The Korean War does not deserve to be forgotten. It was such a significant struggle, the first great showdown between communism and democracy, and one that provoked a real risk of nuclear conflict between east and west. Yet for all its huge dimensions, for all its awful toll of casualties, for all its grand theatre-think of the drive to the Yalu River, the surprise involvement and winter advance of the Chinese army, the sacking of Macarthur-the truth is that it failed to make a lasting impact on the consciousness of the outside world. It seems to have been an easy war to forget, unless of course you were there.
Not only has Korea been branded with a label that has become a cliché: the 'Forgotten War'; it has become a victim of neglect, by comparison with other wars, in popular culture and even in military history. The Vietnam conflict overshadowed it totally in those terms, managing to spawn large numbers of fine novels, histories and movies which examined the agony of the battlefield and the divisions it caused, particularly in middle America. Graham Greene's The Quiet American, David Halberstam's The Making of a Quagmire, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now are just three examples of the genre, all enduring cultural monuments to a most unpopular war. And Korea? Some excellent histories and memoirs, official and personal, have been published-but to quite modest readerships. No films or novels of consequence emerged from the war. Only the television comedy show M.A.S.H. might be said to have penetrated the popular awareness barrier, and for all its fierce satire it hardly did justice to the harshness of that conflict.
Why the neglect? Somehow the Korean War seemed to invite it. It was a lonely, thankless, unromantic war, fought in a remote corner of the globe, so soon after World War II that some saw it as a sad little echo. It ended after three years in unsatisfactory stalemate, after the United Nations had suffered 142,000 casualties and a million Korean people were dead. It had no living-room audience, having pre-dated live long-range television in the United States and Britain-and any kind of television in Australia. It provoked no great moral outrage or protest, probably because of its raw beginnings: the North Korean regime had begun the war with an act of ruthless aggression. In Australia there were no peace marches, no anti-war demonstrations, no arguments about conscription-which wasn't surprising since all the Australian combatants were volunteers. The troops went away in small batches, and when they came home there was no great sense of triumph, no visible outpouring of national pride. The war was accepted as just something that happened, and nobody seemed to care too much. Although it cost 1,584 casualties among Australian servicemen, with 340 dead, its memory has been allowed to slumber.
All of this makes the publication of this book and the realisation of its primary purpose-to recognise and document the Battle Honours of the Royal Australian Regiment at that time and the individual acts of courage by its soldiers-most welcome. Battlefield Korea casts fresh light on that sadly unremembered conflict and the part