THE BRIDGE OF NO GUN RI: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War
The AP investigation of a 1950 shooting of South Korean civilians by U.S. soldiers won Hanley, Choe and Mendoza the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 and ignited a series of controversies that as yet remain unresolved. In the early days of the Korean War, as defeat began sliding into disaster, inexperienced, poorly commanded U.S. troops received higher orders to stop, by force if necessary, civilian movement through their lines. They responded, the journalists found, by massacring a number of South Korean civilians near the village of No Gun Ri over a period of three days. This book delves further into the "larger human story" of the events, well establishing the terror and confusion of the South Korean refugees, caught up in a war they did not understand. The reconstruction is less effective from the American side. Relative to the number of alleged participants, U.S. interviewees are few. (A high proportion, the authors find, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.) The authors take pains to establish the men of No Gun Ri as dropouts and throwaways—teenage rejects of a postwar society obsessed with prosperity and anti-communism. That in turn makes it easier to show them, as well as the Korean civilians, as victims of a government that sent them to Korea to fight a civil war on the side of squalid local tyranny. That perspective is defensible but, experts might argue, scarcely definitive. This volume, with its focus on personal experience, is correspondingly best understood as advocacy reportage, eschewing critical analysis by concentrating on the victims on both sides of the rifles. (Sept. 6)
Forecast:Readers shocked by reports of the incident will pick up this follow-up, while an eight-city author tour should bring the story to further corners. But with U.S.–North Korean relations apparently under control, the book probably won't benefit from current political notice.