In the Shadows of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War by Melinda L. Pash (review)
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In the Shadows of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War. By Melinda L. Pash. (New York: New York University Press, 2012. Pp. 349. $35.00 cloth)

The Korean War is considered America’s “forgotten war,” sandwiched between World War II, “the good war,” and most destructive in human history, and the Vietnam War, “the bad war,” and most traumatic and controversial American war of the twentieth century. If the war has been forgotten, so have the men and women who fought it. Pash’s objective is to tell their story. She observed that “Americans who served in Korea from June 1950 to July 1953 had yet to have their own narrative told. . . . This work seeks to give a voice to those who served in the Korean War and to carve for them a place in the larger context of American history” (pp. x, 5). The historiography on the Korean War is actually quite extensive. The works of Allan R. Millett, [End Page 147] William Stueck, Bruce Cummings, and Chinese scholars, such as Chen Jian and Xiaoming Zhang, have added to the old, standard accounts of Roy Appleman, T. R. Fehrenbach, James F. Schnabel, and the official histories of the services. At Society of Military History conferences there are always panels on the Korean War. The Korean War has not been forgotten by scholars or the military. However, the Korean War does not attract the attention that World War II and the Vietnam War receive. It never will.

Pash’s book recounts the stories of Korean War veterans. It is an ambitious work. In eight chapters she seeks to the tell the stories of whites and blacks, men and women, soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen, from entry into the service, through training, deployment to Korea, combat, redeployment to the United States, and their experiences as veterans of a forgotten war, all in 226 pages. Pash’s work is not a history of the Korean War, nor a history of the U.S. Army or Marine Corps or the other services in Korea. It is also not a history of combat in Korea; however, she touches on all of those topics. For example, she covers “Fighting in Korea,” in fourteen pages, “Women in the War,” in seven pages, and “The Chinese and American POWs,” in ten pages. Obviously these are enormous topics on which entire books have been written. There are no new interpretations and no profound new discoveries in this book.

Yet, it is an excellent piece of work that tells an important story. Pash’s book is a narrative history. She tells the story of the men and women who sacrificed for the greater good in Korea, while the rest of the Americans went about their everyday lives, and when the war was over quickly forgot about those who served. She tells the story of what citizenship used to mean in America: “But they did not riot like New Yorkers conscripted during the Civil War or attack federal officials enforcing the draft as men did during the First World War, and they seldom ran from the draft as did many of their brothers in the Vietnam era. . . . It was the value that they placed on citizenship, the acknowledgment of duty drilled into them during childhood, that caused them to pack up and go” (p. 45). [End Page 148]

Pash concludes: “Unknown to them at the time, these children of the Great Depression and the Second World War would be the last of their kind, a generation characterized by unquestioning obedience and trust” (p.14). Pash tells the story of men and women who served their country in extraordinary ways and who never received the recognition they deserved for the many contributions they made. It is an important story to tell, and she tells it superbly.

Adrian R. Lewis

Adrian R. Lewis is a professor of history at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and the author of The American Culture of War: A History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom (2001) and Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory (2007).