Millett believes that the Korean War has not been given its due place in contemporary international history. It has been overshadowed by World War II before it and the Vietnam War after it. It was operationally confusing, and its conclusion was unsatisfactory, with the parties back where they started and their differences still not yet resolved. And it was a hybrid, somewhere between a civil and an interstate war. Yet as Millett’s extensive bibliographical essay demonstrates, there is no shortage of material on the course and conduct of the war, and he seems to have read all of it. This large book is the second in a trilogy. The first, subtitled “A House Burning,” put the Koreans in the driver’s seat in the move to war. Now he examines the first year of the conflict, when the major powers entered the fighting, and describes the back and forth as the North Koreans first advanced and then retreated, chased back by UN forces led by the United States, until China, famously catching General Douglas MacArthur by surprise, rescued the North with its own intervention. This is one of those books that invite words such as “magisterial,” “authoritative,” and “definitive.” Millett provides a record of events in clear and measured prose, with full regard for context and personalities; the interplay between the local and the international as well as the military and diplomatic; and the details of battle and the broad sweep of the campaign.
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