Review Essays

From Parameters, Spring 1998, pp. 139-68.

Lawrence G. Kelley, "Der Verdammte Krieg (The Cursed War)," pp. 139-43.

Donald W. Boose, Jr., "The Korean War Revisited," pp. 144-49.

James I. Matray, "Korea's Partition: Soviet-American Pursuit of Reunification, 1945-1948," pp. 150-62.

Russell W. Ramsey, "Strategic Reading on Latin America, 1998 Update," pp. 163-68.

Der Verdammte Krieg (The Cursed War)


© 1998 Lawrence G. Kelley

Even 50 years after the Götterdämmerung in Berlin and war crimes trials in Nürnberg, few themes grip, haunt, or polarize German public life more than World War II. The enduring legacy of guilt, search for accountability, shame over complicity, and political imperative of reconciliation have left their mark on the German psyche--not to mention foreign policy--even in the buoyant, self-confident years since the 1990 unification of the country. Three recent events on the cultural scene demonstrate this point with telling clarity. They are the commercial success in Germany of Daniel J. Goldhagen's controversial study Hitler's Willing Executioners; the furor evoked in conservative Munich by a traveling exhibit of graphic wartime photographs titled Vernichtungskrieg im Osten: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, 1941-44 (War of Extermination in the East: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941-44), and the remarkable popularity of a lengthy video chronicle produced over the last six years by the television network ZDF, the latest episodes of which provide a psychological portrait of Hitlers Helfer (Hitler's Henchmen). The uproar over the photos in Crimes of the Wehrmacht led politicians throughout the German political spectrum to intercede. Hitler's Willing Executioners and historian-director Guido Knopp's 400-page companion volume to the TV series Hitler's Henchmen concurrently graced the nonfiction bestseller list for months. And ZDF, recognizing popular demand, has announced plans to continue its historical documentaries into the year 2000. Why the clamor?

All three of these events reflect the German obsession with a traumatic chapter in modern history, one on which a chasm separates young from old. Germans feel stark ambivalence about reopening the Nazi past, and polls show that a majority prefers not to disturb its ghosts. Some claim weariness with the issue, others assert its irrelevance to the present day. Yet a generational fault line divides the population: roughly two-thirds of those above age 30 favor putting the issue to rest, while a like number below age 30 oppose it.

The question of complicity has long been as much a political question as a fathers-and-sons conflict. Some groups confront it only reluctantly; others eagerly seize the chance to do so. The Left is quick to condemn the Wehrmacht as "the Devil's army," the sine qua non of Nazi genocide, while the Right perpetuates the image of a force free of collective guilt and avidly shifts the blame for atrocities to the leadership or to the SS. The implications of this disagreement figure prominently in electoral politics and Bundestag debates on, for instance, the out-of-area deployment of German forces to once-occupied countries in central Europe. Our unfortunate Bundeswehr colleagues, virtually all born after 1945, find themselves caught in the crossfire.

The truth is a differentiated one. Many, though certainly not all, Wehrmacht units and individual soldiers do share the responsibility for war crimes. The SS did not act alone; much of the savagery which Himmler's police inflicted occurred immediately behind a Wehrmacht shield. At times regular line units conducted or participated in executions; routinely they provided security and logistical support. Of course, the war was prosecuted on the Eastern Front for qualitatively different goals and with far greater ruthlessness than elsewhere. The mission entailed both the acquisition of Lebensraum and ethnic annihilation, and in many ways operations there virtually defined our understanding of the law of war. True, the Nazi leadership uniquely bears responsibility for violations of jus ad bellum--for unleashing an aggressive, racist campaign of territorial aggrandizement. But violations of jus in bello--how the war was waged--extended well beyond this select (if notorious) group and often involved the "boy next door," who routinely felt himself victimized and pleaded "just following orders." In the East, proportionality and discrimination, the watchwords of just war doctrine, were not operative concepts.

Graphic visual documentation in the photographs that comprise Crimes of the Wehrmacht--and in the ZDF video chronicle--has forced many to confront this reality, prompting a reaction that differs in scale, if not in intensity, from what Vietnam veterans experienced over My Lai. Organized by the liberal Hamburg Institute for Social Research, the exhibit contains pictures taken (despite a ban on photography) by fallen or captured Wehrmacht soldiers and now kept on display in war museums of the former USSR and Yugoslavia. The material depicts widespread summary executions and reprisals against Slavs and other groups officially branded Untermenschen. The fact of such actions remains beyond dispute--and they were far from the only crimes committed against the Russians, 60 to 70 percent of whose POWs perished in Nazi concentration camps--but for decades many Germans have viewed them as the exclusive sins of Hitler, the SS, and the Einsatzkommandos. The exhibition's organizers make it clear that while no wholesale indictment of Wehrmacht soldiers is justified, complicity in atrocities extended beyond the recognized war criminals to line units manned by common, outwardly upright young men. In doing so the organizers echo one of the principal points in Goldhagen's book: that "ordinary Germans" massively aided in the implementation of Hitler's genocidal policies.

There is another side to the war crimes story, however, and ZDF in its exceptional 18-part series The Cursed War (and sequels) illuminates it as well. In 1944, as the inexorable march of the Red Army reached German soil, pervasive fear gripped the local populace, which consisted overwhelmingly of noncombatants: women, children, and the elderly. If Goebbels hyped hate and fear for effect on the German side, it must be said that until April of 1945 noted Russian writers like Ilya Ehrenburg ("Germany is a witch . . . . Germans have no souls!") and Konstantin Simonov ("Kill a German each time you see one!") articulated an officially sanctioned Soviet line in the Red Army newspaper Red Star that conceded little in terms of demonization of the enemy. The Politburo ultimately halted this campaign--but on pragmatic rather than moral grounds, recognizing its implications for postwar Soviet occupation.

Their invective reinforced wrath. By this time the Soviets had liberated European Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, and parts of Poland. With the sights of atrocities etched in their mind's eye--Babiy Yar, Maidanek, hanged partisans, maimed comrades, razed villages, starved Leningraders, and scorched earth--many Red Army troops sought blood vengeance (and corporeal gratification) as much as victory. Some even swore a kind of oath on this score. Murder, rape, and looting became commonplace, and Soviet commanders often failed to stop it. The 1944 massacre of the East Prussian village of Nemmersdorf, exploited by Nazi propaganda as a rallying cry to stand to the last, came to symbolize Russian fury and inhumanity throughout the rapidly crumbling Third Reich. An eyewitness stated: "We found women and children nailed, crucifixion-like, to the gates and doors of the village. . . . All were stripped naked, many were disemboweled." Even with the passage of time, German survivors of the Red Army's drive on Berlin break down visibly on camera, with immense effect, while relating their experiences. Knopp comments with candor and admirable restraint in his companion text to the video series that the period bred "hate against hate," unleashing Soviet retribution on innocent civilians, forbidden to retreat by their own government, for countless Nazi excesses in the East. A prominent Soviet veteran, writing elsewhere, expressed the less-balanced perspective widely held to this day by his comrades: "Victors are not tried!" One wonders when--or whether--the Russians will finally face the reality of their own wartime misconduct, as their once sworn enemy has so painfully done.

But important as war crimes were, The Cursed War examines far vaster themes and represents a monumental, extensively researched, provocative effort--initially done in cooperation with Soviet/Russian television--to come to grips with an anguished past. From 1991 to 1995, episodes were broadcast to mark the 50th anniversary of critical events in the war; newer episodes in the series cover issues that were not time-sensitive. The videos have attracted a broad international following, with segments being seen in 48 countries, including the United States. When ZDF began preparatory work on the project, it put out a public request for new firsthand information. A windfall ensued, one of the common threads of which was the shame felt by many older Germans over materials long hidden away in the attic. Talking about the period and making available old snapshots, film clips, logbooks, and letters became a form of catharsis.

ZDF eventually conducted over 2000 interviews with eyewitnesses of the period, including a constellation of luminaries from European public life (many of them former soldiers) and an even larger group of common persons with uncommon vantage points. The latter group included Hitler's personal secretary, Guderian's aide de camp, relatives and friends of Hitler's Paladins, soldiers from the Führerbunker, Nazi advisors, Luftwaffe aces, submarine commanders, the translator for the KGB unit that discovered and absconded with Hitler's charred remains, political commissars, and camp survivors. Americans interviewed include such notables as Howard K. Smith (who covered the unconditional surrender in Karlshorst), John Kenneth Galbraith (who debriefed Albert Speer), and William Jackson (US prosecutor at Nürnberg). Unfortunately, most senior military commanders of the time have long since passed on, and the series must interpret their motives and actions through memoirs, documentation, or the eyes of others.

Considering the advanced age of all concerned, these videos have provided a last chance to short-circuit actuarial reality and answer such burning questions as: What really motivated Hitler and his entourage? How could an extremist splinter group that garnered but a minority vote in 1932 come to power in a democracy at all, much less remain there? How deep did Hitler's support truly run in the populace? What role did accommodation, acquiescence, and denial play in the process? Why did Nazi propaganda succeed? How did the levers of social control and mobilization function? How much resistance was possible? How sinister were the machinations and intrigues of Hitler's Paladins? Why did the professional, battle-hardened German officer corps go along with Hitler's war plans and policies, especially ones which it knew would fail?

These incisive videos serve an important purpose: the confrontation of German liberal democracy with the fire and ashes of its Wagnerian past. They fill a painful but significant educational void that has plagued German society, one that has continued to exacerbate the generation gap. History is Knopp's medium but not his only message, for in its essence his probing series addresses the character and core beliefs of a nation. It uncompromisingly points out hard truths, with which some passionately disagree. My only criticism of the treatment relates as much to the anti- national mindset of postwar Germany--with its grudging tolerance of military power--as to the author himself: the reluctance to portray patriotism as a legitimate motivating factor in the war. Patriotism was clearly a two-edged sword; abused by the Nazis for criminal purposes, it nonetheless rallied those countries that suffered attack. Professional US military officers and their Bundeswehr counterparts of today understand full well that "duty, honor, country" entails studied, critical commitment, not blind obedience. Regrettably, for many Germans, scarred and jaundiced by their past, patriotism remains the war's last casualty.


Reviewer's notes on the availability of materials discussed in this essay:

Video: English versions (NTSC format) of TV episodes marked with an asterisk can be obtained from The History Channel (1-800-708-1776). German versions (PAL format) of all episodes are marketed in Germany through TIME-LIFE AG (011-49-180-521-2443), ZMD Verkaufsservice (011-49-89-8585-0202) or ZDF Enterprises, whose address is: ZDF Enterprises GmbH, Lise Maitner Str. 9, 55129 Mainz, Germany (Telephone: 011-49-6131-991292; Fax: 011-49-6131-991259). Comprehension in the original requires good listening ability (DLPT Level 2+).

