Understanding the 1950s

I’m going to undertake a new direction in my reading.  I want to understand the post-war generation, the 1950s and Korean War.  I have several books on my shelf which have been waiting for my interest to align with their subject matter.


This is surely the most intimidating book of the bunch. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 is over one thousand pages of small print.  The Washington Post says it is “far and away the most authoritative and comprehensive one-volume military history of the war, and…rattling good narrative as well.”  I’m counting on the rattling; I’m depending on the rattling.  My knowledge of the Korean War is akin to my knowledge of The Great War (WWI) before I plunged into Passchendaele and environs three years ago: gauzy, thin, about the substance of cheesecloth.  My father-in-law’s older brother was killed in Korea.  I hate that I don’t know why.  Why we were in Korea in the first place.  Korea is also one of those places that captures my imagination.  

One of my lifetime reading goals is to read all the books that David McCullough has written. I have currently read four of ten titles. Thus reading his 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning Truman will help me achieve two goals. This book was not on my shelf, but used copies are selling for .13 + 3.99 shipping.  Ahem. I just realized that it is 1120 pages. If it is like any other McCullough book, the pages will turn quickly.

My friend told me about Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure; her short summary had me salivating. Harry and Bess Truman took a road trip after his presidency, the two of them in their Chrysler with no Secret Service.  They stopped at roadside cafés, filled up at gas stations, and were pulled over by a Pennsylvania state trooper…five months after he left the highest office in the country. I know so little about Harry Truman, but I know road trips.  A trip in the car with my husband is one of my favorite activities.  

Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 may not be the best biography to read on Ike, but it’s the one on my bookshelf.  Lately I have read more varied opinions of Eisenhower’s presidency that I am curious.  I have appreciated other books Ambrose authored, particularly Band of Brothers and D Day: June 6, 1944.  Ambrose holds Eisenhower in high esteem; he’s been accused of being too generous with him in this book.  We shall see!

I’ll let you know how it goes.  So many times I make a commitment (even if only to myself) and suddenly – suddenly! – a latent fascination, be it Dostoevsky, Flannery, Spurgeon or Solzhenitsyn, tries to nudge into first place.



I don’t understand Korea.  Why it is divided, why we fought a war, what distinguishes it from other Asian countries.  Helpful books are waiting on my shelf; If I Perish, by Esther Ahn Kim (Ahn E. Sook) was the first one I picked up. The setting of the book is Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II.   

Kim tells the compelling story of her six years of imprisonment for refusing to bow to a shrine. Like holocaust memoirs, it is incredible to fathom what a body and spirit can endure.  Her courage is huge, but so is her honesty: she was resolved to die a martyr’s death, but she was horrified at the thought of being cold.  She was, in short, perishable. 

The readiness is all. (Hamlet)  After her first escape from prison, Kim found refuge in an abandoned country home.  Expecting future imprisonment, she began a systematic preparation for persecution.  Did you read that last sentence?  She prepared for persecution

She memorized more than one hundred chapters of the Bible and many hymns.  She fasted to train her body to live without food and drink: first three days, then seven, then ten.  She barely survived the ten day fast.  The role of food in her life fascinated me.

Thoughts of food never left my mind. 146

The thought that I might die of hunger
and not be able to join the martyrs
made me gloomy.  Didn’t I even have
a little of a nature, or did I only have a
beggar’s stomach? 147

The only way I could show her my love, I decided,
was to give her my meals. However, determined as I
was, all the food went into my mouth when it was served.
What a despicable, ugly person I was.
I was upset and sickened at myself.
I rebuked and insulted myself more than I
had ever done before, but when the mealtime
came, I was again finding excuses. The battle
continued for several days, but each day I lost.
Then when I was praying, a ray of light touched my spirit.
“I will offer my meal to Jesus!”
I carried my food quickly to Wha Choon.
“This is Jesus’ meal. I have offered it to Him.
And He wants you to have it, so thank Him and eat it.”
192 (abridged)

Ahn’s mother is a great study.  She kept the view of eternity on the dashboard of her life.

“Whatever might happen to you,” she cautioned me,
“you should never forget the moment when you shall
reach the gate of heaven. Be faithful,” she said. 176

Mother couldn’t sing a tune, made some funny linguistic mistakes, but she could work. This next quote is going into my file on working to the glory of God:

Because her heart was pure, she always worked diligently
to make her surroundings clean, too, by washing, sweeping
and polishing the house. She was truly a living testimony of
God’s grace, strong spiritually, and very dependable. 128

Who wouldn’t desire to be described this way?

Wherever Mother was, it was like a
chapel of heaven around her. 129

Esther Ahn Kim’s faith was vibrant, vocal, bold.  Amazingly, she lived when many others died.  My favorite quote from this book illustrates the active nature of that faith.

I looked out the window and saw a bird trembling on a bare bough
that had long ago withered. I was just like that bird. Suddenly I shook
my head to the right and left vigorously. That courageous bird was
playing in a swirling snowstorm, ignoring her enemies. I had to be
such a bird. If she only perched on that withered bough with her
head stuck beneath her wing and feared the wind, snow, heaven,
earth, and everything else that might challenge her, she would only
freeze and die when night came. 135