Respecting Thine Enemy and more on War Trash

I finished reading Ha Jin’s War Trash yesterday.  My initial impressions held, although, like the narrator, my opinion of Commissar Pei lessened in exuberance as time went on and it became apparent that genuine positive regard towards a fellow POW can still be guided by ulterior motives.  Among the many observations, contemplations, and quoting of other characters, this articulation (of another character’s words) made an an impression: “History has shown that the Communists always treat their enemies more leniently than their own people.  Only by becoming their significant enemies can you survive decently” (103).  Why should that be the case?  Is the yearning for a suitable antagonist really that important to keep the balance of power in check?  I suppose a scientist or mathematician would nod because you can’t keep a see-saw or a scale in balance if the weight of the objects on either end aren’t equal.

Just as the “prologue” of War Trash mentions real places in Atlanta, the last chapter also points to real places, specifically Georgia Tech and Emory [University] Hospital (347, 349).  I took notes while reading War Trash so that I could do some light research on how authentically some of the events were depicted.  To my delight, the author’s note asserts that “this is a work of fiction and all the main characters are fictional.  Most of the events and details, however, are factual” and includes a list of books Ha Jin consulted (351).  One of the books is Korea: The Unknown War (1988), written by Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings.  Interesting.  I retrieved my copy of Cumings’s The Korean War and flipped to the index, and sure enough, there was Ha Jin’s name.

WT  bcKW

Cumings’s book, published in 2011, has saved me some time in the light research department by praising War Trash as it “rings true on every page” (75).  Special attention is paid to one passage where “Ha Jin re-creates faithfully the notorious episode when North Korean POWs captured Brig. Gen. Francis T. Dodd on May 8, 1952 during riots on Koje Island” (76).  The book depicts this scene on pages 163-164, where a fictional General Bell is captured on May 7.  I’m fairly certain now that the reason I wanted to read Ha Jin’s novel was due to Cumings referencing it.

The Korean War also mentions David Halberstam‘s book The Coldest Winter and speaks less enthusiastically about it.  I have it but haven’t read it yet.


I watched The Outpost (Rod Lurie, 2019) a week ago and picked up a copy of Red Platoon, the book that Clinton Romesha (whom Scott Eastwood portrays in the movie) wrote about his experiences leading up to the events of October 3, 2009.  The film is based on Jake Tapper’s book about the incident and I plan to obtain it in the near future.

OutP  RPlatjpg

Here’s a clip of Jake Tapper talking with Clinton Romesha:

And now for something else just as sobering:

Pic creds: Amazon

1 thought on “Respecting Thine Enemy and more on War Trash

  1. Pingback: We Mustn’t Build It or They Will Come | Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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