spirit of communal effort.” Might the populace’s fear of imprisonment, torture, and death at the hands of a horrific regime better explain such an inculcation? Some other comments come off as offensive, as when the author describes enlisted men and women in the military as “troubled, problem-ridden individuals” whose “education and employment prospects are problematic.”
A useful historical narrative that is sometimes marred by the author’s omissions and mischaracterizations.