Review of The Darkest Summer by Bill Sloan (Simon and Schuster, 2009)
On June 25 1950 communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea advancing quickly. Seoul fell shortly after and the well-armed invaders made steady progress down the Korean peninsula. The US and United Nations pledged political and military support to South Korea, with US troops mobilised from Japan for war, with others shipping from the US and Mediterranean. Given the huge downsizing of the US military post Second World War and their relatively easy postings US troops were ill-prepared for combat and they fared poorly in their initial encounters with the North Koreans. As the supply lines were extended and more US and UN troops arrived, the battlefront stabilised around Pusan at the foot of the peninsula. The job of pushing back the North Koreans largely fell to the US marines, a branch of the military threatened at the time with being phased out. The Darkest Summer tells the story of the US marines battles in Korea in 1950, mainly focusing on battles on the Pusan perimeter and the daring amphibious assault at Inchon near to Seoul. While the book discusses each encounter and provides eye-witness testimony, it largely skims over the wider political landscape and military strategy and also the battles undertaken by UN or South Korean troops. Indeed, it is a very US-centric account of the first phase of the Korean War. As such, while it was interesting and one got a sense of the battles from a soldier’s point of view it is somewhat myopic and narrowly framed.