|The Coldest Winter
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David Halberstam's magisterial and thrilling The Best and the Brightest was the defining book for the Vietnam War. More than three decades later, Halberstam used his unrivalled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another dark corner in our history: the Korean War. The Coldest Winter is a successor to The Best and the Brightest, even though in historical terms it precedes it. Halberstam considered The Coldest Winter the best book he ever wrote, the culmination of forty-five years of writing about America's postwar foreign policy.
Up until now, the Korean War has been the black hole of modern American history. The Coldest Winter changes that. Halberstam gives us a masterful narrative of the political decisions and miscalculations on both sides. He charts the disastrous path that led to the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu, and that caught Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise. He provides astonishingly vivid and nuanced portraits of all the major figures -- Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson, Kim, and Mao, and Generals MacArthur, Almond, and Ridgway. At the same time, Halberstam provides us with his trademark highly evocative narrative journalism, chronicling the crucial battles with reportage of the highest order.
At the heart of the book are the individual stories of the soldiers on the front lines who were left to deal with the consequences of the dangerous misjudgments and competing agendas of powerful men. We meet them, follow them, and see some of the most dreadful battles in history through their eyes. As ever, Halberstam was concerned with the extraordinary courage and resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden.
The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, and provides crucial perspective on the Vietnam War and the events of today. It was a book that Halberstam first decided to write more than thirty years ago and that took him nearly ten years to write. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists and historians of our time, and to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.
Includes an Afterword by Russell Baker
Tributes to David Halberstam
David Halberstam died at the age of 73 in a car accident in California on April 23, 2007, just after completing The Coldest Winter. Legendary for his work ethic, his kindness to young writers, and his unbending moral spine, Halberstam had friends and admirers throughout journalism, many of whom spoke at his memorial service and at readings across the country for the release of The Coldest Winter. We have included testimonials given at his memorial service by two writers who made their reputations at the same newspaper where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam War reporting, The New York Times:
...David occupied a lot of space on the planet. Perhaps he felt the price he must pay for that big voice, that big reach, that big reputation, was that his generosity had to be just as large. Most of us, when we take to the road and meet admiring strangers, vow afterward to answer the note pressed into our hands or to pass along the speech we promised to the person whose daughter couldn't be there to hear it. But with the best will in the world we arrive home to deadlines, bills, kids, friends, all the demands of a busy life. We mean to be our best selves, but often we forget.
David did it. He always did it. The note, the call, the book, the advice. When I mentioned this once he dug his hands deep into the pockets of his grey flannels, set his mouth at the corners, looked down and rumbled, "Well, but it's so easy." That's nonsense. It's not easy. But it is important, and why he has been remembered with enormous affection by ordinary readers all over this country, and why each of us who live some sort of public life would do well, with all due respect to Jesus, to ask ourselves about those small encounters: what would David do? ... Read her full tribute
...If I could use a sports metaphor--and I think David would have appreciated that--David was the pulling guard, as in a football game. The pulling guard who sweeps wide and clears the hole for the running back who runs through behind him. We reporters in Iraq were the running backs. David went first--a long time ago--and cleared the way.
In Iraq, when the official version didn't match what we were seeing on the streets of Baghdad, all we had to do--and we did it a lot--was ask ourselves: what would Halberstam have done? And then the way was clear.... Read his full tribute
A Timeline of the Korean War
| || ||How It Began|
|January 1950 || ||Secretary of State Dean Acheson leaves Korea out of America's Far East Defense Perimeter.|
|June 25, 1950 || ||The North Korean Army crosses the 38th parallel with a force of about 135,000 troops. The Republic of Korea is taken completely by surprise by the invasion and their forces are soon in full retreat. |
|July 7, 1950 || ||General Douglas MacArthur is officially put in command of the forces set to defend the Republic of Korea. |
|August 1950 || ||Relentlessly focused attacks by the North Koreans drive the ill-prepared defense forces into the country's southeast corner. The Pusan Perimeter is established as the last best hope of maintaining a toehold on the peninsula. |
|August-Sept. 1950 || ||The North Koreans launch assault after assault against the Pusan Perimeter, with particularly brutal fighting taking place along the Naktong River. U.S. soldiers are in constant danger of being overrun. || || |
|September 15, 1950 || ||MacArthur delivers his masterstroke with the amphibious landings at Inchon. The invasion blindsides the North Korean defenders and relieves pressure on the Pusan Perimeter. UN forces are able to drive north from Pusan and east from Inchon. By the end of September the North Korean forces are routed on all fronts, Seoul has been recaptured, and MacArthur receives permission to cross the 38th parallel. |
| || ||The Debacle |
|November 1950 || ||U.S. soldiers march deep into North Korean territory, eventually reaching the Yalu River border with China. But the first warning of a conflict with the Chinese takes place at Unsan, where the Eighth Cavalry is mauled by a surprise engagement. By the end of November Chinese Communist forces mount a major offensive at Kunuri and the Chosin Reservoir. |
|December 1950 || ||Overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers, UN forces are battered to positions below the 38th parallel. General Walker is killed in an accident, and General Ridgway takes over his command. General MacArthur lobbies relentlessly for attacks into China, an action that would draw China, and likely the USSR, into a full-scale war. Tensions between Truman and MacArthur escalate. |
|January-February 1951 || ||The Chinese reach the high-water mark of their assault. General Ridgway aggressively combats the Chinese in the fight for the central corridor, with major battles fought at Wonju, Twin Tunnels, and Chipyongni. |
|April 11, 1951 || ||Truman relieves General MacArthur of his duties. Raucous public outcry in support of the celebrated general further erodes Truman's popularity. |
| || ||The End |
|July 27, 1953 || ||After years of bloody stalemate, a cease-fire is signed between North Korea and the UN. The border established is very close to the original line at the 38th parallel. It is estimated that the war cost 33,000 American, 415,000 South Korean, and up to 1.5 million Chinese and North Korean lives. In the arena of U.S. foreign policy, the lessons of Korea still largely remain unlearned. || || |
| The drive to Seoul, September 16-28, 1950 |
Around Thanksgiving, 1950, while the rest of the country paid as little attention as possible, units of the Second Infantry Division were virtually annihilated by forces of the People's Republic Army. It was a defeat which shocked an otherwise disinterested and distant nation. In The Coldest Winter, award-winning reporter and historian David Halberstam explodes this moment in time, using it as a jumping off point to delve into the Korean War's particular horrors and triumphs. Using first-person interviews and detailed historical research, Halberstam exposes the truth about this underreported war by examining the geopolitics involved and also showing it from the vantage of the men whose poor fortune it was to be on history's cutting edge. The book contains portrayals of ordinary soldiers as well as of McArthur, Eisenhower, and other major players.
