Author David Halberstam was one of America’s greatest journalist/historians. As a young man he made his reputation as a reporter in Vietnam. There he reported as he saw it. That is as a quagmire in the making by a government of the “best and brightest” who were in denial of its folly. He went on to produce 20 books in 40 years on a variety of fascinating subjects but perhaps most importantly of our nations war machine drifting into wars of “exceptionalism” a.k.a imperial folly. It was his Vietnam book The Best and Brightest which won him the Pulitizer Prize.
It was his last book The Coldest Winter, published five days before his untimely death in a car accident at age 73, that I just finished reading. I think it was his very best. The Coldest Winter is about the Korean War of 1950-53. This was is not writ large in the collective memory of this country, except for those few remaining who fought there. It was a war that was cruel and inconclusive and claimed the lives of 33,000 American soldiers, 415,000 South Koreans and about 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese troops. Better forgotten? I think not.
This book includes the down in the foxholes stuff of an untrained, outnumbered, ill equipped, and driven into a corner, heroic American Army as well the broader picture of military strategy, political and managerial bungling at the highest levels. All of this leading up to the inimical fate of three wars of hubris, dubious strategy, and imperial ineptitude. That is Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now seemingly ad infinitum more yet…..:(And now the having read William Manchester’s classic on Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar there are fascinating heroes and villains . Halberstams MacArthur is both. He is the brilliant strategist of the island hopping campaigns in the Pacific and tactician of the Inchon landing in Korea. But here disturbingly and at length MacArthur is the self-besotted egomaniac who wastes the lives of his men. As a 10 year old I remember my father, the banker, arguing in defense of the General over President Trumans firing of him, with his two Railroad Brotherhood siblings. As that was in the era of children “being seen but not heard” I kept my counsel though I agreed with my Uncles and President Truman. After reading The Coldest Winter I know they were right then and I remain convinced of it even more so to this day….:) A fascinating book indeed.