In 1231 AD, the Mongolians–my ancestors–invaded Korea. The mighty Mongolian army, which at the time occupied a big region stretching from Middle East to East Asia, met with a resounding defeat by the little kingdom on the Korean Peninsular–the Mongolians were dumbfounded and couldn’t believe what had happened. For the next 40 years, Mongolians invaded Korea 4 more times. And finally in 1270, Korea was conquered. But not for long. Eighty years later, the Korean king rose against the Mongolian overlord and defeated the army sent to fight them.
Ever since then, the region has been the center for political and military conflicts non-stop, up until today. There were battles big and small, too numerous to count, with Japanese from the east and a rising Manchurian empire from the west. Koreans are the most feisty and stubborn fighters in East Asia because along the history, they have to fight with enemies much larger than themselves: the Mongol, Manchu, China, and Japan.
I am really interested in reading books about Korea, not because of my little obsession with the Korean Wave, but also due to its geopolitical importance. This book, “Conflict” by Robert Leckie is a chronological records of all the things that happened from the starting point of the Korean War in June 1950 when North Korea attacked the south to the ending in July 1953 when the armistice was signed and the prisoner exchange was completed under a committee overseen by mutual countries like India.
This is the third book about the Korean War that I’ve read. The first one is “In The Ruins Of Empire: The Japanese Surrender And The Battle For Postwar Asia” by Ronald H. Spector. It is such a good book (and a page turner too) and the last portion of the book is about Korea. It describes how and why the war started and uses very concise and even humorous language to describe the desperate internal conflict and rice riot in South Korea at the time.
My second book about the Korean War is “The Coldest Winter” by David Halberstam, which has wonderful writing and detailed description of individual events, but more than 70% of the book is about the first several months of the war. The time after the dismissal of General MacArthur was not mentioned at all.
What I like about the book “Conflict” by Robert Leckie:
- It introduces Kim Il-Sung and Syngman Rhee. The later especially. Many people have never heard of Rhee and don’t know that he’s educated in America and mentored by President Woodrow Wilson.
- It describes each stage of the war clearly, without omission. All the major events are clearly laid out.
- It doesn’t put all the blame on General MacArthur. After WWII, everybody serving under the general wanted to have a good time in Japan and none of them wanted the hard life in Korea. It’s not MacArthur’s fault that many positions in Korea was left vacant.
- It talks about the difficult peace treaty and gives details about the diplomatic maneuver.
- I didn’t know that India played such a big role in the end. India diplomats proposed creative ways to break the impasse and oversaw the prison exchange plan.
- It’s a pleasant read and the chapters are well organized.
What I don’t like about the book:
- The middle part of the book is dragging a little. The author could have used some interesting newspaper articles or political fight between MacArthur and Truman, Democrats and Republicans, but instead the author uses official statements of this person or that person, which tend to be boring.
- At one point, the author talks about the advantage and disadvantage of weapons, strategies, measures, and counter measures. It’s very interesting, but it’s only for a little bit.