- Too Much Ink
Being a little familiar with the topic, I decided to give this rather thick book a quick "test run". Being a lot more familiar with the Turkish Brigade history in the Korean War, I looked for it in the lengthy index. There was no entry on the Brigade, Turkey or Turks at all. Sure the book is about Americans, but Turkey was the first country to answer UN's call right after US, and suffered one of the highest rate and total casualties. Also the Brigade was closely attached to an American division. In disbelief I turned the pages to Kunuri battles, and sure enough, buried in a mountain of other details, they were there.
There was a very brief and superfluous description of them but little else or any background.
Secondly, there was this unflattering description of their action at Kunuri, where upon taking one look at the approaching Chinese forces they supposedly realized that they were out of their depth and pulled away. In reality, the massive Chinese assault had caught all UN forces by surprise. Whole ROK army to their right simply disintegrated in the face of the brutal Chinese assault and exposed them to a force that was many times their number. They began to pull back fighting through the gauntlet while unknown to them 8th was already falling back, leaving them behind everybody. Their costly rearguard action delayed the Chinese by a few days and saved countless American lives as told by many there already. Their casualties in those few days in the coldest November was over a third of their total loss throughout the whole war. They are the first foreign military unit to be awarded a US congressional medal. None of this was placed in proper context. At that point I decided that it was not worth committing to over 600 pages of ink....more info
- Jaw Jaw....
Russell Baker in his afterward says that Halberstam was a proponent of what Halberstam called the new journalism, a kind of history in which individual personalities are seen as the driving of events. This is opposed to Tolstoyian history of great forces. By this theory "The Longest Winter" captures the essence of the Korean war, its causes and turning points. What the book does show is that peoples lives were indeed in the cross hairs of the events but an exaggerated emphasis of individual personalities obscures many of the forces of which they were simply a manifestation. I think this is Tolstoy's point: that the great forces are made up of individuals but that those individuals are simultaneously driven by the same forces. So Muscovites could fiddle while Napoleon advanced but as Marx would say of the peasantry in England they were to be overwhelmed by forces they could not conceive of. Similarly Halberstam's picture of the cruelty of the Cultural Revolution and the US entry into Vietnam as being merely a result respectively of Mao's crippled personality and LBJ stubbornness misses much bigger forces at play. One of the best places where the influence of personality, contingency, and underlying forces are diagnosed is in the second volume of William Freehling's of the pre-bellam SouthThe Road to Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861. Freehling makes the best case I know of for personality and contingency, yet the first volume The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (Road to Disunion Vol. 1) which is oriented toward the gathering forces is far more convincing.
Halberstam does a better job with Macarthur, showing how his peculiarities fit into the world view of the China Lobby and McCarthy right. Although the book gives a good, but from my perspective not so interesting, picture of what it was for American soldiers during the North Korean drive south, the race north and the unseen Chinese infiltration and counterattack, the two years of trench warfare which made up most of the Korean war is slighted. If Halberstam were true to his concept of history that boring slog fest deserves a narrative and should be understandable in terms of personality. The problem is, of course, that this period lacks the drama of the back and forth battles where heroes and villains stand out more.
From me the book gets mixed praise. His narrative flair is engaging. The moral of how much wars can be about domestic politics rather than world real politics cannot be repeated too often. And we should not forget "forgotten wars." They too carve a notch out of our collective souls. In the midst of the Iraq we should not be sitting back comfortably but raising hell as in Vietnam.
In the book we do not get a clear picture of whose fault the Korean war was. It seems that Kim Il Sung was the bad boy playing off Stalin and Mao but we get only hints of how much responsibility lies with Sigmund Rhee and the south or what kind of a war it was for the ROKs. It seems the North possessed more effectiveness because Kim had addressed real needs while Rhee was merely a corrupt autocratic parasite. Were all the ROK soldiers cowards and the North Korean troops good when victorious but yellow when really challenged. I remember in 1960 or so when Fleming's book on the Cold War came out. It was an eye opener to learn that maybe the US wasn't all correct in its world stance and the Commies all evil. We may have to wait until the fall of both North Korean and Chinese communism to get the kind of look at their archives that are now making the interactions of the USSR and the US in the Cold War more understandable. Read Halberstam's book. It is the best we have on the subject. Charlie Fisher author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World
- Reaction of a Korean vet
For those of us who were part of the Korean war (it was never just a police action for us) reliving it by reading The Coldest Winter is a profoundly moving experience. We rarely. if ever, talk about it with anyone for reasons that are somehow too complex to explain easily, but for anyone fortunate not to have been part of it, the book should be must reading. Thoroughly researched and extremely well written, it is an invaluable contribution to our history. ...more info
- Remarkable Book
This was the first book solely dedicated to the Korean War that I had read. Reading it was a powerful experience in many ways, especially when reading of the battles and the struggle for survival as experienced by the men in combat. Halberstam is good in following ordinary soldiers and officers in their respective units and how they dealt with critical situations. The leaders from all sides get a good analysis too. Gen. MacArthur doesn't come off looking good, and for good reasons. While his bold plan at Inchon succeeded, his desire to keep pushing north despite the dangers of Chinese intervention and Washington's desire to keep this to a limited war would lead to near catastrophe.
This book is heavy on key battles, military strategy, and the politics of the war from both sides. Some of the history behind the fall of China to the Communists led by Mao Zedong, and the politics of this development back in the United States are detailed as well. Halberstam does tend to jump around from chapter to chapter in order to try and bring the bigger picture to light. I think he does this fairly successfully, though I felt the military stalemate the war brought was dealt with in a fairly perfunctory manner.
