Since moving here to Southern Ohio in 2008 I’ve met two Korean War veterans. One died during the Covid epidemic, the other, my next door neighbor, is still going strong at 90-something. Of course, I have a near life-long interest in U.S. history, too, so that figured into decided to read (well, listen to) this book.
Author Stanley Weintraub has made an industry for himself writing nonfiction stories set at Christmas during the various wars. Finally, I was a child of the 70’s. The movie M*A*S*H was one of the first “grown-up” movies I watched. I also read the book (and a couple of the sequels) at a tender age. Then there was the t.v. show [see the bottom of this post] that ran about 100 times longer than the war itself. So, in memory of all those people who fought in Korea and were immortalized by the book, movie and tv show characters, I had to read or listen to this book.
Mountbatten (left) and MacArthur (right)
General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur, was an early believer in public relations–p.r. Much like Lord Mountbatten (“Uncle Dickie” on The Crown), he was a self-promoter who was often regarded as having over-reached. MacArthur had at least some of the traits of a narcissist. He ran away and deserted our troops, fleeing to safety in Australia with his much younger wife, their toddler son (and his nanny) when the Japanese over-ran the Philippines. For this he managed to earn the nation’s highest award for bravery: The Congressional Medal of Honor.
When the Korean “War” began, Arthur hadn’t lived in the USA for many years. He’d commanded the Philippine Army, then been away in Australia during World War II, then oversaw the occupation of Japan. His last big experience in the United States had been leading the Army, with the help of his assistant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, through Washington D.C. and to the camp of the “Bonus Marchers” or “Bonus Army”–the unemployed, homeless, desperate veterans of World War I marching on Washington to try to make Congress pay them their “bonus” for service in WWI several years early. It didn’t work. MacArthur and Ike led the tanks and troops in moving the marchers out of their encampment. (Where many of them were subsequently put on trains and sent to south Florida where they would die in a hurricane). He survived that black mark how? Public relations. He also had a notorious affair with a showgirl called Bubbles who called him, wait for it, “Daddy.” Yeah.
When the U.S. entered Korea Mac Arthur was in charge of the Command area that included Korea. He did not take the whole thing very seriously and insisted, as have so many commanders in so many wars, that our boys would be home for Christmas.
Only, they weren’t. And, many did not even have winter uniforms. [This mix-up of seasons and uniforms is a specialty of the U.S. Army. In the Spanish American War, a tropical war, they had heavy woolen uniforms]. This book tells what the men went trough from Thanksgiving until what we remember today as the Chosin Reservoir aka “The Frozen Chosin” was over. Thankfully, President Harry S. Truman, got tired of MacArthur’s grandiose insubordination and fired him. Who knows how long the war would have lasted with “Doug Out Doug” in charge (the name comes from hiding in a dugout).
My next door neighbor was a young and bitterly cold U.S. Marine during this battle. It must not have affected him–he used to mow the equivalent of 3 acres with a push mower every week and raise 7 kids on a city cop’s salary. All but 1 went to and graduated from college. He’s still tough. It’s pretty obvious from this story that he wasn’t the only one.
Harry Truman was a remarkable president for standing up to an icon and winning. MacArthur should have been revealed of command when the Philippines fell. Instead he let another general take the surrender while he went on living his life with his family in Australia. His Congressional Medal of Honor should have gone to all of those who survived captivity under the Japanese. He is remembered well, however, for changing Japan to a more democratic form of government. Nonetheless, Truman kept a potential despot from running for president by firing him over Korea. We should be grateful.
My Review of Another Book by This Author
Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub