This is nation-building made riveting, the largely unknown story of the years between the end of Japanese rule in 1945 and the surprise Communist invasion of South Korea in the summer of 1950. Outspoken author John Caldwell recounts his adventures and frustrations in South Korea with the U.S. Information Service from 1947 until his resignation in early 1950. Caldwell played a vital role in the landmark constitutional assembly and presidential elections of 1948, Korea’s first experience of democratic elections. His missions took him throughout the country; along the way he ran clandestine propaganda operations into the North, came under machine gunfire, battled State Department bureaucracy, and married his translator, the daughter of American missionaries in Korea.
Caldwell, born and raised in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, was himself the son of missionaries, and had fought in China against the Japanese (tales told in American Agent and the superb China Coast Family). The Korea Story was written as the truce talks were bringing the Korean War to an end, and it sizzles with an impassioned intensity directed at what Caldwell saw as American blunders. He describes the resources and opportunities squandered, and the mistakes made and not corrected during the late 1940s as the U.S. government applied an ill-informed, top-down approach to fostering the new democracy. His arguments for a more localised, sympathetic approach to nation-building are convincing, and remain as relevant today.