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The coldest winter : America and the Korean War
David Halberstam
Adult Nonfiction DS919 .H35 2007

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From Publishers' Weekly:

At the heart of David Halberstam's massive and powerful new history of the Korean War is a bloody, losing battle fought in November 1950 in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea by outnumbered American GIs and Marines against the Chinese Communist Army. Halberstam's villain is not North Korea's Kim Il Sung or China's Chairman Mao or even the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who pulled the strings. It's the legendary general Douglas MacArthur, the aging, arrogant, politically ambitious architect of what the author calls "the single greatest American military miscalculation of the war," MacArthur's decision "to go all the way to the Yalu [River] because he was sure the Chinese would not come in." Much of the story is familiar. What distinguishes this version by Halberstam (who died this year in a California auto crash) is his reportorial skill, honed in Vietnam in Pulitzer-winning dispatches to the New York Times. His pounding narrative, in which GIs and generals describe their coldest winter, whisks the reader along, even though we know the ending. Most Korean War scholars agree that MacArthur's sprint to the border of great China with a Siberian winter coming on resulted in a lethal nightmare. Though focused on that mountain battle, Halberstam's book covers the entire war, from the sudden dawn attack by Kim Il Sung's Soviet-backed North Koreans against the U.S.-trained South, on June 25, 1950, to its uneasy truce in 1953. It was a smallish war but a big Cold War story: Harry Truman, Stalin and Mao, Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, among others, stride through it. A few quibbles: there were no B-17 bombers destroyed on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor, as Halberstam asserts, and Halberstam gives his minor characters too much attention. At first MacArthur did well, toughing out those early months when the first GIs sent in from cushy billets in occupied Japan were overwhelmed by Kim's rugged little peasant army. MacArthur's greatest gamble led to a marvelous turning point: the invasion at Inchon in September, when he outflanked the stunned Reds. After Inchon, the general headed north and his luck ran out. His sycophants, intelligence chief Willoughby and field commander Ned Almond, refused to believe battlefield evidence indicating the Chinese Communists had quietly infiltrated North Korea and were lying in wait. The Marines fought their way out as other units disintegrated. In the end, far too late, Truman sacked MacArthur. Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

This final work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (The Best and the Brightest), who died in April, looks at the "Forgotten War." Not a battle history, it concentrates largely on the politics of the situation and how the Truman administration found itself fighting a war it did not want with a commander it could not trust. Much of the book concerns the MacArthur headquarters and the general's insistence on carrying out his own agenda rather than Washington's. The author expresses a great deal of anger at Col. Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief, who baldly falsified his estimates to agree with the boss's fanciful preconceptions of the Chinese. The result was a huge U.S. military debacle culminating in the disastrous retreat from the Yalu in 1951. Halberstam offers interesting discussions of the China Lobby and the effect it had on the debate. The run-up to the war and the first year are covered in great detail, but the book gets sketchier after Matthew Ridgway's assumption of supreme command in 1951. Some rough organization and lack of narrative covering the later years suggest that Halberstam's death may have cut short his work. Still, this is a vital, accessibly written resource for students of the period and is sure to be widely read. Recommended for most collections.-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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