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The Bridge at No Gun Ri    by Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hun Choe & Martha Mendoza order for
Bridge at No Gun Ri
by Charles J. Hanley
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2001 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by Marian Powell

The opening chapters of The Bridge at No Gun Ri are brilliant. The three authors, a team of Associated Press reporters, apparently interviewed every American soldier and every Korean they could find who had been at or near the bridge at No Gun Ri during the opening weeks of the Korean War. This began an investigation that resulted in their being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and in this book. It was at No Gun Ri that American soldiers are accused of the massacre of four hundred Korean civilians.

The book begins with the personal stories of the soldiers involved, showing the reader teenagers; boys who had never before been in combat. Many entered the army to escape unhappy home situations and were sent to Tokyo which at the time was an easy assignment. After portraying the soldiers, the book switches focus to what appears to be a typical Korean family; a couple married a few years earlier. Only near the end do we realize that this was not just any couple. Decades later when the political situation in Korea made it safe to do so, the husband wrote a book describing the massacre of the author's friends, family and his two children by American troops during the Korean War.

By laying out the personal stories of young soldiers abruptly thrown into a combat duty for which they were unprepared, and by detailing the lives of the Korean villagers and the tragedy that befell them, the book begins objectively. The authors show briefly how the Korean War began and early mistakes that were made. Had it maintained this level of compassionate observation, this book would have been a masterpiece of historical writing and a casebook to study on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Instead it loses objectivity, launching a general attack on American foreign policy, and on the conduct of American soldiers, in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. There is material here for a whole other book and it's unfortunate that the authors did not make this a two volume work. By broadening its scope, ironically, the book loses much of its power.

Nonetheless, the authors have done a brilliant job of recreating the whole horrible story. You come to know the victims as real people with families and to see some of the American soldiers as old men haunted by guilty memories. It is very appropriate that this book came out in 2001. With American forces fighting overseas, it can stand as a warning. This is what happened in Korea. This is how it happened. This is why it happened. Learn from it. That is the value of this account of The Bridge at No Gun Ri.

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