The Historian Who Defends North Korea





Mr. Lewis received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Florida.

University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings is the left's leading scholar of Korean history. In addition to contributing to documentary films on Korean life, Cumings has written a massive and highly critical multi-volume account of the Korean War and published a general history of Korea, titled Korea's Place in the Sun . And he is not shy about his opinions. In a 1997 article in the Atlantic he called for an end to U.S.-Korean hostilities. U.S. troops, he insisted, should be brought home and relations with North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK) should be normalized.

Cumings has also been a critic of other aspects of American foreign policy. He has participated in broad and spirited debates with numerous scholars, including John Lewis Gaddis and Ronald Radosh. In one debate with Radosh he was asked if he thought communism was evil. He said no, and insisted that large numbers of people enthusiastically embraced communism. Cumings is also a frequent contributor to the Nation magazine, where he went on record in opposition to the Bush administration's successful war to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein. But it is Korea that is Cumings's main focus, and in his new book, North Korea: Another Country, he sets for himself one basic goal. Cumings wants to convince Americans to abandon what he considers to be George Bush's simplistic and dangerous Korean policy.

Cumings believes that North Korea is a misunderstood land. Its leaders are not dangerous megalomaniacs. Rather, DPRK leaders have always been pragmatic and nationalistic. During the Cold War, they avoided dependence on the Soviet Union, created a productive economy, and improved living standards. The society they created is impressive. North Korea's streets are clean, its people humble, and crime is almost non-existent. Kim Il Sung, the father of North Korean communism, was a"a classic Robin Hood figure" who cared deeply for his people. North Korea's current leader, Kim Jong Il, is"not the playboy, womanizer, drunk, and mentally deranged fanatic ‘Dr. Evil' of our press." Instead he is a"homebody who doesn't socialize much, doesn't drink much, and works at home in his pajamas." The Dear Leader also loves to tinker with music boxes, watch James Bond movies, and play Super Mario video games. The cover of Cumings's book neatly summarizes his views. On it is a photograph of a group of uniformed women performing some type of dramatic production for North Korean soldiers. With smoke in the background, one woman stands tall and points a gun to the horizon. Coming out of the gun is a red flag. Everyone looks on in awe. The image implies that under communism, North Korea's future - though not without struggle - is bright.

Occasionally, reality intrudes on this romantic portrait of North Korea and Cumings lets slip a polite criticism of the DPRK. Its leaders, he meekly asserts, are guilty of"hubris" and"technological fetishism." In general, however, Cumings adopts a decidedly positive portrait of the DPRK. Consider, for example, his comments on an election he witnessed in 1987 in Pyongyang. He writes that he"watched the hoopla at each polling place" and"was struck by the quaint simplicity of this ritual: a dubious yet effective brass band, old people bent over canes in the polling lines and accorded the greatest respect, young couples in their finest dress dancing in the chaste way I remember from ‘square dances' in the Midwest of the 1950s, and little kids fooling around while their parents waited to vote." While getting sappy about his boyhood, Cumings fails to consider what type of"election" he had witnessed, or how much real choice North Koreans had during this"quaint" affair.

Cumings is apologetic on behalf of the DPRK. For America, he has nothing but scorn. American attitudes towards Korea are racist. The Korean War, in turn, was a U.S. war of aggression that amounted to a holocaust for the Korean people. The U.S., he contends, had no right to interfere in Korea because the war was"a civil war, a war fought by Koreans, for Korean goals." Equally important, after the war, the U.S. supported a corrupt and dictatorial South Korean government.

Cumings is so filled with Chomskyian anti-Americanism that he places almost all the blame for whatever problems the North Koreans face on America's shoulders. Moreover, he insists the U.S., not North Korea, must compromise on negotiations over nuclear weapons. For Americans to think otherwise is hypocritical. After all, North Korea would simply"like to have nuclear weapons like those that the United States amasses by the thousands." Not surprisingly, Cumings dismisses criticism of North Korea's 1993 withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and praises the Clinton administration's 1994 Agreed Framework, which offered the North Koreans an assortment of bribes – including economic aid and light-water reactors – so that they would not develop nuclear weapons. Cumings also insists that the North Korean withdrawal from the Agreed Framework, which they announced in October 2002 to Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, was understandable given continued American threats."Diplomacy with the North," he writes,"is anathema because the Republican right won't allow it and because the same group that brought us an illegal war with Iraq wants to overthrow Kim Jong Il…."

Cumings's arguments cannot be sustained. On numerous levels his book fails. Embarrassingly, North Korea: Another Country is plagued with grammatical errors and typos. For example, in chapter 2 Cumings references a statement by Condoleeza Rice that, he reports, was written in 1902. In chapter 3, Cumings writes this about his first visit to North Korea:"They took me a large pre-twentieth-century history museum…." In Chapter 6 he writes that UN"estimates of agricultural production [in North Korea] stood at 4 million tons in 1995, dropping to 2.8 million tons for the each of the next two years…." There are many other annoying errors. Such mistakes could, perhaps, be forgiven if it were not for the fact that Cumings himself attacks more conservative scholars and analysts on the very same grounds. Hence, he blasts CIA analyst Helen-Louise Hunter for her ungrammatical usage of certain Korean words. Hunter, he quips, has a"painfully obvious lack of language facility." Judge not, oh Professor, that ye be not judged!

There are other problems. Remarkably, Cumings believes it is perfectly acceptable, even advisable, to use the controlled North Korean press and North Korean government reports as dependable sources of information. Thus, in writing about alleged U.S. and South Korean atrocities committed during the Korean War he refers to a"secret account by North Korean authorities" that claimed that South Korean soldiers shot almost 30,000 non-combatants, and that the U.S. government used a"slave labor" system to punish uncooperative North Koreans. The report, Cumings writes,"detailed gruesome tortures, and alleged that 300 female communists and collaborators were placed in brothels where they were raped continuously…." Reflecting a stunning lapse of historical judgement, not to mention knowledge of the true nature of communism, Cumings defends his use of the report by asking"why would DPRK officials lie to their superiors in secret internal materials?"