Books: Companion books are available in German only. Comprehension requires good reading ability (DLPT Level 2+).

ZDF Video Chronicle:

Companion Books:

Other Books:

The Reviewer: Colonel Lawrence G. Kelley (USMC Ret.) is a former A-4 pilot and Russian Foreign Area Officer (FAO) with extensive experience in the former Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic, Federal Republic of Germany, and Western Pacific. His nine FAO assignments included two with the On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA); US Military Liaison Mission to the Commander-in-Chief, Group of Soviet Forces, Germany; Washington-Moscow "Hotline"; and Navy staff. He was the Deputy Commander/Director of Operations of OSIA-Europe from 1990 to 1995 and led 60 arms control missions under the INF Treaty, CFE Treaty, and Vienna Document-90/92. He served operational tours in attack/training squadrons, an infantry battalion, and aviation group and wing staffs, and he flew close air support in Vietnam. A Navy ROTC graduate of Princeton in Russian language, literature, and area studies, Colonel Kelley also studied at Leningrad State University and holds a master's degree in government and national security affairs from Georgetown University.

Review Essay

The Korean War Revisited


© 1998 Donald W. Boose, Jr.

As the 50th anniversary of the Korean War nears, more is known about North Korean, Chinese, and Russian policy and decisionmaking than ever before. Sufficient gaps and inconsistencies exist to assure that speculation and conflicting interpretations will continue, but we have a clearer picture of the sequence of events and even of the motivations of the key decisionmakers than at any time since the war began. The five books reviewed in this essay, all published in the mid-1990s, have helped produce this clearer picture and richer understanding of a conflict that has cast long shadows. While their authors accept James Matray's sensible contention, made in his review essay in this issue (pp. 150-62) that the Korean War was both a civil war between Koreans and an international conflict, their focus is on the international aspects.

In The Korean War: An International History, William Stueck makes use of all the scholarship to date, including his own research, to examine the war at the strategic and international political level, touching on military operations with only the broadest of brushes. Because of this focus and the complexity of the issues with which Stueck deals, his book is most suitable for a reader already familiar with the war. But for such a reader, Stueck's account is informative and thought-provoking. Reflecting the current emerging consensus, he sees the civil and international aspects of the war as interlocked. Ideological polarization between Koreans of the left and right made conflict in Korea likely in any event, but the close ties between Korean nationalists of both camps and foreign countries internationalized the struggle. This international dimension was magnified when geography and world events placed the Korean peninsula on the post-World War II boundary between the antagonistic Soviet- and US-led blocs. Stueck emphasizes this multilateral nature of the war, the interplay between US domestic politics and events in Korea, and the relationship between the course of the war and regional and global issues. These included the formation of NATO and German rearmament, Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Soviet bloc, negotiations for a peace treaty with Japan and the establishment of the postwar system of US bilateral security arrangements, Chinese efforts to replace the Nationalist regime in the United Nations, and events in Taiwan, Indochina, Southern Europe, and Southwest Asia.

Stueck is particularly good at depicting activity within the United Nations; another of his major themes is the ability of US allies and neutrals to influence American actions through UN deliberations. Finally, he examines in detail the fateful misjudgments by all the major participants in the war. He emphasizes the mistaken communist belief that the South Korean population would rise against the Syngman Rhee government and that the United States would not intervene, as well as American failure to anticipate the Chinese intervention, repeated failures on both sides to recognize situations in which the war might have been brought to a mutually acceptable conclusion, and misunderstandings during the Armistice negotiations. Stueck concludes that while the war was a horrific tragedy for the Korean people (particularly in light of his belief that the war could have been ended early), it also led the United States and the Soviet Union to back away from a potentially larger confrontation. For this reason, he calls the Korean War a "substitute for World War III."

Two Chinese scholars, Chen Jian in China's Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation, and Zhang Shu Guang in Mao's Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950-1953, focus on China's role in the war. Both authors make use of memoirs, selectively released Chinese primary documents, and the work of Chinese researchers with access to archival and classified Chinese sources in their work. Some of their interpretations may be disputed, but they both provide valuable and informative insights into Chinese strategic-level decisionmaking.

The precise timing and degree of Chinese involvement in North Korean preparation and planning for the war are still not entirely clear. North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, while primarily concerned with their own objectives and national interests, shared communist ideology and were bound by the historical connection and geographical proximity between China and Korea. Their common perception that they were threatened by anti-communist forces led by the United States also influenced their actions. Several divisions of ethnic Koreans fought against the Japanese and the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jeshi) as part of the Chinese Communist Forces. In 1946, at a crucial stage in the Chinese civil war, Kim provided Mao's troops and their families refuge and a strategic base until the Chinese communists could resume the offensive. As Mao's forces neared victory in mid-1949, the Chinese began to release the ethnic Korean divisions for return to Korea, greatly increasing North Korean combat potential. In December 1949, Mao began a two-month-long visit to Russia, during which a Sino-Soviet mutual security treaty and other agreements were signed. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev claims that Mao and Stalin discussed Kim Il-sung's desire to attack the south, with Mao arguing that the United States was unlikely to intervene. The evidence from other participants in the discussions is ambiguous, but Chen is convinced that the two leaders did discuss Kim's plans, at least in general terms, and that these discussions constituted a "Chinese-Soviet green light for Kim Il-sung." Zhang does not address the Mao-Stalin talks, but points out that in early 1950 the Chinese stepped up the repatriation of ethnic Korean soldiers, strengthened their defensive forces in the Northeast (Manchuria) in preparation for the coming North Korean offensive, and concluded with the North Koreans a series of civilian communications agreements that would enhance combined military cooperation.

Both Chen and Zhang agree that, by the time of the North Korean attack on 25 June 1950, the Chinese leadership had long-since concluded that the United States was China's primary enemy and that a military conflict was likely. Chen argues that the Chinese leadership, exemplified and directed by Mao Zedong, was motivated primarily by the need to consolidate the revolution and to maintain its momentum. Other motivations included a desire to overcome a century of humiliation by restoring China's role as a major power and a perception of the United States as a long-term and enduring threat to China. All would play a role in China's intervention in the Korean War. Zhang describes Mao's vision of the world divided into "two camps," led respectively by the Soviet Union and the United States, with a great "intermediate zone" comprised of neutral countries and nations emerging from colonialism where China could play a leading role from a position of moral superiority while restoring its traditional national pride and leading position in Asia. Chen sees the US-China confrontation as a product of the tension between the Chinese communist revolution and American efforts to contain communism--a tension aggravated by miscommunication and misperceptions resulting from cultural and ideological differences. By 1950, the Chinese leadership had concluded that the danger of direct US intervention in China had receded, but that the United States would continue to be an implacable foe of the revolution, threatening China from the "three danger spots" of Korea, Taiwan, and Indochina. Thus, the Chinese were predisposed to confront the United States even before the Korean War began.

Both Chen and Zhang provide useful synopses of previous scholarship on the Chinese intervention in Korea. They note that the prevailing Western interpretation shifted in the 1960s from a belief that China's entry was part of a well- orchestrated Soviet aggression to a view that China's actions were simply a response to a perceived threat posed by US-led forces advancing toward the Chinese border, an interpretation held by most Chinese scholars as well. Chen challenges this view, arguing that because "Beijing's decision to enter the war was based on the belief that the outcome of the Korean crisis was closely related to the new China's vital domestic and international interests . . . there was little possibility that China's entrance into the war could have been averted." Chen also points out that just as the Chinese word for "crisis" (weiji) contains the two characters meaning "danger" and "opportunity," the American intervention in Korea was, from the beginning, both a dangerous threat, confirming Mao's fundamental view of the aggressive nature of US policy in Asia, and an opportunity to confront the United States. The confrontation could reduce the threat to China, enhance China's revolutionary momentum, and strengthen Chinese communist authority domestically and in the region.

In July 1950, soon after the first US reinforcements were deployed to Korea, the Chinese established a substantial military force and logistical stockpiles in the Northeast and began political mobilization in preparation for possible intervention. On 4 August as the North Korean army began its offensive against the Pusan Perimeter, Mao raised the possibility of sending an army of "volunteers" to Korea. Throughout the month of August and into September, the Chinese Politburo debated intervention. According to Chen, Mao was the leading proponent for intervention, but had difficulty mobilizing support so long as North Korea was on the offensive. When the North Korean attack stalled and General MacArthur began a United Nations Command (UNC) counteroffensive with the 15 September Inch'on landing, Mao won the argument. On 2 October, two days after the first Republic of Korea forces crossed the 38th parallel, Mao sent a long telegram to Stalin, informing the Russian leader that China had decided to send an army of "volunteers" into Korea. Five days later, US forces also moved north across the 38th parallel. Although the Chinese leadership momentarily hesitated on 12 October when Stalin appeared to renege on promises to provide support, they made the final decision on 18 October, and the next day the Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) under the command of General Peng Dehuai began to cross the Yalu River into Korea.

Chen briefly addresses China's wartime experiences, but his account essentially ends with the Chinese decision for war. Zhang's emphasis is on Mao's military philosophy and the Chinese conduct of the war. He traces the development of Mao Zedong's approach to war, which was an amalgamation of traditional Chinese military thought, Leninist theory, and the lessons Mao derived from his decades of conducting protracted war. He sees as a contributing factor in Mao's decision to intervene in Korea a romanticized notion of war and a belief that the Chinese could overcome a technologically advanced enemy through superior will and morale. The experience of the Korean War would temper that notion, but much of Mao's military thought is still reflected in current statements of Chinese doctrine.

Working primarily from Chinese sources, Zhang misidentifies some UNC forces (he frequently confuses Marine and Army units) and his description of tactical- level actions is not always consistent with US accounts. Nonetheless, his description of Chinese strategic and operational decisionmaking is valuable. American readers will be intrigued by his insights into the Chinese internal debate and thought processes about the decision to cross the 38th parallel during the November 1950-January 1951 offensive; CPV commander Peng, recognizing that his exhausted forces were outrunning their supplies, argued for an operational pause while Mao insisted that the attack continue. Other insights can be found in descriptions of China's shift to protracted war after the failure of the offensive, the Chinese approach to the mobile defense, and their efforts to keep their forces supplied in the face of UNC air attacks.

Zhang makes clear that for the Chinese, the Korean conflict was, above all, a war of logistics. In Communist Logistics in the Korean War, Charles R. Shrader examines this essential aspect of North Korean and Chinese military operations. In spite of their very weak industrial bases, the North Koreans and Chinese were able throughout the war to obtain supplies from the Soviets, through local sources, and by the use of captured materiel. Their great challenge was transporting supplies from the secure depots in Manchuria across Korea to the front lines, over punishing terrain and in the face of UNC air attack. Thus, the crucial contest, Shrader insists, was between communist efforts to distribute supplies and the UNC interdiction effort.

