Politics

The book Defense Secretary Mattis reads to prepare for a potential conflict on the Korean peninsula

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Key Points
  • T.R. Fehrenbach's "This Kind of War" is a nearly 500-page history of the Korean War told from the perspective of soldiers engaged in the bitter fight.
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis recommended troops read the 55-year-old title in order to prepare for a potential conflict along the 38th parallel.
Defense Secretary James Mattis waits outside of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2018.
Department of Defense photo

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has armed himself with books for most of his four-decade-long military career, points to one title in preparing for a potential war on the Korean peninsula.

Written by T.R. Fehrenbach, "This Kind of War" is a nearly 500-page history of the Korean War told from the perspective of soldiers engaged in the bitter fight.

"The book follows the course of the war in gravelly detail so vivid that you can feel the cold wind blowing from the Chosin Reservoir," explained military historian R. Manning Ancell.

"Indeed the war in Korea was a nitty-gritty deal: bitter cold, a challenging mountainous terrain, and a merciless and well-trained enemy that often significantly outnumbered U.S. forces," he added.

U.S. Marines move forward after effective close-air support flushes out the enemy from their hillside entrenchments in North Korea.
Department of Defense photo

Mattis, who kept a personal collection of 7,000 books before retiring as a four-star general, attributes his success on the battlefield to reading.

"We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. Winging it and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the
moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession," he wrote in a 2003 email.

And so, when he was asked at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting last year what the U.S. military could do to lessen the likelihood of a conflict on the Korean peninsula, Mattis pointed to Fehrenbach's book.

"Let me talk about Korea for a minute because it's on all of our minds," Mattis said in the wake of reports that North Korea had tested a hydrogen bomb.

"There's a reason that I recommend T.R. Fehrenbach's book. That we all pull it out and read it one more time," Mattis added saying that the current U.S. response to North Korea was a "diplomatically-led, economic sanction buttressed effort."

"Now, what does the future hold, neither you nor I can say, so there is one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed," he said.

Mattis recommended troops read the 55-year-old title, as he did, in order to prepare for a potential conflict along the 38th parallel.