Peter Lowe - Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 289-290

Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History. By William Stueck. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-691-08853-5. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Pp. xiv, 285. $29.95.

This volume comprises a lively and balanced reassessment of the origins, character and impact of the Korean War. William Stueck is the author of two books dealing with this broad area, apart from the work considered here. He is concerned with posing key questions, such as how Korea came to be divided in 1945; how the United States and the Soviet Union sponsored rival regimes, following the breakdown of the attempt to secure a unified state; how Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung endeavoured to manipulate the great powers and how the latter imposed their authority; how Stalin and Mao Zedong viewed each other and perceived the current and future states of Sino-Soviet relations; how the domestic and international dimensions of the conflict interacted; why the United Nations became involved in Korea and how members of the UN reacted to American policy, plus the ways in which the latter was modified by representations from within the UN; why the war did not escalate into a nuclear conflict or into a third world war; and why it took so long to achieve an armistice agreement. Stueck focuses primaily upon political and diplomatic developments and these are pursued with clarity and conviction. Due consideration is given to the significance of evidence that has become available from the archives of China and the former Soviet Union. Stalin's desire to involve China in the war so as to obviate the contingency of an improvement in Sino-American relations is underlined, as is Stalin's determination to prevent formal Soviet participation in the Korean struggle. The author portrays Harry Truman in a reasonably positive light, thus resisting the current trend towards a more critical analysis of the Truman administration. In an interesting succinct comparison between Truman and Mao, Stueck observes that the former was flexible and prepared to entertain proposals from America's allies; far from being seduced by military romanticism (as happened to Mao), Truman dismissed the principal American advocate of such an approach in April 1951. Mao was excessively preoccupied with establishing China's new international presence and ignored advice from his comrades which ran contrary to his own inclinations. Stueck explains the importance of the Korean conflict for the development of the [End Page 289] Cold War and for the continuing legacy of instability in East Asia. The value of the text is enhanced by the reproduction of admirable photographs. This book may be recommended to anyone wishing to obtain an up-to-date synthesis of the major disputes and controversies involved in the Korean war.


Peter Lowe
University of Manchester
Manchester, England

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