Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World

By Armstrong, Charles K. | Canadian Journal of History, Spring-Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World


Armstrong, Charles K., Canadian Journal of History


Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World, by Masuda Hajimu. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2015. vi, 388 pp. $39.95 US (cloth).

The time has long past when the 1950-1953 conflict in Korea could be called "the forgotten war." Of course, the war has never been forgotten on the Korean peninsula itself, where a heavily fortified armistice line still separates two mutually hostile regimes more than sixty years after the ceasefire. In China, the "Aid Korea, Resist America War," as it is called, remains a source of pride for the People's Republic even if relations with both Korea and America have changed radically since the war. In the West, including the United States that contributed by far the largest number of United Nations forces to the conflict (followed by Britain and Canada), scholarship and memorialization of the war has recently come into its own, after decades of being overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam. Masuda Hajimu's Cold War Crucible is a unique and valuable contribution to the historiography of the Korean War--or more precisely, to the history of the Cold War and the Korean War's central place in the emergence of that global conflict.

Masuda Hajimu, a US-trained Japanese historian based in Singapore, admits that his book is not about the Korean War itself. Rather, it explores how the war "functioned as a catalyst in the crucible of the postwar world and contributed to the materialization of the Cold War world" (6). Hajimu reverses the usual logic about the relationship between Korea and the Cold War: rather than see the Korean War as an effect of the emerging Cold War, Hajimu argues that Korea in important ways produced the Cold War. As Bruce Cumings and others have long pointed out, the Communist invasion of South Korea in June 1950 justified the rapid and long-lasting expansion of US forces around the world and hardened the geopolitical lines of Cold War conflict between the Soviet Union and China, on the one side, and the United States-led "Free World," on the other. But Hajimu is not primarily interested in Cold War geopolitics. He focuses instead on the effects of the Korean War on domestic societies in Asia, North America, and Europe.

The Korean War, Hajimu claims, turned domestic societies into "battlefields" in which people were forced to choose sides in a global conflict expressed at the local level. Cold War Crucible is interested less in geopolitical realities than in discursive imaginings. The Korean War created bipolarity within societies on both sides of the "East-West" divide, and the bipolar division of the Cold War became a simplified prism for seeing a postwar, decolonizing, post-imperial world whose realities were far more multi-dimensional and complex. …

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