Without doubt, the ordeal of the American soldier is lucidly told. One can almost sense the frigid cold ,the confusion of battle and the struggle for survival as the author describes it. Halberstam doesn't hold back from criticizing generals and other people (on both sides) who acted or made unwise decisions. The failure of MacArthur and others in accepting good intelligence information was a critical blunder. MacArthur's contempt or underestimation (maybe I'm being too kind) of his Chinese adversaries and for his own superiors in Washington were other areas where MacArthur and others deserved criticism. Unfortunately, those in Washington who could have been more forceful with MacArthur often let him have his way or were just down right timid to confront him. President Truman would eventually fire his general gone rogue.
The North Korean leader and the Chinese leader also get examined for their roles and where they made mistakes. The differences on military strategy between Mao Zedong and Peng Dehuai (his top general) gets some mention as well.
Halberstam's skills as a writer certainly shine through in this book. One can also feel a passion behind his writing. A truly remarkable book that gave me a greater appreciation for the men who fought in Korea and for understanding the politics of the war....more info
- An insightful look at America's Korean War campaign
"The Coldest Winter" is a fascinating and insightful look at America's involvement in the Korean War. Mr. Halberstam has created a very engaging read; this is no dry history text. This piece uses the increasingly common approach of combining broad dissertations of history and politics with the experiences of individual soldiers and other players. The result is an effective telling of the early and mid-stages of the Korean War. Mr. Halberstam does not cover the war period after MacArthur's relief in a more than cursory fashion--in this sense the title is accurate. The book deals mainly with the early stages of the Korean War.
Surprisingly, Mr. Halberstam deals with America's China policy in much more detail than one would expect, given that the book is about the Korean War. I found this to be helpful and interesting, as I had very little understanding of America's relationship with the Nationalist Chinese government. Mr. Halberstam shows Chiang Kai-Chek to have been a masterful manipulator of the US Congress and government, in which he operated a powerful "China Lobby." Nothing new about foreign powers controlling the US Government as its policies affect them, apparently. His insights about the interaction between Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Kim-Il-Sung were similarly insightful. This will be new material to most readers, and it is fascinating.
The most important achievement of this book is to give the reader a solid understanding of General Douglas MacArthur. History has not treated MacArthur kindly, and this book is an excellent example of this. Mr. Halberstam makes a strong case that by the onset of the Korean War MacArthur was far past his prime, hard of hearing and surrounded by sycophants. Most readers will be astounded to learn that all through the period in the Korean War in which MacArthur was commander-in-chief, he never once spent the night on the Korean mainland, preferring instead to run the war from his headquarters in Tokyo. While Mr. Halberstam gives MacArthur full credit for the brilliant Inchon landing, he shows the reader that MacArthur's actions and orders after that point were ill-conceived and based upon self-serving intelligence estimates that the Red Chinese would decline to enter Korea. Those familiar with MacArthur are aware that one of his acknowledged failures as a general was his consistent inability to use and consider good military intelligence. This piece shows that there was abundant reason to believe that the Chinese would intervene in the war and that MacArthur's orders to his men to make a pointless advance to the Chinese border was motivated by hubris. Even after the Chinese entered Korea, MacArthur's staff denied the evidence that they were in-country as long as they could. Poor leadership at the Corps level caused most Army units to be unable to provide one another with mutual support. The result was one of the worst debacles in American military history.
MacArthur's conduct after General Ridgeway assumed leadership of the troops in Korea (under MacArthur) was flatly incomprehensible if one accepts Mr. Halberstam's analysis. For apparently MacArthur was trying to pick a fight with the Truman Administration and knew that his relief was a strong possibility. Evidently President Truman was correct that MacArthur was confused about "how the United States is run" and did not understand that he (MacArthur) was not a sovereign procounsel. Or perhaps he simply doubted that Truman had the guts to relieve him. In any case, Halberstam shows that MacArthur's relief was not only a wise move, it was a vital one.
Overall, this is a remarkable work about an underreported topic. The Korean War was a seminal episode along America's path to world leadership, and this work aids greatly in understanding it, and the heroism and achievements of the men who fought it....more info
- The Coldest Winter
The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam is not a perfect history of the Korean War. There were two historical facts missing which I think any credible historian would have to mention. One is the incident at the Bridge of Tokun Ri where hundreds of civilians were killed by American troops in what is euphenistically known as a "friendly fire" incident. The other is the disgraceful conduct of the all-Black 92nd Regiment which was disbanded as "unbreliable" after they broke ranks and ran to the rear after hearing their first gunshot. History is a moving target and the first casualty in war is the truth. Here's a tip. Go to any library and check out the books of history of the Vietnam War. If you find no reference to "fraggings", you know you aren't going to read the whole truth but one that has been sanitized. Fraggings refers to the murder or attempted murder of U.S. officers or non-coms by their own men. The weapon of choice was a fragmentation grenade which leaves no fingerprints. More than 1,000 U.S. officers and non-coms were murdered by their own men during the war with thousands more wounded. These are estimates. The U.S. army only kept records for about 18 months in 1970-71 and recorded several hundred fraggings. And this is just one service branch, not counting the Marines, Navy or Air Force. Always read history as a moving target and understand that in a war, the first casulty is truth....more info
- Not quite perfect
Very good, but some annoying gaffes. In what Army, in what war, was "L" company ever called "Love" company? Or "H" company called "Hope" company? LIMA! HOTEL! C'mon, people, get a little closer to your subject. Also, in the glossary up front, the weapons list includes a "4.2mm" mortar. Shoots BB's, maybe?...more info
- The most unfortunate war
There is nothing new in this book on Korea, but Halberstam's presentation is excellent. Fortunately for the reader a good review of the American position in the immediate pre-war Korea and the behind-the-scenes political intrigue of the Chinese and North Korean military leaders is worth the price of this book. Mr. Halberstam always gets his digs in when he writes is books. The comment on President Bush's handling of the Iraq conflict is unfortunate but true to his political persuasion. His earlier book on the Vietnam War, The Best And Brightest, had similar digs, but for a Democratic administration, so at least he passes his digs around.
