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The Korean War: An Encyclopedia

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ISBN: 0-8240-4445-2

Reviewed by Barbara Bennett Peterson

Ever want to know all about M*A*S*H* units —for real, not just on TV’s famed series M*A*S*H*? Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals provided emergency medical surgery: after initial treatment, wounded personnel could be picked up by a Medevac chopper and flown to the interior for additional treatment. M*A*S*H* units were important during the Korean War, treating those whose brain and spinal cord damage required neurosurgical care. “The M*A*S*H* moved like birds in a windstorm, settling down only to flee again. In the operating room, plasma froze, lights winked out as generator fuel lines clogged with ice, and surgeons worked by flashlight, the bodies of the wounded steaming as surgical knives cut them open.” Clearly, The Korean War is more than a dry encyclopedia. It contains the best accurate information available in a single volume on the causes, the events, the people, the places, and the hardships of war.

Stanley Sandler, affiliated with the Directorate of History and Museums, US Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has edited the most valuable resource for teachers and professors on the topic of the Korean War, which lasted from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. Connected to Special Operations, Sandler “knows of what he speaks” in this volume. It begins with a General Introduction explaining the history of the Korean War, and a Chronology of Korean History dating from 2,000 BCE through April 26, 1954, the Opening of the fifth Geneva conference on the reunification of Korea. These are followed by a Map Series using maps from of the Office of the Chief of Military History, Washington, DC, and articles written by well-credentialed authors beginning with the topic of Dean Acheson and ending with the X Corps that led the amphibious assault on Inchon in 1950.

All of the “heroes” (and some protagonists) are included in well-researched biographies. That of General Omar N. Bradley (1893–1981) explains how the US and the UN became involved in the Korean War and how the war started. Bradley served as the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1949–1953) during the Korean War and formulated US Foreign and Military policy in Asia after 1949 when the Chinese Communists established the People’s Republic of China. Bradley was an architect of the rapprochement with Japan and of the plan to utilize Japan and Okinawa as strategic platforms to launch both air and naval forces to protect democracy and US interests in Asia.

General Douglas MacArthur’s biography develops the role of MacArthur during WW II, his acceptance of the surrender of the Japanese on the USS Missouri in 1945, and as Allied Commander of the occupation of postwar Japan. MacArthur, like Bradley, desired to link Japan’s interests to US interests and policies in the Pacific. Bradley and MacArthur also determined to defend Formosa (Taiwan) and the position of Chiang Kai-shek, believing this island was also of strategic value in Asia for the US. As head of the JCS, General Bradley, disagreeing with Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s statement that Korea was outside the defensive perimeter of the US, had built up the South Korean Army of Syngman Rhee to counter the Cold War Soviets’ attempts to arm the North Koreans. Because of Bradley’s foresight, the US was in a position to come to the aid of South Korea when North Korean forces invaded June 25, 1950, opening the Korean War. On June 26, 1950, Bradley ordered air and naval forces to aid South Korea and defend the Philippines, and on June 29, committed ground troops. Throughout the war, it was Omar Bradley who made the US military decisions in Washington in constant dialogue with President Truman. General Douglas MacArthur, named United Nations Commander by Truman, initially directed the defense of South Korea.

Bradley believed in the “domino theory” and was set upon defending freedom and democracy in South Korea through the efforts of MacArthur and UN troops, just as he was later in Vietnam. Communist aggression had to be stopped, he felt, fearing a “Red Asia.” The Chinese Communists entered the war in November, 1950, after UN forces had crossed the 38th parallel following the success of MacArthur’s bold Inchon Landing on September 15, and the re-capture of Seoul on September 27, 1950. One of the greatest attributes of Bradley was that he held the “complete world picture” in mind. He balanced the ambitions of Chiang Kai-shek on Formosa, fought a “limited war’” in Korea by forming a partnership between the JCS and President Truman to prevent World War III with either the Soviets or the Chinese, and engaged NATO and Europe to resist the Soviet challenge. MacArthur’s removal by Truman April 11, 1951, was prompted by MacArthur’s desire to cross the Yalu river into Mainland China and directly engage the communists who were aiding the North Koreans. Professors and teachers using the biographies of Generals Bradley and MacArthur, General Matthew B. Ridgeway, Lt. General Walton H. Walker, General Mark Wayne Clark, Syngman Rhee (Korea), Peng Dehuai, and Lin Piao (China) can put together a concise and authoritative presentation of the main military and political elements of the Korean War.

The real joy of Sandler’s The Korean War is that this single volume is all that is needed to provide a basic yet detailed content overview.

For the military-technical side of the war, Sandler’s volume includes reference articles for teachers and professors on “airborne operations,” “aircraft,” “anti-guerrilla operations,” “Army, Chinese Communist,” “Army, North Korean People’s Army,” Republic of Korea Army (ROKA), “bazooka vs. tank” (the bazooka was first used in combat during the Korean War), “bacteriological warfare,” “armor,” “artillery,” and the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). The US Air Force was only three years old as a separate service in 1950, yet it flew 217,000 interdiction and armed sorties during the thirtyseven months of conflict. For the human side there are articles on “brainwashing,” or xinao, “intelligence,” “chaplains in the war,” POW exchanges like “Operation Big Switch” and “Operation Little Switch,” “film, television, and literature of the Korean War,” and “antiwar sentiment,” “defectors,” and the “armistice negotiations.” For foreign policy issues, “Australia and the Korean War,” “British Contribution,” “Canada in the Korean War, 1951–1953,” “China and Chinese Decision Making in the Korean War,” and the “China Lobby and the Korean War,” the “Ethiopian Battalion,” “French Battalion,” and “Greek Forces” are among the United Nations’ forces. Perhaps the most telling portions related to foreign relations are the sections dealing with China, as a portion of the biography of Mao reveals: “ Among other things, he lost his elder son, who died during an American air raid in Korea; he may also have missed a chance to complete China’s unity—a separate Taiwan remained one of his major concerns for the rest of his life.” The sections on foreign relations offer advanced educators the resources for ethnically diverse discussions as to why various nations chose to support the UN forces and the US in defending South Korea as well as to explain the position of the communist opposition.

Each article is articulate and poignant, allowing educators to easily pull quotes to emotionally involve the students. The article “Heartbreak Hill” described the war’s end: “Heartbreak Ridge was the site of the last major UN offensive of the Korean War . . . the 23rd Infantry Regiment pushed through the thick fog for the crest of Hills 931/851, experiencing heavy mortar attacks and digging in for the night only a few hundred yards from their previous position. . . . At dawn of the next day, artillery knocked out enemy positions. . . . Talking to a reporter, Colonel James Y. Adams lamented that his troops’ losses were “such a heartbreak to me,” thus giving the ridge its name.” The book is illustrated with excellent photographs of the Korean War from the Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and the National Archives. The real joy of Sandler’s The Korean War is that this single volume is all that is needed to provide a basic yet detailed content overview.

The AAS Secretariat is closed on Monday, May 29 in observance of the Memorial Day holiday