The North Koreans and Chinese began their offensives with well-trained, well-prepared forces, but with logistical systems unequal to the demands of sustained combat operations and vulnerable to air interdiction. Both the initial North Korean offensive and the subsequent Chinese attacks eventually stalled when the communists outran their supplies. From mid-1951 through the end of 1952, the communists energetically improved their logistical system, built up air defenses, developed the means to repair or bypass railways and roads quickly, and adopted passive measures, such as camouflage and decoys, to avoid air attack. These efforts were aided by the slackening of UNC ground pressure after the initiation of Armistice talks.

As a result of these actions, by early 1953 the communists were able not only to support a strong defense, but had improved their logistical capability and stockpiled sufficient materiel to be able to conduct sustained offensive operations. Shrader concludes that by the end of the war the communists were "on the verge of being able to support a massive and extended offensive campaign, which would have constituted a serious threat to the United Nations forces." In the absence of Chinese and North Korean sources on logistics, Shrader's account is based largely on intelligence reports and the debriefings of communist prisoners of war. Future revelations may add to our knowledge of the subject, particularly at the strategic and policy levels, but it seems unlikely that Shrader's portrayal of operational-level communist logistics will be superseded anytime soon.

The 1953 communist offensive to which Shrader refers was forestalled by the conclusion of an Armistice. Negotiations for that Armistice began in 1951; Herbert Goldhamer, a RAND psychologist doing research in Korea, was subsequently invited by one of the participants to observe the workings of the military team conducting the negotiations for the UNC side. Goldhamer's observations and suggestions were so valuable to the UNC negotiators that they asked him to participate actively in their preparations. And so, for four months, Goldhamer had an unparalleled view of the workings of the UNC delegation. A manuscript he prepared immediately after returning to Tokyo has now been published as The 1951 Korean Armistice Conference: A Personal Memoir. It is an extraordinary document that provides frank and critical views of the negotiators and the negotiating procedure.

Goldhamer observes that the UNC negotiators spent more time trying to draft fast responses to communist proposals than to analyzing the proposals carefully, clarifying their own objectives and assumptions, and developing a coherent approach to achieve the objectives. He is particularly critical of the American tendency to be impatient to make "progress" and to seek that progress by making concessions. "One of the most disastrous consequences of this demand for progress," Goldhamer argues, "was the drive toward tactical attempts to `create' progress by sheer action no matter how disastrous it would be from the standpoint of the U.N. negotiating position." In the opinion of this reviewer, who for more than a decade was involved directly or indirectly with the Military Armistice Commission in Korea and who has spent years negotiating with both opponents and allies, this book should be required reading for every senior officer. Goldhamer's insights remain relevant and are applicable to every type of negotiation.

The Armistice ended the fighting and provided a way for the external powers to back away from direct confrontation. It also provided a decades-long pause during which the two Koreas have been able to follow their respective paths of development, for better or for worse. But it did not resolve the underlying tensions within Korea. The tragic drama of the Korean War goes on. The players remain both "civil" and "international," and the United States, particularly the US military, is still closely connected with events on the peninsula. This being the case, and with the US relationship with China looming as America's major foreign and security policy challenge for the foreseeable future, all of these books will be of value to the military professional and concerned citizen.

Those who wish to read more on the strategy and policy of the Korean War might start with the Korea Society's conference report, The Korean War: An Assessment of the Historical Record, which also provides a useful bibliography and chronology of the war. Allan R. Millett, who is working on his own history of the war, has produced an extensive bibliographic essay, "A Reader's Guide to the Korean War." Many of the key Chinese and Soviet documents are included as appendices to Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War by Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai. The Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars publishes a periodic Bulletin that is a particularly rich and useful source of primary documents, analysis, and information on the state of current research.

Two books dealing with larger issues contain important discussions of the Chinese intervention. Chae-Jin Lee devotes a third of his book China and Korea: Dynamic Relations to the war, summarizing the previous scholarship on the Chinese involvement and providing conclusions from his own research. One substantial chapter of Thomas J. Christensen's Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and the Sino-American Conflict, 1947-1958 deals with the Chinese intervention, providing Christensen's analysis of Chinese motivations. Kathryn Weathersby will soon publish a book on the war based on her extensive research in the former-Soviet archives. And so the literature on the strategic and policy aspects of the war continues to grow, refracting the light from those ever-more distant events through various lenses and expanding our understanding of strategic leadership and decisionmaking.


Chen, Jian. China's Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1994.

Christensen, Thomas J. Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and the Sino-American Conflict, 1947-1958. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996.

Cold War International History Project Bulletin. Available from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1000 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, D.C. 20560. Also available on the internet at

Conference Report: An Assessment of the Historical Record. Washington: The Korea Society, 1995. Available from The Korea Society, 1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 204, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Goncharov, Sergei, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1993.

Goldhamer, Herbert. The 1951 Korean Armistice Conference: A Personal Memoir. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1994.

Lee, Chae-Jin. China and Korea: Dynamic Relations. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press. 1996.

Millett, Allan R. "A Reader's Guide to the Korean War," The Journal of Military History, 61 (July 1997), 583-97. Revised version of an essay originally published in Joint Force Quarterly, No. 7 (Spring 1995), 119-26.

Shrader, Charles R. Communist Logistics in the Korean War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Stueck, William. The Korean War: An International History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995.

Zhang, Shu Guang. Mao's Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950-1953. Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas Press, 1995.

The Reviewer: Colonel Donald W. Boose, Jr. (USA, Ret.) spent six years with the United Nations Command Component of the Military Armistice Commission in Korea and was the Assistant Chief of Staff/J-5 (Director of Strategic Plans and Policy) of US Forces, Japan, from 1987 to 1990. Prior to his retirement from the Army, he was Director of Asian Studies at the US Army War College, where he continues to teach. He is the coauthor of Great Battles of Antiquity, to which he contributed chapters on warfare in pre-modern East Asia.

Review Essay

Korea's Partition: Soviet-American Pursuit of Reunification, 1945-1948


© 1998 James I. Matray

It became fashionable more than a decade ago for scholars to portray the Korean War as a civil conflict, rejecting the traditional interpretation of the war as an example of Soviet-inspired, external aggression.[1] But the recent release of previously classified Soviet and Chinese documents has brought an abrupt end to this emerging consensus. This has made possible renewed emphasis on international factors in reexaminations of the Korean War. Kathryn Weathersby signaled that this shift was well underway in 1993 when she concluded that the war's origins "lie primarily with the division of Korea in 1945 and the polarization of Korean politics that resulted from . . . the policies of the two occupying powers. . . . The Soviet Union played a key role in the outbreak of the war, but it was as facilitator, not as originator."[2] This essay reviews and compares traditional and revisionist perspectives on the origins of the Korean War.

The Historical Debate

President Harry S. Truman provided the touchstone for the debate surrounding the reasons for the Korean War just two days after the start of hostilities.[3] On 27 June 1950, he told the American people that North Korea's attack on South Korea showed that world "communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war."[4] This assessment reflected Truman's firm belief that North Korea was a puppet of the Soviet Union. Acting on instructions from Moscow, Kim Il-sung had sent troops southward as part of the Soviet plan for global conquest. In his memoirs, Truman equated Joseph Stalin's actions with Adolf Hitler's in the 1930s, arguing that military intervention to defend the Republic of Korea (ROK) was essential because appeasement had not prevented but ensured the outbreak of World War II.[5] Top Administration officials, as well as the general public, fully shared these assumptions. This traditional interpretation provided the analytical foundation for insider accounts of the origins of the Korean War.[6]

Surprisingly, some observers challenged Truman's assessment even before the Korean War ended on 27 July 1953. For example, Wilbur Hitchcock published an article in 1951 asserting that Kim Il-sung, not Stalin, "pulled the switch" initiating the Korean conflict. He emphasized in particular the Soviet boycott of the Security Council that prevented Moscow from vetoing resolutions authorizing UN military action to defend the ROK. In addition, North Korea's attack sparked a number of unwelcome developments for the Soviet Union, including a massive US military buildup, rearmament of West Germany, and the strengthening of NATO. Thus, according to Hitchcock, Kim Il-sung "jumped the gun" and attacked the ROK before the Soviets were ready for the invasion. I. F. Stone, in contrast to Hitchcock, focused his 1952 study of the Korean War on South Korea's responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities. ROK President Syngman Rhee was provocative, Stone contends, instigating many border clashes at the 38th parallel before 25 June 1950. In response to North Korean retaliation, Rhee portrayed the orderly retreat of his forces as a military debacle, thereby persuading Truman to commit troops. General Douglas MacArthur, John Foster Dulles, and Chiang Kai-shek were participants in this conspiracy to reverse the process of US military disengagement from East Asia after World War II.[7]

Neither the Hitchcock nor Stone interpretation had won many adherents as the fighting in Korea ended. Thereafter, the Truman assessment prevailed for a decade largely because Soviet-American relations remained acrimonious. Early studies of the Korean War blamed the United States for the North Korean attack, invariably charging that the Truman Administration had abandoned South Korea publicly and thus gave Kim Il-sung a green light to launch his invasion. For proof, these writers pointed to Secretary of State Dean Acheson's National Press Club speech excluding the ROK from the US "defensive perimeter," congressional rejection of the Korean aid bill, Senator Tom Connally's public prediction that Soviet or Chinese communist conquest of all Korea was inevitable, and limits on the military capabilities of South Korea.[8] This traditional analytical approach survived into the 1960s;[9] some recent detailed studies still reflect this viewpoint.[10]

Consensus regarding the reasons for the Korean War brought a predictable shift toward the investigation of other issues. If the United States had decided to abandon South Korea before 25 June 1950, it begged the question of why Truman would reverse the policy and order US military intervention. Glenn D. Paige and Ernest R. May provided answers to this riddle in two studies that each stressed international factors to explain American behavior. The United States, they wrote, had to act against Soviet-inspired aggression or risk irreparable damage to American credibility and prestige.[11] Other writers evaluated and offered judgments on the way that the United States conducted the war following Truman's commitment of ground troops. These studies extolling the virtues of fighting limited war in a nuclear age were elaborations of the traditional interpretation. While critical of the UN offensive across the 38th parallel because this brought Chinese military intervention, these writers applauded the Truman Administration for rejecting MacArthur's proposals for widening the war.[12]