The book teaches us all a lesson in that we must ALWAYS be prepared for war. We have been attacked too many times by people who hate us. To allow the military to demilitarize like they did prior to Korea and after the mess in Vietnam where military leadership was at its lowest level only provides an opening for others to put a black eye on our country. And like Korea and Vietnam, the persons who pays the price for our political and military ineptitude are our American service personnel. ...more info
- The Coldest Winter America and the Koren War
I have read numerous books on the Korean War including Martin Russ's "The Last Parallel" and " Breakout:The Chosin Reservior Campaign,Korea 1950 which I found to be excellent. David Halberstam has written I think the very best book of all the books I've read on this subject. The research on the politics,President Truman (the happenstance President), General MacArthur (the megalomaniac) and all of the other Generals who did his bidding (the Bataan "gang")is the tip of the spear. You will not find a more knowledgeable,interesting book to the point of not being able to put it down. To say I've enjoyed reading "The Coldest Winter" wouldn't be true.....I didn't want it to end. ...more info
- Repetitive but excellent
Korean war not a subject that I would read about, except that Halberstam is a master. He said he would read everything on a subject looking for " density " and then write his books and it shows here that he has done it again, after The Powers that Be and other outstanding books. Fascinating portraits of Truman, MacArthur, Acheson, Marshall and several military officers. So sorry his accidental death at 73 has deprived us of future Halberstam books. He had no competition....more info
- will not stand the test of time
If you want to read about the Korean War filtered through the prism of Vietnam, this is the book for you....more info
- Riveting Account of the Korean War
I'm a big fan of David Halberstam, having read The Reckoning, and The Fifties before. This book is among his best, and I learned so much about the Korean War, the Chinese, and U.S. politics and the military of the 1950s. I listened to much of it on CD while commuting, and read the rest of at home in between trips.
The fact that Halberstam died last year makes it even more of a poignant "read." He compelling wrote all his books in ways that make you feel like you are right there in those times and places. I will miss him greatly.
- Incompetence at every level
What makes this book a page turner for me, is the level of incompetence alledged at every command level from MacArthur on down. If the facts are true, many many generals should not only have been relieved of their commands, they should have been court martialed to boot.
Before reading this wonderful book, I knew little about this war and I had pre-conceived notions about MacArthur and Truman; I hate to admit that those notions may have been wrong.
If what Halberstam says is true, and I have no reason to doubt him, thousands of fine soldiers and marines died for no reason other than to feed the egos of some very stupid men.
A must read....more info
- The Coldest Winter
This is a rather complete history of the times and battles. Well written, if a bit turgid relating need historical context, and the author has definite opinions of the major characters: watch for that....more info
- A Very Incomplete History of the Korean War
The book is interesting, but a reader expecting a comprehensive history of the Korean War will be disappointed. The focus is on the first four months of the Chinese engagement (Nov 1950 through Feb 1951) and the political background to Truman's discharge of MacArthur. Important battles -- the landing at Inchon and the retreat from Chosin -- are all but ignored. What it covers, it covers well; what it ignores leaves one puzzled. ...more info
- When American and China fought
This book is not so much a history of the Korean War but more a meditation of the role of the war in the development of America's response to the cold war. There is a outline of the operations of the war but most of the narrative deals with the early battles and China's intervention. The last two years of the war are dealt with very briefly indicating that the Americans were able to develop tactics to use their superior firepower to turn the conflict into a draw.
The attraction of the book is that it deals with the historical context better than previous narratives and looks at the American response as something which was flexible rather than fixed and unchanging. It was in response to the Korean war that containment became working strategy of the cold war rather than roll back.
Halberstam sees the war as a disaster for the Democratic Party. The war seemed won after McArthur's landing at Inchon, but the American advance to the Chinese border that seemed to be able to achieve the liberation of the north failed. The Chinese counter attacked the strung out UN troops inflicting a huge initial defeat. This on top of the victory of Mao in China meant that the right wing of the Republican Party was able to tar the Democrats as poor, possibly traitorous defenders of the free world.
The problems of the Democrats was worsened by the actions of McArthur the highly egocentric theatre commander. After General Ridgeway was able to stabilize the UN front and to start inflicting very significant losses on the Chinese McArthur seemed to become jealous and unhinged. He started to call for an all out war against China and suggesting that the Truman administration was cheating the American people of a potential chance to roll back communism in China. Eventually he was sacked by Truman. Not only did Truman seem to have lost China and overseen a huge initial American defeat but he then ended up sacking a national hero. McArthur then attempted to position himself to run for the presidency but things fell apart following his evidence to a Senate inquiry when he revealed himself as an unrepentant idiot.
Halberstam is an admirer of Eisehower and sees him as being a moderate voice that was able to govern the Republicans from the centre and to set in train a response to communism that was rational and measured. When the Democrats again won power under Kennedy they felt that they had to re-fight the battles of the Korean war and show that they were not soft on communism. The Vietnam War arose as a public relations demonstration that the Democrats were not foreign policy push overs rather than a measured examination of the situation on the ground.
At the time the elephant in the room was of course that America decided to fight a full scale conventional war against China. Yet in those days this was never acknowledged or talked about. The discussion was about fighting the North Koreans and supporting Chinese volunteers. Part of the confusion was of course that "China" to the Americans at the time was the Nationalist regime which only controlled Formosa. The enemy was not even recognised as an official entity.
Eisenhower was nothing if not a person who had an open mind and could think. His conclusion from the Korean war was that the US fought under considerable disadvantage. Communication and supply were difficult for the US. Asian powers had large populations which meant that they could fight wars of attrition. He thus formed the view that the US should not involve itself in Asian ground wars. The Vietnam was being a war when one side was able to suffer immense losses of manpower but to continue fighting an attritiononal war that was eventually successful.
- The Forgotten, Miscalculated War
David Halberstam provides tons of descriptive details, transcripts, sources and viewpoints about this harsh conflict and nations and individuals involved. Knowing little about this historical conflict, I'm unable to identify information or details that are disputed, considered omitted,nor recognize these differing or conflicting accounts. As usual, there are conflicting historical viewpoints presented in historical books, such as "The Coldest Winter."
There are already so many reviews focus on solely Korea, that below in this review is more mention of China, the American Mainstream Media, Post-WWII US foreign policy in East Asia, and General MacArthur. All of are relevant to the Korean conflict and Halberstam spends a lot of appropriate time and detail describing these topics.
I agree with the common opinion that this was and still is, the Forgotten War. "The Coldest Winter" highlights the fact that this brutal conflict is seldom referred to, today.
Several aspects about American involvement in the Korean war are elucidated throughout this book, from beginning to end: not to focus exclusively on the negative aspects but there was a lot of American arrogance, ignorance, and numerous miscalculations by many influential military and political leaders who were involved in Korea and China. Certain aspects in "Coldest Winter" will remind some readers of US involvement in South East Asia in the 60s, Latin America in the 1950s to 1980s, and in the Middle East since the 1930s up to now.
Halberstam takes the reader to Korea with vivid descriptions of the brutal,
terrain, lethal freezing temperatures, and rugged battle conditions. A great contribution by "Coldest Winter" are the lengthy and detailed portions that discuss the Chinese civil war, US involvement in it, and general US foreign policy in East Asia during this time.
RELEVANT TO THE KOREAN CAMPAIGN:
TRUMAN VS. DEWEY CAMPAIGN OF 1948: Truman's 1948 campaign and the State Department's approaches and actions in this conflict.
This book spent a well-deserved amount of time on the 1948 Presidential campaign. During the 1948 Campaign the political "experts" and the media gurus did what they still do today: misinterpret campaigns, make incorrect predictions, and think they know more than they actually know.
AMERICAN ADVENTURISM IN CHINA - THE FIRST FOREIGN POLICY DEBACLE AFTER WWII:
Halberstam aptly included lots of information and background on the Chinese civil war and US support for Chaing Kai-Shek, and the influence of the (American) China Lobby inside the USA. Described, is the Lobby's arrogance and ignorance about Chinese history, culture, and thinking, while it simultaneously and incorrectly denounced Truman for "Losing China." This divisiveness reminds one of the partisan media spin so often promoted from Washington, the mainstream media, and political talk-TV and talk-radio today.
And like today, the military works in coordination with the mainstream media to promote Military-Industrial Complex and State Department propaganda. General MacArthur interviewed with "Life" magazine in 1948. The headline on the cover of "Life" magazine was, "MacArthur says fall of China Imperils US" (p. 215). Hungry, impoverished, largely illiterate peasant china, imperiling the US? In 1948? Imperiling a world super-power that has the atomic bomb, natural resources, and more technology? Laughable. Yet very influential on manipulating the US public. Like then, as now.
To reinforce this point, "The Coldest Winter" delved into another issue rarely discussed regarding the Korean conflict and China: the US government's misinformation provided to the American public in the US to garner public support of Chaing Kai-Check. In reading the details of Chaing, his tactics, army, and character, I found it similar to involvement in Vietnam (1965-1973), Iran (1953) Guatemala (1954) Chile (1973) and Iraq (Chalabi), and al-Hakim, (2003-2009).
US support of Chaing was a debacle. Billions of dollars of taxpayer money disappeared. The US funded supply lines that were stolen by the Communists, and Chaing and his officers stole from the US constantly. Often in the annals of post-WWII American foreign policy and interference, the US has bet on the wrong horse.
While Korea is the forgotten war, I call this era, the forgotten debacle of
post-World War II American foreign policy.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA: CREATING MYTHS THAT INFLUENCED AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION:
It's universally agreed upon today by objective historians that MacArthur was a disturbed individual, an ineffectual desk General, and an overrated egotistical self-promoter. One of the many myths disseminated to the American public in the 1940s and 50s via the mainstream media (MSM) was that MacArthur was a brilliant, competent man, that was highly respected by those with whom he worked, and knew. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had then and still has, an atrocious record and reputation.
In accordance with other historians, Halberstam repeatedly notes MacArthur on the surface being an icon with enormous aura and influence. Yet he was out of touch with his peers, subordinates, and people of the United States. Living and working in Tokyo with his inner circle of sycophants, focusing on rebuilding and molding Japan in his own image. He knew and cared little about Korea.
General MacArthur made many military and intelligence miscalculations.
MacArthur openly claimed to "understand the Oriental" mind, even after many
mistakes made with the Japanese previously.
Referring to n the Korean conflict, one American soldier there stated, "in
WWII everything was done right, and in Korea everything seemed to be done
wrong." Soldiers sent to Korea lacked proper Winter clothing, lacked
ammunition, and had old, outdated guns and weapons. Supplies often came late, and sometimes never at all. In Korea and throughout history, the soldiers pay the price for the blunders from the top. The rugged mountainous Korean terrain, and harsh Winters were major factors that gave the initial advantage to the North Koreans. Cornered in Busan, the Inchon landing is quite a historical feat, and perhaps the one and only move by MacArthur that paid dividends.
"The Coldest Winter is lengthy and has lot of info and helpful strategic maps. This is a good book, and unfortunately, was David Halberstam's last.
- Soldiers pay the price for arrogance and idiocy
While politicians and generals dither, squabble and preen soldiers die in bitter cold. An examination of a distant time that resonates in todays news....more info
- The Coldest Winter
Having lived in Korea 1960-62, with a father who served in the Korean War, I was eager for the book. It has always seemed odd that so little was spoken, written or reported about that war. I confess to hearing the abridged version of it, rather than reading it. What I heard seemed to me very poorly edited, often repetitive, and rather lopsided in its emphasis on the period till MacArthur was sacked. It seemed like a first draft instead of a last draft. That said, Halberstam's reporting is first-rate, and his conclusions about the effect of the Korea War on later foreign policy seem right on. An important book!...more info
- A Perfect Audiobook
I will not repeat the well-deserved praises of Halberstam's work, but only add that Edward Herrmann delivers a wonderful reading here. His interpretation (and it is an interpretation) is intelligent, nuanced, and highly satisfying, striking exactly the right tone for a work of history. This is a perfectly done audiobook....more info
- A flawed history
I've been an admirer of Halberstam's for a long time, but I'm no fan of this book. Halberstam gets so carried away by his own prose, that he often commits errors of fact and/or context. In some cases, he produces some notable (and easily checked) whoppers. For example, in one chapter mostly focusing on Douglas MacArthur, he notes that in 1946, Mac was a four star general. Nope. Was awarded five stars in 1944. Worse, Halberstam claims that in the late 1940s, in spite of a growing conservative middle class, the "New Deal line" held. In fact, the New Deal line was crumbling, as evidenced by the Democrats losing control of Congress in 1946.
