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The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

uclajack, September 24, 2007

This book is supposed to be a complete history of the Korean War but it falls far short of that goal. Having fought in Korea at the beginning and the end of the war, I was disappointed that the book devotes very little to what happened after MacArthur is fired in early 1951. The title " The Coldest Winter" fairly sums up the book because it is mainly devoted to explaining what occurred up to and through the route of the UN Forces during the winter of 1950. To that point, the book is fairly thorough and accurate but it only repeats what many other authors have already written.
After the UN forces were driven back by the Chinese deep into South Korea, the UN forces were able to reorganize and launched a major counterattack in early 1951 which Halberstam writes about. But what the book fails to bring out is that in routing the UN forces, the Chinese had suffered heavy losses and did not have the reserves to replace those losses. The UN counter offensive resulted in more heavy losses to the Chinese as they were pushed back into North Korea, particularly on the eastern flank. The entire Chinese front was in such danger or collapsing that the Chinese sought a truce and Pres. Truman's biggest mistake was to agree to the truce. Had the UN rejected the truce offer, the Chinese would have been forced to retreat deep into N. Korea and that would have been a propitious time for the UN to agree to an armistice. Instead, the war went on for over two more years ending on July 28, 1953. It ended then only because a major Chinese offensive designed to push the Marines back across the Imjin River failed and the Chinese again had run out of steam.
Many important battles were fought up until the end which Halberstam fails to even acknowledge, particularly the last battle of Boulder City. But where he really falls short is that he misses all the maneuvering of Pres. Eisenhower to bring the war to an end, how the 25th Division was ordered not to counterattack and retake key outposts in May 1953, and later the First Marine Division was also barred from retaking other key outposts lost to the Chinese in July 1953. The loss of those outposts left the Marines naked on Boulder City and meant that the battle was fought in their front lines instead of 2,000 yards in front of them, and the result was very heavy casualties for the Marines. Except for some blunders by the Chinese, they could have penetrated the lines and driven the UN back across the Imjim River which would have left the Chinese a clear route right into the Korean capital at Seoul. Halberstam apparently was unaware of how significant the last battle was in War.
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