Meanwhile, a New Left revisionist interpretation had emerged to challenge the traditional view that assigned responsibility to the Soviet Union for starting the Cold War. According to these writers, the United States had used its superior economic power and an atomic monopoly in an effort to establish global political dominance in the postwar era. Ironically, Korea at first escaped reinterpretation at the hands of the revisionists. For example, Richard J. Barnet accepted the traditional view that North Korea initiated the Korean War, although he condemned the United States for intervening to save Rhee's dictatorial regime. Denna Frank Fleming advanced a New Left assessment of Korea in his two-volume study of the Cold War, but few considered his account credible.[13] US involvement in Vietnam would transform "left revisionism" into both a plausible and legitimate explanation for US foreign policy, not only with regard to Korea, but just about every other major event in US history. Thus, Joyce and Gabriel Kolko could charge boldly that South Korea struck first in June 1950 and North Korea's invasion was an act of self-defense. Karunakar Gupta added the details of how the ROK's army ignited the Korean War with an assault on Haeju, a North Korean city on the Ongjin peninsula.[14]

The most important effect of revisionist accounts of the Korean War was to stimulate interest in the civil origins of the conflict. Adding impetus to this trend was the publication of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs. According to the Soviet leader, Stalin approved North Korea's attack only with great reluctance, fearing the prospect of US military intervention. But Kim Il-sung persuaded Stalin that South Korea's people would welcome the North Koreans as liberators, thus assuring swift conquest before the United States could respond. Robert R. Simmons advanced an intriguing explanation for the timing of the North Korean attack. Reviving the Hitchcock interpretation, he argued that Moscow and Pyongyang had agreed on an invasion date of 15 August 1950. The attack came two months earlier and before military preparations were complete, however, because of the internal political rivalry between Kim Il-sung and Foreign Minister Pak Hon-yong.[15] Without access to Soviet and North Korean records it is impossible to confirm the Simmons interpretation.

Revisionists have characterized the Korean War as a civil conflict, rather than a case of external aggression justifying an international response in the name of collective security. While traditional accounts concentrated on the events of 25 June 1950 and thereafter, revisionists insisted that it was vital to search for answers in an earlier period. In the first volume of his The Origins of the Korean War, titled Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, Bruce Cumings devotes an unprecedented amount of space to the era of Japanese colonial rule. According to this revisionist, a conventional war would start in Korea in June 1950 because the United States prevented a leftist revolution on the peninsula in 1945 and imposed a reactionary regime in the south during the years immediately following World War II. The Cumings study was controversial, but for many readers convincing because of the author's reliance upon Korean language sources.[16] More important, future studies of the war could not claim credibility without addressing the domestic origins of the conflict.

While Cumings discussed internal developments on the Korean peninsula immediately after World War II, other American scholars were reassessing US foreign policy toward Korea during the same period. The State Department's release of classified documents in 1976 for the year 1950 allowed researchers to produce detailed studies of US involvement in Korea from the start of World War II to the outbreak of hostilities a decade later. No conclusive evidence emerged, however, either to confirm or deny the validity of the traditional argument that North Korea attacked first and initiated the war. But the domestic origins of the war received greater attention.[17] New surveys of the Korean War acknowledged the importance of developments on the Korean peninsula during the five years after Japan's surrender in 1945. While accepting that Stalin was involved in planning the invasion, these writers insisted that Kim Il-sung was the primary decisionmaker. None challenged the assumption that North Korea struck first, but they did not condemn Kim Il-sung because of evidence that Rhee would have staged an invasion northward if he had held enough military power. Reflecting the effects of access to new research materials, these studies all either stated or implied that Korea was a civil war.[18]

Since about 1985, revisionism has peaked in popularity and begun to lose adherents. John Halliday and Bruce Cumings, in their study Korea: The Unknown War, insist that South Korea initiated the Korean War, contending that the "Fierce Tiger" unit of the ROK's 17th Regiment on the Ongjin Peninsula launched an assault northward at around 0200 on 25 June 1950. Reviving Stone's interpretation, Halliday and Cumings claim that Rhee set a trap for North Korea. The South Korean attack would provoke a communist invasion and bring US military intervention, thereby setting the stage for the ROK conquest of North Korea. Cumings presents a detailed explanation of this "trap theory"--and much more--in the second volume of his Origins of the Korean War.[19] Despite the testimony of former communist military leaders, the North Koreans always have maintained that the ROK attacked first and initiated the war. But John Merrill observed in 1989 that the question of who started the Korean War no longer was a matter of debate. The size and scope of the North Korean offensive argued powerfully that Pyongyang planned the invasion in advance. William Stueck agrees, emphasizing the international dimensions of the conflict in the most recent full-length account of the Korean War.[20]

Revisionism and Korea's Division

Disagreement about the reasons for Korea's partition in 1945 developed in parallel with the historical debate surrounding the origins of the Korean conflict, although with far less intensity. Arguably, Korea's division at the 38th parallel as World War II ended was the most important event in the modern history of that nation. Had the United States and the Soviet Union not forcibly divided this East Asian country, there would have been no Korean War. A civil conflict was highly probable, however, after the surrender of Japan. This was because Japanese colonial rule had worsened mounting social, economic, and political inequities that Korea had endured during the 19th century.[21] Cumings relies on meticulous and exhaustive research to demonstrate that Korea was ripe for a radical restructuring at the end of World War II "because of the forces descending upon Korea in the period of colonial rule." As elsewhere in Asia, Cumings contends, revolutionary nationalism was the main political force in Korea even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Those favoring radical change were leaders of a movement dedicated to destroying not just Japanese colonialism, but Korea's exploitive traditional system of economic, political, and social privilege as well.[22]

But there would be no civil war in Korea in 1945 because the United States and the Soviet Union prevented it. Ostensibly to accept the surrender of Japanese forces, the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel in August, while the Americans would establish control south of that line the next month.[23] The revisionists condemn President Truman for arranging Korea's division into zones of military occupation. For example, Cumings advances the revisionist argument that dispatching US troops to South Korea was "an unprecedented act of ambition" and "the first postwar act of containment." US occupation officials followed thereafter a counterrevolutionary course, backing the political aspirations of reactionary conservative Korean politicians in the south, especially Syngman Rhee, and striving "through unilateral actions to build a bulwark against communism."[24] But traditional scholars have applauded the United States for acting to prevent the Soviet Union from occupying all of Korea and creating there a satellite modeled after Poland. Endorsing the traditional view, Charles Dobbs blames Soviet aggressive and expansionist ambition for making it necessary to partition Korea. Moscow, he writes, "had done little to deserve" a voice in the postwar reconstruction of Korea because the Soviets "had made no significant contribution to the defeat of Japan."[25]

Soviet-American partition of Korea after World War II meant that barring resort to war, reunification was possible only after an international diplomatic or domestic political agreement had paved the way for a negotiated settlement. Responsibility for the deadlock transforming the 38th parallel into a fortified boundary and thereby creating the circumstances necessary for the outbreak of the Korean War became a matter of concern. Recent studies accept without much discussion the revisionist argument that blames the United States for perpetuating Korea's division. If the Truman Administration had not manufactured a South Korea, these studies suggest, the popular preference for revolutionary political and economic change would have resulted in the establishment of a leftist government to rule a reunified Korea.[26] Recently, challenges to this interpretation signal the emergence in Korean War studies of a "revisionism from the right" that seeks to rehabilitate the traditional view. Newly available communist archival materials do not justify, however, a complete resurrection of traditional explanations for the postwar impasse preventing Korea's reunification. Rather, Weathersby's findings in particular argue for an abandonment of the revisionist versus traditionalist bipolarity that for over two decades has trapped Korean War studies in an analytical straightjacket.[27]

Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War heads the list of important recent works on the Korean War for scholars striving to revive traditional judgments about the conflict. Its authors make extensive use of new documents, memoirs, and personal interviews to reveal that Kim Il-sung manipulated both Stalin and Mao Zedong to gain their consent for his plan to invade South Korea. But Uncertain Partners, on balance, revives and sustains traditional views about the origins of the Korean conflict. For example, the authors accept, without elaboration, the judgment that North Korea was "wholly dependent" on Moscow and was "justly called a Soviet satellite."[28] Erik van Ree provides abundant evidence and detailed analysis to support this traditional viewpoint in his 1989 study which points to the "presence of the Soviet army, the network of Soviet advisors, the stifling economic grip, the presence of an impressive propaganda machine, and the all-pervading adulation of Joseph Stalin" as proof that North Korea was a satellite. Van Ree assigns "most of the blame" to the Soviets "for the continuation of Korea's division in the two years after the Second World War."[29]

Van Ree challenges another fundamental tenet of left revisionism when he claims that Soviet occupation officials ignored the Korean People's Republic and rejected its legitimacy. Moscow instead transported to Korea from Siberia "loyal" Soviet Koreans and placed them in charge of "people's committees." He endorses Dae-sook Suh's description of early developments north of the 38th parallel, identifying the Soviet military as "the real authority" in North Korea. The Soviet Civil Administration delayed reforms and constructed a "classic `monolithic' model" closely resembling communist regimes in Eastern Europe.[30]

Socialism in One Zone depends heavily on research materials that suffer from ideological and political subjectivity, notably Soviet public papers, official memoirs, and secondary histories. Using these sources, Van Ree mounts a new defense of traditional assertions scholars advanced in assessing the Korean War decades earlier, but which revisionists managed to discredit without providing documentary proof. For example, he defines Soviet postwar goals in Korea as first the historic desire to acquire warm-water ports and second the creation of a buffer zone against an expected revival of Japanese aggression. During World War II, an "aloof" Stalin was "not enthusiastic" about a Korean trusteeship because he expected geographic proximity would assure Soviet control over the entire peninsula. He would not accept "a position as simply one trustee among four." Washington, Van Ree concludes, consistently advocated steps toward ending Korea's division, but Moscow always blocked progress because it preferred to maintain an "exclusive Soviet grip" on socialism in one zone.[31]

In the spring of 1946, a Soviet-American Joint Commission met in Seoul to implement the Moscow Agreement of December 1945. Its main task was to select a representative cross-section of Korean leaders to form a provisional government that then would cooperate with the establishment of a trusteeship before the restoration of Korea's independence. According to Van Ree, Stalin was responsible for the failure of these negotiations because he inflexibly demanded the exclusion of right-wing politicians. Extreme conservatives such as Syngman Rhee and Kim Ku were required to "cooperate" but not support trusteeship, Van Ree insists, and their participation was "not inimical to Moscow." The charge that pledges from Rhee and Kim Ku of cooperation were insincere was "probably true, but it was also irrelevant." Moscow knew that the vast majority of Koreans opposed unification under a communist or leftist regime. Van Ree speculates that Stalin wanted a stalemate, anticipating that this would split the conservatives and force Washington to accept the flawed Soviet interpretation of the Moscow Agreement. Stalin, fearing that South Korean communists might strike a deal with moderates, opposed peasant uprisings in the south because he was obsessed with retaining control of North Korea.[32]

