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Book Review: Author's Response
Book Title The Korean War
Author Peter Lowe
Reviewer Dr James Mills
Department of History, University of Strathclyde
Publisher Macmillan, 2000

Dr Mills believes that I should have written a different kind of book and implies that it should have been longer. Macmillan approached me in 1997 and invited me to contribute a short volume to a new series on Twentieth Century Wars: I was happy to accept. I regarded the proposed volume as aimed primarily at undergraduates pursuing courses in International History, International Relations, World History, American foreign policy and War Studies. I decided that the emphasis would be placed upon the international dimensions of the war with reference to the clashing interests of the major powers and the involvement of the United Nations. I sought to underline the fact that it was both a civil war and an international war but without pursuing the internal situation in Korea as far as I did in my Origins of the Korean War (Longman, 1986, 1997), which is nearly twice as long as The Korean War. I was asked to produce a volume not exceeding 60,000 words in length, with a bibliography of reasonable but not excessive length and to reduce footnote references to what was essential. The editor of the series, Professor Jeremy Black, suggested some changes when he read my draft and I incorporated these, as stated in my Acknowledgements.

As regards specific criticisms, I described MacArthur as 'complacent' and waving aside the likelihood of Chinese intervention in Korea (p.41) and stated (p.47) that the strategy followed by MacArthur, Almond and Walker 'was overconfident, rash and accepted too many risks'. I explained that MacArthur castigated British proposals of halting the UN advance north and that he invoked the ghost of Munich in censuring the British (not the first or last time this analogy was deployed) (p.45). On p.65 I wrote 'MacArthur was autocratic, elderly, not inclined to listen to opinions contrary to his own ..' On p.66 I stated: 'He [MacArthur] disapproved of the administration's wish to negotiate with China and the DPRK to end the war. He viewed China as a bigger threat than the Soviet Union and held that confrontation and conflict were inevitable. In March he deliberately undermined Truman's wish to begin exchanges with China through making a public statement of his own in which he placed the emphasis on military victory, adding that he was prepared to meet the Chinese commander-in-chief if this would assist in concluding the war. This statement achieved the aim of torpedoing any prospect of starting the talks at this juncture'. I then discussed MacArthur's correspondence with Joseph W. Martin, the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives - 'MacArthur frankly attacked the policy of the administration he served for weakness in dealing with communism and for putting excessive stress on Europe, to the detriment of Asia'. Does Dr Mills regard the above as praise of the general? Apparently so.

Arthur M. Schlesinger has argued recently in the Times Literary Supplement (September 2000) that the Korean war was very important in the emergence of McCarthyism in the United States: given the consequences of this malign trend, I do not consider it inappropriate to devote some space to the acceleration of vocal hysteria over communism. More generally, I feel it is a valid approach in a work of this kind to emphasise the role of the USA. The latter has played a more direct role in Korea than any other state since 1945. There are still approximately 38,000 American troops stationed in the Republic of Korea. Jo Myong Rok, a senior North Korean leader, has recently visited Washington and met President Clinton in the White House. The American secretary of state has just visited Pyongyang and it is reported that President Clinton may also visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea before leaving the White House.

I had no intention of writing a monograph or of pursuing at length internal Korean developments. I did not devote more space to the origins of the war because I had recently published a revised edition of my Origins of the Korean War (1997) and I did not want to duplicate discussion in another volume also aimed at the undergraduate market. I believe I have written a volume fulfilling the criteria adopted for this series and that this best serves the interests of the majority of designated readers as defined above. We are all entitled to our views and Dr Mills and I diverge fundamentally. I leave it to the readers to decide.


December 2000

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