Thursday 12 October 2023

"The Korean War" by Max Hastings - Audible Book

I seem to have hit upon a good working theme, or problem solving rule. If I have an interesting book that has been sitting on my shelves for a very long time [denoting I was at least interested in the subject matter at some point] and I have not got round for one reason or another to reading it (or alternatively I haven't passed it on to someone else) - then, if there is an Audible version of it, I kickstart the learning experience with listening to the spoken word (which sounds a little bit like cheating). So far it has worked pretty well for me (yes, it is a bit like "still taking two bottles into the shower" and if you get that old TV advert reference you have my respect), but at least there is some knowledge transfer. The Korean War by Max Hastings got this treatment (see below, to be fair it works in reverse too, a good Audible book has caused a paper copy to be purchased too! Especially if there are nice diagrams and maps to be had in the paper copy):  

This book seemed a natural follow on from Mig Alley (which I also highly recommend) to take in the Land Battle element of the Korean War, with a little bit of naval Carrier and Raiding parties. It is also an old book, written in 1987 and was consequently I think a little dated with respect to the air war. Listening to the history I felt the giddy sense of nausea like a naval battle, akin to Jutland with the "Run to the South" and then the "Run to the North" analogous to the armies running up and down the Korean peninsular until they end up back where they started on the 38th Parallel - back to where they started from, which was very sobering! Not forgetting the Inchon landings. It was a thought provoking lesson of how much the world was in a dangerous place in the 1950's. 

I had not been aware previously of the intense danger of the period, the world tension and the novelty  of a New World Order that was slowly emerging and moving away from the pre WWII power structures. The world seemed to be awash with countless small fires. Absolutely fascinating. 

As I mentioned the air chapter stood out as a bit dated, clinging to the 10:1 kill ratio that Mig Alley (2019) robustly  dispelled, although it was very salient about the premature announcement from air theorists claiming "the death of" and "no need for" armies or navies, as the air force would do it all. To quote Hastings (p326-7): 
The experience of World War II showed that intensive strategic bombing could kill large number of civilians without decisive impact on the battlefield , or even the war-making capacity of an industrial power. Bombing could inflict a catastrophe upon a nation without defeating it. ,... Nor could the airmen claim that this problem had not been forseen. Alexander de Seversky was only one among many thoughtful students of air warfare. As early as 1942 he wrote: 'Total war from the air against an underdeveloped country or region is nigh well futile; it is one of the most curious features of the most modern weapon that it is especially effective against the most modern types of civilisation.'  .... it remains astonishing that ten years later, in Vietnam, they were allowed to mount a campaign under almost identical circumstances to those of Korea, with identical promises of potential and delusions of achievement , and with exactly repeated lack of success."
Yes, the mistake was repeated in Vietnam and who is to say that it is not being repeated still! As Mark Twain once said, "History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme." 

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