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Movie Review: Chosin; A look at the Chosin Reservoir Campaign of the Korean War
Things about Chosin from Amazon
It made me stop and pay attention
Most of the time when I'm on the computer, I have the TV on in the background for noise. I've worked in noisy environments for so long that if it's too quiet, I can't work. I tend to run documentaries on topics in which I'm interested in the background. If they're interesting, I can stop and pay attention. Normally I don't watch long, just a few minutes at a time.
A couple of days ago I put on Chosin . I vaguely remembered the Chosin Reservoir Campaign of the Korean War, but couldn't remember any details. It was one of the turning points of the war, but what happened? I couldn't remember.
The three turning points of the war were the Pusan Perimeter, when the North Korean forces pushed the South Koreans back to the southern tip of the peninsula. Then came the Inchon Landing, where MacArthur landed the UN forces behind the North Korean army. The UN forces quickly retook control of South Korea. One of my professors pointed out that this was probably the most successful campaign in US history. The objective, regain control of South Korea, was laid out. The planning for the amphibious landing and assault on the North Korean forces was worked out. Then the actual landing and campaign occurred and the objective was met.
The stunning success of that 6-week campaign made MacArthur think it was possible to take control of North Korea away from the Communists. Instead of stopping, saying, "OK, we've done what we've come to do," and sitting down at the negotiating table, MacArthur started planning on invasion of the North.
When it became clear that the United Nation's forces were planning on moving north, the Chinese warned that they would intervene in Korea to support the northern Communists. MacArthur and his subordinate Edward Almond didn't believe the threats or that Chinese troops were present in the north. Marine Major General Oliver Smith believed that the Army commanders were mistaken; it led to conflict between Smith and Almond. Smith was, quite unfortunately, correct.
Chosin is based on that initial campaign to retake the north. As the Army X Corps moved north they began to encounter China's People's Volunteer Army.
Chosin tells the story through contemporary film and interviews with survivors. Filmmakers Brian Iglesias and Anton Sattler are both combat veterans themselves; they were Marine officers in the Iraq War. Perhaps being veterans themselves, instead of merely filmmakers, helped them to ask the right questions. Whatever the reason, this documentary has some of the strongest, best edited interviews I have seen.
Not only do you get a first-hand perspective of how the battles went, you get a feeling of why the combatants felt it should be done. While the Korean War is often seen as unfinished business--we still have troops in the De-Militarized Zone to this day--the vets show that what they did was something to be proud of: they stopped the dominoes from falling. The Chinese may have kept them out of North Korea, but they kept the Chinese out of the South.
The Chosin campaign also led to the evacuation of 98,000 North Koreans to the South. The descendants of those refugees now account for about 1 million South Korean citizens. Despite some of the toughest fighting in US Military history, despite some of the highest casualty rates of any battle, the veterans show that the wounds they suffered and the friends they lost were for a cause that was worthwhile.
Chosin is one of the most moving documentaries of war I've ever seen. Iglesias and Sattler should be proud of their work. It should stand the test of time.