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Northeast Asia and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman: Japan, China, and the Two Koreas.

Northeast Asia and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman: Japan, China, and the Two Koreas. Edited by James I. Matray. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2012. 362 pp.

This volume advances our understanding of the impact of President Harry S. Truman's policies on Japan, China, and Korea during the early years of the Cold War (1945-53), many aspects of which have been fiercely contested in previous research. It is the eighth in a series exploring the thirty-third president's impact on American history (Truman Legacy Series, Truman State University Press). The collection of essays comes from two events at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum: a symposium, "The Legacy of Harry S. Truman in East Asia: Japan, China, and the Two Koreas," held on May 15, 2010; and a conference, "New Documents and New Histories: Twenty-First Century Perspectives on the Korean War," held June 16-17, 2010.

In the last two decades, the increased availability of declassified documents from the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China (PRC), together with material released earlier from the United States, has made possible an international history approach to the Truman administration's policies toward Northeast Asia. The essays here represent some of the best scholarship on Truman's policies on Northeast Asia, based on extensive use of newly available archival sources. While it is not possible within the confines of this brief review to offer a detailed analysis of all of the articles in the volume, it is useful to highlight some of the most interesting themes and findings that emerge from the chapters. James Matray concludes in his introductory chapter that Truman should get credit for using atomic bombs against Japan to finish the war in 1945, resisting temptation in choosing not to rescue the Chinese Nationalist regime under Jiang Jieshi in the Chinese civil war (1946-49), deciding to defend South Korea when North Korea attacked in June 1950, and securing the Japanese peace settlement in 1951.

Truman's Japan policies earn much praise in the volume. Marc Gallicchio explores Truman's reasons for not offering a promise that Japan could retain its emperor if it stopped fighting. Gallicchio demonstrates that Truman viewed modification of unconditional surrender as a refutation of his predecessor's policies, Truman's central concern being the adverse impact this change would have on his presidency. Roger Dingman praises Truman's critical role in making sure that the 1951 Peace Treaty with Japan created the basis for a firm postwar partnership between the United States and Japan.

Truman's China legacy is mixed. His favoritism toward Jiang's regime alienated the Communists and made Mao's China suspicious of U.S. intentions. But Truman's decision against direct intervention in the Chinese civil war deserves praise. In early 1949, Truman signaled that the United States anticipated and accepted the eventual Communist seizure of Taiwan. But, Truman's decision to intervene in the Korean War reversed his more accommodating policy towards the PRC. Xiaobing Li finds the long-term effect of Truman's deployment of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait as positive because it kept the Chinese internal "military struggle 'cold' " (p. 119).

The unfortunate development in the Korean Peninsula is arguably Truman's most negative legacy in Northeast Asia. Truman's decision led to the permanent division of the two Koreas. But William Stueck asserts that had Roosevelt lived to make U.S. post-World War II policy toward the Korean peninsula, the outcome would not have been different. Steven Casey describes Truman's legacy in Korea as exercising positive and assertive leadership, praising especially his selection of George C. Marshall and John Foster Dulles as subordinates. In Casey's view, "Truman was invariably systematic, measured, and prudent" (p. 197). The volume concludes with Kim Hakjoon's extremely useful review article on Korean War studies in South Korea since 1992, which argues that "Korean War studies remain central to partisan politics in South Korea" (p. 336). He defines this as Truman's most surprising legacy.

There are numerous errors in the book, some of which should be pointed out here. Korean names are not simply rendered in Chinese hanyu pinyin. The Korean official who visited China in May 1949 is Kim II, not Kim Yi (p. 100). During World War II, General George Marshall was U.S. Army Chief of Staff, not chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (p. 121). Mao made his first trip to Moscow in December, not November, 1949 (p. 127). Notwithstanding these minor quibbles, this is an original and insightful contribution to the study of the Cold War in Asia.

--Yafeng Xia

Long Island University, Brooklyn
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Author:Xia, Yafeng
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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