What I’m Reading – 4/27 – The Graveyard Book; The Longest Winter

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is the most elegant writer alive today. I am no more qualified to critique his writing than I would be to critique a Mozart sonata. Suffice it to say, like a Mozart sonata, that is beautiful and impressive, and that it is best enjoyed, rather than analyzed.

The Longest Winter, David Halberstam

Before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the Korean War. After reading the book, it’s apparent that this is by design. Perhaps even more than the Vietnam War, the Korean War is something we’d rather as a country pretend never happened. And much more than Vietnam, it is something we have successfully purged from our consciousness.

I was left with two overarching themes after reading this book.

First, the Korean War is in many ways about the emergence of China as a world power as opposed to the politic dynamics of the two Koreas. In fact, until reading this book, I was totally unaware that China was the principal adversary the United States during the heart of the war. It is estimated that 600,000 Chinese troops were killed or went missing during the war.

The other theme is that, perhaps more than any other war in American history, one man, Gen. Douglas McArthur may have been personally responsible for the majority of casualties. McArthur was among the most intelligent military men in American history, but his actions during the Korean War show that sometimes a highly intelligent man with unchecked power can be the most dangerous kind of all.

McArthur, in command of American forces in Korea, refused to listen to multiple intelligence reports that indicated that Chinese forces would respond if he moved American troops north of the 38th parallel. He rewarded staff above all for obedience and destroyed the careers of those who challenged him. And when the facts on the ground contradicted his previously held opinions, he simply chose to disregard the facts rather than change his opinions. As a result, US troops moved across the 38th parallel in October 1950, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, died as a result.

So, in honor of Gen. McArthur: