- The War for Korea, 1945–1950: A House Burning
The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war, but unless one is suffering from amnesia or some such abnormalities, how can anyone forget a war that killed more than two million people and that has never been permanently settled? The Korean War is certainly not forgotten. In addition to the voluminous scholarly works to remind us of the conflict, some of the formerly classified Communist records from the war were released after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even the governments of North and South Korea have published their own historical accounts of the war. South Korea put out a six-volume study in 1977, and a revised version of the official history was published in three volumes in 1997–1999. North Korea published an account with a more illustrious title, The History of the Just Fatherland Liberation War of the Korean People Led by the Great Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung in three volumes to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the war in 1993. Today, nearly 55 years after the conclusion of the truce on the battlefield in July 1953, new works on the war continue to appear.
The book under review is the latest study by a distinguished military historian [End Page 149] Allan R.Millett, who is Raymond E.Mason, Jr., Professor of Military History at Ohio State University and director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans. He is the author of, among numerous other works, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1991) and co-author of A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). His new book on the Korean War comes in two volumes, the first covering the period from the liberation in August 1945 to June 1950 and the second covering the period from May 1950 to 1954.
In describing events leading to the war, Millett reviews a series of political upheavals and the measures taken in response by the U.S. occupation forces, particularly the roles of the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and of the South Korean authorities in suppressing dissidents and facilitating the establishment of a new government in the Korean peninsula. He begins his review with the 1st of March uprising in 1919, but searching for the roots of the war so far back in the Japanese colonial period seems a bit far-fetched. Millett covers the familiar ground of political conflicts in liberated Korea, but the strength of his book lies not in his depiction of the Korean scene or his reassessment of the political upheavals and armed revolts but in his analysis of the role of the U.S. military in the occupation of Korea. The book focuses primarily on the operations of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG). The Soviet and American military generals in the opposing camps of the ColdWar were important in creating two governments and consolidating the division of the peninsula. Military officers negotiated the question of independence for nearly two years in the U.S.-USSR Joint Commission that tried, for example, to implement the 5-year trusteeship agreed at the Moscow Foreign Ministers' Conference in December 1945. When the commission's efforts failed, the United States sought the help of the newly created United Nations (UN) to solve the first serious problems of peace after World War II.
The security of the Korean peninsula, particularly the public's safety in the southern half, was one of the major concerns of the USAMGIK. During the three years from liberation in 1945 to the establishment of the Republic of Korea in August 1948, the USAMGIK was challenged many times by the right-wing nationalist groups demanding rapid independence and the left-wing groups with their ideological ties to the North. Politicians of all persuasions made demands on the occupation authorities, and violent uprisings and armed...