The Korean War: No
Victors, No Vanquished
Reaching back into the memories of childhood,
and inevitably sifting through the archival collections in my ever-expanding
filing cabinet of a brain, I can honestly say that I draw a blank when thinking
about the Korean War. Ask me about any other war in American history, and I can
undoubtedly recall what the issues were and what actually happened. Not Korea.
In fact, I cannot recall any time, at any point in any of the years of
elementary school up having studied the Korean War in any depth. That is, the
brief overviews of the Korean War only offered that there was a dispute over
borders, and not much more.
The Korean War, for whatever reason, has been
dubbed such names as the “Unknown War,” or the “Forgotten War,”
and seems to go down in history as something that shouldn’t be discussed. Maybe
this is because American forces suffered humiliating losses on and off the
battlefield, and failed to win decisively, instead settling for an armistice
peace treaty that left no victors. However, this armistice proved to show that
the United States was not invincible, and seemed to put its ignorance in check.
Or, maybe the Korean War failed to reach the esteem of other wars, such as
World War II or the Vietnam War, because there were no heroic figures such as
MacArthur, there were no battles of Iwo Jima, and there were no major
controversies such as Vietnam. All these seem to be plausible theories on why
the Korean War has remained such a mystery to most Americans. Rather than being
studied in great detail, such as wars like World War II and the Vietnam War,
the Korean War has been shuffled to the side, and has remained, even in
classrooms, a hushed issue.
That is why Stanley Sandler, in The Korean War,
No Victors, No Vanquished, has, in my opinion, done such a good job in bringing
to the public a work that examines the Korean War from all aspects and all
viewpoints. Sandler brings to light the relevance and enormity of this war that
went far beyond a simple border dispute between North Korea and South Korea.
The implications of this war reached far beyond what any course throughout my
career has taught me. Sandler, in his book, is largely responsible for this.
Sandler methodically and analytically works
through the book from the beginning of Korea’s history until the end of the
war. Opening up the book, he starts off with an account of the causes of the
war, and the implications behind it as well. He examines the advantages to all
parties concerned about entering the war, and explained that the United States
did not actually want to engage in a war with North Korea. Along with other
Western powers, the United States couldn’t be bothered with Korea, and didn’t
have much interest in waging war with Kim Il Sung. However, with the Cold War
in full swing, the threat of Soviet domination was reason enough to go to war.
Sandler acknowledges the fact that the Korean
War had not reached the esteem of other wars, yet seems convinced, and with
solid evidence, that this third costliest war should be ranked much higher than
it has been. The Korean War, he argues, would have never even begun had the
Cold War not been such a terrible threat to the American people. The extreme
fear that the American people lived with back then was more than ample enough
to justify a war with an enemy that most could not even point out on a map.
With the causes and implications behind the
justification for the war out of the way, Sandler than goes on to examine the
actual history of the war, and everything that goes on in war. From
pre-diplomatic discussions to all the actors involved in the war, including the
Chinese, Japanese and Soviets, Sandler does a thorough and complete examination
of the Korean War.
While offering a general overview of the history
and background of the Korean War, Sandler than gets more specific and
detail-oriented in breaking down into subcategories the various elements of the
war itself. He examines the major offensives and retreats that marked
significant and proved to be of vital importance. While some may see this book
as biased towards Americans and their doings in Korea, it is necessary to look
beyond that and realize that what he is writing about is factual information.
Although the factual information does not make a
book noteworthy or necessarily important, what does make it noteworthy is the
fact that Sandler wrote this book and offered various different perspectives
other than the traditional American viewpoint. While he did discuss America’s
roles, beliefs and ideologies in the war, he also touched upon the ideologies
of other groups as well.
This, in my opinion, is the strongest point of
the book. Different chapters are designated to the role in which each actor
played a part in. For example, Sandler discusses in length the involvement of
the Chinese and how they affected not only the outcome of the war, but how that
affected the international political system as well. He shows the enormous
effect that they had on the way war was waged after their involvement and how
they were such a pivotal force in the Korean War. Additionally, along with the
US perspective, he examines the role the United Nations, along with member
states, played in this highly involved war. While discussing their involvement
in the war, and the significant effect they had on the ability to sustain the
war with North Korea, Sandler also discusses their ultimate short-comings and
attributes the outcome of the war somewhat to the UN. This, to me, is very
important in providing a detailed and thorough sketch of a war that most people
know little about.
That point raises one issue of criticism on
behalf of this book. For all its good qualities, the book, in my opinion, is
somewhat long-winded and wordy. That is, it seems difficult for me to imagine
this book capturing an audience and making them want to continue reading. While
it is of high historical value, the complexity and detailed nature of this book
would seem to be a turnoff from those who are not being forced to read it.
Rather than concentrating so much on detailed accounts and factual data and
statistics, a more illustrative and animated book would, in my opinion, make it
a much appealing and interesting book.
While the book may tend to be dry at times, and
lengthy in point, the fact remains that nevertheless, this book is crucial in
shedding light on a subject that has been forgotten by so many. While people of
all ages are readily familiar with other wars such as the Vietnam War, it is
crucial for more writers to designate an appropriate chapter in history to
perspective a war
that meant so much to the history of its peoples. Like stated above, this war
had enormous implications, with the Cold War raging, yet didn’t have the
magnificent dimensions of heroism and scandal that accompanied so many other
wars. That, however, is not justification for abandoning a crucial and
significant chunk of American history. This book, overall, does a fantastic job
of re-examining the Korean War.