Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans

Of all the wars fought in the twentieth century, the one I was least familiar with was the Korean War. Odd, because my father-in-law served in Korea with Canadian Forces. With Baraka Books’ 2018 release of Patriots, Traitors and Empires by Stephen Gowans came my opportunity to learn more about the history of Korea, how it came to be divided into North and South and so on. It also helped me to understand current events, with the remote possibility of the two Koreas uniting, something the Korean peoples have wanted for decades (and the US does not want).

“The Koreans have as little use for an American Korea as they had for a Japanese one. They want a Korean Korea”


In its fourteen chapters, plus an Introduction and Conclusion, Notes and a Bibliography, Mr. Gowans, writing with great clarity, takes us back in history to the Empire of Japan and how it came to have barbaric control of Korea in 1910, enslaving the Korean people and taking the land’s resources for the island Nation. Then, with the exit of the Japanese after their defeat in WWII, came the partitioning of Korea and the entrenchment of the Americans. What came as an eye-opener for me was the number of American troops and bases presently in Korea (at the time of writing of the book in 2018):

There are “not two, but three Koreas,” observed William R. Polk: the DPRK [North Korea], the ROK [South Korea]and US Military Bases. Actually, there is only one Korea and that Polk can point to three (or even two) is emblematic of the power Washington has to create artificial political constructions and an ideology to explain them. There is, in reality, one Korea. But grafted onto the one indivisible country is an illegitimate state, the ROK, (“basically set up” by Washington as Bruce Cumings observes) and roughly two dozen US military bases on which 30,000 service personnel are stationed as an occupation force.

The above is typical of the clear logic Mr. Gowans uses to explain how South Korea is basically a puppet state of the US and the primary reason the US has not left the peninsula (as they agreed to do in 1949; the Soviets did leave as agreed) is because they need its strategic geographic location as a power projection platform in Asia.

My review copy has an abundance of highlights and dog-eared pages, indicative of a fact-filled and scholarly work. A highly recommended read for armchair historians and history scholars alike. Very informative and worth a 5-star rating. Patriots, Traitors and Empires goes on my 2018 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.


Patriots, Traitors and Empire: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans
Baraka Books

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