The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished, by Stanley Sandler, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1999, $19.
Caught between World War II and Vietnam, the Korean War has in retrospect had little impact on public consciousness outside Asia, although the parameters of the region’s current politics were for the most part determined by that war. Stanley Sandler, noted scholar and retired historian for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, tries to correct Westerners’ general lack of knowledge about the war and its consequences in Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished.
As a service to his readers, he summarizes Korea’s early history, including the 20th-century Japanese occupation (1905 to 1945). He then shows how the action of the United States and the Soviet Union, in setting up two occupation zones, powerfully contributed to–perhaps made inevitable–the creation of two states. He examines North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s early shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Beijing and his successful effort to gain Soviet and Chinese support for a plan to reunify Korea by force.
Sandler provides a clear, compelling narrative of a fluid and therefore potentially confusing scene. He depicts the dynamics of the key elements of the wartime situation, such as the “coalition warfare” waged by the U.N. and the contributions to the joint effort by various nations. Especially interesting is the author’s look behind the lines and on the home fronts of the main protagonists, the United States and China. The war’s last phase, involving very costly battles amid stormy truce negotiations at Panmunjom, is portrayed in all its complexity. Sandler concludes with observations about the postwar situation, as well as lessons that would be learned or ignored in the future, especially in Vietnam.
The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished is an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with the details of the conflict. Although Sandler strives to give a balanced account, his observations are often bold. Some, such as his analysis of the military situation at Pusan and the relative importance of the Inchon landing, will probably not resolve the debate among specialists over these subjects. Overall, the book is highly recommended, combining detailed analysis with anecdotal material to produce a powerful, readable narrative.