Korean War historiography in English divides along political-ideological lines. Favored by intellectual-academic experts in Asian studies and American foreign policy, the books by Bruce Cumings, Callum MacDonald, Rosemary Foot, and Stephen Lee have little (if anything) good to say about the anti-communist Koreans (Syngman Rhee is a villain) and the American interventionists. Their books would be called “revisionist” if there were an earlier intellectual school that saw the American intervention in a favorable light—but no such school existed except for Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s and President Harry Truman’s memoirs.
The broader reading public, however, has been drawn to books that focus on the American military intervention in 1950–53 and largely ignore all Koreans and the Chinese—let alone UN members that aided the Republic of Korea (ROK) or the Soviets who wanted it destroyed. These readers buy the books of T. R. Ferenbach, Clay Blair, Bevin Alexander, John Toland, Max Hastings, and David Halberstam, among others. The relevant issues are the U.S. Army’s effectiveness, the leadership of Generals Douglas MacArthur and Matthew B. Ridgway, the use and abuse of air and naval power, POW behavior, and negotiations with the communists. Some of these authors call the war “lost” because the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea still exist, but others call it a qualified “victory” since the ROK still exists, too, and remains an anti-communist bulwark in north Asia.
The strength of Professor Jager’s book is that it transcends these historiographical schools—or intellectual tar pits—and deals with the Korean War as a conflict of many parts: local, regional, and international. Her research is focused on original sources in many languages. As the wife of a retired U.S. Army colonel and Korean foreign area specialist, Jager knows the territory and military operations. She knows the Koreans very well in all their complexity, unusual among American authors outside of academic life. Readers who want only detailed operational analysis should await a forthcoming book edited by Donald W. Boose, Jr. and James I. Matray.
Professor Jager is no apologist for the vicious North Koreans or true-believing Chinese Communists, but she is also unforgiving about the war crimes and corruption spawned by Syngman Rhee’s inept and cruel administration. She makes clear that the conflict was a Korean civil war in which neither China nor the United States were enthusiastic participants. She is not fooled by the brave talk of Mao Zedong and Harry S. Truman, and she can tell the difference between calculations by the Central Military Commission and the National Security Council. She recognizes nonsense in several languages. She also understands the power of faith as well as a faith in power and is keenly aware that the Koreans have often been the authors of their own victimization as well as creators of historic myths that drive them to political extremism. She knows that foreigners did not bring violence to the peninsula. If one has any curiosity about the Korean War as a formative event in modern Asian history, at least equal in impact to the Chinese Revolution and more important than the wars of liberation in Southwest Asia, then Brothers at War is the book to read.
Asian Maritime Strategies: Navigating Troubled Waters
Bernard D. Cole. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013. 320 pp. Map. Notes. Index. $34.95.
Reviewed by Captain Fred W. Kacher, U.S. Navy
Maritime Asia remains one of the most dynamic and complex regions of the world. Home to treaty allies, an emerging superpower, and a surging Southeast Asia, this region should command the attention of any naval professional. Thus, the timing of Bernard Cole’s Asian Maritime Strategies could not be more fitting.
A retired naval officer and author of The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century , Cole has sifted through the maritime strategies of the nations that comprise what he calls the “Indo-Pacific.” In doing so, he provides a nuanced view of the ambitions that may shape the future of this much-watched and much-commented-upon region.
Cole lays a superb foundation with three exceptional opening chapters that on their own make this fine book worth reading. Following a sure-handed overview and definition of the Indo-Pacific region, the author skillfully summarizes modern naval strategy to include the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Julian Corbett. Next, he includes a chapter that summarizes the development of naval strategy by the U.S. Navy that should remind every reader why strategy, conceived and executed well, matters.
Following this strong start, Cole, in workmanlike fashion, assesses each major country of the region (Japan, China, India, and the United States) as well as some of the emerging countries in the Indo-Pacific. He also demonstrates how expansive the Indo-Pacific is by profiling nations such as Russia, Canada, and Australia—nations that might not spring to mind when we think of “Asia.” In a straightforward style, he objectively examines the strategies of the states in the region, skillfully separating genuine plans and trends from mere aspirations.
