Wrong Turns In Korea

Miscalculations and blunders by world leaders precipitated the Korean War 60 years ago

On its 60th anniversary, the Korean War looks much like Vietnam, a pointless conflict that gained nothing for those who began it: North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and South Korea’s Syngman Rhee, with the consent of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong. Yet it was far worse than that: The bloodletting in that corner of northeast Asia was an exercise in human folly that cost all sides in the fighting nearly 4 million lives lost, missing, and wounded, not to mention the devastation of the peninsula from Pusan in the south to the Yalu River in the north. Not a single northern or southern Korean city escaped the ravages wrought by modern warfare. Public buildings and private homes were turned into piles of rubble, while thousands of refugees fled from the scenes of battle.

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Aide To Four Presidents

One day in 1926 when the world was quiet and no wars were in progress anywhere, Wilson Brown, a spare, erect and self-effacing captain in the Navy, reported to Washington, confidently expecting to pick up orders for his next job, as naval attaché in Paris. Instead, and without explanation, he was hustled over to the White House and subjected to a brief interview with Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States. Read more »

Wild About Harry

Nixon on Truman, 1962

Even made with a smile, a physical threat by a future President of the United States against a past President just doesn’t happen every day. But I know it did once.

Richard Nixon was scheduled by the American Legion to speak at its Denver convention in early 1962. The Republican party of Colorado, of which I was then state chairman, had also asked him to speak at a GOP fundraiser. Eager to earn party credits, he readily agreed. Read more »

The Postwar Years 1945 To 1974

In his kaleidoscopic novel U.S.A., a trilogy published between 1930 and 1936, John Dos Passos offered a descriptive line that has always stayed with me. America, he wrote, is “a public library full of… dog-eared history books with protests scrawled on the margins.” Historical writing at its best is composed not only of facts but of thoughts and directions. And in this fastpaced country, where currents are very much subject to abrupt change, it is often hard for a history book to take root.Read more »

Harry Truman And The Price Of Victory

New Llght on the President’s Biggest Decision

What did President Harry S. Truman and his senior advisers believe an invasion of Japan would cost in American dead? Is In recent years this has been a matter of heated historical controversy, with Truman’s critics maintaining that the huge casualty estimates he later cited were a “postwar creation” designed to justify his use of nuclear weapons against a beaten nation already on the verge of suing for peace. The real reasons, they maintain, range from a desire to intimidate the Russians to sheer bloodlust.

 
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Chosin

Fifty years ago in the frozen mountains of Korea, the Marines endured a campaign as grueling and heroic as any in history

The deeds of our heroes are based, all too often, on the arrogance of higher authority. The list is long: Xenophon’s Ten Thousand, the Light brigade at Balaklava, Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, the British infantrymen at the Somme in 1916. Fifty years ago, the United States Marines at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea joined this list. • Marines tell this story alongside those of Belleau Wood, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima. The scene is quickly set. On June 25, 1950, the armies of the People’s Republic of [North] Korea invaded South Korea.

 
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The Temper Thing

How bad is it when Presidents get really sore?

The rumor first began to spread around Washington last year: Sen. John McCain had a skeleton in his closet. Was it something to do with his past as a war hero in Vietnam? His voting record in the Senate? The role he had played as one of the Keating Five in the savings and loan scandal? Read more »

How To Remember The Forgotten War

The Korean conflict erupted fifty years ago this June. Many Americans still believe that it began in debacle (which is true) and ended in a humiliating compromise that changed nothing (which is not).

Only by coincidence does the fragment of a map of Korea along the fateful thirty-eighth parallel that is part of the jacket art for my book MacArthur’s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero include the town of Chunchon. That was as far north as I got during the war. My commission as an Army second lieutenant had come on April 18, 1951, exactly one week after President Truman dismissed Douglas MacArthur as commander in chief in the Far East.

 
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“There Isn’t Any Such Thing As The Past”

DAVID McCULLOUGH tells why he thinks history is the most challenging, exhilarating, and immediate of subjects

 
 

“I think people are the most interesting subject of all, and I am thoroughly interested in those people who went before us,”

 
 
 
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Lifeline To A Sinking Continent

Secretary Of State George C. Marshall received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Harvard commencement exercise on the morning of June 5, 1947. That afternoon he spoke to a group of alumni. His message was short and grim. World War II and its aftermath had brought Europe to the brink of disaster.Read more »