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...