Granted, Halberstam is very good at quickly drawing a portrait of a character, of delineating the essence, say, of MacArthur's character (or lack of same). But the errors, the misstatements, and some serious misreadings (notably, of Truman) are very worrisome.
One historian I contacted echoed my concerns: "No, you're not wrong about Halberstam. He has a bad rep among serious "revisionist" historians of the Vietnam war; there's a blistering attack on his long record of sloppy, inaccurate, and biased reporting in Mark Moyar's "Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965" (Cambridge University Press, 2006). I think the Fourth Estate canonized Halberstam because he told his colleagues exactly what they wanted to hear, and helped set the stage for one of the most depressing episodes in the history of American Journalism, the "covering" of the Tet Offensive in 1968 (see Peter Braestrup's "Big Story" (Westview, 1977)."
- A kind of masterpiece
_The Coldest Winter_ is brilliantly written, insightful, passionately argued, vivid, moving,and illuminating. It combines incisive and penetrating character portraits with gritty field-of-battle reportage.
You might or might not like it.
_The Coldest Winter_ sets out to do a particular thing, and does it superbly. That thing may not be what you're looking for, though.
There are a good many things _The Coldest Winter_ is not. Most importantly, it's not a blow-by-blow straight military history of the Korean War. There's absolutely no attempt to give even, neutral treatment to all the battles. The successful Inchon invasion gets a few pages; the horrific Unsan ambush gets a full chapter.
It also is not a neutral piece of descriptive bio-history. Halberstam has a point to make--maybe even an axe to grind. He's unsparing in his judgements, whether he's describing the vicious brutality of Stalin and Mao or the wooden-headed obtuseness of some U.S. commanders.
What it is, is a story. This is history as narrative, complete with moral. Halberstam has a tragic villain (Douglas MacArthur), a villain's henchman (General Ned Almond, MacArthur's protege), and a sinister cabal of political intriguers (the American "China Lobby"). He has, too, a hero (General Matthew Ridgeway) and a hero's sidekick (Colonel Paul Freeman). He opens with a narrative hook (the Unsan debacle) and closes with a dramatic climax (the downfall of MacArthur). The battles he chooses to describe are those that are required to move his plot along.
This is not to say that _The Coldest Winter_ is one-dimensional or simplistic. Halberstam gives MacArthur, for instance, full marks for military brilliance and dedication, even while he documents MacArthur's egomania. Truman and Acheson take their share of hits. All of his portraits are thoroughly researched and well-documented. It's all compelling, and it's pretty damn persuasive.
Still, for all its brilliance, this book is an *argument* in favor of a particular set of positions and ideas. Halberstam, as he did in _The Best and the Brightest_, is giving an explanation for why a bunch of really smart people ended up supporting policies that ultimately failed. It's a superb piece of analysis. It convinced me. Whether it will convince anyone who comes to the table with different notions is open to question.
(Aside: The applicability of this question to current politics is obvious. In one case, Halberstam gives in to the temptation to make the connection explicitly. As usual, I think his case would be stronger if he hadn't done so.)
So if you're looking for unadorned battle history, this is not the book for you. If you're looking at a balanced, non-judgemental political history, this is not the book for you. If you're looking for a complete, exhaustive general history, this is not the book for you. And if you're a passionate admirer of Douglas MacArthur, this is *definitely* not the book for you.
Still, _The Coldest Winter_ does do one thing that all readers should applaud: it pays the soldiers of "the forgotten war" the tribute they deserve. However murky the politics of Korea, young men suffered and died there. Give Halberstam full marks for remembering them--no matter what else you may believe.
- Long on partisan prejudice and short on scholarship
In a word, a terrible read - long on partisan prejudice and short on scholarship (especially since this is a recent book and the declassification of information prior to its publishing should have at a minimum tempered much of the author's writing). But then again on should not be surprised by someone who others claimed covered the Viet Nam war from his desk in Saigon; and who likewise have said he created articles to coincide with his pessimistic view of the conflict. That said, one can skip the first 300 pages (which basically deal with MacArthur being a narcissist and Truman as the victim of circumstances - neither of which is fully true) if one wishes to read real life accounts of the brave men who were caught up in a deadly conflict. Likewise, one can skip the last 75 pages of this epic snooze fest as they deal with the aftermath of Korea in terms that are self-serving to the author's point of view.
As this is a long book (i.e. 661 pages), I thought eventually I would get into an interesting read. Needless to say the subject matter is compelling. Unfortunately, after reading The Coldest Winter I feel like I was snookered. All in all, if one values their time they should avoid this book.
- Once again, Halberstam is predictably great.
Belongs on the shelf with the rest of Halberstam's great books: The Best and the Brighttest et al.
Thank you, David, for another great read, another wonderful and accurate critique. R.I.P.
Sgt Jackson, USMC 1988-2001...more info
- Little or nothing to do with the Korean War
Having just finished reading 28 books on the Korean War I looked forward to this book. It was a major disappointment. I found nothing new in it. I also found very little information about the korean War period in the book. It seems that few sources were actually used. His major sourse seems to have been Colonel Paul Freeman. Freeman had a very mixed history in Korea. Faced with the possible loss of his regiment while the rear guard commander of the 2nd Infantry Division he found an alternative route to move his troops. He saved his troops but left three other army battalions that his troops were supposed to be protecting to be destroyed by the Chinese. To some he was a hero, to others a man who left other troops in the lurch. He seems to have used no sourses from the Marine Corps and few period.