Cumings's most basic problem is the apologetic stance he adopts on behalf of North Korea. He is unwilling to look the North Korean government in the eye and call it for what it is: a brutal, totalitarian state. Instead, he prefers empathy."Empathy for the underdog," Cumings explains, is something I can't help, being a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Indians." To run cover for the DPRK, Cumings stamps a variety of labels on it. At one point, he calls it a" corporate state." At another, a"royal dynasty." He concludes his book by calling it a"vexing family state." Grasping for straws, Cumings proves unable to explain the most dominant fact of North Korean life - the total lack of freedom. He does produce a variety of excuses for what he sometimes admits is an authoritarian North Korean government. Perhaps, he suggests, it is the result of ancient Confucian values? Or, perhaps it is the fact that North Korea emerged out of"one of the most class-divided and stratified societies on the face of the earth"? Certainly, Korea's long history, including its Confucianism, should not be ignored when discussing the DPRK. Still, Cumings does not consider the many nations with class-divided histories that have become democracies today. Further, one wonders why Cumings cannot place blame for the status of North Korea where the blame is due: on communism. While capitalist South Korea has done well over the past two decades, communist North Korea is an economic basket case. One scholar, Marcus Noland, has estimated that South Korean per capita incomes could be as much as twenty times greater than North Korean incomes. In nipping around the edges of Korean history, Cumings does not get close to reality.

Even more intriguing is Cumings's bizarre efforts to explain away the totalitarian nature of the DPRK by stating that North Koreans have a different understanding of freedom than Americans do. He writes that"from a Korean standpoint, where freedom is also defined as an independent stance against foreign predators – freedom for the Korean nation – here, the vitriolic judgements do not flow so easily." Hence, North Koreans do have freedom and South Koreans, dependent as they are on the U.S., are not as free as most Americans believe. Nor, for that matter, are Americans. To underscore this point, Cumings argues that North Korean prison camps compare favorably to American prisons. Americans, he proposes,"should do something about the pathologies of our inner cities – say, in Houston – before pointing the finger" at the DPRK. That Cumings cannot distinguish between a prison system designed to punish political dissidents and one designed to house criminals who have been provided a fair trial in a democratic nation does not encourage his readers to place much stock in his scholarly judgments.

Because Cumings is unable to comprehend the nature of the North Korean government, he fails to adequately describe the terrible consequences of its policies. He dismisses the DPRK's reliance on the former Soviet Union as unimportant, even though recent scholarship has demonstrated that Stalin gave Kim Il Sung the green light to invade South Korea in 1950, and even though the collapse of Soviet communism has crippled the North Korean economy. Left to itself, the DPRK has failed miserably. In the 1990s perhaps two or three million North Koreans died as a result of famine, and Kim Jung Il – the great lover of Super Mario video games - could hardly have cared. He attacked international organizations seeking to aid North Koreans. In 1997 the Dear Leader declared that"the imperialist's aid is a noose of plunder and subjugation aimed at robbing ten and even a hundred things for one thing that is given." Is this the"freedom" that Cumings celebrates?

Thousands of North Koreans have risked their lives and attempted to escape the land that Cumings loves. One woman who attempted to escape was captured and, in April 2000, placed in a concentration camp in Chongjin city. While in camp, she witnessed how DPRK thugs killed unborn and newborn children."If it is found that a woman is pregnant," she stated to Human Rights Watch personnel,"they administered a medicine to abort. If the woman gave birth to a baby, they covered it with vinyl and placed it face-down and killed it. Seven women gave birth to children in that prison and they killed all of them." Such horrors - such evil - are commonplace in North Korea. President Bush understands this. Bruce Cumings does not. His North Korea: Another Country, fails as scholarship. More importantly, it fails on principle. After reading of the suffering and needless loss of life as a result of the famine, as well as the tragic and moving testimonies of the many North Koreans attempting to escape the DPNK, one can not help but be stunned by Cumings's statement that"I don't feel a responsibility for what goes on there…." After all, he writes," It is their country, for better or worse …."


This article was first published on frontpagemag.com and is reprinted with permission.


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More Comments:


Red Dog - 1/24/2004

This sounds like more McArthyism. How was Cummings "affiliated" with the Concerned Asian Scholars and did he endorse all positions adopted by that group? And how, when and where did the CSA "express support" for the Khmer Rouge? And did Cummings endosrse that support?

Back to the real issue at hand. Bruce Cummings has written several books and articles that are well-researched that counter the American orthodox view of the Korean War. According to Cummings, the Korean War was first and foremost a civil war. His opponents need to do their own research and write their own books, but they don't. Few of his opponents have ever lived in Korean and few are fluent in Korean. Few have ever done original research in Korean or American archives. So, they resort to name-calling. That is a childish way to carry on a debate about an important period in American history.


Matt - 1/24/2004

In assessing Cumings' sympathy for some of the most
brutal regimes in modern history, we often overlook
certain outrageous views he expressed in earlier
years, particularly the 70s and 80s.

For exmaple, in the mid-70s, Cumings was affiliated
with an academic journal, published by the Concerned
Asian Scholars, which expressed support for the Khmer
Rouge during their rule in Kampuchea.

Also, in the late-80s, just a few days after two North
Korean agents (including Kim, Hyun-hui) blew-up KAL
Flight 858 en route to Seoul, Cumings dashed-off an
essay for the LOS ANGELES TIMES which maintained that
North Korea had nothing to do with the bombing.

Consider his record.......


Matt - 1/24/2004

In assessing Cumings' sympathy for some of the most
brutal regimes in modern history, we often overlook
certain outrageous views he expressed in earlier
years, particularly the 70s and 80s.

For exmaple, in the mid-70s, Cumings was affiliated
with an academic journal, published by the Concerned
Asian Scholars, which expressed support for the Khmer
Rouge during their rule in Kampuchea.

