23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Recommended, 28 Feb. 2002
Dr Stephen Turnbull, well known for his writings on samurai history, tackles the samurai's ill-fated excursion on foreign soil. He has produced a well written, beautifully illustrated book which tries to give a balanced view, with a slight Japanese focus.
1. Korea and Japan (8-21)
2. Japan and Korea (22-39)
3. The Year of the Dragon (40-65)
4. A Slow March to China (66-81)
5. The Defeat of the Japanese Armada (82-107)
6. South to the Naktong - North to the Yalu (108-133)
7. The Year of the Snake (134-161)
8. The Strange Occupation (162-181)
9. The Korean War (182-203)
10. The Wajo Wars (204-227)
11. The High Price of Korean Pottery (228-239)
App I: Japanese OOB First Invasion
App II: Japanese OOB Second Invasion
App III: The List of Heads at Namwon
App IV: The Turtle Ship
*** The Samurai - Clueless in Korea
Having subjugated all Japanese Warlords in hard-fought campaigns, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered his armies to conquer China using unfortunate Korea as a bridge. In 1592 the invaders quickly overran the militarily unprepared country despite acts of personal bravery (incl. a Monty-Pythonesque legend: "A Japanese warrior cut off Song?s right arm ... and his commanding sceptre fell to the floor, but Song picked it up with his left hand. The Japanese warrior cut off his left arm and the commanding sceptre fell to the floor again. But this time Song picked it up with his mouth ... The third sword thrust killed [him] ...", p.52) and plundered it mercilessly. The Korean king escaped to the Chinese border.
Meanwhile, the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin defeated the Japanese fleet. The Korean navy heavily used cannons while the Japanese didn't. Keeping his distance, Yi pulverised the Japanese ships, while another Korean invention, the turtle ships (closed, spike-covered tops), finished them off.
Master of the land but cut off from their home country, the Japanese had three options: 1) attack China 2) occupy Korea 3) return home. Lack of strength and loss of face ruled out the first and third option. So they divided their army and garrisoned castles from P'yongyang to Pusan. The inadequate occupation army (150.000 men for 220.000 km2) had to contend with supply problems and the growing numbers of Korean regulars and volunteers (incl. monks) and a supporting Chinese army. The samurai military superiority (armoured professional soldiers equipped with katana and arquebuses) was compensated by the Korean and Chinese willingness to accept horrendous casualties, whose heads and noses the Japanese, early "body counts" adepts, sent home.
The unrelenting pressure forced the Japanese into peace negotiations. Instead of leaving the country, the Japanese settled in the south of Korea building a string of garrisoned castles. After some years of small-scale warfare, the Japanese launched a second invasion in 1597 with similar results: Their tactical superiority matched by numbers, their ships sunk de nouveau by admiral Yi (dying like Nelson during a great naval victory). The death of Hideyoshi permitted the Japanese to finally return home without mass seppuku.
1. Ignorance is strength. Supreme confidence and complete lack of understanding on both sides led to butchery . A Korean general (p.16): "Even if the [Japanese] have muskets, they can't hit anyone with them." David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest" shows how the US blundered into a war too.
2. Logistics! Moving raiders (as Sherman in Georgia) may cut loose from their supply lines. Garrisons better do not. Cut supply lines choke an army (cf. also Bernhard Fall's "Hell in a very small place").
3. Starting a war is easy, cutting your losses is difficult (cf. Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly").
*** Possible Improvements
1. While the first two chapters give a brief introduction to Korea and Japan, a short geostrategic overview of the major players (China/Ming, Yurchen/Manchu, Korea/Chosen, Japan/Sengoku Jidai) in the appendix (Osprey-like) would help readers (most unfamiliar with Asian history). Especially the Chinese view on this conflict should be elaborated.
2. The appendices currently list only Japanese leaders and numbers. The strength of the Korean and Chinese forces must be gleaned from the text. An additional appendix for them would be nice.
3. The comparison of the opposing armies could be elaborated. As in his previous books Dr Turnbull neatly presents a breakdown of a Japanese clan contingent (p. 44). A similar presentation of the Korean and Chinese would be helpful. How important was their cavalry?
4. In the general campaign maps, topographical information (like mountain ranges, present on the battle maps) could further the understanding of the invasion's direction.
5. Internet resources such as the Korean History Project ([...]) should be added to the general sources transforming it to a sort of further reading guide.
6. A comparison to other invasions (Roman conquests, British in France, French in Russia, Germans in Russia, French in Indochina etc.) might be interesting.