Book Review; the Korean War - an International History

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), April 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Book Review; the Korean War - an International History


When it comes to the study of the Korean War, there are numerous perspectives to consider, for example, diplomacy, military operations, armistice talks, as well as Cold War ploys and tactics. Although such factors are interrelated and interwoven with one another, each one merits their own comprehensive analysis and interpretation. Notwithstanding, any approach to the study of the conflict must bear in mind the international scope and magnitude of the war.

In an impressive and thorough political and diplomatic study of the Korean War, William Stueck sets out to prove that the Korean War, was for all its historical and Cold War connotations, a substitute for World War Three. He accomplishes this by advancing several crucial themes such as the ``multilateral nature of the war,'' the role of the United Nations, the global impact of the war, and the military build up in the Soviet Union and the West. Consequently, such factors ``explain the course of the war from the perspectives of the great powers most prominently involved--the United States, the Soviet Union and China.''

The strength of this book lies in Stueck's handling of the diplomatic and political complexities as well as the historical connotations often associated with the conflict. For example, in his study of the origins of the war, he offers an in-depth analysis of the historical and political backdrop prior to the North Korean invasion in June 1950. He not only looks at the balance of power in Northeast Asia, but also the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

Likewise, his balanced interpretation of the origins of the conflict focuses on the Communist and United States' sides. With the Communists, he scrutinizes the Soviet Union's position and Stalin's ``green light'' for a tentative invasion of the South as well as Mao's ideologies and nationalistic fervor--especially in regard to Taiwan. Stueck contends that although Mao was not as ``intimately involved in North Korea's plans as Stalin'' was, his ``vision, national and ideological alike, prevented him from simply turning inward.''

As for the United States, Stueck suggests that international developments in Asia, such as the Soviet Union's incipient nuclear program, the ``expulsion of Nationalists from mainland China,'' not to mention Communist threats elsewhere in Asia prompted some kind of response. Likewise, he contends that the Korean War ``provided an impetus for the consolidation and expansion of NATO, ``as well as ``a sustained U.S. military presence in Japan.'' Finally, he suggests that ``to the United States, the Korean conflict became a struggle for credibility, to prove that the liberal democracy of people unused to sustained effort abroad could rise to the challenge of international communism.''

In his detailed examination of the United Nations response to the Korean War, Stueck devotes a substantial portion of his study to the diplomatic maneuvering, not only by the United States to sanction an international stand in Korea, but also U.N. member governments like India seeking a peaceful means to the conflict with the introduction of various resolutions. With his behind-the-scenes look at diplomacy, readers can come away with a better understanding of the diplomatic and political overtones to the Korean War.

Throughout his analysis of this political and diplomatic maneuvering, Stueck presents all the facts and then draws pertinent conclusions based on them. He avoids speculating when possible, but fills in the gaps as it were with his interpretation of events and motives that brought the United States, China, and the Soviet Union into harms way. He also looks at some of the diplomatic ``paths not taken'' then contrasts them with actual events. Readers familiar with some of the diplomatic maneuvering by both sides will appreciate his in-depth narrative.

Chapters like ``Diplomacy Fails'' and ``Limiting the War'' are especially insightful with his look at the maneuvering at the General Assembly as well as the West's response to the Chinese intervention in the fall of 1950. …

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