Hello and welcome back to my blog! I’m really excited to be putting up a book feature and an author interview with Ted Halstead for his thriller The Second Korean War, and all details about the book and links to purchase it can be found below!
The Second Korean War
3 January 2018
Two Russian agents discover a missing nuclear weapon was hidden in an American city by North Korea. Another nuclear weapon nears Seoul in a tunnel built by North Koreans. And North Korea’s new military dictator launches an all-out invasion. Will Seoul or Pyongyang be the new capital of a united Korea?
About the Author
Ted Halstead served twenty-five years in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, most of it overseas. His tours included four years at US Embassy Seoul, and two years at the East Asia Pacific Bureau in DC. He is a National War College graduate, and served for three years at a regional US military headquarters.
Of course, I’ve made sure the book is relevant to what’s in the news right now about the threat of war from North Korea. However, it’s a story I actually started thinking about almost thirty years ago, the first time I came to Korea and experienced monthly air raid drills.
While I worked at the US Embassy in Seoul I spoke to thousands of South Koreans immigrating to the US, usually for a complex set of reasons. One of them, though, was nearly always concern for their families because of the possibility of war with North Korea.
One of the great hopes for peaceful reunification of the Korean people has always been the death of the current North Korea ruler, while his son is still too young to replace him. As I show in this book, a more credible scenario is that the North Korean military would then take over, on an “interim” basis. If you’ve seen Kim Jong-Un’s haircut and the headgear of North Korean military officers, this phrase will sum it up – “trading funny haircuts for funny hats”. Since the Kim dynasty has been in charge in North Korea since the end of WWII, there is literally no North Korean officer serving today who has not been indoctrinated in their toxic worldview since birth.
The book takes place in North and South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the US because I am certain all of these countries would be involved in a second Korean war. I’ll note that I have been to all of these countries, with the exception of North Korea.
1. Firstly, congratulations on the release of The Second Korean War! Tell us a little more about this novel.
Nuclear weapons will play a role in any future Korean War. Many factors, though, make their use dangerous for North Korea. Their accuracy is unsure. American anti-missile defenses may stop some or all nuclear attacks. Successful nuclear attacks on South Korea could give the North a devastated prize not worth having. Any nuclear attack on the United States would guarantee a response even Kim Jong Eun knows North Korea could never survive.
But, North Korea has spent billions to create nuclear weapons in one of the world’s poorest countries. How could North Korea decide not to use them in any future Korean War? Short of war, is there any way nuclear blackmail could force South Korea to surrender to North Korea?
What if the North Korean military were in charge of that country? After decades of indoctrination in the Kim dynasty’s toxic world view, would their agenda be any different?
China and Russia both border North Korea, and have played key roles in supporting the regime. Both have their own national interests. How would they seek to profit from a second Korean War?
American and South Korean tanks, artillery and aircraft are some of the world’s best. But North Korea has far more tanks, artillery and troops – and quantity has a quality all its own. Seoul is just 35 miles from the DMZ. Could North Korean forces be stopped before reaching South Korea’s capital?
South Korea has about the same land area as Indiana. How could a conflict be contained so that it avoided national devastation, even if North Korea is finally defeated?
The Second Korean War imagines the answers to these questions in a novel that takes place in North and South Korea, China, Russia and America. I’ve drawn on four years of living and working in South Korea, study at the National War College, and decades of experience working for the US government to give the reader one possible future – one I hope can be avoided.
2. The Second Korean War is a work of fiction based on facts, namely the threat of war from North Korea today. Apart from North and South Korea, this book includes various other countries like Russia, China, Japan and the US. How did you approach the research process for writing?
First, I’ll note that I have either lived in or visited all of the countries in the book.
For research, it’s amazing how much information is available if you simply put the right search terms in Google. I was hoping, for example, for a manual to be online for the use of a Claymore mine because one of my characters would have needed to refer to it. I found instead an official US Army PowerPoint presentation on the Claymore’s use: here
3. You’ve mentioned that this was a story you started thinking about almost thirty years ago. In what ways was the situation different then from what it is now? Did you have to make changes to your story along the way because of that?
Oh yes! The single biggest variable that has changed over the past 30 years has been North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In its infancy 30 years ago, it is now a definite threat to South Korea and Japan, and a potential threat to the U.S.
Close behind has been North Korea’s regime changes. Kim Il Sung died the year after I left Korea, and Kim Jong Il in 2011. Now with Kim Jong Un the regime has begun a new phase of even more radical unpredictability.
4. You’ve spent about four years in South Korea in the US Embassy Seoul. What would you say has been the most memorable or interesting experience you had while living in Korea?
My most memorable moment in Korea relates to adoptions. Shortly before I arrived in Korea adoptions of Korean children by US citizens had peaked at over 6,000 annually. However, sidebar stories written by journalists covering the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul contrasting Korea’s wealth with those adoptions had a predictable result. At the Korean government’s order, by 1990 they plummeted to under 2,000.