Cole begins this tour of maritime Asia’s strategic landscape in North Asia, starting with Japan followed by the Korean Peninsula. Although the last ten years have placed China at the forefront of most discussions on Asia, Cole reminds the reader of its dependence on the sea and why for most of the 20th century Japan—not China—often commanded the West’s attention. Cole asserts that after the United States, Japan possesses the next most modern and advanced navy in the Asia-Pacific, with China’s fleet modernization still a work in progress.
While Asia is broadly on the rise economically, militarily, and in terms of population growth, it is the re-emergence of China that dominates any talk of this region’s future. Cole doesn’t disappoint with his chapter on China’s strategy and also sure-handedly addresses the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s order of battle as well as the nation’s numerous territorial disputes with neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines among others. The author acknowledges the shift in tone from China and the growth in its maritime capacity, but he seems decidedly in the camp of being less alarmed by China’s rise.
After examining China’s stated strategic aims, Cole moves to Southeast Asia, perhaps the most vibrant region of the entire Indo-Pacific, and home to the South China Sea—one of the most contested bodies of water in the world. Although Cole does not spend much time at rest on each of the nations here, he provides a solid overview of a region on the rise that warrants close attention in the coming decade.
Cole’s work culminates with an analysis of “Conflict and Cooperation,” focusing on areas where he believes the United States and China will see opportunities to work together and, conversely, areas where conflict could arise. This appropriately bookends the author’s work since he concludes that the relationship between the United States and China will remain the primary “determinant” of peace in Asian waters. Anti-piracy, disaster relief, anti-terrorism, and the Arctic are areas commonly cited as cooperative opportunities. The section entitled, “Points of Contention,” seems more substantive, however, leaving Cole to assess that in some areas, “Conflict is not inevitable but cooperation will be difficult to achieve.”
Although there is little to argue regarding the technical execution of this book, a more comprehensive treatment of Southeast Asia which includes 600 million people, two treaty allies, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, and some of the world’s busiest waterways might have added to it. Additionally, Cole’s more benign view of China’s capabilities, while well-argued, would be balanced nicely with a reading of Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes’ less sanguine but equally well-written Red Star Over the Pacific .
These small points notwithstanding, Cole has crafted a book that should establish itself as a must read for operators and strategists alike. This volume is not flashy, but as someone who lives and operates in the region daily, I’d hand it out to any maritime professional headed this way.
Shadow Warriors: The Untold Stories of American Special Operations During World War II
Dick Camp. Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, 2013. 246 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Biblio. Index. $30.
Reviewed by Alice A. Booher
With more than a dozen finely researched and written military or historical books and myriad magazine articles to his name, the author has acquired a group of dedicated “Camp-followers” who eagerly anticipate his next offering. For those already familiar with his work and new readers who are not, Shadow Warriors will not disappoint.
Camp writes what he knows best, and the names of participants and wartime challenges within Shadow Warriors read like an alternative Marine Corps hymn. Making no attempt to cover all of World War II, he instead selects some well known and a few unfamiliar scenarios, which he clearly and descriptively illuminates. Camp hones in on the excitement and development of pre-institutionalized reconnoitering for (mostly) sanctioned intelligence-gathering operations, which relied on talented, cunning, creative, and courageous folks, all of whom seem to have been willing and able to disguise themselves, parachute behind enemy lines, execute beach landings, blow things up, and negotiate all manners of remarkable outcomes.
Separating Shadow Warriors into Asian/Pacific and Africa/European theaters, each chapter concentrates on a specific time frame and opens with reflections from one or more participants, many of whom are now well-known historical figures. Indeed, a few have been transformed into virtual cult action figures thanks to toy companies and computer gaming.
Within the European segment, Camp addresses the versatile exploits of scholar Colonel William Eddy before and after Operation Torch, General “Wild Bill” Donovan’s making him OSS Mediterranean chief, and his appointment as special assistant to the Secretary of State where he was instrumental in facilitating the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The author also successfully sorts out the convoluted, often contradictory scenarios between Yugoslavia’s battling Generals Tito and Mihailovich, tackling this historic Chetnik conundrum through the eyes of all sides in language that is equal parts travelogue and Scheherazade. The author features Sergeant Jack Risler and his OSS/Marine “gang of 8” as they met up with the inimitable Major Peter Ortiz, who used up several of his purported nine lives working with them in Operation Union II in southeastern France. The analysis of the American effort with the French maquisards through Operation Buick and their captivity is concise, articulate, mesmerizing, and brutal.
