Bruce Cumings

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Person.png Bruce Cumings   Amazon SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
BornSeptember 5, 1943
Historian who has gone deeper than any other writing in English with respect to the circumstances surrounding many aspects of the Korean War.

Bruce Cumings is an American historian of East Asia, professor, lecturer and author. He is the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History, and the former chair of the history department at the University of Chicago. He specializes in modern Korean history and contemporary international relations.

Cumings' scholarship has gone deeper than any other writing in English with respect to the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Korean War, and documents which allowed him to draw lines of culpability of various actors for the tragedy of the Korean War.[1] He has also researched the use of biological weapons, war crimes (massacres and aerial bombing), nuclear threats and diplomatic duplicity in the Korean War and afterwards, and the intertwining of US academia with US intelligence agencies.

Persona Life

Cumings was born in Rochester, New York, on September 5, 1943. He was raised in Iowa and Ohio, where his father, Edgar C. Cumings, was a college administrator.[2] He worked summers for five years, three of them at the Republic Steel plant in Cleveland, to put himself through Denison University, with further help from a baseball scholarship. He graduated with a degree in Psychology in 1965, then served in the Peace Corps in Korea in 1967–68 before taking an M.A. at Indiana University. He then earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University in 1975. He taught at Swarthmore College, University of Washington, Northwestern University, and University of Chicago. In 1999 he was elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[3]

He is married to Meredith Jung-En Woo, the president of Sweet Briar College and former Dean of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. They had two sons; additionally, Cumings has a daughter from his first marriage.

Intellectual life and scholarship

In May 2007, Cumings was the first recipient of the Kim Dae Jung Academic Award for Outstanding Achievements and Scholarly Contributions to Democracy, Human Rights and Peace granted by South Korea. The award is named in honor of 2000 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of South Korea Kim Dae Jung. The award recognizes Cumings for his "outstanding scholarship, and engaged public activity regarding human rights and democratization during the decades of dictatorship in Korea, and after the dictatorship ended in 1987."

Cumings joined the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars at Columbia after Mark Selden formed a chapter there,[4] and published extensively in its journal, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, where his writings ranged from the early history of the Korean resistance movement against Japan to the intertwining of US academia with US intelligence agencies.[5] His research focus is on 20th century international history, United States and East Asia relations, East Asian political economy, modern Korean history, and American foreign relations. He is interested in the "multiplicity of ways that conceptions, metaphors and discourses are related to political economy and material forms of production", and to relations between "East and West".[6]

Cumings' scholarship has gone deeper than any other writing in English with respect to the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Korean War, and pre-1990 documents which allowed him to draw lines of culpability of various actors for the tragedy of the Korean War. Cumings writes that:

“The Korean War did not begin on June 25, 1950, much special pleading and argument to the contrary. If it did not begin then, Kim II Sung could not have "started" it then, either, but only at some earlier point. As we search backward for that point, we slowly grope toward the truth that civil wars do not start: they come. They originate in multiple causes, with blame enough to go around for everyone—and blame enough to include Americans who thoughtlessly divided Korea and then reestablished the colonial government machinery and the Koreans who served it. How many Koreans might still be alive had not that happened? Blame enough to include a Soviet Union likewise unconcerned with Korea's ancient integrity and determined to "build socialism" whether Koreans wanted their kind of system or not. How many Koreans might still be alive had that not happened? And then, as we peer inside Korea to inquire about Korean actions that might have avoided national division and fratricidal conflict, we get a long list indeed.”
Bruce Cumings (2005)  [7]

“The United States is the power that introduced nuclear weapons into Korea, and it took this drastic step primarily to stabilize volatile North-South relations. Always suspicious of North Korea's intentions, in the mid-1950s the Eisenhower Administration also worried that South Korean President Syngman Rhee might reopen the war. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wanted to restrain both sides — with nuclear weapons. Even hotheads like Rhee and Kim Il Sung, he believed, would think twice before starting a war that would rain atomic destruction on the peninsula. In January of 1958 the United States positioned 280mm nuclear cannons and "Honest John" nuclear-tipped missiles in South Korea; these were followed a year later by nuclear-tipped Matador cruise missiles. Soon American and South Korean defense strategy rested on routine plans to use nuclear weapons very early in any new war — at "H + 1," according to one former U.S. commander in Korea, meaning within one hour (more likely a few hours) of the outbreak of war if large masses of North Korean troops succeeded in attacking south of the DMZ. Annual "Team Spirit" military exercises included rehearsals for battlefield nuclear war. North Korea responded by building enormous facilities underground or in mountain redoubts, from troop and materiel depots to munitions factories and warplane hangars. This was a bit of a problem for American surveillance, in that it allowed for a great many places to hide an atomic bomb.”
Bruce Cumings (2005)  [8]

