Meh. Longest. War. Ever. Or so this book would have me believe. The actual title of this book should have been. I Hate McCarthur, and Here is Why, oh and also, His Entire Geneology, and the Failings of His Ancestors. I was prepared to like this book at the outset, and was bitterly disappointed. The title is deceptive. I truly believe that had Halberstam actually written solely about the Korean War, I would have enjoyed the book. Unfortunately, Halberstam wants to give every mitigating factor, as well as a bizarre detour into the life of General Douglas McCarthur, as well as a very poor attempt to sum up USSR’s relations with their neighbors. Halberstam is both a journalist and a historian, according to his bio which makes me highly suspect. Here is where every journalist posing as historians should actually study Mr. Orlando Figes. Journalists are NOT historians. Historians are historians, and when they write books, they try to stick to the point instead of making sweeping generalizations.
Halberstam hooks you immediately in the middle of the Korean War when American troops pass the infamous 38th parallel and are ambushed by Chinese troops (yes, Chinese troops) near Unsan. Instead of learning from this little mistake, America and her allies push through and enter what Halberstam calls, The Coldest Winter. Ah, the lost opportunity of this book almost makes me angry. When Halberstam sticks with the war in Korea and the accounts of personal soldiers and individual military engagements, this book is delightful. Unfortunately, you have to wade through so much of the author’s thinly veiled personal ideological take on each political and military leader involved. A brief set up to understand Korea was needed, but a few paragraphs would have sufficed where Halberstam used several chapters.
This book left me flat. Do I have a greater knowledge and understanding of the Korean War? Yes. Did Halberstam know when to say when? No, and in the end, the negative outweighs the positive in this non fiction.