Bruce Cumings

Bruce Cumings

Bruce Cumings

Bruce Cumings (born September 5, 1943) 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 chair of the history department at the University of Chicago. He specializes in modern Korean history and contemporary international relations.


  • Biography 1
  • Intellectual life and scholarship 2
  • Reception 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6


Cumings was born in Rochester, New York, on September 5, 1943. He was raised in Iowa and Ohio, where his father was a college administrator before joining the Central Intelligence Agency. 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.[1]

He is married to Meredith Jung-En Woo, the 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

Cumings joined the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars at Columbia after Mark Selden formed a chapter there,[2] and published extensively in its journal, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. 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".[3]

In summarizing the 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.[4]

He also 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.[5]

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 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." Around the time when he received his award Cumings met President Kim at his home in Seoul. "They discussed the North Korean nuclear program, the Korean-American relationship, and what can be done to improve Korean attitudes toward the United States."[6]

Cumings has contributed to New Left Review. His articles include "The Last Hermit", "The Korean Crisis and the End of ‘Late’ Development", and "The Abortive Abertura: South Korea in the Light of Latin American Experience", and he also written several reviews.[7][8] In 2003 Cumings alleged that the United States had "occupied" South Korea for 58 years and disputed the contention that North Korea had cheated on the October 1994 Agreed Framework.[9]


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.[10]


Scott Kaufman at the College Board says, "While Cumings's revisionist interpretation as to who started the Korean War has been discredited by the latest scholarly work, his argument that the Korean conflict was first and foremost a civil conflict remains valid." [11]

Douglas J. Macdonald in International Security says Cumings is among "revisionist historians" who have "argued for a high degree of independence of action for the northern regime" in its political history.[12]

James Matray in Parameters categorizes Origins of the Korean War as "revisionist" but nevertheless "detailed" and a work that "relies on meticulous and exhaustive research."[13]

Allan R. Millett in The War for Korea 1945–1950 says Cumings' "cast[s] American officials and policy in the worst possible light," which "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."[14]

William W. Stueck in Journal of Conflict Studies judges Cumings' work as "revisionist" in the sense of "arguments challeng[ing] the views that the [Korean] war was largely international in nature and that the American participation in it was ... defensive and wise.” [15]

Kathryn Weathersby in the Cold War International History Project describes Cumings' Origins of the Korea War as the "most important revisionist account" of the subject.[16]

Cumings says the "revisionist" label is an attempt to "stigmatize" his work.[17]


Matt Gordon in Socialist Review praises 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]

Paul Hollander in National Review claims Cumings' North Korea: Another Country has a pro-North Korea bias and relativizes the North Korean prison camp system by mentioning the "longstanding, never-ending gulag full of black men" in U.S. prisons.[19]

Anders Lewis in FrontPage Magazine labels Cumings the "left's leading scholar of Korean history" and claims his Korea's Place in the Sun and North Korea: Another Country are apologetic.[20]

B. R. Myers in Atlantic Monthly mocks Cumings' North Korea: Another Country but says, "Cumings rightly calls [U.S. bombing in the Korean War] a holocaust."[21]


  1. ^ Shin, Michael D. "An Interview with Bruce Cumings". The Review of Korean Studies. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  2. ^ Shin, Michael D. "Trends of Korean Historiography in the US" (PDF). Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  3. ^ Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri East Asian Studies, Newsletter Spring 2001
  4. ^ Cumings, Bruce. Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W. W. Norton & Company, 238
  5. ^
  6. ^ Distinguished scholar Bruce Cumings receives important award from South Korea
  7. ^ """Search results for "author=Cumings. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  8. ^ Cumings, Bruce. "Bruce Cumings on Nicholas Eberstadt, The End of North Korea, and Helen-Louise Hunter, Kim Il Song’s North Korea". New Left Review. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  9. ^ Zone of contention U of Chicago Magazine 96.2 (December 2003)
  10. ^ "Biography of Bruce Cumings". University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  11. ^ Guide to Korean War Resources College Board accessed: September 7, 2010
  12. ^ Communist Bloc Expansion in the Early Cold War: Challenging Realism, Refuting Revisionism International Security 20.3 (1995): 152–168
  13. ^ Korea's Partition: Soviet-American Pursuit of Reunification, 1945–1948 Parameters Spring 1998: 139–68
  14. ^ Allan R. Millet, The War for Korea 1945–1950: A House Burning (University Press of Kansas, 2005)
  15. ^ Revisionism and the Korean War Journal of Conflict Studies 22.1 (2002): 17–27
  16. ^ Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War Working Paper No 8 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars November 1993
  17. ^ Bruce Cumings replies to Kathryn Weathersby LBO-Talk Archives, July 1995
  18. ^ "Socialist Review". Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  19. ^ Pariah lies
  20. ^ Anders Lewis, The Historian Who Defends North Korea History News Network December 30, 2003. Reprinted from FrontPage Magazine.
  21. ^ Mother of All Mothers


  • 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: Korean Democratization in the Light of the Latin American Experience," New Left Review, no. 174 (March–April 1989).
  • "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.
  • "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).
  • “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.

External links

  • Faculty Profile on the University of Chicago's website.
  • Endgame in Korea – 2002 article by Cumings
  • Archive of articles published in the The Nation.
  • Wrong Again – 2003 article about US policy on North Korea published in London Review of Books
  • "We look at it and see ourselves" – Review of two North Korea books, December 15, 2005. London Review of Books. (Accessed January 1, 2007).
  • Electric PoliticsAudio interview with June 16, 2006, 98 minutes.
  • Interview at the Pritzker Military Library April 24, 2008.