"Noted Military Historian Hampton Sides gives the background of the conflict but within the story of the clash personalities, not in a formal introduction. Desperate Ground covers much more than the legendary story of the breakout at Chosin Reservoir, including Inchon, Seoul, Sudong, and Wonsan."
"Oliver Prince Smith, commander of the First Marine Division, one of the great underrated generals in American history," deserves remembering for his leadership in the Korean War of 1950-1953. He performed a miracle "to reverse the course of the Korean conflict" by succeeding with "among the boldest and most technically complex operations in modern military annals."
Smith battled Major General Edward Almond of the Army's X Corps. They had "opposing views on what war was about, how it should be fought, what its goals should be." Smith saw Almond as "a creature of hot impulses and raw prejudices, a political tool overly focused on public relations."
Over all operations, the "absentee general," General Douglas MacArthur, "used the full force of his personality and stature" to "to forge ahead with an audacious and incredibly risky scheme to storm the harbor at Inchon." "The American Caesar," "didn't have a staff—he had a court"—he was sycophantic, "weird and cultish."
"A man who believed in destiny," MacArthur predicted that his "end-the-war offensive" "would end in a matter of weeks" even as hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers prepared to attack. By contrast, Smith understood the cost and "the context of the grind, grit, and chaos of a battlefield" but also the waste of defeat and slaughter.
Korea in Desperate Ground is war on a multi-dimensional chessboard where the past, politics, terrain, and weather played major roles. Overcoming mountains and rivers decided battles, as did roads and airstrips. Americans used World War II Japanese maps and numbered their anonymous barren hills.
This story evolves through the United States Marine Corps, the "jar heads, leathernecks, devil dogs . . . just don't call them soldiers." Despite World War II having ended only five years earlier, the Marines too often went into the Korean War of 1950 without adequate equipment, planning, or training. "The gear was inadequate to combat" the cold. (Fifty years later, it still poorly served the American military in Korea.)
Beyond the major players in that game, the Korean people were terrified obstacles, and the soldiers of all armies were pawns. The Chinese soldiers fared so much worse for everything but "they kept advancing with no apparent regard for their staggering casualties."
Other elements in play included the danger of an atomic World War III as China sent troops over the Yalu River and the Soviet Union supplied the North Korean war effort with mines, pilots, warplanes, and more. Although largely an American war, the United Nations officially defended South Korea in this conflict. Domestic politics over Communism played a role in this beginning of the McCarthy era.
Noted Military Historian Hampton Sides gives the background of the conflict but within the story of the clash of personalities, not in a formal introduction. Desperate Ground covers much more than the legendary story of the breakout at Chosin Reservoir, including Inchon, Seoul, Sudong, and Wonsan.
The author writes a compelling account of battles, leaders, and men sadly forgotten, and told in a lively personal prose. A last chapter has brief histories of the subsequent lives of the primary figures in the book. Desperate Ground includes documentation, illustrations, and a selected bibliography.