Book Review; Korean War

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), March 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

Book Review; Korean War


Korean War: The West Confronts Communism 1950-1953

John Murray Publishers, Ltd. 1999; 397 pages

By Jeffrey Miller

In Michael Hickey's comprehensive study of the Korean War, he hopes that the aim of his work has been achieved if the ``reader emerges at the end with a sense of what it was like to serve in MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters, shiver in a frozen slit trench, swelter in the baleful humidity of a Korean summer or march over the northern mountains in the depth of winter with marines.'' Hickey achieves this and more with this detailed look at the Korean War. Moreover, as a veteran of the Korean War, his experience in combat adds to his thorough analysis of the conflict. As the book's title suggests, his interpretation is not so much about the Korean War as it is about this first military showdown of the Cold War era.

However, ``this account aims to show something of the British and Commonwealth contribution to that campaign, in relation to the far greater undertaking of the Americans and South Koreans.'' By looking at events on and off the battlefield as well as contributions made by the U.S./ROK forces and the British/Commonwealth forces (in addition to other UNC forces), Hickey delivers a straightforward, balanced exposition of this first showdown with communism.

With any study of the Korean War, one must first start with the origins of the conflict following WWII. Hickey presents these facts easy enough for any reader not to be bogged down with any historical complexities. He gives readers a concise overview of the causes of the war and American's entry into it--from the Task Force Smith debacle and stand at the Pusan Perimeter to MacArthur's ``master stroke'' with the Inchon invasion.

Although Hickey assesses carefully the United States' commitment in responding to the North Korean aggressors, he offers an exhaustive analysis of England's response to the hostilities and the U.N. resolution authorizing the Unified U.N. Command. He not only looks at the contributions that England made to the war effort, albeit ground troops, transports, and other support, but also studies in detail the diplomatic maneuvering by England.

Unlike other survey histories of the war, the role of the British and Commonwealth forces is more pronounced in this work.

As for England's response to the U.N. resolution, Hickey's work shows how it was assumed in Washington that England would supply troops and ships and that the Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as India and Pakistan would also make contributions. He looks at how these nations rallied behind the U.N. resolution that ultimately led to the creation of a Commonwealth division.

Interestingly enough, with England's eventual military commitment to the war, Hickey suggests that England was in some ways ``morally blackmailed'' by the U.S. to provide ground troops, not to mention supporting U.S. foreign policy in the Far East--in exchange for continued U.S. support (NATO) in Europe.

In his analysis of the diplomatic maneuvering that went on, Hickey sheds light on how the U.S. approached the diplomatic handling of the conflict compared to England. Likewise, he sees the U.S. as being reckless, in particular, when the issue of the use of nuclear weapons was broached.

He also looks at how the Chinese foray into the war upped the diplomatic ante as it were, and the response to MacArthur's handling of the war with his ``we'll be home by Christmas'' rhetoric. The fact that ``MacArthur had been given carte blanche to run the Korean War as he more or less saw fit,'' alarmed not only the British, but also the Commonwealth Nations. …

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