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I find James Matray's portrayal of the Korean War somewhat contradictory. He writes: >Dr. Nichols >asks would "anyone really argue that a massive armored invasion, using Soviet >weapons and supported by Soviet air cover, was somehow only a matter of >Koreans >finding their own common destiny?" My simple answer, without the opportunity >to elaborate, would be "yes" to this transparently simplistic question, >thereby >defying a fellow Korean War scholar's definition of "common sense." Yet, previously, he writes: >Common sense actually >requires acknowledging as obvious that the United States WAS interfering >with the right of Koreans to determine their own future. In fact, along >with the Soviet Union, it had been doing so at least since August 1945 >when the two decided to partition the peninsula. Well, which is it? Was the situation in 1950 "Koreans determining their own future," or was it yet another emanation of five years of superpower meddling that had nothing to do with the Koreans at all? It cannot logically be both; I subscribe to the latter interpretation. It is instructive to recall what we do know in 2004: without Stalin's permission, Mao's acquiescence, and both Stalin and Mao's assistance, the Korean War would not have happened. Kim Il Sung sought it in Moscow--where it could be argued the war really started, and not in the mists of the 19th century--and it was granted. (As Khrushchev once thundered to Molotov: "We started the war. Everyone knows this." -- Everyone except the Korea scholars to whom Dr. Matray refers, apparently.) A Communist dictatorship, supported by the two great Communist powers of the day, invaded a neighboring (and admittedly just as artificial) state, created out of the same nation. The southerners fought back, and clearly did not, and do not, wish to become literal slaves. I suppose one could argue that this is "Koreans sorting out their destiny," but to me that kind of language implies a cooperative venture involving negotiation, which 1950 surely was not. Indeed, saying the Korean War is merely sorting out a common destiny is like saying the end of The Godfather (in which Michael Corleone kills all his rivals) is just, as Michael puts it, "settling all family business." Well, yes, but not exactly in the cooperative sense that Tattaglia or Barzini may have hoped. To me, discussions in 2004 about reunification would represent Koreans finding their common destiny. An attempt by one ambitious and sycophantic Stalinist dictator to turn the entire peninsula into a prison camp with the help of two foreign powers in the name of an ideology alien to Korea in the first place is nothing of the kind, but perhaps Dr. Matray and I do not share a fundamental understanding of common sense. Dr. Matray also writes: > Dr. Nichols writes in another post that characterizing the Korean > War "as >a kind of domestic dispute" is "a fantastic mischaracterization." Many Korea >scholars would be surprised to learn that their understanding of this conflict >is misguided and the target of such ridicule. I would join them in believing >that Soviet-American efforts to deny the Korean people self-determination >after >World War II was an intrusion into a continuing civil struggle on the Korean >peninsula that had its origins in the late nineteenth century. First, I am unconcerned that some Korea scholars would dispute my characterization of the Korean War. I realize that the past several years, in which documentary evidence finally became available, must have been rather difficult ones for revisionist scholars, and I know from watching the Sovietologists that old orthodoxies die hard, even in the face of actual evidence. In any case, I am never surprised when some segment of the scholarly community rejects something that is manifestly true and even obvious. But more importantly, I find it interesting that in order to get around the inconvenient reality that the Korean War was a plot hatched by three Communist dictators, some scholars apparently will reach back to the 19th century, and find in Korea's history the roots of a conflict heavily planned and in no small measure conducted by foreigners in the 20th. So let's ask a counterfactual question: absent Soviet and American occupation in 1945, would a group of Koreans, north or south, have cooked up a plan to ally themselves with Stalin, gain scads of Soviet weaponry, and attempt in one fell swoop to enslave their brothers and sisters and alter the balance of power in Asia? Of course not. The Koreans may well have fought among themselves after 1945 without the encouragement of the Soviet Union, but I doubt they would have opted to turn their nation into a Soviet satrapy. They certainly would not have done it with Soviet weapons nor done it in the name of fighting for the right to swear loyalty to the Kremlin, unless there was some Stalinist foundation in Korean society before 1945 that I am unaware of. The attempts to depict the Korean War as something other than what it was have taken on new urgency over the years as the documentary trail has become increasingly damning, but I have to wonder about something: If it had finally been revealed that Rhee had conspired with Truman to launch a war against the North, would comparable amounts of intellectual energy be expended in the academy to brush away the reality and embed the conflict in some larger historical process? I seriously doubt it. Instead, fingers would have been pointed--rightly--at Rhee and Truman, those who disagree would no doubt be chastised for not seeing the evidence in front of their faces, and the conflict would today be depicted as a thuggish grab for both personal and ideological power and glory. Which, in the end, it was. Tom Nichols Naval War College