In an article appearing in 1993, the late John Wilz tried to revive the traditional explanation for the failure of postwar Soviet-American talks to end Korea's division. During World War II, he wrote, although President Franklin D. Roosevelt did see that because of the "realities of geography, the prospect of Soviet domination of . . . Korea was transparent," Roosevelt did not want to anger Stalin. Truman wisely dropped Roosevelt's misguided trusteeship plan in favor of joint military occupation. He then advocated elections and quick reunification, but Stalin refused to cooperate because only Korean communists and leftists supported Soviet aims. Wilz, a champion of traditional views regarding US policy in Korea, dismissed the Cumings interpretation as "leftist," blaming Moscow for transforming the 38th parallel "into a fortified frontier" and North Korea into "a bastion of Sovietism."[33] William Stueck further encourages a revival of traditional judgments in a recent article blaming Moscow for blocking Korea's postwar unification. Occupation policies in South Korea, he asserts, may have been "shortsighted or self-serving," but "it is uncertain that they influenced events and policies north of the 38th parallel."[34]

New Documents and Renewed Debate

Release of additional Soviet archival materials will decide whether a revived traditional explanation for the creation of two Koreas will become conventional wisdom. If this occurs, a "right revisionism" will replace the "left revisionism" that for nearly a generation has dominated Korean War studies. Starting in 1992, Weathersby began to publish translations of Soviet documents that verify a number of traditional interpretations. For example, she points to "thousands of pages of documents on postwar Korea in the Russian Foreign Ministry archive" as proof that "North Korea was utterly dependent economically on the Soviet Union." Kim Il-sung's persistent requests for the services of Soviet economic specialists reveals that "to an unusual degree, North Korea was dependent on the Soviet Union for technical expertise."[35] Van Ree has argued correctly, Weathersby's findings have confirmed, that "Stalin was not in a hurry to crash into Korea" during 1945. Moreover, the Soviet Union had no "well-prepared plans" for civil administration north of the 38th parallel, requiring considerable improvisation. Once in control of the north, the "operation was an investment" for the Soviet Union. Moscow rebuilt the railroad system and then restored metal, chemical, and glass plants to serve the enormous needs of a recovering Soviet economy.[36]

Other traditional judgments regarding Soviet policy in Korea are no longer valid in light of newly available Soviet documents. For example, Weathersby presents persuasive evidence that Stalin followed a "cautious policy toward Korea" in pursuit of "limited aims."[37] His objective "was not simply to gain control over the entire peninsula, as with Poland." "Poland was too vital to the U.S.S.R.," she writes, "but Korea was not." Weathersby believes that the Soviet Union "would have been content with the Finland solution."[38] Moscow's wartime support for a trusteeship in Korea then was sincere, especially because it would ensure Japan would "not have the right to industrial or any other concessions." In September 1945, after Soviet-American partition of Korea, Moscow continued to favor "some sort of joint administration of Korea." "Upon the conclusion of the occupation regime, presumably after two years," a Foreign Ministry report stated, "Korea must become a trust territory of the four powers."[39] But the Soviets would never permit either Rhee or Kim Ku to assume power over a united Korea because both had "dreams of creating an independent Korea in which, in place of Japanese oppressors, Korean landlords and capitalists . . . will sit on the neck of the Korean people."[40]

Weathersby's findings demonstrate that strategic interests dominated Stalin's thinking regarding Korea. First, the Soviet leader thought North Korea might be a bargaining chip during his negotiations to determine the postwar security structure in East Asia. Moscow was willing in September 1945 to place a key Korean port in a Chinese zone of occupation and approve US acquisition of several naval bases in the Pacific if the Soviet Union gained access to three Korean ports and a united Korea secured control over the island of Tsushima.[41] Second, Stalin's primary concern was "to prevent Korea from being turned into a staging ground for future aggression against the USSR."[42] He especially feared a resurgence of Japanese power. A Foreign Ministry briefing paper describes US policy in southern Korea as very alarming because American occupation officials "not only have retained in Korea the old administrative apparatus, but they have also left in leading posts many Japanese and local collaborators."[43] Third, Weathersby underscores "the impact of the relative poverty of the Soviet Union." Moscow wanted access to Korea's rich mineral and other natural resources to help offset "an enormous [economic] disadvantage" in "its competition with the first world."[44]

Soviet policy papers for the Moscow Conference of December 1945 reveal that, contrary to Van Ree's characterization, Moscow "felt it had to support the demands of the Koreans and Americans to create a unified government in Korea."[45] One background paper for the Moscow Conference noted the importance of "working out . . . a single occupation policy" aimed "at the encouragement of the democratic movement of the Korean people and preparing them for independence."[46] In another background paper, a Soviet official foresaw creation of "a Korean government on the basis of agreement between the governments of the USSR, USA, and China." This would prevent Korea from being "turned into a breeding ground of new anxiety . . . in the Far East."[47] Jacob Malik, later Soviet delegate to the United Nations in the Korean War, drafted a report, which became the Moscow Agreement, advising that "it would be politically inexpedient for the Soviet Union to oppose the creation of a single Korean government."[48] But at the Joint Commission, Weathersby writes, the Soviets were unable to resolve the "dilemma about how to create a government for Korea that would be politically acceptable to the US, but that would also safeguard Soviet strategic interests."[49]

Without question, the Joint Commission negotiations offered the best opportunity to reunite Korea following World War II.[50] Soviet documents seriously undermine the argument that Moscow was responsible for the deadlock perpetuating Korea's division. The emerging postwar Soviet-American rift caused the United States to be pessimistic about the chances for successful implementation of the Moscow Agreement.[51] Significantly, the Truman Administration was in fact preparing in late January 1946 to carry out a program of "Koreanization" south of the 38th parallel.[52] After agreeing that Korea required a period of preparation before regaining its sovereignty, Washington also signaled before the Joint Commission even convened that it no longer wanted a trusteeship. Throughout the negotiations, the Soviets maintained the reasonable position that implementing the Moscow Agreement would be impossible unless those Koreans who served in a provisional government demonstrated support for trusteeship. Far worse for the Truman Administration was the knowledge that since "the southern political structure includes almost equally left . . . and moderate-rightists," the United States would "either have to nominate an unrepresentative slate for the south or expect its being outnumbered by [the] combined strength of North and South controlled groups."[53]

Negotiations at the Joint Commission adjourned in May 1946 when the United States refused to disqualify for consultation the Korean parties that belonged to the "Anti-Trusteeship Committee." Talks resumed a year later after Washington and Moscow agreed to exclude any party or group that "fomented or instigated" active opposition to the Moscow Agreement.[54] During June 1947, Koreans submitted questionnaires providing input on the composition of a provisional government. The result revealed that most Koreans now accepted trusteeship as the price for reunification, except for followers of Rhee and Kim Ku. In the north, three parties and 35 social organizations, representing about 13 million people, filed for consultation. In the south, over 400 parties registered and claimed an incredible total membership exceeding 62 million--three times more than southern Korea's entire population. Slightly more than half of the respondents were conservatives. The right was primarily responsible for the inflated figures, since two thirds of the groups registered were conservative. If the Joint Commission disqualified only a small number of rightist parties, a leftist majority was certain.[55]

Since World War II, Rhee, Kim Ku, and their allies had been openly and virulently anti-Soviet. Security concerns were behind Moscow's persistent demand for the exclusion of the eight parties belonging to the "Anti-Trusteeship Committee." Further attempts to reunite Korea at the Joint Commission were pointless after the United States refused to approve disqualification of any group.[56] Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, the US occupation commander, defended Washington's behavior, declaring, in reference to the communists, that "we do not intend to stand by and see a minority group of a self-interested venal segment of people impose their shoddy power" on Korea.[57] But this would have been the probable outcome, if the Soviet Union had "grudgingly" dropped (a course of action Van Ree argues Moscow should have followed) its demand for exclusion of the extreme right.[58] Even Hodge admitted that "Rhee's activities . . . are comparable to those of Al Capone in Chicago."[59] The United States faced a painful dilemma because the situation in Korea contradicted a basic American assumption. It appeared that if the people had a truly free choice, there was no guarantee that a majority would elect to follow the US model for social, political, and economic development.[60]

During 1948, the Soviet Union and the United States sponsored respectively the creation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. Half the peninsula evidently was enough to satisfy each power's security needs. As one US journalist wrote, it was "better to have the division between the Communists and freedom drawn in Korea rather than, say, between North and South Dakota or at the Mississippi."[61] And the Soviets viewed the 38th parallel as preferable to the Tumen River--the border between Korea and the Russian Maritime Provinces. Both sides opted for a "nation-building" strategy. The United States would sell its brand of democracy in the south, while the Soviet Union had Kim Il-sung to impose his version of communism in the north. At first, Moscow seemed to have the advantage, especially following the Yosu-Sunchon rebellion in October 1948, which saw large numbers of South Koreans join a communist uprising against the Rhee government. But by the spring of 1950, South Korea was experiencing economic recovery, its army had crushed guerrilla insurgents, and elections had swept Rhee's supporters out of the legislature, replacing them with his leading critics.[62]

Both the United States and the Soviet Union were willing to be patient, awaiting the collapse of its rival's Korean client, rather than promoting a resort to force that risked a wider war. But the border clashes during 1948 and 1949 at the 38th parallel showed that the two Koreas already were waging a civil conflict, although Kim Il-sung's resort to conventional warfare on 25 June 1950 marked a clear change in the nature of the contest. Several factors contributed to Pyongyang's decision, but all suggest that Truman's containment policy was beginning to experience success. Stalin later would blame North Korea's failure to reunite the peninsula on Kim Il-sung's inability to destabilize the Rhee regime.[63] Significantly, the United States proposed in May 1950 a sizable increase in military aid to the ROK, which meant that delay would raise the odds against North Korea's conquest of the south. At the time, Dulles speculated that Stalin had ordered North Korea to attack because he could not tolerate the survival of this "promising experiment in democracy" in East Asia.[64]


Both the United States and the Soviet Union deserve blame for Korea's postwar division at the 38th parallel. Disregarding the desires of the Korean people, Washington and Moscow each believed that its security required a "friendly" Korea.[65] Some scholars still decry the North Korean attack on 25 June 1950 as a clear violation of international law.[66] No Korean, however, has ever accepted division as legitimate or permanent. There is only one Korea. Worth pondering is Cumings' reference to "the ultimate irony" of the words "Koreans invade Korea."[67] But any satisfying explanation for Korea's partition requires recognizing the role of irrational human behavior in historical events. The Koreans were not passive actors, but actively manipulated both the Americans and the Soviets to advance selfish goals and personal ambitions. Syngman Rhee, Stueck writes, should be remembered as the "father of a divided Korea."[68] But ultimately Soviet-American failure to cooperate prevented Korea's peaceful reunification. Korean War scholars now must abandon the outdated analytical dichotomy of traditionalism versus revisionism and use new communist archival materials to provide a better understanding of the reasons for Korea's division and why two Koreas still exist today.


