Red Wings Over the Yalu --Xiaoming Zhang
About the Author:
He is an instructor in the Leadership and Strategy Department at the Air War College. He has a PhD in history from the University of Iowa and has written extensively on China and their relations and history. The Journal of Military History has twice selected him to receive the Moncado Prize for excellence in the writing of military history. He is currently writing a book on China’s1979 war with Vietnam, and articles on the Chinese air force. His area of expertise includes Chinese military history, People’s Liberation Army Air Force, the Korean War and air war especially, the Vietnam War, and China-U.S. and China-Soviet relations. His father was a PLAAF political party member in Communist China.
This book attempts to tell the story of the Korean War from the Chinese perspective, including the way they came to be involved, their involvement with the USSR and North Korea, and their military strategy.
The Chinese view of the Korean War suggests they learned important lessons that continue to define their air power strategy and perspective. The US should attempt to discern the Chinese perspective of the war in order to better understand the Chinese air force doctrine, strategy and capabilities.
Zhang uses recently available official records from the USSR, personal interviews with Chinese veterans of the war and official records from the CCP and compares them to similar sources from US documentation of the war. Additionally, he uses quotes from American leaders to attempt to show how American perceptions of the Chinese reflected an inherent lack of understanding of the enemy we faced in Korea.
Strengths: Interesting, well-written/supported/documented, fresh perspective, necessary for deeper understanding of the conflict.
Weaknesses: Lack of ability to confirm the truth due to the lack of “current” and accessible history on both sides that correlate. The chronological structure he uses means he repeats himself multiple times when the main points don’t change from one month to the next.
Together with the commonly accepted American version of the war, this book makes more complete a reader’s understanding of the interests, intentions and capabilities of the belligerents involved in the conflict. Multiple discussions of how the strategists on both sides attempted to keep the war limited highlight the lack of desire to make some of the facts in the war public knowledge…this ties in with Clausewitz’s discussion of the trinity and the importance of the passion of the people. This book also highlights the 2nd/3rd order effects of the US using force in Korea as it accelerated China’s development of a capable and combat-experienced air force…this ties into the argument Waltz makes about the difference between the usability and usefulness of force in his book on the international political structure.
I thought the author succeeded at forcing the reader to consider alternative interpretations of the Korean conflict and what it meant to those involved. The discrepancies between the Soviet, Chinese, and US accounts of the war cause a historian to question what truth really was and what the “results” of the war meant to those involved.
This book is useful as an example of “thinking outside the box,” considering alternative points of view, and breaking down unhelpful myths and legends of the past that serve to distort historical context and lessons drawn from past experiences. Furthermore, there certainly exists great value in trying to examine how the Chinese and north Koreans viewed the war and the lessons they learned here that continue to influence their doctrine and ideas about air power today.