Many Americans have asked me why their fellow Americans were so eager to adopt a Korean infant. The answer lies in the word infant. A relatively small number of infants are given up for adoption in the US each year, and most already have adoptive parents identified before birth. In those cases, the prospective adoptive parents have usually paid some or all of the birth mother’s medical expenses. So, options for American parents determined to adopt an infant rather than an older child born in the US are limited.
My job at US Embassy Seoul was managing the entire office reviewing over 30,000 immigrant visa applications annually, as well as personally reviewing all adoption visa applications.
In 1991 a General Accounting Office (GAO) team visited Korea. Their job was to prepare a report to Congress on international adoptions. It ended up contrasting Romania (widespread actual sale of babies) with Korea (strict government oversight of adoption agencies.)
The team asked me to arrange a meeting with relevant Korean officials, and to attend – but to let them do the talking. I understood why – adoptions were a very sensitive topic for the Koreans. Ordinarily, as an Embassy we communicated with the Korean government about adoptions strictly on logistical issues, never on policy. From the top down, we were concerned that an expression of interest on our part could be seen as interference in a sensitive internal matter.
During the meeting, one of the GAO team asked the lead Korean official what they had done to encourage local adoptions, since the number of international adoptions had dropped sharply and the number of children being given up for adoption was rising. The official said that the Korean government had taken several steps, including substantial tax incentives for Koreans adopting Korean children. When asked how successful the steps had been, he said that the number of local adoptions was…dropping.
When the Korean official was asked what the government was doing to address more orphans vs. dropping local and international adoptions, he was clearly embarrassed by having to give the obvious answer – “We’re building more orphanages.”
Seeing my chance to intervene with what I judged to be minimal risk, I said into the silence that followed: “That’s too bad, because I speak every day with Americans who are eager to adopt Korean children.”
A longer silence followed. Then the Korean official slowly asked, “Are you saying that it is the policy of the American government to favor adoptions from Korea?”
I answered – truthfully – “I cannot speak for the U.S. government. But I can say that there is strong interest on the part of many American families in welcoming a Korean child to their home.” In fact, Americans wanting to adopt a Korean infant were on the phone to me daily.
After whispering among the three Korean officials on the other side of the table, their leader said, “Thank you. We will have to consider this matter further.”
About a month later, the number of adoptions by American families allowed by the Korean government began to rise again. Worth noting is that the Korean government controlled that number very directly. To exit Korea with an immigrant visa for another country Koreans, orphan or not, had to receive a special “exit only” Korean passport.
I thought maybe what I’d said had helped with the increase, but had no way to know one way or the other.
Shortly before I left Korea in 1993, a Catholic nun who headed the largest adoption agency in Korea surprised me with an ornate framed certificate in Latin, which essentially said I deserved to be blessed for the help I had given to Korean orphans.
It’s true that I was sympathetic. Many orphans had been given up because of medical conditions that were easily treated in the U.S. ranging from cleft palate to heart conditions, for which treatment in Korea was either too expensive or simply not available. Left untreated many would have died, particularly since at that time Korea had no national health insurance program. All surviving unadopted orphans faced a bleak future in Korea, a society where being part of a family is key.
So, while my primary responsibility was to enforce U.S. immigration law, I looked for solutions to problems rather than delighting in creating obstacles.
The nun told me her bishop had been willing to issue the certificate to a non-Catholic primarily because he’d been told by a Korean official that my comments in that GAO meeting had given them the excuse they needed to increase international adoptions.
I’ve gone into some detail because I think this is a good example of the work we do in the Foreign Service. No U.S. government funds were spent, no treaty was signed. But the right words, at the right time, can make a real difference.
Note that I am now retired from the Foreign Service.
5. Are there any authors who have influenced or inspired you?
Tom Clancy and Elleston Trevor. Clancy needs no introduction; I was particularly pleased that one of my reviews on Amazon is titled “Halstead Channels Clancy”. Trevor is best known under the pseudonym Adam Hall. He wrote a series of novels featuring a British secret agent named Quiller, who never carried a gun. The first novel won an Edgar Award, and was made into a movie called The Quiller Memorandum starring George Segal and Alec Guinness. Not bad, but the book was better!
6. What did you enjoy most about writing The Second Korean War?
The writing process itself. I really ended up identifying with the central characters. After seven years of writing, they truly felt real to me.
7. Did you face any particular challenges while writing this?
Yes! The constant fear that events in North Korea might make my entire book irrelevant!
8. What are your top five favourite books?
The Quiller Memorandum and The Ninth Directive, both by Elleston Trevor; The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy; and I’ll cheat – the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
9. What do you hope will be your readers’ largest takeaway from reading The Second Korean War?
A single person can make a difference, no matter how daunting the challenge may be.
10. Lastly, what’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects or works you’re looking forward to?
I give a fairly large hint on the last page of The Second Korean War about this. Two of the surviving characters will reappear in my next book which I am writing now, tentatively titled The Saudi-Iran War.
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