The Coldest Winter
The Coldest Winter is a summary of the Korean war the politics and people that took center stage in this conflict.
We see Douglas MacArthur at his most brilliant and his most hubris-filled moments.
We see Chinas Mao flexing his muscles at the beginning of his long reign.
We see General Matthew Ridgways brilliant intervention in the terrible leadership vacuum plaguing the war.
But most heart-rending is the story of common soldiers who died heroically despite criminally inept leadership, who fought without the glory attending WWII veterans, who suffered horribly in the Korean winter fighting a war they did not understand. In so many sad ways, this war was a prequel to Vietnam.
Halberstam hits the highlights of the war, leaving certain battles untouched (i.e., the Marines breaking out of the Chosin Reservoir), but he explain the complexity of the war in such a way that even a historical novice like myself can understand.
Just a warning, though, about Halberstams prose you have to pay attention. Aside from deliberate stream of consciousness, I have never read an author who so liberally sprinkles interruptory elements throughout sentences. In this book, commas are like the sands of the sea endless and unavoidable. One example illustrates. Speaking of MacArthurs return, Halberstan writes: Each day his case seemed a bit weaker, he himself a bit smaller, and his opponents, indeed his punching bags, like Acheson and Marshall, a bit more thoughtful and better grounded in the issues (p. 613). This example is typical, and not representative of the more complex sentences which contain layers and layers of thoughts, like a set of Russian dolls.
That being said, the book seems offer an important contribution to the sparse literature on the Korean War. Im glad to have read it.
This was the last book Halberstam completed before his tragic death in a car accident. His voice will be missed.