1. For example, see Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, 2 Vols. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981, 1990); Callum MacDonald, Korea: The War Before Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1986); Burton I. Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1986), Peter Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War (London: Longman, 1986); John Merrill, Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War (Newark, Del.: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1989).

2. Kathryn Weathersby, "The Soviet Role in the Early Phase of the Korean War," The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 2 (Winter 1993), 432.

3. There now are a number of excellent historiographical articles surveying the literature on the Korean War. Among the most useful are Rosemary Foot, "Making Known the Unknown War: Policy Analysis of the Korean Conflict in the Last Decade," Diplomatic History, 15 (Summer 1991), 411-31; James I. Matray, "Villain Again: The United States and the Korean Armistice Talks," Diplomatic History, 16 (Summer 1992), 473-80 ; Robert J. McMahon, "The Cold War in Asia: Toward a New Synthesis," Diplomatic History, 12 (Summer 1988), 307-27; Bruce Cumings, "Korean-American Relations: A Century of Contact and Thirty-Five Years of Intimacy," in New Frontiers in American-East Asian Relations: Essays Presented to Dorothy Borg, ed. Warren I. Cohen (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1983), 237-82; Hakjoon Kim, "Trends in Korean War Studies: A Review of the Literature," in Korea and the Cold War: Division, Destruction, and Disarmament, ed. Kim Chull Baum and James I. Matray (Claremont, Calif.: Regina Books, 1993), 7-34.

4. Harry S. Truman statement, 27 June 1950, US Department of State, Bulletin, 23 (3 July 1950), 5.

5. Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. II: Years of Trial and Hope (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956), p. 464.

6. Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: Norton, 1969); John M. Allison, Ambassador from the Prairie or Allison Wonderland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973); J. Lawton Collins, War in Peacetime: The History and Lessons of Korea (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964); Mark W. Clark, From the Danube to the Yalu (New York: Harper, 1954); Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967); C. Turner Joy, How Communists Negotiate (New York: Macmillan, 1955); Courtney Whitney, MacArthur: His Rendezvous with History (New York: Knopf, 1956).

7. Wilbur Hitchcock, "North Korea Jumps the Gun," Current History, 20 (20 July 1951), 136-44; I. F. Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1952).

8. John Dille, Substitute for Victory (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954); Robert T. Oliver, Verdict in Korea (State College, Pa.: Bald Eagle Press, 1952); Rutherford B. Poats, Decision in Korea (New York: McBride, 1954); John C. Caldwell, The Korea Story (Chicago: H. Regnery, 1952); Carl Berger, The Korean Knot: A Military-Political History (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1957).

9. For more than a decade, David Rees' Korea: The Limited War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964) was the standard account. Other studies advancing the traditional interpretation are Soon-sung Cho, Korea in World Politics 1940-1950: An Evaluation of American Responsibility (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1967); Theodore Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness (New York: Macmillan, 1963); Robert Leckie, Conflict: A History of the Korean War, 1950-1953 (New York: Putnam, 1962); Harry J. Middleton, The Compact History of the Korean War (New York: Hawthorne, 1965).

10. John Toland, In Mortal Combat: The Korean War, 1950-1953 (New York: Morrow, 1994); Richard Whelan, Drawing the Line: The Korean War, 1950-1953 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990); James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of the Korean War (New York: W. Morrow, 1988); Bevin Alexander, Korea: The First War We Lost (New York: Hippocrene, 1986); Max Hastings, The Korean War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987); Clay Blair, The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 (New York: Times Books, 1987).

11. Glenn D. Paige, The Korean Decision June 25-30, 1950 (New York: Free Press, 1968); Ernest R. May, "Lessons" of the Past: The Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973). See also, Denis Stairs, The Diplomacy of Constraint: Canada, the Korean War, and the United States (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1974); Francis Heller, ed., The Korean War: A 25-Year Perspective (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1977).

12. Morton H. Halperin, Limited War in the Nuclear Age (New York: Wiley, 1963); Robert E. Osgood, Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957); John W. Spanier, The Truman-MacArthur Controversy and the Korean War (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1959), Trumbull Higgins, Korea and the Fall of MacArthur: A Précis on Limited War (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1960); Leland M. Goodrich, Korea: A Study of U.S. Policy in the United Nations (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1956).

13. Richard J. Barnet, Intervention and Revolution: The United States in the Third World (New York: New American Library, 1972); Denna Frank Fleming, The Cold War and its Origins, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961).

14. Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1954 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972); Karunakar Gupta, "How Did the Korean War Begin?" China Quarterly, 8 (October-December 1972), 699-716.

15. Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971); Robert R. Simmons, The Strained Alliance: Peking, Pyongyang, Moscow and the Politics of the Korean Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1975). See also, Frank Baldwin, ed., Without Parallel: The American-Korean Relationship Since 1945 (New York: Pantheon, 1975).

16. Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. I: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947.

17. William Whitney Stueck, Jr., The Road to Confrontation: American Foreign Policy Toward China and Korea, 1947-1950 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1981); Charles M. Dobbs, The Unwanted Symbol: American Foreign Policy, the Cold War, and Korea, 1945-1950 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1981); James I. Matray, The Reluctant Crusade: American Foreign Policy in Korea, 1941-1950 (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1985).

18. Kaufman, The Korean War; Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War; MacDonald, Korea; Joseph Goulden, Korea: The Untold Story (New York: Times Books, 1982); Gavan McCormack, Cold War, Hot War: An Australian Perspective on the Korean War (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1983). For another example, see Bruce Cumings, ed., Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship, 1943-1953 (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1983).

19. Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War (New York: Pantheon Books), pp. 71-73; Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947-1950.

20. Merrill, Korea; William Stueck, The Korean War: An International History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995). See also, William Stueck, "The Korean War as International History," Diplomatic History 10 (Fall 1986), 291-309.

21. Donald S. MacDonald, The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990); Takashi Hatada, A History of Korea (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1969); Michael Robinson, Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea, 1920-1925 (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1988); George M. McCune and Arthur L. Grey, Jr., Korea Today (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1950).

22. Cumings, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, pp. xx, xxiv-xxv, 3-67.

23. Matray, The Reluctant Crusade, pp. 28-51; Donald W. Boose, Jr., "Portentous Sideshow: The Korean Occupation Decision," Parameters, 25 (Winter 1995-96), 112-29.

24. Cumings, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, pp. 116, 130-31. See also, Michael Sandusky, America's Parallel (Alexandria, Va.: Old Dominion Press, 1983).

25. Dobbs, The Unwanted Symbol: American Foreign Policy, the Cold War, and Korea, 1945-1950, p. 65. See also, Cho, Korea in World Politics.

26. Cumings, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, pp. 135-78.

27. For example, see Hakjoon Kim, "Russian Foreign Ministry Documents on the Origins of the Korean War," Korea and World Affairs, 20 (Summer 1996), 248-71.

28. Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1993), p. 131.

29. Erik van Ree, Socialism in One Zone Stalin's Policy in Korea, 1945-1947 (Oxford, Eng.: Berg Publishing, 1989), pp. 174, 276.

30. Ibid., pp. 76-77, 79-80, 95, 105-107, 148-58, 219-22, 271-77. See also, Dae-sook Suh, "A Preconceived Formula for Sovietization: The Communist Takeover of North Korea," in The Anatomy of Communist Takeovers, ed. Thomas T. Hammond (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1975).

31. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, pp. 36, 40, 44, 51, 69, 73, 267-68, 275.

32. Ibid., pp. 196-211, 221, 230-31, 253, 264.

33. John E. Wilz, "Encountering Korea: American Perceptions and Policies to 25 June 1950," in A Revolutionary War: Korea and the Transformation of the Postwar World, ed. William J. Williams (Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1993), 37-49.

34. William Stueck, "The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Division of Korea: A Comparative Approach," Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 4 (Spring 1995), 1-27. See also, William Stueck, "The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Korean War," in Korea and the Cold War, eds. Kim and Matray, pp. 111-24.

35. Kathryn Weathersby, "Korea, 1949-50 To Attack, or Not to Attack? Stalin, Kim Il-sung, and the Prelude to War," Cold War International History Project Bulletin [CWIHPB], 5 (Spring 1995), 1-4; Notes on Conversation between Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-sung, 5 March 1949, ibid., pp. 4-6.

36. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, pp. 57, 95, 178, 186. Erik van Ree contends that Soviet military intervention in Korea during August 1945 "was a last-minute improvisation." Knowing that his military position was weak, Joseph Stalin accepted President Harry Truman's proposal for joint occupation of the peninsula. Had he refused, Van Ree claims, Truman could have airlifted US forces to Seoul and presumably compelled the Red Army to retreat. Ibid., pp. 62-64. Kathryn Weathersby finds no support for this interpretation in the Soviet archives, concluding that "Soviet troops could easily have occupied the entire peninsula before the Americans arrived." Stalin approved Korea's division because it "was a way to establish a balance of power, which was the ultimate goal." Chong-sik Lee and Kathryn Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," Korea Focus, 1 (No. 5, 1993), 42.

37. Kathryn Weathersby, "The Soviet Role in the Early Phase of the Korean War: New Documentary Evidence," The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, 2 (Winter 1993), 431-32. According to Van Ree, Stalin was following a policy of "cautious expansionism." Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, p. 268.

38. Lee and Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," Korea Focus, pp. 43, 55.

39. Far Eastern Department report, Soviet Foreign Ministry, June 1945, and Soviet Foreign Ministry report, September 1945, ibid., pp. 41-43.

40. 2d Far Eastern Department report, Soviet Foreign Ministry, December 1945, ibid., pp. 52-53. Less than a year earlier, Andrei Gromyko, Soviet Ambassador to the United States, cabled Moscow that Syngman Rhee represented a group of "Free Koreans" that "was small and not influential in the United States." Andrei Gromyko to Andrei Vyshinsky, 6 April 1945, ibid., p. 55.

41. Saisui on the island of Cheju would be in the Chinese zone. Moscow wanted access to this port, as well as Pusan and Inchon. Soviet Foreign Ministry report, September 1945, ibid., pp. 42-43.

