ORIGINS OF A TRAGEDY
Seldom in the course of history has a nation been so rapidly propelled from obscurity to a central place in the world's affairs as Korea. The first significant contact between "The Land of the Morning Calm" and the West took place one morning in September 1945 when an advance party of the American Army, in full battle gear, landed at the western harbor of Inchon, to be met by a delegation of Japanese officials in top hats and tailcoats. This was the inauguration of Operation "Black List Forty," the United States' occupation of South Korea.
These first American officers found the city of Inchon, fearful and uncertain of its future, shuttered and closed. After a hunt through the streets, glimpsing occasional faces peering curiously at their liberators from windows and corners, they came upon a solitary Chinese restaurant bearing the sign "Welcome U.S." Then, from the moment the Americans boarded the train for Seoul, they met uninhibited rejoicing. A little crowd of Koreans waving gleeful flags stood by the tracks in every village they passed. At Seoul railway station, the group had planned to take a truck to their objective, the city post office. Instead, on their arrival, they decided to walk. To their bewilderment, they found themselves at the center of a vast throng of cheering, milling, exultant Koreans, cramming the streets and sidewalks, hanging from buildings, standing on carts. The Americans were at a loss. They had arrived without any conception of what the end of the Japanese war meant to the people of this obscure peninsula.
Throughout its history until the end of the nineteenth century, Korea was an overwhelmingly rural society which sought successfully to maintain its isolation from the outside world. Ruled since 1392 by the Yi Dynasty, it suffered two major invasions from Japan in the sixteenth century. When the Japanese departed, Korea returned to its harsh traditional existence, frozen in winter and baked in summer, its ruling families feuding among each other from generation to generation. By the Confucian convention that regarded foreign policy as an extension of family relations, Korea admitted an historic loyalty to China, "the elder brother nation." Until 1876 her near neighbor Japan was regarded as a friendly equal. But early that January, in an early surge of the expansionism that was to dominate Japanese history for the next seventy years, Tokyo dispatched a military expedition to Korea "to establish a treaty of friendship and commerce." On February 26, after a brief and ineffectual resistance, the Koreans signed. They granted the Japanese open ports, their citizens extraterritorial rights.
The embittered Koreans sought advice from their other neighbors about the best means of undoing this humiliating surrender. The Chinese advised that they should come to an arrangement with one of the Western powers "in order to check the poison with an antidote." They suggested the Americans, who had shown no signs of possessing territorial ambitions on the Asian mainland. On May 22, 1882, Korea signed a treaty of "amity and commerce" with the United States. In the words of a leading American historian of the period, this "set Korea adrift on an ocean of intrigue which it was quite helpless to control." The infuriated Japanese now engaged themselves increasingly closely in Korea's internal power struggles. The British took an interest, for they were eager to maintain China's standing as Korea's "elder brother" to counter Russian influence in the Far East. By 1893, Korea had signed a succession of trade treaties with every major Europ
Now Max Hastings, preeminent military historian takes us back to the bloody bitter struggle to restore South Korean independence after the Communist invasion of June 1950. Using personal accounts from interviews with more than 200 vets—including the Chinese—Hastings follows real officers and soldiers through the battles. He brilliantly captures the Cold War crisis at home—the strategies and politics of Truman, Acheson, Marshall, MacArthur, Ridgway, and Bradley—and shows what we should have learned in the war that was the prelude to Vietnam.