Also, in the late-80s, just a few days after two North
Korean agents (including Kim, Hyun-hui) blew-up KAL
Flight 858 en route to Seoul, Cumings dashed-off an
essay for the LOS ANGELES TIMES which maintained that
North Korea had nothing to do with the bombing.

Consider his record.......


McParlan - 1/14/2004

Tim -- When you have two sides in a polemical debate, it is not always the case that the "truth lies somewhere in the middle." In fact, sometimes one side in a debate is is right and the other side is wrong. You accuse both Mr. Little and Mr Brody of extremism, but you fail to provide any evidence or argument whatsoever to support your contention that they both must be wrong. So please tell us: which of these gentlemen is closer to the truth, in your opinion, and more importantly, why?
McParlan


Tim - 1/12/2004

I just wanted to thank you both, Steve & Frank, for a very entertaining debate. You both stuck to your respective revisionist histories even in the face of contrary evidence.
Like most debates between the far left and the far right the truth sat squarely in the middle and was ignored by both of you in favor of the dramatic. This makes for great entertainment at the expense of any real conclusions or progress.
I would be most interested in having the two of you locked in a room not to emerge until you have both signed off on an agreed upon history of the Korean War. That would be the version I would be most likely to believe.
But ofcourse that would involve compromise which is not what HNN is all about.
Thanks again, I look forward to reading your extremism in the future as I have bookmarked this site.
Tim


Red Dog - 1/11/2004

Mark:

Thanks for bringing this discussion back to its starting point. I too have read Cummings numerous well-researched books and articles on Korea. I do not agree with everything that he says, but he does present a point of view that is very different from the official view that comes from Washington.

I always thought the point of writing history was to take and defend different points of view. I do not consider that exercise to be Un-American. On the contratry, debate over past and present wars could not be more American. Cumming's critics should do their own research and write their own books.


Steve Brody - 1/11/2004

And you, Josh, will get into bed with any skank dictator, as long as he is anti-Bush.


Josh Greenland - 1/11/2004

And the guy who posts here as Steve Brody is the person in the Bush admin who comes up with all the different (ever-changing) reasons why the present government is always right in everything it does, most especially why it was right in invading Iraq.


David - 1/11/2004


...together with their unborn children and grandchildren would likely have prefered to exist.

I take it from this comment that you're pro-life? Or just PARTICULARLY anti-American? One of the two, I'm sure.


Steve Brody - 1/10/2004


By the way, Frank, as the last apologist for failed communist regimes, will you please turn out the lights when you leave?


Steve Brody - 1/10/2004


“Gosh. Mr. Brody, thanks for setting me straight! What was I thinking?”

You’re welcome and I can’t imagine.

“It's so clear to me now... a historical interpretation is either "American" or it's gol' darn "UNAMERICAN"!!!”

Well, Frank, some historical interpretations are: a) American, b) Un-American, or c) manifestly silly, false, and preposterous. With respect to the Korean War, yours are: d) b and c.

“To think our boys and girls were coming home from their paper routes and ballet lessons, clicking on HNN, and just possibly seeing the kind of things I was putting in those UN-AMERICAN posts about Korea!”

Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Frank. Not much chance that anyone took your posts very seriously.

“…the invasion of Korea was a UN war! The UN was FORCED to act, 'cause those communists were just sooo darn evil! It was just like our social studies textbook says.”

Frank, I knew if I kept at it, you’d finally see the light.

“And don't let anybody try an mess your head around by tellin you different!”

I won’t Frank. You know just yesterday there was this other guy, coincidently also named Frank Little, who claimed that the North Koreans had conspired with a group of evil stockbrokers on Wall Street to invade South Korea. This same group of evil stockbrokers was also behind the Nazi’s, the Italian fascists and the Japanese militarists. This guy, this other Frank Little, also blamed these evil stockbrokers for the AIDS epidemic, the Black Death in Europe, and the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand. Very crafty, these evil stockbrokers.

“Thanks again for clearing that up for us all, Mr. Brody”

Frank, it was a pleasure.


Frank Little - 1/9/2004

Gosh. Mr. Brody, thanks for setting me straight! What was I thinking? It's so clear to me now... a historical interpretation is either "American" or it's gol' darn "UNAMERICAN"!!!

What can I say? To think our boys and girls were coming home from their paper routes and ballet lessons, clicking on HNN, and just possibly seeing the kind of things I was putting in those UN-AMERICAN posts about Korea!

What kind of sick mind could think that the moms and pops that run our multinational corporations and export our finance capital for us would pour millions of the dollars they earned from the sweat of their brows into the the Republicratic Party with any idea but to make that process better and fairer for every one of us!! For Pete's sake! I say NO WAY, Mr. Brody, NO WAY! (choke).

Unamerican thinking like that, Mr. Brody, can lead anywhere, even to teenagers smoking cigarettes or... or having sex before they're married!

NO! Our boys and girls need to hear it from me. loud and clear: the invasion of Korea was a UN war! The UN was FORCED to act, 'cause those communists were just sooo darn evil! It was just like our social studies textbook says. And don't let anybody try an mess your head around by tellin you different!

Thanks again for clearing that up for us all, Mr. Brody.

FL (with apologies to Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra)


Steve Brody - 1/9/2004


Frank, if you want me to stop calling you “anti-American”, I will. You could make it a lot easier for me, though, if you would stop making manifestly silly, untrue and un-American comments.

One example of such a statement is “FDR refused point blank Churchill's pleas for the U.S. to enter the war until the British imperialists agreed to permanently exclude the U.S. from the protective tarrifs governing trade between Britain and its colonies. In case this is too complicated for Mr. Brody to understand, it means the U.S. imperialists went to war to increase their ‘piece of the action’.”

Gosh, Frank, and I thought our entry into WWII occurred because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany and Italy declared war on the US. But it was Wall Street all along. One question, Frank. Do little voices in your head tell you these things?

Oh, and another silly comment that fairly drips anti-Americanism was “.. U.S. participation in WWII was undertaken on all fronts on behalf of Wall Street”. Imagine all those people who thought WWII was fought to stop Fascism. And everyone thought it was Japanese pilots flying those planes at Pearl Harbor. But Frank, you claim it was really stockbrokers who bombed our battleships at Pearl Harbor. Damn stockbrokers!

“(I hate to shock Mr. Brody's touching and childlike faith,…” And Frank, I hate to shock your faith in conspiracy theories, but, puhlease.

“Had Stalin simply authorized the Red Army's continued march southward, rather than grovelling before the U.S. imperialists, and relying on their 'good will', the war would never have happened.”

Ahh, I see. So you really don’t have a problem with “imperialism” as long as it comes with the hammer and sickle label and there is no chance that ultimately a democracy might spring up. Based on all your apologism for North Korea’s lawlessness, I guess I can’t say this surprises me.

“For a start I'm just guessing that the 3 million slaughtered by the U.S. imperialists, together with their unborn children and grandchildren would likely have prefered to exist.”

So North Korea invades South Korea, killing millions of people and in your model of the Universe, it’s the United Nations, who stood up to the North Korean aggression that is responsible. Talk about blaming the victim, Frank. The point is, if North Korea hadn’t invaded South Korea, nobody would have died.


“Second, the emergence of Stalinism, including its bizarre North Korean variant, is a direct result of the unrelenting hostile pressure of capitalist imperialism”

So, Frank, it is really our fault that North Korea is a brutal, lawless regime that kidnaps Japanese citizens, blows up airliners in flight, bombs Asian summit meetings, sends submarines that run aground in South Korea and then kill South Korean civilians while trying to escape? And you wonder why people think you are a little anti-American.

“Yes, we've been through that, "the Koreans invaded Korea and fought against other Koreans so Wall Street had no choice but to send U.S. troops in self-defense"

Ahh, the evil stockbrokers, again. So, Frank, you say that the Korean War was started by the evil stockbrokers, and therefore the evil stockbrokers were responsible for all the South Koreans killed by the North Koreans. And you say that these same evil stockbrokers are also responsible for WWII. So, by your logic, these stockbrokers must also be responsible for all the Europeans that the Nazis killed.

All I can say, Frank, is that to have this much animus towards Wall Street, you must have lost a shitload of money in the market.

As for who “forced” the UN to act, I guess you would have blame North Korea for that one.

“Once again, there was no such thing as "South Koreans" and "North Koreans", except by the existence of an imaginary line imposed arbitrarily and enforced by the U.S. occupation authorities –“

Well, the drawing of the line was arbitrary. And it was never meant to be permanent. It was the Soviets, however, that choked off North Korea at the 38th parallel and kept families apart. It was the Soviets that refused elections and kept UN observers out of North Korea.

So, as long as it served the Soviet’s needs, the 38th parallel was convenient dividing line. When it served Soviet needs, it was convenient to set up a North Korean government. When Kim Ill Sung decided that he wanted to be the dictator of all of Korea, it was no longer convenient, and suddenly there was no “North Korea” or “South Korea”. And if the South Koreans didn’t want to be dictated to by Kim Ill Sung, that was just too bad. And if a whole lot of South Koreans got killed resisting Kim Ill Sung, well then, in your model of the Universe, that was Wall Street’s fault.

“ I certainly don't excuse the Stalinists..”

You just look the other way, because, of course, the North Korean’s aren’t responsible for their own lawlessness.


Frank Little - 1/8/2004

I've already responded to his "Anti-American" smear, but Mr. Brody can go on repeating if it brings him comfort.

"For instance, when you write “The Soviet Union, at that time an ally of the U.S. imperialists”, about our relationship with the Soviet Union during WWII, you assert that we were "imperialists" in WWII, despite the fact that both Germany and Japan had declared war on us."

FDR refused point blank Churchill's pleas for the U.S. to enter the war until the British imperialists agreed to permanently exclude the U.S. from the protective tarrifs governing trade between Britain and its colonies. In case this is too complicated for Mr. Brody to understand, it means the U.S. imperialists went to war to increase their "piece of the action".

Just as in its subsequent rapes of Korea and Indochina, U.S. participation in WWII was undertaken on all fronts on behalf of Wall Street -- a fact which has nothing to do with the reasons in the heads of the ordinary soldiers who fought in those wars. Today many troops participating in the rape of Iraq believe they are preventing future 9/11s -- this doesn't make it so.

(I hate to shock Mr. Brody's touching and childlike faith, but states act in the self-interest of those who rule them.)

"When you describe the Soviet halt at the 38TH parallel as “This shameful capitulation by the Stalinists was betrayal of the Korean workers and peasants”, you imply that the Korean workers would have been better off if the Soviets had occupied all of Korea. This is something that few South Koreans believed then and even fewer believe now. How can you possibly support such an implication?"

Had Stalin simply authorized the Red Army's continued march southward, rather than grovelling before the U.S. imperialists, and relying on their 'good will', the war would never have happened.

For a start I'm just guessing that the 3 million slaughtered by the U.S. imperialists, together with their unborn children and grandchildren would likely have prefered to exist. Second, the emergence of Stalinism, including its bizarre North Korean variant, is a direct result of the unrelenting hostile pressure of capitalist imperialism on those countries that have managed to pry themselves from its grip. Of course, Mr. Brody may argue, those people should simply have remained obedient satellites of the empire, and none of this ever have happened to them in the first place.

“On June 25, 1950 North Korean forces moved south.” You’re really too kind to the North Koreans. They invaded South Korea, killing thousands of South Korean troops and civilians in the process."

Yes, we've been through that, "the Koreans invaded Korea and fought against other Koreans so Wall Street had no choice but to send U.S. troops in self-defense"

"Thus the UN was forced to intervene."

Right. Why won't Mr. Brody say WHO forced it?

"And the [the North Korean armies in the south] were greeted by Communist infiltrators and sympathizers.

i.e. by other Koreans, not by the Wall Street Journal.

"But vastly more South Koreans attempted to flee from the North Koreans."

The Korean conflict was a CLASS war, with landlords, speculators, capitalists and pro-Japanese elements in both north AND south siding with the imprerialists; and workers, peasants and the poor throughout Korea supporting the northern armies. Once again, there was no such thing as "South Koreans" and "North Koreans", except by the existence of an imaginary line imposed arbitrarily and enforced by the U.S. occupation authorities -- a fact attested to by the arbitrary separation of thousands of families which had existed for generations in both north and south.

"And when the South Korean and United Nations troops retook Seoul a few months later, thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered by the North Koreans before they fled back across the 38th parallel.
Your assertion that it was US imperialism that devastated the Korean peninsula is preposterous. I guess if North Korea hadn’t invaded South Korea in the first place, the UN wouldn’t have had to defend South Korea."

Isn't it funny how the U.S. military just magically disappeared for Mr. Brody the day the "UN" took over? I wonder what happened to them? (Oh yeah, just like CNN, FOX etc. refer only to 'Coalition Forces' in Iraq today!)

"And none of your excuses for North Korea’s economic failures can excuse the political repression that first Kim Ill Sung and now Kim Jong Ill has perpetuated in North Korea."

I certainly don't excuse the Stalinists -- above all for their naive expectations of 'fair dealing' from imperialist war criminals like Truman (A-bomber of tens of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians) and his successors. Above all I don't excuse them for betraying the fight to drive the Wall Street bloodsuckers, together with the British and French colonialists out of Asia altogether when the masses were ready for revolution.

FL


Steve Brody - 1/8/2004

Frank, you’re attempt to bring in “the depredations of Wall Street and the Pentagon and their long history of bloody crimes around the world - including those against Blacks, minorities, workers and the poor at home” to a discussion about the Korean War is indicative of pathological need to blame America for all the evils of the World.

The discussion concerns KOREA, Frank. I’ll be happy to talk to you about “Blacks, minorities, workers and the poor at home” sometime, but for know, concentrate on Korea.

Frank, you’re latest post demonstrates an Anti-Americanism that is breathtaking in it’s totality. You call this a “smear”, but you really don’t dispute this description, do you?

For instance, when you write “The Soviet Union, at that time an ally of the U.S. imperialists”, about our relationship with the Soviet Union during WWII, you assert that we were "imperialists" in WWII, despite the fact that both Germany and Japan had declared war on us.

When you describe the Soviet halt at the 38TH parallel as “This shameful capitulation by the Stalinists was betrayal of the Korean workers and peasants”, you imply that the Korean workers would have been better off if the Soviets had occupied all of Korea. This is something that few South Koreans believed then and even fewer believe now. How can you possibly support such an implication?

Actually it’s a dubious proposition that the Soviet Union belonged in any part of Korea. It had only recently joined in the war against Japan and only did so in an opportunistic bid to extend it’s influence in Asia.

Your statement that “U.S. authorities demanded partition and established a capitalist police state in the South” is simply false. The United Nations established a nine nation Temporary Commission on Korea (UNCOK) after the General Assembly voted for an “all Korea” election. The Soviets not only opposed elections, but also refused to allow UN observers to enter North Korea. Eventually the Soviets sealed North Korea at the 38th parallel, cutting off almost all traffic into and out of North Korea.

Eventually UN supervised elections in the South were held to elect a General Assembly. Syngman Rhee was later elected president. Were these elections perfect? Probably not, but at the time elections in Chicago were probably flawed, also. Syngman Rhee certainly came to power with more legitimacy than did Kim Ill Sung.

While it is true that the Soviets withdrew their troops from the peninsula, it is also true that they left behind all kinds of tanks, heavy artillery, fighter aircraft, mortars and self-propelled guns. It is also true that more than a year before North Korea invaded South Korea, American combat troops were withdrawn from Korea, leaving approximately 500 military advisors to train South Korea’s fledgling army. No tanks, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, or self-propelled guns were given to the South Korean Army, precisely so they could not invade North Korea. Unfortunately, they were also unable to defend themselves from North Korea's aggression.

“On June 25, 1950 North Korean forces moved south.” You’re really too kind to the North Koreans. They invaded South Korea, killing thousands of South Korean troops and civilians in the process. Thus the UN was forced to intervene. And the reason that the UN vote was taken without The Soviet Union being present was that the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN at the time. Oh, well.

“They took Seoul three days later, meeting with considerable support and complemented by peasant uprisings….” They did take Seoul in three days; such was the superiority of the North Korean army in training, leadership, and arms. And they were greeted by Communist infiltrators and sympathizers. But vastly more South Koreans attempted to flee from the North Koreans.

And when the South Korean and United Nations troops retook Seoul a few months later, thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered by the North Koreans before they fled back across the 38th parallel.

Your assertion that it was US imperialism that devastated the Korean peninsula is preposterous. I guess if North Korea hadn’t invaded South Korea in the first place, the UN wouldn’t have had to defend South Korea.

Even more preposterous is your statement that the South Koreans retreated with the Americans because” this was the only way to escape incineration by oceans of U.S. napalm!”. The fact of the matter is that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans chose retreat to South Korea when given a choice. No significant numbers of South Koreans ever chose retreat to North Korea. Tens of thousands of North Korean and Communist Chinese POW’s refused repatriation to North Korea or China. Very few South Korean POW’s (the North Koreans actually took very few prisoners) refused repatriation back to the West.

Your various assertions regarding American troops stationed in South Korea are mostly false and mirror old-line communist propaganda from the 50’ and 60’s. There are comparatively few American troops in South Korea (less than 40,000) in relation to the threat posed by the North Korean army (over a million troops). US troops are not used to “suppress working class militancy and social uprisings in the South”. US troops stationed in Korea are not there as a symbol of US intent to avenge defeat in the North, but rather as a check on North Korea’s continued bellicosity and 50 year history of international lawlessness.

You know, Frank, kidnapping Japanese civilians, assassination attempts on the South Korean presidents, including one that claimed the life of the South Korean First Lady, bombings and hijackings of South Korean Airliners, assassinations of South Korean and Burmese officials in 1983, numerous tunneling incidents in South Korea that have claimed scores of South Korean lives, et cetera. I could go on, Frank, but you know the list.

What the Asia really fears, Frank, is not Washington, but a lawless, brutal regime like North Korea in possession of nuclear weapons.

At first, Frank, I was puzzled by your denunciation of the UN. Then I realized that you’re an apologist for failed communist regimes and thus hate any country or organization that opposed Communist aggression. Thus your curiously anachronistic use of communist propaganda terms like” imperialists and lackeys”. I was disappointed not to see “running dog lackeys”. Only an apologist for communism could suggest “ the overthrow of capitalism in the North was a historic defeat for imperialism and a victory for the working people of Asia and the world.” The fact is, the biggest losers in the Korean War were the North Koreans. They have had to live a life of brutal repression and privation that makes one shudder. All your excuses for North Korea’s economic failures aside, the truth is that North Korea has never been truly economically self –sufficient and has always depended on handouts from other countries. Such is the nature of Communist economic systems.

And none of your excuses for North Korea’s economic failures can excuse the political repression that first Kim Ill Sung and now Kim Jong Ill has perpetuated in North Korea.


David - 1/8/2004

The only objection Frank Little has with the U.N. is that, more often than not, the U.N. is on the right side of history and he is not.

But I've heard it all when I hear someone, like Frank, defend N. Korean aggression against the south, and attack international intervention as "colonialism".

Has the planet he lives on even been discovered?


Frank Little - 1/7/2004

First on Mr. Brody's smear of "anti-Americanism." Opposition to the depredations of Wall Street and the Pentagon and their long history of bloody crimes around the world - including those against Blacks, minorities, workers and the poor at home - is anything but "anti-American garbage". It is a sentiment shared by an overwhelming majority of the human race, which at the same time appreciates and admires much of U.S. culture, history, and revolutionary traditions and has nothing but good will toward ordinary American citizens.

(In fact, in misidentifying the entire American people with the crimes of their rulers Mr. Brody shares a common cause with with the likes of al Qaeda. Their tribalism is identical, only their tribes are different.)

The Korean peninsula was politically unified since about the 7th Century A.D. right up until 1945. As I pointed out, the division of the country had nothing to do with the Koreans but was largely decided by the Truman administration and the U.S. military. This is something upon which South and North Koreans agree as competently documented by Cumings in his work "The Origins of the Korean War."

The Soviet Union, at that time an ally of the U.S. imperialists, could easily have liberated the entire Korean penninsula in 1945, they instead cut a deal with the U.S. State Department, and agreed to stop the Red Army's advance at the 38th parallel, where they awaited the arrival of U.S. forces to accept the Japanese surrender in the peninsula's southern half. This shameful capitulation by the stalinists was betrayal of the Korean workers and peasants.

Korea had a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945. As the Japanese withdrew, self-governing people's committees opposed to Japanese occupation formed the "Korean People's Republic" in Seoul on September 6, 1945. General John R. Hodge, leader of the U.S. occupation forces, on arrival at Inchon, ordered Japanese authorities to remain at their posts, refused to acknowledge the newly-formed republic, and banned all reference to it (predictably inspiring widespread resistance).

In the North power was handed over to the Korean Workers' Party, headed by Kim Il-sung, a leader of anti-Japanese guerilla forces.
In the South, U.S. Occupation authorities installed Syngman Rhee as president. His dictatorial rule met with resistance from the people's committees, which sympathized with the leadership in the north. That leadership demanded the reunification of the peninsula, and withdrawal of foreign troops; but U.S. authorities demanded partition and established a capitalist police state in the south. The Soviets withdrew their troops from the peninsula.

On June 25, 1950 North Korean forces moved south. They took Seoul three days later, meeting with considerable support and complemented by peasant uprisings against the formerly Japanese backed Korean landlord class. The "UN mandate" you so dubiously tout was secured by the U.S. imperialists with a vote held in the absence of the Soviet ambassador (with China's seat being held by the Chang kai-shek Guomindang dictatorship in Taiwan).

In a failed attempt to destroy North Korea as well as the 1949 Chinese Revolution, U.S. imperialism devastated the peninsula, killing more than three million people and obliterating whole cities, including Pyongyang. Mr. Brody's point on Koreans fleeing to U.S. occupied areas is much less impressive when it is understood that this was the only way to escape incineration by oceans of U.S. napalm!

Following Chinese military intervention, the war ended in a stalemate at the 38th parallel, and ever since the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the South, while North Korea has been subjected to decades of imperialist military encirclement and a starvation embargo.

After the armistice—a peace treaty has never been signed—the South was ruled by the former capitalist collaborators with the Japanese occupation under a series of outright dictatorships that extended into the 1980s. These regimes were propped up by tens of thousands of U.S. troops, a presence that remains in place to this day. These troops have been repeatedly used to back up the suppression of working-class militancy and social uprisings in the South and are a signal of U.S. imperialism’s intent to reverse its defeat in the North.

Despite the rule of a nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy, the overthrow of capitalism in the North was a historic defeat for imperialism and a victory for the working people of Asia and the world. The existence of a planned, collectivized economy brought real advances to the working people of North Korea. Until the mid 1970s, North Korea’s planned economy significantly outperformed the South, creating a modern industrial infrastructure.

At the same time, the situation of a nation bifurcated by a “demilitarized zone” packed with more weaponry per square meter than any place on earth severely distorted the economy in the North. Particularly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which provided the vast bulk of military and technological aid to North Korea, the situation became dire. In 1992, China cut off shipments of cheap oil to the North as a concession to the imperialists and their lackeys in the South. Starting in 1995, the country was hit by natural disasters producing a famine of historic proportions.

The disastrous situation in the North has been compounded by the extreme form of economic autarky pushed by the North Korean bureaucracy under the rubric of Juche (self-reliance). The political outlook of the bureaucracy was and is rooted in the Stalinist lie that socialism —a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—can be built in one or even half a country. This anti-working-class, nationalist dogma undermines defense of the collectivized economy and is counterposed to any perspective for international socialist revolution, and particularly to a struggle for workers revolution in the South.

Clearly the fate of the Korean deformed workers state is intimately linked up with that of China, where capitalist restorationist forces are doing their level best to reverse the gains of the 1949 Revolution. In any case, both China and North Korea have every right to defend themselves against U.S. imperialism with nuclear weapons, a point with which most South Koreans (who regard the main danger as coming from Washington, not Pyongyang) also agree.

FL


Steve Brody - 1/7/2004


Frank, there’s so much anti-American garbage coming OUT of your mouth that I wouldn’t attempt to put anything, including a rational argument, IN your mouth.

As for whether my argument would pass muster in jr. high, I’ll leave that judgment for you to make, since that is roughly the level of your discourse. Believe me, Frank, in the future if I want to know what’s going on in jr. high, you’ll be my source.

Your assertion that the Korean War began when “the Koreans in Korea rode their tanks across a line demarcating a part of Korea that had recently been declared by Washington” is pure sophistry. The fact is that the allies at the Potsdam Conference, 5 years earlier, agreed to the 38th parallel. By 1948 the Republic of Korea and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea had been proclaimed, so your statement that neither side recognized the 38th parallel is kind of silly. Not only did both sides recognize the boundary, both sides had formed their own governments.

Equally silly is your diatribe against the UN. The UN didn’t “endorse” US imperialism. The UN sought to stop naked aggression on the part of North Korea. Twenty-two other nations sent troops to fight in Korea. Bolstering your argument by quoting a “luminary” like Lenin in your denunciation of the UN was particularly unpersuasive.

Your reference to Syngman Rhee’s “popular support” being in Washington implies that the South Koreans were indifferent to their leadership or perhaps even preferred Kim Ill Sung. Mark is right when he says that Rhee was “no prize”. What can be said about him, though, is that he was many times better than Kim Ill Sung and that the vast majority of Koreans recognized that fact, by voting with their feet. Every time the Americans and South Koreans were forced to retreat, hundreds of thousands of Koreans followed them because they preferred to be refugees with the South Koreans than occupied by the North Koreans. For some reason, no refugees ever followed the North Koreans when they retreated.

That Syngman Rhee was preferable to Kim Ill Sung is further evidenced by what the two countries ultimately became: in the South, a self-sufficient democracy; in the North, a brutal dictatorship with a 50-year history of international lawlessness.



Frank Little - 1/5/2004

I guess we can agree, then, that the Koreans in Korea rode their tanks across a line demarcating a part of Korea that had recently been declared by Washington (but not recognized by the Koreans on either side) to be a separate country called "South Korea" - making the Koreans the "aggressors." The U.S. troops were therefore forced to intervene, from the other side of the world, in mere "self-defense".

Impressive gymnastics indeed.

FL


mark safranski - 1/5/2004

Yes, but that doesn't alter the direction that tanks initially came from, now does it ? Kim 's " electoral mandate ", was likewise built on foreign bayonets and his main career accomplishment to that point was having survived Yezhov and Beria.


Frank Little - 1/5/2004

The great democrat Syngman Rhee lacked the capacity to "even contemplate serious resistance" without the support of a U.S. military invasion was merely a logistical problem; after all, his base of popular support was mainly concentrated Washington D.C.

FL


mark safranski - 1/5/2004

Syngman Rhee was no prize to be sure but North Korea was clearly the aggressor in the Korean War nor did South Korea have the military capacity to even contemplate serious resistance without outside aid. ( For that matter, North Korea's military was a Soviet assembled and advised affair - though Stalin pulled back somewhat when Kim failed to accomplish the conquest of the South on the timetable he had promised). Cummings, who knows this better than anybody, is simply romanticizing a squalid regime's crime.

http://www.zenpundit.blogspot.com


Frank Little - 1/5/2004

Your lack of knowledge on this subject does not entitle you to put arguments in my mouth.
The UN is anything but a "valid arbiter of international conflict." In fact, the UN's sanctioning of the U.S. aggression against Korea, costing 3 million Korean lives, is an excellent illustration of its role as a figleaf for imperialist military adventures. Lenin's description of the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, as a "thieves' kitchen" remains strikingly valid to this day.

I doub't that the sanitized UN fairy-tale version you try to fob off here would even pass muster for a jr. high-school textbook.

FL


Steve Brody - 1/5/2004


It constantly amazes me that people who insist that the UN is the only valid arbiter of international conflicts accuse the US of “colonialism” in Korea.

The fact is that Korea was partitioned at the end of WWII and the UN endorsed said partition. When North Korea invaded South Korea, They were not “invading their own country”; they were invading a separate country, recognized as such by the UN, with a separate government.

At the time, there were virtually no US troops in Korea. The “intervention” was by the UN, which requested US assistance in turning back the aggression.

As for “occupation”, US troops stationed in South Korea are there at the invitation of the government of South Korea and would certainly leave if that were the wish of the South Korean government. As it was when the Philippines ask us to leave, so would it be if the South Koreans ask us to leave.


Frank Little - 1/5/2004

I think the "mental gymnastics" are rather required of those justifying interventions and subsequent colonial occupations by the U.S. military and other imperialist forces in far flung corners of the globe, particularly the line that the Koreans were "invading" their own country!


Mark - 1/4/2004

Anders Lewis (like others) simply attacks Cumings' polimic arguments and says that Cumings knows nothing about 'communism'. Cumings could say the similar things about Lewis, too, I suppose. More importantly, however, his review does not address the central arguments of the book, but just dismisses Cumings' points off-handedly.

I have also read the book, and once you get past the fact that Cumings will not spend half of the book talking about how bad North Korea is (that's what Lewis Anders and the rest of the media is for), or that he conducts personal attacks on U.S. leaders (which is rather galling to the "red-blooded" among us), you find the arguments he makes to be rather insightful and challenging. I do not always agree with Cumings on many issues, but his work always challenges me, and that's what good scholarly work should occasionally do. Lewis IS very correct in pointing out the grammatical and spelling errors in NORTH KOREA: ANOTHER COUNTRY. These kind of things are huge pet peeves of mine. Cumings should have definitely thought about revision before publication, no matter how "timely" he wanted his book to be on this issue. Overall, Lewis is just delivering a blistering attack on Cumings for his polemics. See other reviews of the book. They sure don't sound like Lewis'!

What is more telling about scholars like Lewis is that the "red-blooded" Americans like him have yet produce a response (in the form of a well-researched book, and not book-review attacks) to Cumings' two-volume work, THE ORIGINS OF THE KOREAN WAR. I suppose there never will be a conservative response, which is a shame, because I would really like to see what conservative American historians would do with the same breadth of information that Cumings had researched for ORIGINS OF THE KOREAN WAR.


mark safranski - 1/4/2004

I haven't read Cummings new book yet; his previous research of the Korean War is first rate scholarship but his analysis, which involves various mental gymnastics to blame Syngman Rhee for Kim Il-Sung's massive Soviet backed, Stalin-approved invasion of South Korea, is absurd. He's free to plead the case of the DPRK but it will only make him look like a foolish ideologue in retrospect when the regime falls.


Steve Brody - 1/4/2004


With apologies to Peter for my failure to footnote all these incidents.


Steve Brody - 1/4/2004


Well, Josh and Robert, you’re certainly right this time. It was very one-sided of Lewis to point out what a lawless regime North Korea is, while leaving out all the positive contributions made by North Korea since 1950.

Who can forget the kidnapping of dozens of Japanese citizens, some from Japan itself, who were forced to work in the North Korean intelligence apparatus? Then to add insult to injury, allowing the kidnapped Japanese to visit Japan decades later, but with their families safely held in NK to coerce their return.

Or how ‘bout the bombing of a South Korean airliner by NK intelligence agents in 1987, killing all 115 souls on board.

Let us not forget the 1983 bombing by NK agents in Rangoon of a South Korean delegation, resulting in 21 SK and Burmese deaths and 46 SK and Burmese injuries.

And then there was that NK spy submarine that ran aground off SK and the subsequent killing of three SK citizens by the NK crew.

Can’t overlook the assassination attempts on South Korean presidents in 1968 and 1974 resulting in the deaths of dozens of South Koreans including the South Korean First Lady.

Can’t leave out the shoot down of a US reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace or the capture of a US surveillance ship in international waters with the subsequent loss of dozens of US lives.

Not to mention the hijacking and harassment of numerous South Korean fishing boats, commercial vessels, and civilian airliners since 1953. I might mention that dozens of crewmembers from these incidents have never been repatriated or accounted for.

Wouldn’t want to skip over the numerous incursions by tunnel of NK agents into South Korea with the subsequent loss of scores of SK lives.


Did I leave anything out, Fella’s?


Robert Gittleson - 1/3/2004


Can't disagree with you there, Josh.


Josh Greenland - 1/3/2004

I generally prefer to keep to the simpler explanation in most cases. It works in this case because our policies since January 2001 seem to be made by people who are as honest, intelligent and well-meaning as David, NYGuy, Markell and Heiusler.


Robert Gittleson - 1/1/2004


A more probable assembly line of cause and effect runs something like this:

1. Policies are set (e.g. stumbled upon) within the Cheney&Rumsfeld Administration in Washington.

2. After vetting by the Rove sound-bite efficacy committee, said policies are released to the public, and then further slanted and packaged by Fox, Frontpagemag, Limbaugh, etc.

3. Subportions thereof that are understood by "NYGuy", "David", "C.R.W". et al, are then regurgitated onto HNN.


Josh Greenland - 1/1/2004

My post above should have been below Ryan's post of 12/13/03.


Josh Greenland - 1/1/2004

The only thoughts Lewis' article stimulates in my mind are the knowledge of the existence of Cumings' book and Altantic article, the fact that Lewis doesn't like it, and suspicions about Lewis' truthfulness because the review is so hostile, derogatory and ideologically motivated. I'll have to see corroboration from other sources before I believe Lewis on this.


Josh Greenland - 1/1/2004

You're wrong of course, Jeff. Even a cursory examination of recent U.S. foreign policy should make clear that our policymakers not only read HNN but post under the pseudonyms David, Elia Markell, and NYGuy.


Jeff Rodgers - 12/31/2003


I am glad that those actually setting policy on North Korea in the U.S. government do not read HNN or frontpagemag.


John Brennan - 12/31/2003

You want to understand North Korea, read Solzhenitsyn--really, any of his works. Footnotes??

Wake up and smell the rotting corpses of your NK comrades, the innocents of (y)our ignorance.

Peter K. Clarke, you are a fool.


Ryan - 12/31/2003

Generally speaking opinion pieces do not need references because they are the opinion of the author. They are not scholarly works. Their sole purpose is to stimulate thoughts in mind of the reader. In that respect Prof. Lewis' piece is wonderful.


Peter K. Clarke - 12/31/2003

This article is a worthless slam. Even if Lewis is 100% correct in everything he says, there is no excuse for such a narrow and narrow-minded attack. Readers who want to know about North Korea and about American policy options towards it, are not going to believe for a moment that everything having to do with these important policy issues depends on what one historian at U. Chicago has said. If Lewis has a PhD, he presumably has heard about footnotes. Once he has written about North Korea in a peer-reviewed publication, and with proper use of footnotes, then maybe one might consider paying attention to his writings elsewhere, even in a notorious gutter rag such as frontpagemag.


Frank Little - 12/31/2003

I think articles like this are certainly establishing HNN's prominent place among fair and balanced venues for discussion!