“Destruction was particularly acute in the North, which was subjected to years of American bombing, including with napalm. Roughly 25 percent of its prewar population was killed, Professor Cumings said, and many of the survivors lived underground by the war’s end. “North Korea was flattened,” he said. “The North Koreans see the American bombing as a Holocaust, and every child is taught about it.”
Bruce Cumings (2018)  [9]

“Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean women were mobilized into this slavery, along with smaller numbers of Filipinos, Chinese and a handful of Westerners. Pae Pong Gi was the first Korean woman to come forward and tell her story with her identity unprotected . She did this in Tamatani Tetsuo's 1979 film, An Old Lady in Okinawa. "Like so many other comfort women,' George Hicks writes, she "remained in the same role with the American Occupation Forces" on Okinawa. Yun Chong Mo's novel, My Mother Was a Military Comfort Woman, was inspired by the sight of a drunken American soldier dragging a Korean girl down a street in Seoul.”
Bruce Cumings (1997)  [10]

Cumings has not confined himself purely to the study of modern Korea, writing broadly about East Asia, and even US western expansion in book form. He wrote Industrial Behemoth: The Northeast Asian Political Economy in the 20th Century, which seeks to understand the industrialization of Japan, both Koreas, Taiwan, and parts of China, and the ways that scholars and political leaders have viewed that development.[11]

Cumings writes in his book North Korea: Another Country: "I have no sympathy for the North, which is the author of most of its own troubles", but alludes to the "significant responsibility that all Americans share for the garrison state that emerged on the ashes of our truly terrible destruction of the North half a century ago."

In a talk given at the University of Chicago in 2003, Cumings declared that the United States had occupied South Korea for 58 years. In 1945, he explained, Chinese and Soviet armies were in the North of Korea, Americans in the South. The Soviets withdrew in 1948 and the Chinese in 1958, but U.S. troops remained in South Korea; in the event of war the U.S. commander would control the South Korean army. He disproved the claim always repeated in corporate media that North Korea had cheated on the October 1994 Agreed Framework.[12]


In 2003, the University of Chicago awarded Cumings for "Excellence in Graduate Teaching." Four years later, he was awarded the Kim Dae Jung Prize for "Scholarly Contributions to Democracy, Human Rights, and Peace."[13] Cumings has been described as "the left's leading scholar of Korean history." [14] Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies scholar Kathryn Weathersby wrote that Cumings’ two-volume study of the origins of the Korean War was the "most important revisionist account" in which Cumings provides an interpretation of the war in which "the question remains open whether it was in fact the DPRK or the ROK that initiated the military action on 25 June 1950." [15]

Historian Allan R. Millet argued that the work's "eagerness to cast American officials and policy in the worst possible light, however, often leads him to confuse chronological cause and effect and to leap to judgments that cannot be supported by the documentation he cites or ignores." [16] Cumings himself has rejected the "revisionist" label.[17]

Matt Gordon in Socialist Review praised Cumings' North Korea: Another Country (2003) as a "good read ... for an introduction to this member of 'the axis of evil', especially given the lack of books on the subject which aren't hysterical denunciations from the U.S. right or hymns of praise from Stalinists."[18]


Cumings' Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 1 (1980) won the John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association, and his Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 2 (1991) won the Quincy Wright Book Award of the International Studies Association.[19]


  • The Origins of the Korean War (2 vols). Princeton University Press, 1981, 1990.
  • Korea: The Unknown War by Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, London: Viking Press, 1988. Brief "photojournalism" account of the Korean War with many photographs.
  • War and Television. Verso, 1993.
  • Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. Norton, 1997.
  • Parallax Visions: Making Sense of American-East Asian Relations. Duke University Press, 1999, paperback 2002.
  • North Korea: Another Country. The New Press, 2004.
  • co-author, Inventing the Axis of Evil. The New Press, 2005.
  • Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
  • The Korean War: A History. Modern Library Chronicles, 2010

