Engrossing Volume on Background of Korean War

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Engrossing Volume on Background of Korean War The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning. Allan R. Millett. University Press of Kansas. 348 pages; maps; photographs; notes; index; $39.95.

Few conflicts in American history have been as controversial as the war waged on the Korean peninsula from 1950-1953. Frequently known as the Cold War's first hot war, the conflict witnessed both the apogee and the nadir of the Truman presidency. In The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning, historian Allan R. Millett persuasively argues that the Korean War did not erupt with the North Korean invasion of the Republic of Korea in June 1950. It merely assumed a new form since the conflict had already killed tens of thousands of Koreans before June 25, 1950.

Millett is no stranger to military history. One of this country's premier historians, Millett is the former Maj. Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor of Military History at The Ohio State University. He is also the recipient of the Society for Military History's prestigious Samuel Eliot Morison Prize for lifetime achievement and the current director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. His books include For the Common Defense: The Military History of the United States of America, A War to Be Won: Fighting the second World War and Their War for Korea: American, Asian and European Combatants and Civilians, 1945-53.

The first in a new two-volume history of the Korean War, A House Burning explores the complicated politicalmilitary background of the war that caught America's attention in 1950. By gaining unparalleled access to documentary sources in Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang, Millett portrays the initial phase of the war in Asian terms.

Not surprisingly, he has produced the most comprehensive account of the civil strife that marked the southern portion of the peninsula before the North Korean invasion. To Millett this strife was not so much the cause of the Korean War as its actual beginning. In examining the period between 19461950, Millett also tells the most complete story of the Korean Military Advisory Group in its formative years.

Though shaped by external influence, primarily the Japanese occupation from 1905-1945 and the Cold War tensions among the United States, the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, the two Koreas waged a people's war following the 1948 elections in South Korea that established Syngman Rhee as president of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The president's theme, according to Millett, was "clear enough. He would be president of a unified Korea, and the regime in Pyongyang lacked political legitimacy."

Within months of Rhee's accession to the presidency, two irreconcilable forces, the Marxist-Leninists and the Nationalist-Capitalists, waged a civil war in an attempt to govern a united peninsula. The conflict assumed multiple forms, ranging from outright acts of terrorism and guerrilla warfare to widespread communist infiltration within the ROK Army. …