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Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea

Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea

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by Sheila Miyoshi Jager

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“The most balanced and comprehensive account of the Korean War.”—The Economist

Sixty years after North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, the Korean War has not yet ended. Sheila Miyoshi Jager presents the first comprehensive history of this misunderstood war, one that risks involving the world’s


“The most balanced and comprehensive account of the Korean War.”—The Economist

Sixty years after North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, the Korean War has not yet ended. Sheila Miyoshi Jager presents the first comprehensive history of this misunderstood war, one that risks involving the world’s superpowers—again. Her sweeping narrative ranges from the middle of the Second World War—when Korean independence was fiercely debated between Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill—to the present day, as North Korea, with China’s aid, stockpiles nuclear weapons while starving its people. At the center of this conflict is an ongoing struggle between North and South Korea for the mantle of Korean legitimacy, a “brother’s war,” which continues to fuel tensions on the Korean peninsula and the region.

Drawing from newly available diplomatic archives in China, South Korea, and the former Soviet Union, Jager analyzes top-level military strategy. She brings to life the bitter struggles of the postwar period and shows how the conflict between the two Koreas has continued to evolve to the present, with important and tragic consequences for the region and the world. Her portraits of the many fascinating characters that populate this history—Truman, MacArthur, Kim Il Sung, Mao, Stalin, and Park Chung Hee—reveal the complexities of the Korean War and the repercussions this conflict has had on lives of many individuals, statesmen, soldiers, and ordinary people, including the millions of hungry North Koreans for whom daily existence continues to be a nightmarish struggle.