Articles (selected)

  • "The Political Economy of Chinese Foreign Policy," Modern China (October 1979), pp. 411–461
  • "Chinatown: Foreign Policy and Elite Realignment," in Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, eds., The Hidden Election (Pantheon Books, 1981), pp. 196–231.
  • "Corporatism in North Korea," Journal of Korean Studies (no. 4, 1983), 1–32.
  • "The Origins and Development of the Northeast Asian Political Economy: Industrial Sectors, Product Cycles, and Political *Consequences," International Organization (winter 1984), pp. 1–40.
  • "Power and Plenty in Northeast Asia," World Policy Journal (winter 1987–88), pp. 79–106
  • The abortive abertura: South Korea in the light of Latin American experience [20]
  • "Illusion, Critique, Responsibility: The Revolution of `89 in West and East," in Daniel Chirot, ed., The Revolution of `89 (University of Washington Press, 1991)
  • "The Seventy Years' Crisis and the Logic of a Trilateral `New World Order,'" World Policy Journal (Spring 1991)
  • "Silent But Deadly: Sexual Subordination in the U.S.-Korean Relationship," in Saundra Pollock Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus, Let the Good Times Roll: Prostitution and the U.S. Military in Asia (New York, The New Press, 1992).
  • "`Revising Postrevisionism': Or, The Poverty of Theory in Diplomatic History," Diplomatic History, 17/4 (fall 1993), pp. 539–70.
  • "Global Realm With No Limit, Global Realm With No Name," Radical History Review (fall 1993).
  • "Japan's Position in the World System," in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1994), pp. 34–63.
  • "Archaeology, Descent, Emergence: Japan in American Hegemony, 1900–1950," in H.D. Harootunian and Masao Miyoshi, eds., Japan in the World (Duke University Press, 1994).
  • "The World Shakes China," The National Interest, no. 43 (spring 1996), pp. 28–41.
  • "Pikyojôk simin sahoe wa minjujuûi" [Civil Society and Democracy: A Comparative Inquiry], Ch'angjak kwa Pip'yông [Creation and Criticism], (Seoul, May 1996)
  • "Nichibei Senso, Hajimari to Owari” [The U.S.-Japan War, Beginning and End], in Kojima Noboru, ed., Jinrui wa senso wo Husegeruka [Can Humankind Prevent War?] (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1996).
  • "Time to End the Korean War," The Atlantic Monthly (February 1997), pp. 71–79.
  • The Korean crisis and the end of 'late' development [21]
  • "CNN's Cold War," The Nation (October 19, 1998), pp. 25–31.
  • “Still the American Century,” British Journal of International Studies, (winter 1999), pp. 271–299.
  • “The Asian Crisis, Democracy, and the End of 'Late' Development,” in T. J. Pempel. ed., The Politics of the Asian Economic Crisis (Cornell University Press, 1999), pp. 17–44.
  • “Web with No Spider, Spider with No Web: The Genealogy of the Developmental State,” in Meredith Woo-Cumings, ed., The Developmental State (Cornell University Press, 2000).
  • The last hermit [22]
Review of The End of North Korea by Nicholas Eberstadt.
  • “Occurrence at Nogun-ri Bridge: An Inquiry into the History and Memory of a Civil War,” Critical Asian Studies, 33:4 (2001), pp. 509–526.
  • “Black September, Adolescent Nihilism, and National Security,” in Craig Calhoun, Paul Price, and Ashley Timmer, Understanding September 11 (The New Press, 2002).
  • “Wrong Again: The U.S. and North Korea," London Review of Books, v. 25, no. 3 (December 2003), pp. 9–12.
  • “Time of Illusion: Post-Cold War Visions of the World,” in Ellen Schrecker, ed., Cold War Triumphalism: The Misuse of History After the Fall of Communism (The New Press, 2004), pp. 71–102.

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  1. Document:The_Deep_State_and_9/11
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  7. Collision, 1948-1953", in Cumings, Bruce (ed.), Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, New York London: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 238
  8. Time to End the Korean War, The Atlantic Monthly; February 1997; - 97.02; Volume 279, No. 2; page 71-79.
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  16. Allan R. Millet, The War for Korea 1945–1950: A House Burning (University Press of Kansas, 2005)