King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea. By Blaine Harden. New York: Viking, 2017. 260 pp. [9780525429937]

King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea. By Blaine Harden. New York: Viking, 2017. 260 pp. [9780525429937]


  • Journal title: International Journal of Korean History
  • ISSN: 1598-2041 (print) 2508-5921 (online)
  • Publisher: Korea University, Center for Korean History
  • Country of publisher: korea, republic of
  • Date added to EuroPub: 2018/May/12

Subject and more

  • LCC Subject Category: History
  • Publisher's keywords: King of Spies, Dark Reign, America’s Spymaster
  • Language of fulltext: english
  • Full-text formats available: PDF


    John Cussen



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Journalist Blaine Harden’s exposé-like biography of the curiously forgotten black-ops phenom who led for the whole of the Korean War the most successful of the United States’ counter-intelligence operations takes as its premise the War’s revisionist history as advocated by historians Bruce Cumings, Jon Halliday, Sahr Conway-Lanz, Su-kyoung Hwang and others, as well as by social historians Hoenik Kwon and Dong Choon Kim. The latter pair would remind us that in the Republic of Korea, where the Korean War narrative overlays the nation-state’s foundation story, imprudent unto reckless through the mid-1990s would have been any South Korean’s recalling in public either the Autumn Uprising of 1946 or the Jeju Massacre of 1948—two of several pre-War/War events in which many, many thousands of alleged Communists and supposed North-sympathizers were put to death by police and right wing paramilitaries in the loose employ, first, of the United States Military Government in Korea (1945–1948) and, later, of the nascent Republic of Korea. Similarly, the former group would remind us of War events such as the No Gun Ri Massacre of 1950, a diabolically tricky bridge-underpass incident in the early War in which some 300 Korean refugees were gunned down by American ground troops. Also, the revisionists would have us recall the United States’ apocalyptic carpet bombing of North Korea for much of the War’s three years and that sustained act of wartime non-restraint’s preposterously faint recording in the mainstream American memory. About the protagonist of Harden’s book, I’ll say first that he was present in his official military capacity as a counter-intelligence officer at several of the fratricidal pre-War/War massacres recalled by the above named social historians. He was, too, I’ll say second about him, an agent of the carpet bombing insisted upon by the revisionists, for it was he who most successfully supplied the bombers with their targets. Thirdly, I’ll say about him that at the end of the seventeen years during which he served without scruple and without discernible concern for life or limb the American military’s missions in two Asian wars, he was spirited off the last Korean base on which he served in a straightjacket. Next, he was forcibly removed to a succession of military psych wards, and, lastly, he was subjected for several months to anti-psychotic chemical medications in their maximum dosages, as well as to electroshock therapy. Once released, this former black-ops savant now set adrift would tell his family members that these treatments were “not health care,” but, instead, the government’s efforts “to erase his brain—because he knew too much” (165). What he knew and what he did, as well as the nature of Kurtz-like person that he was—these are the subjects of Harden’s generously researched and ably told inquiry.

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