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Review: "Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World."

"Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World."


Throughout this work, historian Hajimu Masuda tracks the development of the Cold War from 1945 to 1953, and argues that the Korean War represented a pivotal shift in relations between both the United States and the Soviet Union. Masuda’s work effectively demonstrates that the war in Korea served to accentuate the divide between both communist and anti-communist nations; helping to establish and promulgate the bi-polar arena that emerged on the world stage in the 1950s. In turn, Masuda argues that this bi-polar divide often forced outside nations and leaders (typically against their will) to choose which side they would support in the burgeoning conflict between both the Americans and Soviets.

Masuda's Main Points

Masuda’s newfound focus on the Korean War is important to consider for historians and scholars since this book serves as a great counter to traditional historiographical interpretations that stress the importance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the “Berlin Airlift,” or the Soviet acquisition of an atomic bomb as catalysts for the Cold War. Instead, Masuda’s account dismisses these interpretations outright, and demonstrates that the true origins of the conflict began with the war in Korea, as anti-communist rhetoric and public opinion helped form and spread a divided atmosphere of global politics that did not exist in years prior.

Concluding Thoughts

Masuda’s work relies on numerous primary source materials that include: archival records (from the United States, Europe, and Asia), oral-history transcripts, interviews with Korean War veterans and civilians, letters, memoirs, government records (such as reports from the U.S. State Department), as well as newspaper accounts (such as the New York Times). Masuda’s work is also well-written and offers an approach to the Cold War that encompasses perspectives from a large array of countries and individuals from all backgrounds. In regard to shortcomings, however, the lack of a comprehensive historiographical analysis makes it difficult for newcomers to peruse the scholarship that the author is challenging. Moreover, her lack of a proper bibliographical section makes it difficult to search out particular sources that she refers to in the text. Even with these shortcomings though, Masuda’s work is important to consider as it offers an approach that completely reassesses the timeline surrounding the origins of the Cold War.

All in all, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in an early analysis of the Cold War. Masuda offers a top-notch account that should not be missed. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity, as you will not be disappointed.

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

1.) What was Masuda's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is her argument persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) What type of primary source material does Masuda rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder her overall argument?

3.) Does Masuda organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?

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4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?

5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

7.) What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work?

8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Suggestions For Further Reading

Gibson, David. Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Gordin, Michael. Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

Harrington, Daniel. Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

Works Cited:

Masuda, Hajimu. Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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