In covering the Asian/Pacific theater, Camp focuses on the Solomons, using recognized authorities on the subject for combat structure to which he adds first-hand viewpoints. He adeptly juxtaposes the vantage of Americans like Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson with Japanese Petty Officer Second Class Sankichi Kaneda or Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi and his assault force. Camp’s precise, fully comprehensive analysis of combat, espionage, and strategies range from Tulagi to Gavutu-Tanambogo, up Edson’s Ridge to Makin Atoll, and past the coastwatchers as they catch Lietuenant Colonel Victor Krulak’s diversionary tactics on Choiseul. With a balanced focus, he is careful to accord officers and enlisted comparable space. There are many exceptional vignettes, such as that of Captain Frank Farrell, the OSS agent whose investigation at the end of the war of the Nazi spy ring in China led to the prosecution of 27 German nationals and 21 convictions.
Thanks partly to recent OSS and CIA declassifications, Camp fulfills his reputation and captures the extraordinary and pivotal genesis of modern special operations forces of the Army, Marines, and Navy. Shadow Warriors is a finely woven historical tome, successfully turning complicated patterns into a smooth design with a truly masterful result.
The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life
Stephen Rodrick. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. 393 pp. $27.99.
Reviewed by Commander Ward Carroll, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Military circles give much credence to the writings of those among us who deign to put hands on keyboard under the notion that the stories are best captured by authors who actually wore the uniforms and fought the fight. But sometimes it takes the eye of an outsider to broaden the view, moving past the preconceptions and foregone conclusions to the humanity that underpins the efforts of those who go into harm’s way.
Stephen Rodrick is such an outsider—with a twist. Although he’s a civilian, the impetus behind The Magical Stranger is his yearning to discover things about his naval aviator father who was killed piloting an EA-6B when the author was 13 years old. During the subsequent journey Rodrick finds out a lot about his father, himself, and the state of carrier aviation.
Rodrick follows operations involving VAQ-135, the “World Famous Black Ravens,” for nearly two years while writing and researching the book. As it happens, VAQ-135 is the squadron his late father commanded in 1979 when his Prowler crashed into the Indian Ocean. The book’s premise is an interesting one in that, instead of coming at the topic with the normal abstract notions fueled by Hollywood and the other clichés, Rodrick applies the prism of his own loss. The sailors he meets, the flight decks he walks, the liberty ports he visits, the cockpit he straps into are all viewed in relation to his father—this ghost that the author has wrestled to come to terms with since his early adolescence.
Chapters of The Magical Stranger alternate between Rodrick’s upbringing and struggles as a fledgling writer and his profiles of the officers who populate the Black Ravens’ ready room. The two narratives are at once separate and connected. Rodrick understands one aviator’s marital woes because he’s gone through a divorce. He understands that dedication to a Navy career isn’t a 9–5 proposition because being a professional journalist isn’t either. And, more than anything else, he understands how Navy families sacrifice because of the high price his family paid for his father’s service.
Rodrick’s thesis is supported by the fact that he’s a great writer. His descriptions of carrier life are accessible without being too facile to be enjoyed by tailhook Navy veterans. His skills are perhaps best brought to bear in his profile of the Prowler squadron commanding officer, Commander “Tupper” Ware, and what emerges is a classic lesson in military leadership (mostly the bad kind in this case) and ready room politics.
For all of its uniqueness, Rodrick’s story could have come off as forced or formulaic, but The Magical Stranger never feels that way. His discoveries are earned along the journey in a very real way. The story ends where it started, in the damp and often dreary environs of the Pacific Northwest, the area surrounding NAS Whidbey Island where Rodrick last saw his father and where he found out he was never coming home again.
Rodrick hasn’t answered every question about his father—the looming specter in his life, both a standard and a persistent burden of unattainable expectation—but he’s answered enough of them to find some measure of peace in his life. And in the process he’s delivered an insightful dispatch from the tip of the spear.
It’s often repeated that “freedom isn’t free.” The Magical Stranger beautifully and achingly captures that fact—well beyond the loss of fallen comrades to the resonant effects on those they leave behind. And in capturing his own story, Rodrick provides a compelling argument that the cost of war is much higher than we collectively imagined.