“The Korean War” by Bruce Cuming

After reading “In the Ruins of Empire”, my curiosity of Korean War just gets more intense. There are several books to choose from and I hesitated between this one and “The Coldest Winter”, which I have it in my kindle library for quite a while but haven’t had the time to read. Listening will be a better way to complete this book or “The Coldest Winter”. I am also very interested in Manchuria during and after the Japanese occupation, but I haven’t found any book about it. Since understanding what happened in Manchuria is the key to understand the Chinese Civil War and the ensuing Korean War, I would like to read something about it.

I read several reviews of this book and some are very angry with the author who showed a somewhat neutral attitude and put blame on both sides. Such reviews added to my interest on the book. I like to read a controversial book and form my own opinion about it. And my opinion is that the author didn’t have access to historical material from the North Korean side or probably North Korea doesn’t keep the record at all. For whatever reason, the author has the best access to American and South Korean record and this book is largely based on these. This might be the reason why people are angry with him for writing about the atrocity of one side but not the other.

I wish this book is longer since it brings up a lot of interesting things which it doesn’t elaborate much. I really want to know what happened in Japanese occupied Manchuria and what happened during and right after the WWII in Manchuria and in Korea. There are reasons why things were so bitter, which I hope time will lessen. Something is going to happen in the Korea Peninsular. I don’t know what but I know something is going to happen. Knowing the past will certainly help me imagine in a less ignorant way what will happen in the future.

Korea is a nation of fighters, more so than Japan, whose Samurai culture have been well known and widely portrayed. Koreans are more fierce than Japanese, despite not been known for it. It’s kind of like the comparison between French and Italian. Although French has been portrayed in movies and books as having a French resistance during the WWII, a more fierce and more active resistance actually happened in Italy rather than France. When I was young, I learned that the powerful Sui Dynasty declined and eventually replaced by Tang Dynasty within a 70-year period due to its project on the Grand Canal and its invasion of Korea. And Tang Dynasty continued its fight with Korea, but didn’t make any progress. When Mongolians came along, it took them many years and five unbelievably brutal campaigns to take Korea. In one of the campaign, Koreans vacated to an island and left a barren space to starve the Mongolians before fighting back. With such a national zeitgeist –don’t know how to use zeitgeist but really like to make use of it somehow–I can just imagine how much anger Koreans harbored towards Japanese for the nearly three decades under its brutal rule. And this anger didn’t have a chance to be vented on Japanese, but rather it was vented among themselves–the aristocrats cooperated with Japanese during the war and wanted to retain power after the war, the resistance who were persecuted during the war, the vast majority of Koreans who wanted to voice their concerns and fought against repression from whatever direction. The post war Korea was understandably explosive. And prevalent poverty and illiteracy only compounded the situation.

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