Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History

Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History

Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History

Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History

Synopsis

Fought on what to Westerners was a remote peninsula in northeast Asia, the Korean War was a defining moment of the Cold War. It militarized a conflict that previously had been largely political and economic. And it solidified a series of divisions--of Korea into North and South, of Germany and Europe into East and West, and of China into the mainland and Taiwan--which were to persist for at least two generations. Two of these divisions continue to the present, marking two of the most dangerous political hotspots in the post-Cold War world. The Korean War grew out of the Cold War, it exacerbated the Cold War, and its impact transcended the Cold War.

William Stueck presents a fresh analysis of the Korean War's major diplomatic and strategic issues. Drawing on a cache of newly available information from archives in the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union, he provides an interpretive synthesis for scholars and general readers alike. Beginning with the decision to divide Korea in 1945, he analyzes first the origins and then the course of the conflict. He takes into account the balance between the international and internal factors that led to the war and examines the difficulty in containing and eventually ending the fighting. This discussion covers the progression toward Chinese intervention as well as factors that both prolonged the war and prevented it from expanding beyond Korea. Stueck goes on to address the impact of the war on Korean-American relations and evaluates the performance and durability of an American political culture confronting a challenge from authoritarianism abroad.

Stueck's crisp yet in-depth analysis combines insightful treatment of past events with a suggestive appraisal of their significance for present and future.

Excerpt

Political scientist John Mueller has characterized the Korean War as “quite possibly the most important event since World War II.” I have labeled it “a substitute for World War III.” What we mean is that in its timing, its course, and its outcome, it had a stabilizing effect on the Cold War. It did not end that conflict; indeed, it intensified and militarized it as never before. For Koreans it was a total war, with some 10 percent of the population either killed, wounded, or missing. In property, South Korea lost the equivalent of its gross national product for the year 1949. North Korea lost eightyseven hundred industrial plants, its counterpart twice that number. North and South each saw six hundred thousand of its homes destroyed. Yet the fighting did not expand beyond Korea. The costs and risks of the war, combined with the success of the United States and the Soviet Union in preventing the other from enabling its proxy government in Korea to unify the peninsula, discouraged future efforts on each side to venture beyond its zone of influence by military means. The rearmament in the United States and Western Europe provoked by the war created a rough and sustainable balance of military power . . .

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