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Korean War (I) Books and Movies
by Jeremy Bentham

Are we facing a Second Korean War? Gosh, and most Americans today don’t even know what happened in the first one, do they? It’s like coming into “Game of Thrones” or the “Walking Dead” in the middle of the season. Well we here at Radio Free Dindustan / intend to remedy that situation. Here’s a list of some of my favorite books and movies about the war. We’ve got to get up to speed fast here. Get to work!


- This Kind of War "A Study in Unpreparedness", by T.R. Fehrenbach. A Bantam War Book Giant. A must read if you want to understand the Korean War. Probably the best comprehensive history out there.

At the end of WWII the U.S. Army had over eight million personnel in the ground force; the U.S. Marine Corps had 476,000. By the start of the Korean War on 25 June, 1950, each had been reduced to 591,487 and 70,000 troops respectively. The USA had only ten ground force combat divisions worldwide in June 1950; which, incidentally, is the same number of combat divisions that was deployed for the Persian Gulf War in 1991. After total victory in WWII, why was America caught totally by surprise and woefully unprepared for the North Korean invasion of South Korea and the subsequent Red Chinese intervention?

T.R. Fehrenbach's book, first published in 1963, gives an exciting account of what happened during the Korean War and why it happened. It contains many different stories of the war not only from the perspective of the nation's leaders but also from that of the soldier in the field. Fehrenbach gives a good, easy to read account of the political and military policies and theories that governed our conduct of the Korean War and ultimately led to the way we handled the Vietnam War (See On Strategy by Harry G. Summers Jr.). In particular, read Chapter 25, "Proud Legions".

World War II has been called the "Good War", in retrospect we understand now that this was largely because the political Left fully supported America’s entry into that conflagration (once Germany invaded the Soviet Union that is) and shouted down anyone who opposed it (which the Left is good at doing). The Korean War by comparison has been called the "Forgotten War", largely because the very same political Left was opposed to it, thought we should have kept out of it, and wanted Americans to forget about it. Since the Left has had control of the media megaphone for the past 50 plus years it has been able to tell us all what our opinion about things should be.

“Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life – but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman Legions did, by putting your young men into the mud.”

“The object of warfare is to dominate a portion of the earth, with its peoples, for causes either just or unjust. It is not to destroy the land and the people, unless you have gone wholly mad.”

“Pushbutton war has its place. There is another kind of conflict – crusade, jihad, holy war, call it what you choose. It has been loosed before, with attendant horror but indecisive results. In the past, there were never means enough to exterminate all the unholy, whether Christian, Moslem, Protestant, Papist, or Communist. If jihad is preached again, undoubtedly the modern age will do much better.”

-T.R. Fehrenbach, 1963, This Kind of War, Proud Legions, p. 406.

“It was Communist dogma that capitalists desire war in search of profits, ignoring the fact that in any Western nation the wealthy probably wanted war less than any other group – since wars normally bring social upheaval.”

-T.R. Fehrenbach, 1963, This Kind of War, Cease-Fire, p. 623.

- Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall. Jove War Books. Like Heartbreak Ridge, Pork Chop Hill was a Korean War battle that most Americans have heard of, but few have any idea what happened there. In April, 1953, even while the Chinese and North Korean Communists agreed to resume the peace talks, they were planning another attack. This time the US 7th Infantry Division bore the brunt of it. The story was made into a very realistic movie starring Gregory Peck. "Heartbreak Ridge" was the title of a movie starring Clint Eastwood that had nothing to do with Korea.

- About Face by COL David H. Hackworth (Retired). Touchstone/ Simon and Schuster 1989. COL Hackworth served in the US Army from 1946-1971 and was decorated for valor in Korea and Vietnam. “Hack” first achieved notoriety by denouncing the US Government’s Vietnamization Program, the plan to disengage US combat forces from Vietnam, in an interview on the ABC News television program “Issues and Answers”. He quickly retired to avoid repercussions and lived in self-imposed exile in Australia for years after the war. The book was intended to be an expose on what was wrong with the U.S. Army during Vietnam and afterwards. At the same time it is an excellent first person history of the many changes that took place in the US Army in the post WWII years as well as an auto-biography of COL Hackworth’s adventure filled life. Hack served in the Korean War first as an enlisted man during the mobile phase of the war and later as a commissioned officer during the static phase. Lots of grunt level stories of combat.

-Beyond Courage: Escape Tales of Airmen in the Korean War by Clay Blair Jr. (Ballantine Books 1955). During the Korean War 1690 U.S. Air Force aviators were shot down behind enemy lines, less than 100 made their way back to friendly lines unaided. Beyond Courage tells the true stories of some of the most harrowing and spectacular escapes. Beyond Courage is probably out of print, but is a great read if you can find a copy.

- The Frozen Chosen: The 1st Marine Division and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver (2016). The fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea is considered a defining moment of the U.S. Marine Corps much as the battle of Cameron was for the French Foreign Legion. A military defeat, but a moral victory. Based on first-person interviews from surviving veterans who came to be known as the “Frozen Chosen.”

- Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis. “He is one of two U.S. servicemen to be awarded five Navy Crosses and, with the Distinguished Service Cross awarded to him by the U.S. Army, his total of six stands only behind Eddie Rickenbacker's eight times receiving the nation's second-highest military award for valor. “ Wikipedia. Lewis “Chesty” Puller commanded the First Marine Regiment during the Inchon Landing and during the Chosin Reservoir Battle. He was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned as assistant division commander (ADC) of the 1st Marine Division in January 1951. He temporarily commanded the 1st MARDIV when MG O.P. Smith, USMC, was assigned to take over U.S. IX Corp upon the death of corps commander U.S. Army MG Bryant Moore (age 56) from an apparent stress induced heart attack when he went to get help for survivors following the crash of the helicopter he was riding in on February 24, 1951. The book has great stories about a Marine Corps legend. Goodnight Chesty wherever you are!

-Red Phoenix by Larry Bond (1990). A good techno-thriller novel about a second Korean War. The shape of things to come?

-The Korean War 1950-53 Opsrey Men-At-Arms Series #174 by Nigel Thomas and Peter Abbot. Color Plates by Mike Chappell. As usual the Osprey books give you great detailed information on the uniforms, equipment and tactical organization of the combatants in a conflict. This book includes color plates depicting soldiers of UN member nations that contributed forces to the war. Watch out though, ‘cause Osprey books are addicting. In no time at all your bookshelf is overflowing with the damn things.

James also recommend The Chosin Few, a unit history and No Bugles, No Drums: an Oral History of the Korean War, which features an interview with the last American soldier to lead a bayonet charge, whose son tragically died in Iraq.


Hollywood didn’t completely forget about Korea, at least not during the 1950’s and early ‘60’s. Even though there were plenty of Lefty personalities in the movie industry who opposed American involvement in Korea, most Hollywood liberals were still pretty patriotic back in those days and supported the fight against Communist expansionism. This was back when Ronald Reagan was an FDR Democrat as well as board member and president of a labor union (the Screen Actors’ Guild) you understand. Besides, regardless of political sentiments, Hollywood loves David versus Goliath underdog stories, doesn’t it? Heroic hopeless last stands against overwhelming odds. The Alamo, Horatio at the Bridge, the 300 Spartans, High Noon and all that. The exact sort of drama that one works very hard to avoid in the real world. The record of Korea abounded with stories of real life last stands against incredible odds, so it was excellent fodder for screen plays. Here’s a list of my favorite movies about the Korean ‘Police Action’.

-The Steel Helmet (1951). Cantankerous vet SGT Zack (Gene Evans) survives a massacre of American prisoners by the North Korean Communists and leads a rag tag group of stragglers in an Alamo style last stand in an abandoned Buddhist temple. It was the first film about the Korean War and the first of many gritty war films by producer-director-writer Samuel Fuller. Trailer.

-Fixed Bayonets! (1951). Another Samuel Fuller directed war movie. Starring Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O’Shea. After his platoon’s leadership is killed off CPL Denno (Richard Basehart), the reluctant hero, finds himself leading the usual group of characters in a disparate rearguard action in the frozen hell of Korea. Trailer.

-Retreat, Hell! (1952) Stars: Frank Lovejoy, Richard Carlson, Anita Louise.

Lt. Col. Steve L. Corbett (Frank Lovejoy): “Retreat hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction.” IMDb. The story of the 1st Marine Division's landing at Inchon, Korea, capture of the city of Seoul and its fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir. Trailer.

-One Minute to Zero (1952) Starring Robert Mitchum , Ann Blyth and William Tallman. “During the early days of the Korean War, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Janowski is one of the military advisers training the South Korean Army and he's tasked with evacuating American civilians from the war zone.” IMDb. Lots of action, hand to hand combat and bombing an’ stuff. Trailer.

-The Glory Brigade (1953) Starring Victor Mature, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby and Richard Eagen. Engineers clear the way! An American Army unit of combat engineers led by Lieutenant Nick Pryor (Victor Mature), of Greek descent himself, must work with Greek troops in order to perform a reconnaissance mission behind Communist lines. Filmed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Clip.

- Bridges at Toko Ri (1954) Starring William Holden, Grace Kelly, Mickey Rooney and Frederic March. Based on the James Michner novel of the same name about a Navy Reserve pilot called away from hearth and home to fly Grumman F9F Panther jet fighters in bombing missions against a heavily defended target. FYI astronaut John Glenn and baseball player Ted Williams flew the F9F in Korea as Marine Corps pilots. Trailer.

- Prisoner of War (1954). Starring Ronald Reagan. “An American army officer, troubled by reports of brutality, volunteers to investigate conditions inside North Korean POW camps. He parachutes behind enemy lines and infiltrates a group of G.I.s being marched to one of these camps. There, he witnesses scenes of G.I.s being brainwashed, beaten, subjected to mock executions, deprived of food and water, and tortured in a variety of ways under the supervision of a Russian colonel. While reaction to this treatment varies, the officer is heartened to learn that American soldiers are still a courageous and enduring force.” IMDb. “Capt. Robert H. Wise, who lost 90 lbs. in a North Korean POW camp, served as the film's technical advisor and said that the torture scenes in the movie were based on actual incidents.” Wikipedia. Trailer.

-A Hill in Korea (1956) A British production, released in the U.S. as “Hell in Korea”. Another Alamo style last stand (in truth there were a lot of them for the UN forces during this war) but this time involving the British Army. Stars a lot of old school British actors you’ll recognize by sight immediately. Like Stanley Baker, Harry Andrews and Stephen Boyd. It even features Michael Caine who actually served with the British Army in the Korean War. Trailer.

-The Rack (1956). Starring Paul Newman as AF Captain W. Hall Jr. A court room drama based on a Rod Serling play for TV. After spending two years in a Communist prison camp CPT Hall is charged with collaborating with the enemy and must defend himself in a court martial.

-Men in War (1957) Lieutenant Benson (Robert Ryan) is leading the survivors of his infantry platoon during a retreat. The soldiers have been cut off from their parent unit and desperately seek to rejoin their division. They encounter Staff Sergeant Montana (Aldo Ray) and a catatonic colonel (Robert Keith) he is caring for. Benson and Montana can't stand each other, but work together to get the survivors to a hill where they believe the rest of their division is making a stand. It’s a long harrowing march to get there through country filled with the enemy. The events of the film take place on one day: 6 September 1950. Who will survive the day? Vic Morrow and Phillip Pine are also featured. Clip.

-Battle Hymn (1957) Starring Rock Hudson as Dean Hess, ordained minister and fighter pilot. It wasn’t all jets in Korea. Folks tend to forget that the Korean War featured lots of combat missions flown by late World War II era propeller-driven airplanes, in particular fighters like the F51 Mustang, F4U Corsair and Douglas A1 Skyraider on the US side and the Yakovlev Yak-9 and Lavochkin La-11 on the Communist side. That is central to this movie’s story; oh, and the hero saves a bunch of Korean orphans an’ stuff too. I don’t care what anybody says, Rock Hudson did a pretty good job of playing a straight guy. Trailer.

-The Hunters (1958) Starring Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner. Based on the novel of the same name by James Salter. Mitchum and Wagner play USAF F86 Sabre jet fighter jocks in Korea. Lots of action in the air and on the ground. Of course there’s a love triangle too. Trailer.

-Pork Chop Hill (1959) Starring Gregory Peck as Lieutenant Joe Clemons and a pack of other recognizable actors including Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Robert Blake, Norman Fell, Woody Strode and Martin Landau in his film debut. The screen play is a dramatization of the book of the same name written by Army historian and former news reporter Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall. Even as the Chinese Communists are meeting with the UN Forces representatives at Panmunjom to bring the war to a negotiated end, they launch an attack to seize and hold an insignificant terrain feature dubbed Pork Chop Hill. LT Joe Clemons must lead his infantry company in a counterattack to retake the hill, knowing full well that he and his soldiers could very well be the last Americans to die in the war. FYI Gregory Peck, a lifelong pacifist, was a vocal opponent of the Korean War. Pork Chop Hill Trailer.

-All the Young Men (1960) Starring Alan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, James Darren and Glenn Corbett. The lieutenant in charge of a Marine rifle platoon is killed leaving his inexperienced black sergeant in charge of belligerent and racist white men (natch). Heavyweight Boxing Champion Ingemar Johansson is featured as Private Torgil. Trailer.

-War Hunt (1962). John Saxon plays a thrill killing soldier in the last days of the Korean War hunting down Communist soldiers and killing them with his knife. Also starring Robert Redford. Trailer:

-The Young and The Brave (1963). Starring Rory Calhoun, William Bendix, Richard Jaeckel, and Manuel Padilla, Jr. American POWs escape from North Korean captivity and make their way back to U.S. lines 40 miles away with the help of a Korean boy and his pet, an abandoned U.S. war dog. Trailer.

-MacArthur (1977). Starring Gregory Peck in the title role. The life and career of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur though World War II, the Post War Occupation of Japan and the Korean War. Trailer.

-Tae Guk GI- The Brotherhood of War (2004). The war from a South Korean viewpoint. Korean brothers are forced to fight in the war. Dramatic end. Korean language with English subtitles. English Trailer.

-At War with the Army (1950). Starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Nothing to do with the Korean War really, it was released the year the conflict started. But it gives a comic look at the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of peacetime garrison life in the U.S. Army just as the war broke out. Martin and Lewis are soldiers serving stateside in “Old Ironsides”, the 1st Armored Division. A funny movie. Even after so many years have passed most of the jokes in the movie about Army life still ring true. The more things change the more they stay the same as the French proverb tells us.

Of Lions and Men

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