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  • The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning
  • Adam J. Cathcart (bio)
The War for Korea, 1945–1950: A House Burning, by Allen R. Millet. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005. 376 pp. $39.95 cloth.

Big books on the Korean War are no longer a rarity, but one must nonetheless take note of Allan R. Millett's ambitious effort in The War for Korea, 1945–1950, [End Page 93] the first of a projected two-volume set dwelling upon the decade of Korean military history from 1945 to 1954. Bringing Korea's nascent civil war to the foreground, the book authoritatively chronicles the growth of, and challenges to, American-sponsored security forces in South Korea. Although its ambitious narrative arc is hampered by a lack of Korean-language sources, the book is comprehensively researched and worthy of attention.

The author's diligence in pursuing and unearthing source material is impressive. Private papers, diaries of missionaries in Pyongyang, and reams of documents from the U.S. National Archives, the Truman Library, the Army Institute of Military History at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Army archives in Yongsan, Seoul, add to the rich mélange of textual sources. At its best, the book offers details of the various campaigns that foreshadowed the outbreak of all-out war in June 1950. Millett's account of the Autumn Harvest Uprising of 1946 is useful, and the rebellions at Cheju and Yosu in the pivotal year of 1948 are depicted in swift and accurate strokes. Within the maelstrom of ROK politics, Millett turns unrelentingly upon the South Korean Labor Party, successfully describing how the U.S. and ROK forces slowly strangled Kim Il Sung's capabilities to marshal a guerilla movement in South Korea. By emphasizing ongoing partisan warfare in South Korea's hills, mountain ranges, and polling places, Millett seeks to shift the historical periodization of the war backwards, arguing that the Korean War in fact began in 1948. This gambit is not wholly successful, but Millett succeeds in adding empirical weight to similar contentions made in volume 1 of Bruce Cumings's Origins of the Korean War and John Merrill's The Peninsular War.

Because South Korean anti-guerrilla efforts are his primary concern, Mil-lett frequently turns his gaze to specific American military advisors, or, as he calls them, "the unsung heroes in the victory over the Communist partisans" (p. 317). His portraits of the American officers of the Korean Military Advisory Group are sympathetic and humane. In particular, Millett presents a layered portrait of James Hausman, an officer whose private papers depict South Korean battlefields from a discrete and significant U.S. perspective. Beyond identifying with his American subjects, Millett is also eager to counter Cumings's critical assessment of Hausman. Aiding in the task are Millett's interviews with participants, or, more often, the scholarship produced by former Korean graduate students such as Huh Nam-Soon, Lee Young-woo, and Chung Too-woong.

While the book deals extensively with the growth of the ROK officer corps (and keeps the shadow of Manchukuo at arm's length), the American army in Korea more often stands at center stage in this text. John R. Hodge, MacArthur's man in Korea, is cast as an earnest and talented administrator hamstrung by a lack of support from Washington. When Hodge warns the Koreans in his inaugural [End Page 94] statement of ominous "punishment for disorder," Millett eschews the potentially offensive direct quote, noting that Hodge's "only commitment was to protect everyone . . . who remained peaceful" (p. 58). Hodge's haste in endorsing Korean trusteeship and his tolerance for Japanese police at the outset of the occupation are, to Millett, less notable than the general's subsequent initiative to place Korea under UN auspices (pp. 111–13). When Hodge asserts that the Korean people were "ignorant of the political facts of life so far as representative government [was] concerned" (p. 128), Millett hardly offers a caveat and moves on to another of his densely packed sources. When Millett uses the phrase "rabid Korean nationalism" more than once (p. 86), it becomes apparent that Hodge's perspective is, for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 93-97
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-20
Open Access
No
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