42. Far Eastern Department report, Soviet Foreign Ministry, June 1945, ibid., p. 41.

43. Soviet Foreign Ministry background paper, "Necessity for the Restoration of the Unity of Korea," December 1945, ibid., p. 51.

44. Lee and Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," pp. 45-46.

45. Ibid., p. 53

46. Ibid., p. 50. "Necessity for the Restoration and the Unity of Korea," December 1945. Moscow instructed the Soviet delegation to oppose US attempts to facilitate economic unification of Korea, indicating that maintaining access to the natural resources of the peninsula was a major Soviet priority. Instructions for the Joint Commission Negotiations, Soviet-Foreign Ministry, ibid., pp. 43-44.

47. Zabrodin memorandum, December 1945, ibid., pp. 51-52. This background paper contradicts William Stueck's observation that "Moscow's sudden championing of trusteeship . . . was suspect" because "its implementation would add Nationalist China and Great Britain as factors in the Korean equation." Stueck, "The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Division of Korea," p. 23.

48. Jacob Malik, "On the Question of a Single Government for Korea," December 1945, ibid., p. 52.

49. Lee and Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," ibid., p. 58.

50. For a discussion of other missed opportunities to reunite Korea, see James I. Matray, "Civil War of A Sort: The International Origins of the Korean Conflict," in Korea and the Cold War, eds. Kim and Matray, pp. 35-62.

51. Van Ree advances the absolutely untenable argument that the United States would have accepted a leftist dominated government in a united Korea to achieve reunification. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, p. 276.

52. State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee policy paper, 28 January 1946, Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS], 1946, Vol. VIII: The Far East (Washington: GPO, 1971), pp. 624-27.

53. Lieutenant General John R. Hodge to the War Department, 20 April 1946, US Army Staff Records, P&O 091 Korea, sec. I, cases 114, box 87, Record Group 319, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, the US occupation commander, stated flatly in one cable to Washington that the Communist Party "is the most powerful single political group in Korea." Hodge to War, 27 July 1946, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Records, 383.21 Korea (3-19-45), sec. 11, Record Group 228, National Archives.

54. "Soviet Position on Resumption of Joint Commission on Korea," US Department of State, Bulletin, 16 (18 May 1947), 995-96.

55. Joseph E. Jacobs to George C. Marshall, 26 June 1947, FRUS, 1947, Vol. VI: The Far East (Washington: GPO, 1972), p. 679; Hodge to Marshall, 26 June 1947, ibid., pp. 679-80.

56. Jacobs to Marshall, 3-4 July 1947, ibid., pp. 687-89; The New York Times, 6 July 1947, p. 22. Even Van Ree admits that the United States refusal to exclude those parties belonging to the "Anti-Trusteeship Committee" violated the compromise agreement for reconvening the Joint Commission. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, pp. 249, 254, 264.

57. Quoted in Wilz, "Encountering Korea," p. 48. For a detailed assessment of Hodge's performance as US occupation commander, see James I. Matray, "Hodge Podge: American Occupation Policy in Korea, 1945-1948," Korean Studies, 19 (1995), 17-38.

58. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, p. 249.

59. Hodge to Marshall, 3 January 1948, Department of State Records, 895.00/1-348, National Archives.

60. No foundation exists to substantiate Van Ree's claim that the chances were "extremely small" for the free election of a leftist government to rule a united Korea. Van Ree, Socialism in One Zone, p. 274.

61. Time, 30 May 1947, pp. 30-31.

62. Matray, The Reluctant Crusade, pp. 168-230.

63. Soviet Foreign Ministry staff report, "On the Korean War, 1950-1953, and the Armistice Negotiations," 9 August 1966, CWIHPB, 3 (Fall 1993), 14-18. Soviet monthly reports on developments in South Korea indicate that, contrary to Stueck's contention, US policy had a direct effect on Stalin's policy toward Korea. Lee and Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," Korea Focus, p. 47.

64. John Foster Dulles, "A Militarist Experiment," US Department of State, Bulletin, 23 (10 July 1950), 49-50; John Foster Dulles, "To Save Humanity from the Abyss," New York Times Magazine, 30 July 1950, pp. 5, 34.

65. Weathersby concludes that "the unjust division" of Korea was Stalin's "crude solution" to the Korean deadlock. But "the fatal flaw in Soviet policy" was that "the determination of the Soviet clients in the North to unify their country dragged Moscow into supporting a war on the peninsula that produced the very conflict with the U.S. that Stalin had sought to avoid." Lee and Weathersby, "What Stalin Wanted in Korea at the End of World War II," Korea Focus, p. 59.

66. John Norton Moore, "The Failure of Deterrence," Ninth Annual Seminar, "The Korean War in Retrospect: Lessons for the Future," University of Virginia School of Law, April 1990.

67. Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II: The Roaring of the Cataract, p. 619.

68. Stueck, "The Soviet Union, the United States, and the Division of Korea," p. 19.

The Reviewer: James I. Matray is a professor of history at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M. Historiographical portions of this essay first appeared in Peace Forum, 6 (November 1990). The remainder is a revised version of a paper presented at the 1995 annual convention of the American Historical Association, Pacific Coast Branch. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of Virginia in 1977. Greenwood Press will publish his Japan's Emergence as a Global Power in 1999 and Historical Dictionary of U.S.-East Asian Relations in 2000.

Review Essay

Strategic Reading on Latin America, 1998 Update


The entries in this fourth annual appraisal of the strategic literature pertaining to Latin America are presented in six categories, all of which have some degree of overlap. Three themes previously established in this review essay series continue here. The first is that the post-Cold War era offers a disparate set of regional strategic challenges. The second is that Latin America is moving solidly along the twin trajectories of democratic pluralization and neo-liberal economic development, despite a lingering neo-Marxist and frequently pessimistic mind-set among US academic specialists on Latin America. The third is the ironic fact that despite the first two trends, strategic assessments of Latin America are of decisively better quality than comparable studies written during the Cold War.

Political and Philosophical Issues

Charles D. Brockett and a team of southeastern US Latin Americanists produced a Reserve Officers Association National Security Report called "Latin America in Transition: Politics and Democracy." Excerpted from a longer study, the piece is a superb strategic introduction to the region for professional and academic readership alike. Latin America specialists in the Atlanta region have cooperated with business leaders to create the Southern Center for International Studies, and the paper by Brockett et al. is the introduction from a textbook bearing the same title. A full agenda of regional challenges prevents rose-tinted optimism from dominating the text. Jorge I. Dominguez invokes the Latin American political buzzword fracasomania (translates loosely as "obsession with the idea that things are politically chaotic") as the theme for his essay "Latin America's Crisis of Representation," which cautions against excessive political optimism. Lawrence E. Harrison relies on the old "Pan-American dream" for a book title; he examines a 125-year-old regional paradigm for economic cooperation in the post-Cold War context. Since President Benjamin Harrison's support for the conference series that became the Pan-American Union in 1889, the United States has periodically spearheaded campaigns to nurture a neo-liberal economic system in the Western Hemisphere. Lawrence Harrison gives the post-Cold War regional privatization and tariff reduction movement an important historical rung on this ladder.

Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg offer a set of essays that examine the key aspects of regional democratization in their book Constructing Democracy: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America. They represent a viewpoint often expressed by nongovernmental actors on a reformist mission. Eldon Kenworthy identifies excessive focus upon sovereignty as a limiting force in America/Americas: Myth in the Making of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. Paul H. Lewis fires a powerful salvo against neo-Marxist bias among US Latin American political science specialists in his "Review Essay: Political Scholarship." Professor Lewis believes that Latin Americanists in the United States rejected the optimistic worldview prevalent in the early 1960s as pseudo-scientific. They dumped this neo-positivistic outlook for an even more distorted outlook, Ernesto "Che" Guevara's neo-Marxism, which prescribes armed revolution and one-party dictatorship for all of Latin America. Scott B. MacDonald and Georges A. Fauriol offer detailed analysis of seven important Latin American countries in Fast Forward: Latin America on the Edge of the 21st Century.

Military Activities

A literature generally less emotional and less politically biased has emerged on this topic. Tom Farer provides an excellent set of essays in his book Beyond Sovereignty: Collectively Defending Democracy in the Americas. Professor Farer correctly identifies sovereignty as the value that defines the approach that Latin American nations have taken to the inter-American system. Since the Cold War's end, he opines, the United States must grant a larger, more sovereign role to the "other Americas" if there is to be an effective system of regional security. John T. Fishel's Civil Military Operations in the New World analyzes hemispheric use of military forces for operations other than war. Examples drawn from both north and south allow a comparison of Latin America with other, more turbulent world regions. Fishel has also coauthored with Kimbra L. Fishel the monograph "The Impact of an Educational Institution on Host Nation Militaries," a sophisticated rationale for sustaining the US Army School of the Americas as an instrument of US military policy, and revealing the human rights protest to be a disguise for deeper political agendas. Joseph C. Leuer's "School of the Americas and U.S. Foreign Policy Attainment in Latin America" covers much of the same ground by matching the school's curriculum against foreign policy goals of the Clinton Administration.

Michael Klare and David Anderson suggest in A Scourge of Guns: The Diffusion of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Latin America that all social sectors within the region are inundated by easily accessible small arms. Their solutions are the statutory limitation of arms importation and a vast reduction in military forces, which are already the smallest per capita (save in Cuba) among the world's regions.

Brian Loveman and Thomas M. Davies, Jr., have updated their collection of essays called The Politics of Anti-politics: The Military in Latin America. The central thesis remains: Latin American military leaders claim their governmental takeovers to be politically neutral stewardship regimes, while in fact these regimes generate their own negative politics. The essays are outdated, even if updated. Richard L. Millett and Michael Gold-Biss, by contrast, have edited what promises to be the most significant book on Latin American military forces in three decades. Called Beyond Praetorianism: The Latin American Military in Transition, the title is self explanatory, and the tone is guardedly optimistic. The volume includes essays by a balanced group of analysts skilled and experienced in civil-military relationships in Latin America. Emerging roles, force structures, and police-military relationships are analyzed, as is the ever emotional topic of US security assistance and its linkage to human rights issues.

Your reviewer recently published Guardians of the Other Americas: Essays on the Military Forces of Latin America; the real value of the essays lies in noting the date of original publication and the context. Glenn R. Weidner and a group of writers offer "United States Military Group-Honduras: Supporting Democracy in Central America" in The DISAM Journal of International Security Assistance Management. Weidner played an important role in negotiating a truce during the recent Ecuador-Peru border flare-up. The DISAM Journal, in which Weidner's article appears, represents the only effort by a country operating an international security assistance program to make that program fully known in costs, staffing, weapons and equipment, training, and rationale, thus negating the oft-expressed neo-Marxist claim that US security assistance is a secret and sinister affair.

