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This Kind of War is a monumental study of the conflict that began in June 1950. Successive generations of U.S. military officers have considered this book an indispensable part of their education. T. R. Fehrenbach's narrative brings to life the harrowing and bloody battles that were fought up and down the Korean Peninsula.
Partly drawn from official records, operations journals, and histories, it is based largely on the compelling personal narratives of the small-unit commanders and their troops. Unlike any other work on the Korean War, it provides a clear, panoramic view; sharp insight into the successes and failures of U.S. forces; and a riveting account of fierce clashes between U.N. troops and the North Korean and Chinese communist invaders.
The lessons that Colonel Fehrenbach identifies still resonate. Severe peacetime budget cuts after World War II left the U.S. military a shadow of its former self. The terrible lesson of Korea was that to send into action troops trained for nothing but "serving a hitch" in some quiet billet was an almost criminal act. Throwing these ill-trained and poorly equipped troops into the heat of battle resulted in the war's early routs. The United States was simply unprepared for war. As we enter a new century with Americans and North Koreans continuing to face each other across the 38th parallel, we would do well to remember the price we paid during the Korean War.
Fifty years after its writing, this classic narrative history remains as relevant and effective as it ever was during the Cold War. As much a cautionary tale as a retelling of events, the author's account puts before the reader a stark dilemma whose spectre looms large at the dawn of the 21st Century.
With some wit, the author tells the tale of a nation tired of war, which cast aside any expectation of sending its soldiers overseas ever again and turned inward to domestic concerns. All the while, other players on the world stage continued to advance agendas contrary to American interests, maneuvering to exploit perceived weaknesses with a combination of diplomatic and ultimately military pressure. When the United States elected to commit to armed resistance of communist aggression, it found itself in possession of a military that had been allowed to materially and, for lack of a better word, spiritually decay in favor of those same domestic concerns, particularly egalitarian social reform among the ranks. The result was an army entirely incapable of meeting the enemy with any real hope of initial success or even survival. Troops that had not learned discipline until then, were forced to learn or die in a series of battles that will forever be remembered for their absolute waste. Even after avoiding utter disaster in the summer and fall of 1950, the United States continued to struggle with how it viewed this concept of limited war, having prided itself in victorious crusades, which it would gladly engage in again, but fearful of the prospect of total war in the nuclear age.
The lesson of this experience is that a democratic nation, though loathed to admit it, requires professional legions to fight and die in limited wars, for which the general populous hasn't the stomach, but which must be fought lest that populous fall to the myriad bad actors beyond the seas. The author in 1962 was principally, actually solely, concerned with communism, but this truth remains evident long after the Cold War's end. Those legions were raised of course, in the form of a professional, all volunteer military heavy in special forces, and highly trained technical personnel focused on joint and multilateral operations with allied nations, a subject covered admirably by Robert Kaplan. At a time when the army has announced plans to emphasize leaner less armor heavy units, and marines have trimmed back the number of companies in their tank battalions, one needn't try very hard to imagine a scenario alarmingly similar to Task Force Smith playing itself out once again on some not too distant day.
As for the book itself, the author masterfully interweaves several continuing stories that follow certain units through the thick of the fighting, all the while taking brief sojourns in Tokyo, Washington D.C. and New York to recount the deliberations of military and political leaders that plotted the course of the battles. Anyone interested in a big picture survey of the Korean War will find a great deal to chew on in this hefty work. The narration is very good, with an attempt to give character to quotes and liven up the author's humorous asides. As others have warned though, the author assembles his facts to tell a particular story, the outline of which he repeats frequently to make sure you get the point. If you are looking for a purely combat-driven or policy-oriented history, look elsewhere. One should also be mindful of the fact that as it was penned in 1962, this book predates modern conventions of political correctness and may ruffle the feathers of someone sensitive to such attitudes.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This book, originally published in 1963 ,is THE classic by which other Korean War histories may be measured. The author was a battalion commander in Korea and had the connections to get outstanding personal interest stories of his living contemporaries. He provides an unbiased telling of a story that Americans may want to forget but he makes a clear differentiation between the American military of 1945 and that of 1950. He deals with problems of funding neglect by Congress and training shortfalls by leadership of the American military after World War II. Fehrenbach deals with the campaigns as one who has been there. His insight into the politics of coalition warfare is excellent. If you want to read ONE book about Korea, this is it. It has detail, insight and intrigue which were all a part of the time.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful
To be sure, Fehrenbach has written a novel that chronicles the Korean war in all of its tragedy, savagery and unlikely heroism. His narrative of each stage of the conflict, drawing on a multitude of resources, gives us an excellent view of the war's experience from private to general. The anecdotal accounts of individual soldiers highlight the helpless situations they often found themselves in, and convey a 'kicked-in-the-gut' kind of empathy for their plight. The historical background of Chinese and then Japanese occupation, and the latter's influence on culture at the time, give a much clearer understanding of the origins of savagery seen throughout the war.