For someone who covered the Vietnam war he seems unable to understand many of the military moves. He also doesn't seem to understand just how bad the US Army was during the early part of the Korean War. He makes statements that the 1st Cavalry Division and the 2nd Infantry Division were elite units when they had been badly beaten by the North Koreans and were only a shadow of the proud World War II diviisons of the same name.
The book is really about General MacArthur and the Right Wing Republicans. Halberstam does a good job telling about this but fails to mention the problems caused by the left wing and their failure to understand the danger of the communist. He also fails to even mention the British spy ring that gave near real time intellengence about all major American decisions during the Korean War. Halberstam also seems to come to some simplistic conclusions about Communist China and the USA. He actually seems to believe that the US-Chinese relationship could have been very different very quickly if MacArthur hadn't pushed the UN troops into North Korea. Sometimes it just takes time for things to work themselves out. This is another example of wishful thinking as if Mao Tse-tung hadn't been a hard core Communist for nearly 25 years. The same Mao who would play games for two years during the Korean peace discussions while hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers were being killed and would later murder between 50-75 million of his own people to further his own cult of personality.
The following is a list of books that should be read about the Korean War. This kind of War by T.R. Fehrenbach; South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; Escaping the Trap; and East of Chosin by Roy E Appleman; Chosin by Eric Hammel; and Conflict by Robert Leckie.
- Excellently Written
I purchased this book for my dad for Christmas in 07. I was interested in the subject, so as I was gift-wrapping it I opened it up to read a snippet. Three chapters later I decide I'll have to borrow it after my dad is finished! It's incredibly well written and absorbing. Truly a great narrative of the Korean War....more info
- History? I think not.
The author failed to provide even basic support for much of his opinion. I rate this as one star because:
a. I know he could have done better, having read his prior works
b. There are already too many political hacks masquerading as historical authors
c. My relatives who were present at some of the events covered in the book tell me the author was just flat wrong
YMMV; but this book was a waste of ink, paper, and energy, contributing needlessly to Global Warming....more info
- Superb, Detailed Analysis of the Korean War & All the Major Personalities Involved
This book is an amazingly thorough analysis of a war which we do often have the chance to read about. Some wars, like the American Civil War, have been the subject of thousands of books; others are not nearly so well studied. The Korean War is in the latter category, but, after reading Halberstam's extraordinarily thoughtful, well-researched treatment of this subject, I, for one, feel at last that I have a far better understanding of what went on over there, starting in the year of my birth.
I have read a lot of reviews of this book and recall that Halberstam spent perhaps a decade writing it and regarded it as among his best works. Having read many of his books, I believe this one to be the finest book of his that I have read and it is truly sad that he is not around to see, hear and enjoy the well-earned praises of so many.
Each of the major personalities involved in this war is described, biographed, and analyzed thoroughly. The reader can understand far more about their disputes and conflicts in the context of their times when they arise in this superb biography of this war, if a war can have a biography like the life of a human being. The Korean War as described in this book has so many, often eerie, parallels with the later Vietnam and Iraq wars. MacArthur and Truman are well drawn and the basis for their inevitable, looming conflict is well explained with no attempts to candy-coat the failings of the legendary general.
The detail of the battles and the troop movements, plans and mistakes can only be the result of years of painstaking research and interviews with so many who survived and their often tragic stories about so many who did not. For military strategy buffs, this book should not disappoint.
All in all, this is one of the best books I have ever read to explain where we find ourselves today in the still early days of the 21st century. After reading it, and I have read a LOT of 20th Century history by any measure, I have a much better appreciation for the follies of ego, the condemnation of those ignorant of history to repeat it, and the clashes of titans and their ideologies which the Cold War produced and which go on in other forms long after the Cold War has been consigned to the history books.
I have some 350 books on my Kindle now and have my reading planned out for a long time to come (so you will be hard pressed to find a bigger Kindle-booster), but, the format on Kindle for the maps and charts in this book leaves something to be desired and I hope that succeeding generations of Kindles will cure this fuzzed out presentation of graphics which sometimes snags us early adopters. I actually also own the hard copy of this book, which pre-dates my Kindle ownership, and a comparison of the maps and charts indicates the shortcomings on the Kindle.
I would say 'run, don't walk,'to buy and read this book, but, all you have to do is hit that button, get a glass of water, and you will have it on your Kindle. Enjoy the many hours you will invest, as this book is well worth your time....more info
- In Depth Account
I did not know that much about the Korean war until I read this book. I do know this book coers it ALL! I especially enjoyed the battle scenes because he gave the reader both sides of the battle. I can see why it took ten years to write. I felt like I lost a good friend when David passed on. Great job, Mr. Haberstam. Rest in peace.
--Gerard Zemek, husband of author of "My Funny Dad, Harry"
- Not Halberstam's best work
If you want to read a book about the Korean War, read T.R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War." If you instead want a book that is about Washington insider politics of the era, then maybe Halberstam's book is for you. The serious military historian will not learn much from Halberstam, though it does provide one man's view of the impact Far Eastern political turmoil had on interal U.S. affairs....more info
- Halberstram's Best
A thoroughly readable, incredibly detailed history of MacArthur's North Korean initiatives. Give yourself a while to digest this book, it will be well worth it. It's tragic this is Halberstam's last work--but it's a joy to know he left us with his best....more info
- Best of the Korean War books
I've read at least a half dozen books on the subject of the Korean War. This account best explains why so many things went wrong and why so many went right. War is all too often necessary. Yet, in the end the outcome and how many thousands will die always hinges on the one politician who is leading each of the nations involved and also on a very few military leaders. This book opens all of that for inspection and I think it was done without the usual politcal slant these types of works include. ...more info
- Stalemate On The 38th
David Halberstam's untimely death in 2007 puts a deeper weight on this, his last book published later that year, than it really should have to bear. "The Coldest Winter" is uneven work, both riveting and rambling.
Emboldened by a desire to emulate his hero Stalin and aggressively enlarge his communist state, North Korean strongman Kim Il Sung in June 1950 sent his army across the 38th Parallel, a somewhat arbitrary dividing line that separated North Korea from South Korea, backed by the United States. Soon the two Koreas were almost completely united under Kim's firm hand. But then the United States struck back, and the first shooting phase of the Cold War, perhaps its bloodiest in terms of sheer concentration of time, was underway.