The most accessible, up-to date, and balanced account yet written, illustrated with dozens of astonishing photographs and maps, Brothers at War will become the definitive chronicle of the struggle’s origins and aftermath and its global impact for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This timely primer on the past, present, and possible future of the Korean Peninsula, by Jager, an associate professor of East Asian studies at Oberlin College, opens at the close of World War II. At the time, the United States was scrambling to draft a proposal that would secure itself a share in the beleaguered and communism-susceptible region, rather than allowing Stalin and the Soviets sole occupation. Hence, the 38th parallel, whose path was traced late at night on a National Geographic map to divide North and South Korea into separate occupied zones. When the North Koreans, under Soviet supervision, crossed the parallel in 1950, war erupted; less than six days later, the U.S. had committed troops. Initially dismissed as a mere “police action,” the war has now spanned six decades and is buffered only by a fragile armistice (which North Korea voided in early March 2013). Jager carefully examines how the war has evolved over time, and how this struggle for “Korean legitimacy” has influenced the global power order, from the U.S.’s turbulent diplomatic efforts (Bill Clinton once called the DMZ “the scariest place on earth”) to the rise of China. Insightful, in-depth, and much needed, this book is required reading for anyone who hopes to understand the situation in Korea. (July)
Akira Iriye
“The author's judicious use of new material in several languages as well as her balanced way of presentation make this book an authoritative and accessible history of the Korean peninsula since the Second World War.”
Carter J. Eckert
“Written in lucid narrative prose with an eye for the telling detail and compelling human story.”
William W. Stueck
“This is a magnificent book—deeply researched and written with real feeling and insight into the complex internal and external conditions that produced a brutal war and perpetuated Korea’s division to the present day.”
Rana Mitter
“Sheila Miyoshi Jager has managed an astounding feat—an extremely readable yet rigorously objective and brilliantly researched history of the Korean War from all sides.”
Ezra F. Vogel
“Jager . . . skillfully covers international affairs, politics, and society in a first-rate comprehensive presentation of all the big issues facing North and South Korea.”
Allan R. Millett
“This book is the best one-volume study of the war in all its cultural, political, and military aspects.”
Aidan Foster-Carter
“A stark reminder that… the Korean War is far from over… This gripping book at last gives the big picture and the full story of a tragic and terrible conflict.”
The Economist
“Ms Jager has written the most balanced and comprehensive account of the Korean war. Perhaps by chronicling the brutal deeds of this “forgotten war”, this book will help lay them to rest.”
Mark Atwood Lawrence - New York Times Book Review
“Superb… Elegant and balanced.”
Wall Street Journal
“Does an exceptionally good job of bringing the conflict to life, and in ways not always comfortable for today’s reader.”
Literary Review
“An important contribution to Cold War scholarship.”
New Internationalist
“Compelling [and] wonderfully researched.”
Military History Quarterly
““An important contribution to the literature . . . highly recommended.”
Andrew J. Nathan - Foreign Affairs
“Magisterial history.”
Eliot A. Cohen - The Wall Street Journal
“Brothers at War does an exceptionally good job of bringing the conflict to life, and in ways not always comfortable for today’s reader.”
J.P. O’Malley - Toronto Star
“This gripping narrative is a superb study of how the battle fought between two nations, and the world’s three major superpowers, over the 38th parallel—on the Korean Peninsula—molded the zeitgeist for global politics in the latter half of the 20th century.”
Paul French - Literary Review
“An important contribution to Cold War scholarship.”
William Donnelly - Military History Quarterly
“An important contribution to the literature on this conflict… highly recommended.”
Zhihua Shen
“Jager has produced an excellent, lucid and original contribution to the literature on the Korean peninsula based on extensive research in international archives and reference to a vast body of secondary literature. It is a must read for all who are interested in the topic.”
Jay Freeman - Booklist
“An ambitious, engrossing, and often disturbing history of the conflict… Superbly researched… an essential tool in understanding the current crisis.”
Andrew Nathan - Foreign Affairs
“[A] magisterial history of the Korean War.”
Allan R. Millet
“The best single volume on the Korean War…If one has any curiosity about the Korean War as a formidable event in modern Asian history… Brothers at War is the book to read.”
Library Journal
The Korean War is not over. The armistice signed in 1953 largely stopped the hostilities, but a peaceful settlement of the conflict has yet to be achieved. Jager (East Asian studies, Oberlin Coll.; Narratives of Nation Building in Korea) uses this reality to provide a long view of the war beginning with its origins in World War II and continuing to the funeral of leader Kim Jong-il in 2011. Readers will find not only a thorough account of the fighting, but also a description of the conflict's impact on the Cold War and beyond. The author reveals the war's long-term effects on the domestic politics and international relations of the Koreas, China, and the United States. Jager places current Korean issues in the context of the unending Korean War, and predicts in her epilog's final analysis that North Korea will be assimilated as another province of northeast China. VERDICT Essential reading for all students of recent North and South Korean history. Though scholarly and meticulously researched, the book is written in prose that is accessible to experts and novices alike. For a work that focuses exclusively on the active shooting war, see David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter.—Joshua Wallace, South Texas Coll. Lib., McAllen
Kirkus Reviews
A protracted chronicle of the north-south conflict in Korea and the ultimate yearning for peninsular peace. Jager (East Asian Studies/Oberlin Coll.; Narratives of Nation Building in Korea, 2003, etc.) provides a well-grounded understanding of the evolution of the paranoid, isolated North Korean state as it emerged from Soviet protection and attempted to enforce its legitimacy across the entire peninsula by waging war on the South. She posits the war as the galvanizer for American militarization during the Cold War and the tool for bolstering Mao Zedong's leadership in China and giving new impetus to the "resisting America" theme that would carry through the subsequent Vietnam War. The lessons of the Korean War were acute, if not always heeded, resulting in the lack of a clear victory, the militarization of American society in the forms of a large standing army and huge defense expenditures, and the newfound confidence of China, which spooked both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Despite the North's continued aggression and early economic supremacy in the 1960s, the impoverished South gained as a beneficiary of American aid, grew its military after the Korean War and contributed massive manpower to the U.S. during the Vietnam War, a fact that is not widely acknowledged. The South's rapprochement with Japan and America's with China also threatened the North and fueled the long-running competition between leaders Kim Il-sung and Park Chung-hee. Jager presents a thorough look at this deadly fraternal power struggle, the North's persistent pattern of provocation to tip the hand of the larger powers and the deep heartsickness the division has caused the Korean people. An authoritative record of the divided Korean peninsula to go alongside Victor Cha's The Impossible State (2012).

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Sheila Miyoshi Jager earned her PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago. She has written extensively on modern and contemporary Korean politics and history and is the author and coeditor of two previous books on Korea and East Asia. She is an associate professor and director of the East Asian program at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she lives with her husband and children.

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Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
JYKWA More than 1 year ago
Dr. Jager did a great job in weaving together the various elements and viewpoints to create a compelling insight into the Korean War and its continuing impact on Korea and the international community. She starts from the Korean War where she vividly portrays the palpable tension between President Truman and the mercurial General MacArthur, the ever-present danger of escalation with China, and, of course, the traumas suffered by soldiers and Korean civilians. Then she continues to trace the rise of the modern Korean from the ashes of war under the leadership of President Park Chung-Hee and his successors. Also daftly woven in are the domestic situations in China, Russia, and the U.S. that influence their relationships with the two Korean regimes. Very well-researched but also eminently readable. For those interested in the Korean War, I also recommend David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War."