What makes this book so difficult however, especially in audio format, is the dogmatic and redundant manner in which he states his polemic--the U.S. was not prepared militarily or psychologically for the war, and this was a result of the post WWII dismantling of the military. At least once, if not more, each chapter recapitulates said point, ad naseum. His frequent comparisons of Roman Legions and the army of the British Empire don't really fit, and fail to account for the cultural and historical context of each era. Had he not explicitly posited this main idea, the message would come through well enough from his accounts of the war. Around chapter 10 or 11, having to listen for the umpteenth time that American cultural attitudes and the Defense Department's poor planning and foresight left the military several weakened, I was driven back. I quit listening to it, checked out the book from the library, and finished, skipping over the aforementioned drivel.
It's worth listening too, however I would wear a helmet, as getting beaten over the head with the same point becomes pretty painful
22 of 25 people found this review helpful
The lesson of the Korean War
The lesson of the Korean War was that it happened. What surprises me is we let it happen again in Vietnam, and Iraq.
To not fight a war all out with the muscle and might of our great nation means more brushfire wars (police actions) will take place. Precious blood and treasure will be spent and nothing will be gained.
To read about the different battles for hill tops, and frozen reservoirs was riveting in detail. To read how backward we were just 55 years ago is a bit troubling. We didn't have good radio communication, ect.
To hear about the mountains of artillery shells we fired was a bit of a shock. How we sent tanks that were almost impossible to off load the transport ships, showed how going to war is very hard to plan.
If you buy this book it is a good history lesson, and you won't be disappointed if you buy it for the history and the storytelling will keep you entertained.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
As a background, I have already listened to and enjoyed David Halberstram's The Coldest Winter and The General Vs the President by H.W. Brands. I got started in Audible based on the advertising from Dan Carlin's amazing Hardcore History and Common Sense podcast. I have read a number of non-fiction war history books and enjoy the genre.
I struggled with ordering this audio book based on other cautious (and absolutely correct) critical reviews. As discussed, by others this audio book is full of: casual racism (for example calling Koreans the Irish of the Orient), poor narration (cringe inducing Asian voices) and repetition of the same phrases in subsequent sentences.
T.R. Fehrenbach has a point to make and he makes sure that you understand it as well. It is said so many times that you wish there was an option to skip ahead to the next story actually about the Korean War.
Sadly I can't recommend this to others. There are not enough stories slipped in between the author making his belabored point for the hundredth time. Those stories that are told are difficult to follow and not as descriptive as other war books accounts of the action.
If you are interested in the Korean War listen to The Coldest Winter. It is more accurate, descriptive and a better book. Or better yet, hopefully Dan Carlin will give this war a series on Hardcore History.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up This Kind of War in three words, what would they be?
At last a truly comprehensive study of the Korean War; Fehrenbach has an understanding of how the most powerful military force in the world of a few short years before was so badly mauled and who exactly was at fault, he pulls no punches.
What was one of the most memorable moments of This Kind of War?
The arrogance and ultimate futility of 'Task Force Smith
Have you listened to any of Kevin Foley’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Do not recall if I've listened to him before, his mispronouncing of some military terms was mildly annoying however, overall the performance was quite good.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
However impractical... yes, and I made a noble attempt too.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
While the narration is somewhat stilted, it overall fits the very college lecture tone of the book. I found that it disabused me of notions I didn't even know I had.
The book quite bluntly lays out America's near complete lack of preparation for the old fashioned ground war Korea turned into. No punches are pulled and the book isn't afraid to name names.
Highly recommended for any military history fans
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The author has some moral and philosophical points to make, mostly about American Exceptionalism and the evil inhuman nature of all communists. It perpetrates some historical myths and repeats itself a lot.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
The author did an outstanding job of displaying America’s reluctant call to the “far frontier“ at the beginning of the Korean conflict. He lays out the follies of America’s position, and provides solutions for the future by informing his readers. The speaker does a great job bringing the characters to life through his tones.
Colonel Fahrenbach's pitiless viewpoint of events, expressed through his tough-talking style, makes this book about the Korean War a classic of the genre.