Bruce Cumings

Bruce Cumings teaches at Chicago, and is the author of The Korean War: A History.

A Murderous History of Korea

Bruce Cumings, 18 May 2017

How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history on the part of the leaders of North Korea.

It isn’t politically correct to say ‘Oriental’ or ‘Asiatic’ anymore, but journalists use the term ‘Stalinist’ time and again to describe North Korea, without any hint of qualifying or questioning their position. The idea that the DPRK is a pure form of ‘Stalinism in the East’ goes back to the 1940s, and was constantly reinforced by Robert Scalapino, a Cold War scholar who came to prominence in the late 1950s. North Korea was indeed Stalinist in its state-run industrialisation drive, and modelled its administration and much of its system on Stalin’s Russia – but so did every other Communist regime in the 1950s. Chinese Communism had greater influence, but the DPRK isn’t often called Maoist.

Wrong Again: Korean War Games

Bruce Cumings, 4 December 2003

“. . . Bush contrived to hype the threat [from North Korea], while at the same time downplaying the idea that its size made a difference: the North might have two or six or eight atomic bombs, but that didn’t constitute a crisis. Rather, Saddam Hussein – whom we now know to have been disarmed by years of UN inspections – was so much more dangerous as to justify a preventive war. The result was chaos as far as US policy was concerned, and free rein for North Korean hardliners to move ahead with producing nuclear weapons.”

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences