February 27, 2011
BOOK OF THE WEEK: WEEK NINE, 2011
Cumings, Bruce, The Korean War: A History (New York: Modern Library Chronicles Book/Modern Library, 2010) ("For Americans a discrete encapsulation limits this war to the time frame of June 1950 to July 1953. This construction relegates all that went before to mere prehistory, June 25 is original sin, all that after is postbellum" Id. at 65. The Korean War was (and is) a civil war; only this conception can account for the 100,000 lives lost in the South before June 1950 and the continuity of the conflict down to the present, in spite of assumptions that Moscow's puppets in Pyongyang would surely collapse after the USSR itself met oblivion in 1991. Id. at 66. "[David Halberstam's] The Coldest Winter is one of the best in a peculiar but common American genre: accounts of the war that evince almost no knowledge of Korea or its history, barely gets past two or three Korean names, focus on the American experience in a war where Koreans and Chinese were much more numerous and fail to question the accumulated baggage of 1950s stereotypes about the good guys and bad guys." "Nonetheless this genre exercises a strong influence in the United States, perhaps a subliminal one in that extensive knowledge of the war is nor required, perhaps a hegemonic one in that well-known analysts easily perform its logic in a few sentences. . . ." Id. at 71. "[Reginald] Thompson [author of Cry Korea] was appalled by the ubiquitous, casual racism of Americans, from general to soldier, and their breathtaking ignorance of Korea. Americans used the term 'gook' to refer to all Koreans, North and South, but especially North Koreans; 'chink' distinquished the Chinese. Decades after the fact many were still using the term in oral histories. This racist slur developed first in the Philippines, then travelled to the Pacific war, Korea, and Vietnam. . . ." Id. at 80. "The McCarran Internal Security Act, named for its sponsor, Patrick McCarran (D-Nevada)--the ignorant and corrupt inquisitor of China scholars, and the model for the senator in the film The Godfather, Part II--was passed on September 23, 1950, establishing among other things concentration camps for those construed as threat to American security. Iconic liberals such as senators Paul Douglas (D-Illinois)and Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota) voted for it; a bipartisan coalition passed the bill. U.S.News & World Report published 'rules for Communists' under the act: the government would not set up camps for Communists 'right away.' But, once they existed, who would go into them? 'Many Communists and fellow travelers. Others would be rounded up, too. The Ku Klux Klan would not count, however, because it lacked 'connections with the Communists.' Readers who hasten to point out that no one was ever placed in the camps might recall that no one could have known that in September 1950." Id. at 92. "In the second half of the twentieth century an entirely new phenomenon emerged in American history, namely, the permanent stationing of soldiers in a myriad of foreign bases across the face of the planet, connected to enormous domestic complex of defense industries. For the first time in modern history the leading power maintained an extensive network of bases marking a radical break with the European balance of power and the operation of realpolitik, and a radical departure in American history: an archipelago of empire. Id. at 218. "Eventually the Korean War will be understood as one of the most destructive and one of the most important wars of the twentieth century. . . . [I[t was this war and not World War II which established a far-flung American base structure abroad and a national security state at home, as a defense spending nearly quadrupled in the last six months of 1950, and turned the United States into the policeman of the world." Id. at 243. There is a real sense in which the American arrogant and misguided entanglement the Korean War, the political and intellectual apparatus involved, that leads to travelers needing to undergo full-body searches at airports. The American security state has a long history, a history started long before September 11, 2001. I suspect that many readers of this book will not recognize the America(ns) described. History, when done well and done honestly, is often painful to the thoughtful reader. This short chronicle of the Korean War is painful. Read it and cringe.).