Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Coldest Winter

I've read a little over a third of The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War,  David Halberstam's final book. What I figured would be an above average but nonetheless standard piece of military history is instead shaping up as a major work that can stand alongside The Best and the Brightest and The Reckoning. Far more than than a tactical account a little known war, Halberstam delves into the personalities and opposing issues of the early days of the Cold War to show how they led to American involvement in Korea and continue reverberating today.

For example, rampant racism in the army caused it to expect an easy victory against North Korea, a lesson that went unlearned as America became involved in Vietnam. (In fact, the early decision to back the French colonialists in Vietnam was interconnected with the invasion of South Korea.) And racism wasn't limited to the army: The Atlanticists at the State Department assumed that practices that applied to Europe also applied to Asia; the State Department had little or no expertise regarding Korea. Again, this same dynamic played out not only in Vietnam but in Iraq.

By 1949, the once dominant Republican party had lost five straight presidential elections. The economy had been the trump issue since 1932, and the country trusted Democrats and mistrusted Republicans. Harry Truman's upset win in the 1948 election left Republicans bitter, angry, and in search of an issue that would allow them to take the gloves off. They got it when the Chinese Communists successfully concluded their revolution and forced Chiang Kai-Shek to retire to Formosa (Taiwan). 

Although it is difficult to imagine now, China held a unique place in the American consciousness in the early 20th Century, and the public was stunned by the Communist victory. The Republican party made dark insinuations that Truman and hawkish Secretary of State Dean Acheson had "lost China," as if it were in the power of an American administration to lose any nation. Such, though, was the belief in our international efficacy back then. Meanwhile Joe McCarthy, the newly elected Republican senator from Wisconsin in search of a signature issue of his own, began accusing the State Department of knowingly harboring Communists. The 1950 conviction of Alger Hiss fueled the Republican crusade, the success of which sired the modern conservative politics of fear and division honed to a fine art by Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, and Karl Rove.

And that's only 223 pages into the book!...

These days of a tight economy, it just might be worthwhile to attend to Cajun wisdom regarding food:
You can go into a restaurant and order pheasant or rabbit, but this town is just lousy with pigeons and cats, and under enough cayenne pepper and garlic, sauteed over low heat with some butter and served with pepper jelly, I dare you to tell me which is which.
More here...


American governors of both parties applauded the nomination of Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security secretary and made their opinions about FEMA plain. According to Rahm Emmanuel:
There was also a bipartisan sense ... that one of the more important things you can do is get a FEMA that is operable and helps states process what needed to be processed to get a recovery, when you are hit with a natural catastrophe, up and running.
A transcript of Emmanuel's press conference after Obama met with the governors is here...

2 comments:

Foxessa said...

The VA has decided to build a whole medical campus in what they call 'downtown' New Orleans, but is really mid-city, along with a Tulane medical facility and an LSU hospital. This means the destruction of many blocks, which include newly rebuilt and restored homes by residents.

This is very controversial.

OTOH, Charity is not open, the old VA facility was, like Charity, crumbling even before the flooding.

Hospitals and procedures were a major portion of the NO economy, employing more residents than tourism and restaurants before the flood, so, this could be good down the line. IF there is ever anywhere for all those minimum wage staff to live -- you know the cleaners, the maintenance people, the cooks, the etc., of which this industry employs far more than those 6 figure + administration and medical professionals.

Love, C.

Renegade Eye said...

Mao was more enthusiastic about the Korean War than anybody. To him it meant pressuring Stalin for advanced weaponry, that Stalin never gave him. He didn't care one way or another about casualties.