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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely appalling book, 8 Aug 2009
This review is from: North Korea: Another Country (Paperback)
There is one and only one plus point about this book and that is it warms the heart to know that Modern Middle East Studies isn't the only field to suffer from this apologia for genocidal dictators. One can only assume given the proliferation of stridently anti-Kim books coming out that he felt the need to balance the scales by writing this. One have in this small book the classic techniques:

1) Start by dismissing anything that could contradict your point of view. Cummings states that we can only rely on official DPRK media for our "facts" - of course you need to "parse" it. The fact there are now thousands of DPRK refugees, a large number not living in South Korea let alone "run" by the ROK security services apparently doesn't matter. Now we can dismiss all those bothersome reports. For instance, we can claim Kim Il Sung was a general - he was!, in charge of 300 partisans - and that he was independent leader - this despite copious documentation to the contrary coming out of the USSR archives post fall. We also have the DPRK line on nuclear development - all totally peaceful, no proof of a weapons programme( the book came out a few months before the first DPRK nuclear test ).

2) Go back to a bygone age. We have a lot of talking about DPRK in the 70s and 80s. I suspect part of this is because that's when Cummings was last in the DPRK and also in the ROK. It is also when the DPRK and ROK could last be compared economically and when there was a comfortable grey in that both were military dictatorships. However this book is meant to be about now and there is a clear blue sea between the two countries. On a side note one of the truly bizarre moments in the book is where Cummings praises the new fertilizer that the DPRK developed that replaces manure so the DPRK countryside doesn't smell like the ROK. When one bears in mind this is a book about a country that has been on utterly reliant on foreign food aid for nearly two decades, one finds oneself wishing that this is some sort of dark satire.

3) "Empathise with the other", apparently whilst whities might not want to live in a country where a brutal dictatorship crushes all dissent, starves it's people and relies on illegal proliferation, extortion, drug smuggling and counterfeiting to earn it's income, we all need to "understand" the Korean point of view. Never mind all those people trying to escape the DPRK - they are all ROK agents - and never mind that a large number of Koreans gave up their lives to make the ROK democratic. Weirdly, for someone with so much "empathy" Cummings seems to be utterly indifferent to the DPRK citizens who were starved to death by Kim Jeong Il ( of course he believes is a mere 300,000 dead not 2million as claimed by media or ROK "security sources", so that's ok then ). I guess it is a detachment that comes from such a deep understanding of the "other" - just like Cockburn can empathise with ethnic cleanser Al-Sadr or Chomsky with Khemer Rouge and Milosevic.

4) Make spurious comparisons with the West. Who is the US to complain about DPRK gulags? When they have so many black people in prison, how dare they? Well last time i checked there was at least due process in the US and those black people weren't living off rats and earthworms, weren't drowned in cesspits and weren't publicly executed pour encourager les autres.

5) Make the most of the positives of the leadership. That Kim Jeong Il, he is just a cuddly misfit who probably hates that he is stuck where he is. No one who has seen this country systematically blackmail its neighbours for decades can deny Kim Jeong Il is a canny poker player but when Cummings makes much of Kim Jeong Il's "confession" that 13 Japanese were kidnapped - by "rogue elements" of course - and how the outrage derailed the relationship between Japan and DPRK, he conveniently forgets to mention Kim Jeong Il was demanding 10 billion USD for info about them.

All in all a truly repellent book. I highly recommend if you must read it to read it in parallel with Aquariums of Pyeongyang - Cummings recommends it in this book - along side. Even better give the book a miss. There are vastly better book out there including Cummings infinitely superior "Place in the Sun", "The Two Koreas" and "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty".
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Oct 2009 14:44:13 BDT
Very well written and informative review. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Oct 2009 09:25:35 BDT
My pleasure. What is most upsetting about this book is that Cummings is a serious historian and has written extremely good books such as his work on the origins of the Korean War and the popular work A Place in the Sun.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2010 23:03:40 GMT
A pro-regime book on north Korea?? Truly astonishing...

Thanks for the other recommended reading..

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2010 17:01:17 GMT
There is actually a spat of decent books on North Korea out - "The Cleanest Race", "Nothing to envy" and "Korea Betrayed".

To be fair, not sure Cummings is pro-regime per se, rather he is pro whatever Bush in particular and the US in general was anti.
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