Drug War

Sewall H. Menzel's Fire in the Andes: U.S. Foreign Policy and Cocaine Politics in Bolivia and Peru is an insider's powerful argument that only by significantly reducing demand for narcotics in the United States can the drug war be won in the Andean region. Menzel's companion volume Cocaine Quagmire: Implementing the U.S. Anti-Drug Policy in the North Andes-Colombia is the best work to date on this topic. The final chapter should be mandatory reading for all US national security community personnel who work on or want to understand the Andean drug war scene. Menzel examines supply-side and demand-side arguments and shows how the shower of drug money arriving in Colombia from the United States has corrupted a previously model political system, leaving the army and national police to fight on alone at the cost of over 300 combat casualties per year. Luis Alberto Villamarin Pulido's translated revelation The FARC Cartel lays bare the marriage of two evil empires, the leftist "FARC" guerrillas of Colombia and the former drug cartels. North Americans who read this honest account may feel remorse over the distortions about the Colombian drug war regularly produced by such distinguished sources as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio. Your reviewer's bibliographic essay on this melancholy topic appeared in Parameters (Autumn 1995).

Indigenous Peoples

Hector Diaz Polanco has authored the excellent book, Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination; while several trapped minority populations have a potential for national security concerns, the Latin American region is vastly better off than, say, the Balkans, Cyprus, Rwanda and Burundi, or Northern Ireland. Donna Lee Van Cott's Defiant Again: Indigenous Peoples and Latin American Security is an excellent and trenchantly worded analysis of this topic. Von Cott's work shows how Latin America's long history of tolerance for its ethnic minorities has nevertheless left the minorities largely outside the economic growth of past decades. Druglords and Marxist guerrillas will continue to arm the unlanded minorities against their governments, she concludes, until an equitable land tenure and market participation formula is found for each ethnic group.


Thomas J. Desrosier's monograph "Neo-Liberal Economics and the Latin American Military," which relates military roles to economic development, is based upon a survey of mid-career Latin American officers. The 5th LATAM Conference at the US Army School of the Americas in 1995 offered a dozen guest lectures by experts on this topic, and a summarized "Conference Proceedings" was published.

Sandor Halebsky and Richard L. Harris have edited Capital, Power, and Inequality in Latin America. The authors included are generally skeptical that neo-liberal economics are anything but one more scheme by which the rich despoil the poor in Latin America. Ricardo Hausmann and Liliana Rojas-Suarez have written a short and somewhat technical book, Banking Crisis in Latin America, which should be read alongside recent articles in The London Economist on the same topic for a fuller and more balanced view of events.

Paul Craig Roberts and Karen LaFollette Araujo offer a technically impressive, if somewhat dubious, critique in The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America. Their data allow the reader to make a full evaluation of Latin America's current privatization movement. While the authors do not seem to advocate a return to state-owned enterprises, or to a neo-Marxist system, they show clearly that capitalism in Latin American societies has always exacted a price in human suffering. Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith offer the third edition of their introductory textbook Modern Latin America, with a heavily negative economic view of the post-Cold War era. Jeffrey Stark's monograph entitled "Health" in the University of Miami's North-South Issues series is a good survey of a critical issue, as is his "Sustainable Development," in the same series.

Specific Countries and Sub-Regions

Roderic Ai Camp is a highly regarded specialist on the Mexican military institution. His Politics in Mexico is fundamental reading on that rapidly changing milieu. Professor Camp is also the author of important studies on Mexican military officer behavior and values. As the Partido Revolucionario Institucionalizado (PRI) loses its one-party power grip, its 75-year span of control over the officer corps is a collateral casualty. A new civil-military paradigm emerges, just as the drug war projects the Mexican Army into new internal roles. T. R. Ferenbach's Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico presents the country as a historical cauldron of unresolved social conflicts. Gerardo Otero's collection of essays entitled Neoliberalism Revisited: Economic Restructuring and Mexico's Political Future is fundamental strategic reading.

Alex Dupuy's Haiti in the New World Order rests on the highly debatable viewpoint that US imperialism created Haiti's endemic problem with repressive military and police institutions. Ivelaw L. Griffith offers an excellent strategic analysis in the monograph Caribbean Security on the Eve of the 21st Century. Griffith teamed up with Betty N. Sedoc-Dahlberg to edit Democracy and Human Rights in the Caribbean, a reasonably balanced treatment of the subject. Lester D. Langley and Thomas Schoonover offer The Banana Men: American Mercenaries & Entrepreneurism in Central America, 1880-1930, which explores the political and commercial side of the banana diplomacy era in that region. Their work seems intended to complement Ivan Musicant's The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama. J. Patrice McSherry's Incomplete Transition: Military Power and Democracy in Argentina reveals a fundamental dislike of Argentina's military institutions, so strong that no amount of reform will satisfy the author. The evidence offered in support of her dismal conclusions is thin, negatively selective, and outdated. Tommie Sue Montgomery's article "Constructing Democracy in El Salvador" is the best analysis yet on this emotion-laden topic.

Louis A. Perez, Jr., authored Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. The title is self-explanatory, and the book helps explain Fidel Castro's remarkable capacity to remain in power. Marifeli Perez-Stable's The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy is but one of many interpretive works on a topic that seems to fascinate authors.

Nazih Richani's "The Political Economy of Violence: The War System in Colombia," is based on limited evidence. The article reaches the remarkable conclusion that the Colombian armed forces, presently losing about 300 soldiers annually in combat with narco-terrorists, are part of a giant interest group conspiracy to keep the drug war afloat because it provides good salaries.


Brockett, Charles D., et al. "Latin America in Transition: Politics and Democracy." Excerpt from text by Southern Center for International Studies/ROA National Security Report, The Officer, November 1996, pp. 31-34, 38.

Camp, Roderic Ai. Politics in Mexico. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

Desrosier, Thomas J. "Neo-Liberal Economics and the Latin American Military." Occasional paper, Troy State University, June 1997.

Diaz Polanco, Hector. Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination. Latin American Perspective Series, No. 18. Trans. Lucia Rayas. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Dominguez, Jorge I. "Latin America's Crisis of Representation." Foreign Affairs, 76 (January-February 1997), 100-13.

Dupuy, Alex. Haiti in the New World Order. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Farer, Tom, ed. Beyond Sovereignty: Collectively Defending Democracy in the Americas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996.

Ferenbach, T. R. Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.

Fishel, John T. Civil Military Operations in the New World. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997.

Fishel, John T., and Kimbra L. Fishel. "The Impact of an Educational Institution on Host Nation Militaries." Monograph, Ft. Leavenworth, Kans., 1996.

Griffith, Ivelaw L. Caribbean Security on the Eve of the 21st Century. Institute for National Strategic Studies, McNair Paper #54. Washington: National Defense Univ., 1996.

Griffith, Ivelaw L., and Betty N. Sedoc-Dahlberg, eds. Democracy and Human Rights in the Caribbean. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Halebsky, Sandor, and Richard L. Harris, eds. Capital, Power, and Inequality in Latin America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995.

Harrison, Lawrence E. The Pan-American Dream. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Hausmann, Ricardo, and Liliana Rojas-Suarez. Banking Crisis in Latin America. Washington: Inter-American Development Bank, 1996.

Jelin, Elizabeth, and Eric Hershberg, eds. Constructing Democracy: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

Kenworthy, Eldon. America/Americas: Myth in the Making of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1995.

Klare, Michael, and David Anderson. A Scourge of Guns: The Diffusion of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Latin America. Washington: Federation of American Scientists/Arms Sales Monitoring Project, 1996.

Langley, Lester D., and Thomas Schoonover. The Banana Men: American Mercenaries & Entrepreneurism in Central America, 1880-1930. Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1995.

Leuer, Joseph C. "School of the Americas and U.S. Foreign Policy Attainment in Latin America." Monograph, Ft. Benning, Ga., 1996.

Lewis, Paul H. "Review Essay: Political Scholarship." Journal of Interamerican Studies & World Affairs, 38 (Winter 1996), 193-200.

Loveman, Brian, and Thomas M. Davies, Jr., eds. The Politics of Anti-politics: The Military in Latin America. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1997.

MacDonald, Scott B., and Georges A. Fauriol. Fast Forward: Latin America on the Edge of the 21st Century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997.

McSherry, J. Patrice. Incomplete Transition: Military Power and Democracy in Argentina. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Menzel, Sewall H. Cocaine Quagmire: Implementing the U.S. Anti-Drug Policy in the North Andes-Colombia. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America, 1997.

________. Fire in the Andes: U.S. Foreign Policy and Cocaine Politics in Bolivia and Peru. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America, 1996.

Millett, Richard L., and Michael Gold-Biss, eds. Beyond Praetorianism: The Latin American Military in Transition. Coral Gables, Fla.: North-South Center/Univ. of Miami Press, 1996.

Montgomery, Tommie Sue. "Constructing Democracy in El Salvador," Current History, 96 (February 1997), 61-68.

Musicant, Ivan. The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama. New York: Macmillan, 1990.

Otero, Gerardo, ed. Neoliberalism Revisited: Economic Restructuring and Mexico's Political Future. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

Perez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.

Perez-Stable, Marifeli. The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

Ramsey, Russell W. Guardians of the Other Americas: Essays on the Military Forces of Latin America. Lanham, Md.: Univ. Press of America, 1997.

Richani Nazih. "The Political Economy of Violence: The War System in Colombia," Journal of Interamerican Studies & World Affairs, 39 (Summer 1997), 37-82.

Roberts, Paul Craig, and Karen LaFollette Araujo. The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997.

Skidmore, Thomas E., and Peter H. Smith. Modern Latin America. 3d ed. New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1992.

Stark, Jeffrey. North-South Issues: Health, 6 (No. 1, 1997).

________. North-South Issues: Sustainable Development, 6 (No. 2, 1997).

Van Cott, Donna Lee. Defiant Again: Indigenous Peoples and Latin American Security. Institute for National Strategic Studies, McNair Paper #53. Washington: National Defense Univ., 1996.

Villamarin Pulido, Luis Alberto. The FARC Cartel. Trans. Alfredo de Zubiria Merlano. Bogota: Ediciones "El Faraon," 1996.

Weidner, Glenn R., et al., "United States Military Group-Honduras; Supporting Democracy in Central America," The DISAM Journal of International Security Assistance Management, 18 (Summer 1996), 1-34.

The Reviewer: Russell W. Ramsey is a civilian professor at the US Army School of the Americas. He holds the Ph.D. degree in Latin American history from the University of Florida and has written many articles and books on Latin American military topics.

Reviewed 25 February 1998. Please send comments or corrections to