"A shrimp is crushed in the battle of the whales," said South Korea's president, Syngman Rhee, quoting a Korean proverb. Rhee was a big part of the problem in Korea, though, as were a number of other leaders on both sides of the 38th Parallel.
Halberstam's book is more about those failures of leadership than the war itself. Most especially, it is an indictment of U.S. commander Douglas MacArthur, a revered figure of his time who Halberstam portrays as stubborn, egomaniacal, and self-distancing.
I think Halberstam makes his points very well, better than Halberstam himself apparently believed, as he keeps making them again and again, beating them into the ground like tent poles. It's not enough to say MacArthur didn't spend one night in Korea during the war; it must be repeated twice.
If he isn't rounding on MacArthur, Halberstam is holding up for ridicule some other figure of less renown, like Ned Almond, a corps commander and MacArthur's bulldog lackey who dismissed the possibility the Chinese might enter the war well after his troops were already fighting them.
That Halberstam's book is readable is without doubt. The first 40 pages, detailing the surprise Chinese assault on U.S. positions, offers the kind of first-person reportage that Halberstam did like no one else. It's a bit disappointing, if necessary, to have to pull away from that to a grander overview of the root causes behind the war. Yet Halberstam gets lost in the brambles with too much backstory.
One might expect to get to Inchon, MacArthur's tide-turning invasion against the North, by page 200 in a 650-page book. Instead, one reads there about the 1948 presidential run of Tom Dewey. He actually only devotes a couple of paragraphs to Inchon itself, and only a few pages to the dramatic rollback of North Korea which followed, there mostly to slam MacArthur for pushing on north past the 38th Parallel.
The book concludes with MacArthur's dismissal in April, 1951, two more years of Korean conflict left to run. Halberstam assures us we aren't missing much: "In the end, there would be no great victory for anyone, only some kind of mutually unsatisfactory compromise."
Yet this book seems an unsatisfactory compromise, too. Halberstam may skirt a lot of the more successful battles for the U.S. side, but what he does present in the way of soldiers' stories brings this war to one in a way no writer of his stature had done before. The gritty battles around the Twin Tunnels, for example, of beating off decimating human wave attacks by digging deep and standing firm, forced from me a reckoning of this war's uniqueness and sacrifice both painful and exhilarating.
Halberstam's feeling and ability to communicate that human element is "Coldest Winter's" greatest asset, something you have ample opportunity to notice when he's off on another geopolitical tangent....more info
- A Korean War Vet Reviews The Coldest Winter
I was a private first class in June of 1950 and planning to attend Seattle University, which was 60 miles from Fort Lewis. where the 2nd Division was based. The 4th Regimental Combat Team, of which I was a member was attached to the 2nd Division. On June 25, the North Korans crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. I would not be discharged in September, as I had planned.
But because I had only a few months left in my enlistment when the 2nd Division was sent to Korea, I was one of the lucky ones. My enlistment would be extended by a year, but it would be after the division left the states. I would not be with many of my buddies, most of whom would die in Korea.
But because I am a fan of Halberstam's writing and because I wanted to learn more about the battles in which the 2nd Division participated, I read Halberstam's book.
I found that fully half the book is devoted to the politics of the war, not only in the U.S., but in Korea and China, as well. Informative and revealing yes, but I was looking for a fuller account of the fighting.
And I found one mistake, which was glaring in my eyes. Halberstam writes that funds to the military were so curtailed as the war began that soldiers at Fort Lewis were ordered to use only two sheets of toilet paper when they did their business in the latrines. I know on no such order and I was there.
He is right, however, about the overconfidence of the army officers at the war's beginning. I recall a lecture to the troops in which we were told the war would be over in three months. "These are peasants we'll be fighting. When their tank drivers, when their artillerymen are killed, there won't be anyone trained to replace them."
How wrong they were and little our military knew of the disasters which awaited the troops. They are extensively detained in the book.
Joseph P. Ritz, author of I NEVER LOOKED FOR MY MOTHER AND OTHER REGETS OF A JOURNALIST....more info
- Read it and you will be shaken.
It took me a long time to finish reading The Coldest Winter. I would read for a while and then leave it behind as I picked up another book only to find myself returning to another section of what is a really great book. The beauty of Halberstams book is that it has eleven parts which read as self contained essays. Frustrating some readers will be the lack of an overall narrative. I, for one, enjoyed how the book lacked narrative and each section stood alone, each building on the other like a string of short stories. The book reads neither as a political history or a military history but instead appears more personal. Personal to Halberstam as you can almost witness his surprise when his research discovers something he had just learned. And the book is personal to the stories of the front line troops that fought, bleed, and died in Americas forgotten war, Korea. Halberstam does a wonderful job of viewing the conflict from all sides. You find your with Mao and learn his motives, see Stalins influence and most important focus on General MacArthur, his ego, errors and politics. No book can replace the great AMERICAN CAESAR BY WILLIAM MANCHESTER as a biography. But Halberstam is not wanting too write a biography. Instead he follows MacArthurs decisions and views the results as implemented on the ground by a wide variety of United Nation troops. When you have completed the book you have a grand overview and a better perspective of where the Korean War fit in to the geo-politics of the day and was a steppingstone for the Republican Partys right wing who still today try and leverage the simplistic military solution to national security for political advantage. The heart breaking thing is the number of dead and the many on both sides lost due to poor leadership and missed calculations and missed opportunities. A large part of the end of the book is spent covering several important battles. However, the last two years of the war are covered quickly with only a short section on Pork Chop Hill. Mainly because all these battles were a war of attrition and a meat grinder approach. None, in the end, changed anything about the outcome. No doubt that when Halberstam met and interviewed Paul McGee the pulse and heart of the book was discovered. In the end my very favorable opinion and recommendation for this book is based on the fact that Halberstam is a gifted story teller on these pages. He brings you down to the personal no matter if its Mao, Truman, MacAurther or Paul McGee holding the perimeter against thousands of Red Chinese attacking his platoons position. Read it and you will be shaken.