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on 5 September 2017
I purchased this book after reading a recent article by the author in the Guardian newspaper. I had realised that my knowledge of the history of the Korean peninsula and the Korean War was previously minimal and reading this book has gone a long way to rectifying that situation. On the evidence of current media coverage of events in Korea, it seems to me that many journalists and politicians would be well advised to also purchase and read this book. Mr Cumings starkly relates an historical and cultural context which makes the present crisis no less acceptable but certainly more understandable. There are some minor mistakes with sentence construction and repetitiveness, but I think these are allowable given the gravity of the content.
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on 15 June 2012
Interesting and provocative, however (unless I missed the point) very little about the Korean War! I expected maps, logistics, details of strategy, high level wins/losses. The book was incredibly opinionated and focused on politics/massacres/long term history. I do believe that such wrongfulness should be in the public eye, but the book title did not reflect the content. Great sentiment, difficult and challenging book.
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on 14 February 2015
While reading through the reviews of Bruce Cummings "The Korean War" I noticed more than one reviewer complain that Cummings book isn't a history of the war. Up to a point they are right, it is not a conventional history of that war beyond the first thirty-seven pages of two hundred and forty-three that narrate the actions of leaders and armies from beginning to end of the "war". But it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that the remainder of the book is as valid a part of the history of that war.

Cummings places the war of 1950-53 firmly in its historical context, making it clear that there had in essence been conflict going back decades in Korea, exacerbated by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and between those who collaborated with the Japanese and those who didn't. To an extent this division was also class based. He also disabuses the reader of any notion that South Korea was a land of peace and tranquillity prior to the war, insurrections were endemic and the South Korean regimes response were extremely brutal. The background detail on the two regimes that formed when the U.S. artificially split Korea in 1945 is useful in so far as it diminishes assumptions based on the current state of North & South Korea.

Other issues dealt with include a fresh look at how the war started, the role of foreign powers (of whom the U.S. followed by the Chinese were the most important), the question of U.S.'s possible use of nuclear weapons, the role the war played in the origin of the Military-Industrial complex, attrocities (Cummings claims the U.S. & South Korean forces were responsible for roughly six times more attrocities than the Chinese & North Korean forces), how both sides viewed one another, and how memories of the war have effected all sides (not least the North where the War and their previous experience with Japanese Imperialism provide historical justification for the regime).

This is a fascinating book, and in my opinion gains more than it loses for not being a chronological account of the movements of armies and the decisions of generals and political leaders. Instead its thoughtful analysis, and multifaceted approach serve to give the reader a richer view of a war that in the West has largely been eclipsed by the Second World War that preceded it and the War in Vietnam which was the next Asian country to feel the effects of U.S. military intervention. "The Korean War" is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.
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on 20 April 2017
"A new Korean war could break out tomorrow morning, and Americans would still be in their original state of overwhelming might and unfathomable cluelessness...." Too true. In the age of Trump, when the obscene prospects of nuclear war are again on the cards, Cumings's important study is essential reading. Almost everything ever written on the war from a US perspective has been framed in terms of the Cold War, with villains and angels predictably placed. The main disappointment of those who have given this book low ratings seems to be that it does not repeat that obscenity. If you want black-and-white history suitable for Bush, Trump and their dupes then this is not your book. But if you are after a nuanced and thoughtful, rigorous, balanced and unflinching study of the Korean war, you could not do better.
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on 17 July 2011
A very good read, but not for those seeking a book about battles and combat. This book is comprised of a wide ranging set of essays on different aspects of the war, it's context, and it's legacy.
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on 22 December 2011
Bruce Cummings is a courageous man: holding some uncomfortable truths in a country which is so uneasy about its imperialist policies is nothing short of heroic. Sure, he can expect all sorts of bigots to label him anti-American, communist-lover and other similar stuff. Yet, the book is well argued, with hard facts and that is its main merit. To give an insightful account on the significance of the Korean War on is 50th anniversary. But Cumings does more than this. He also gives a compassionate account of the importance of acknowledging the injury caused to the Korean people by US interference and imperialist policies and to acknowledge the responsibility the US still has in maintaining a fragile and dangerous status quo. This book is not so much about history, as an urgent call to engage, understand and accept that Korea belongs to Koreans and that it is up to them, wheteher South or North, to decide what they want with as little outside interference as possible. It is a call for the US to accept that the DPRK is another country and stop behaving in a colonial way that perpetuates a Cold War situation out of date. It is a call to learn to say sorry and correct past mistakes to pave the way for a brighter future that all of humanity deserves. Surely, those who prefer war mongering and gung ho imperial politics may find it weak, those who believe in peace will appreciate his effort. Well done Mr Cumings.
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on 16 December 2010
This book is a truly in depth and definitive guide to US imperialism in the east. An excellent companion to Blowback by Chalmers Johnson.

Although the author is not a marxist, socialist or communist, he openly criticises the imperialist and colonialist foreign policies of the US in such accurate detail they can not be refuted. Cuming's knowledge of the Korean war is profound and sensitive, most importantly to the Korean people. The author demonstrates himself as an anti imperialist and an anti racist- both excellent principles which make this work enlightening.

This book is an excellent read for all those studying Korea, North Korea and this history of Japanese imperialism in the region. The author's detail of the Korean war, although taking up a large part of the book, is not the entirety of the read. Cumings offers lots of other details about the history of the region and its relation to and interference with by US imperialism.

Im surprised there are not more reviews for this book. Not only is it well written, but it is politically excellent and a noteworthy study of Korea. Well done Bruce Cumings.
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on 27 April 2016
Prof Bruce Cumings is a respected authority on modern Korean history, even the CIA invites him to help educate their staff on Korean matters. But he is denied the wide audience he deserves in the US, as the uncomfortable truths he has to share make extremely uncomfortable reading for citizens of the Western world and calls into question our view of the USA as the benign force for good and freedom in world. After reading this the reader will understand that the fiery rhetoric that erupts from North Korea today has more basis in historical fact that one would have ever imagined.
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on 18 April 2014
The day after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the U.S. decided it was now in charge of Korea up to an arbitrary boundary at the 38th parallel. In the north, a government formed from rebels who had fought Japanese imperial barbarity. In the south, the U.S. installed a government made up of those who had collaborated with it.
Like it or not, the government of the north was popular amongst ordinary Koreans, which is why so many of them in the south were slaughtered by soldiers and militiamen who were often led by Americans.
Bruce Cumings continues in this vein to debunk many of the enduring myths surrounding the Korean War, invented by the U.S. and its allies at the time and left largely unchallenged since. In fact, the truth is almost the exact obverse of the official narrative. The supposed cruelty of the north is as nothing compared to the massacre and destruction wreaked by the south and its puppet master.
And finally, Cumings does his best to convey to the reader the history and character of Korea, all Korea. Through this book, you are guided to an understanding of where we are now.
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on 26 November 2015
I was there
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