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on 5 March 2014
This extremely useful book provides us with evidence that undermines the stereotypes that pass for knowledge of the DPRK. Cumings is a professor of history at the University of Chicago, and is the foremost historian of the USA’s long war against Korea.
He cites a CIA study that “acknowledged various achievements of this regime: compassionate care for children in general and war orphans in particular, ‘radical change’ in the position of women; genuinely free housing, free health care and preventive medicine; and infant mortality and life expectancy rates comparable to the most advanced countries until the recent famine.” The government also gave land to the peasants, and provided free education.
Cumings shows that the war in Korea was part of a long civil war and that the invasion in June 1950 did not start the conflict, so it did not define the conflict. The UN fell for the US and British governments’ lie that it was an invasion. But how could Koreans ‘invade’ their own country?

It was also a war against the foreign occupier. In December 1945, the commander of the US occupation forces, General Hodge, ‘declared war’ on the communist party in the South.

As Richard Stokes, Britain’s Minister of Works, wrote in 1950, “In the American Civil War the Americans would never have tolerated for a single moment the setting up of an imaginary line between the forces of North and South, and there can be no doubt as to what would have been their reaction if the British had intervened in force on behalf of the South. This parallel is a close one because in America the conflict was not merely between two groups of Americans, but was between two conflicting economic systems as is the case in Korea.”

The USA dropped more than a million gallons of napalm, threatened to use chemical weapons, and had contingency plans to drop nuclear weapons. General Curtis LeMay, who ran the bombing war, said, “over a period of three years or so … we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too.” UN/US forces killed three million North Koreans and nearly one million Chinese.

The 1953 armistice agreement banned the introduction of qualitatively new weapons, but the USA broke the agreement by basing nuclear weapons in the South.
The DPRK suffered unprecedented floods in 1995 and 1996, and a drought in 1997. In 1995, 330,000 hectares of agricultural land were wrecked and 1.9 million tons of grain were lost. The damage cost $15 billion.
Cumings cites various ‘experts’ who forecast the collapse of the regime, like Nicholas Eberstadt, of the American Enterprise Institute, who wrote of ‘The coming collapse of North Korea’ in the Wall Street Journal as early as 25 June 1990, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who said in June 2003, “North Korea is teetering on the brink of collapse.”

Cumings then cites Eason Jordan, the head of CNN International, “I’m here to tell you with absolute certainty those guys will tough it out for centuries just the way they are. Neither the United States nor any other country is going to be able to force a collapse of that government.” Cumings comments, “That’s exactly what I think.”
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 December 2006
This is an excellent little book that goes a long way to explaining the present siege mentality of the North Korean government and society. It meticulously charts the efforts of the Clinton administration to break the deadlock in US - Korean relations and to end the need for the North Koreans to construct missiles and nuclear weapons. The wrecking of this carefully constructed approach by G. W. Bush is described. The book goes on to chart the background of Kim Il Sung and the present leader Kim Jong Il in the most interesting terms and describes the country and the natural and other disasters that have set back its progress in the 1990s. The book ends with a discussion of the life values of Korean society and how these differ from the West and our (or American) ignorance of these important values. A stimulating read for anyone interested in modern politics and history.
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on 23 April 2014
How refreshing that a highly respected academic power-house like Bruce Cummings can cur through the usual anti-North Korea bias and propaganda, and tell the story of what happened in Korea and how it happened, with honesty and clear-headedness that exposes the many popular myths and assumptions about North Korea to be nothing more than complete fantasy with no historical base. North Korea sits behind a tightly locked door. But is the door being held fast from the inside or the outside- and why?
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on 8 August 2009
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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on 13 July 2009
This is by far the best book I've read so far on North Korea. Cummings is articulate and insightful about his subject but never short sighted about the north's failings. Although its clear that Cummings does share a great love for North Korea's people and culture he doesn't give Kim Jong or his father Kim il Sung an easy ride, painting the son as a playboy and tyrant. Overall this book covers a lot of depth and gives the reader an honest and nonjudgmental look at a strange and secret world.
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on 5 September 2014
A must read for those interested in North Korea - Cumings is very detailed and still interesting
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on 31 December 2003
Professor Cumings' book is an excellent and unorthodox history of the Korean peninsula and its comparatively recent woes. It is refreshing to obtain a heretical view of this region and its problems. Asia is unstable enough as it is, but the huge populations of the east add magnitude to this fear of total war and conflict. Korea, China-Taiwan, China-Tibet, Indonesia, the Philippines, India-Pakistan, Vietnam-Cambodia, etc, are all part of this dynamic, and Cumings' book helps at least to give us the Korean component.
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on 24 August 2010
This is a more than welcome book in times when we are bombarded sensationalist "news" day and night by the Western media. The author, an expert in Korea -who holds no sympathy for communism- gives a balanced account of (north) Korean recent history (North gores between brackets because Korea is an indivisible unit, and the "two" Koreas have been a somewhat distorted mirror image of one another). Particularly interesting is his focus on the role of the US in configuring Eastern Asia geopolitics and their nefarious role in the multiple crises, that have been more of a hindrance to unification than anything else.

The basic line of argument is that we are told that North Korea is this nightmare dictatorship of which very few people know about -while in reality there is plenty of (classified) information on it, but there is a policy to deliberately exaggerate and distort reality in order to obscure the real issues at stake in the Korean protracted crisis. He argues, however, that the media and decision makers have been consistently ignorant of Korean reality and they often resort to cliches that do not stand the test of reality.

What comes across is a nuanced approach to understand properly this garrison State as a product of its own history -two vicious anticolonial struggles, betrayals from their "communist" allies, and a constant threat both from South Korea and the US. There's nothing crazy about North Korea, but it is a logical product of a tough history. North Korea needs to be seen beyond manichaestic binary terms such as "good and evil" (that have unfortunately become common currency under the current War on Terro ideology) and beyond the misinformed and ludicrous media lens.

Finally, I just want to say that by far this is the best book I've come across on the subject, being also highly accessible for any reader, and after it you will start unsderstanding much better what we read in the media constantly of North Korean tensions, etc. This is a genuine attempt to UNDERSTAND a whole nation labeled as terrorist by the US -a welcome effort at a time when we tend to judge others from very narrow parameters (and more often that not, with no moral authority whatsoever). Much better than reading sensationalist diatribes like "Nothing to Envy" that will leave you with a taste that you really didn't learn anything -save a few individual cases taken in isolation and out of context (and topped with a supine ignorance of Korean history or society). Without understanding the complexity of Korean life, without understanding its history, without understanding its culture, it is impossible to understand why a regime like that of Kim Jong Il can exist in the 21st Century -without any sign of it going away anytime soon. Bruce Cummings is the man to give you a good glimpse on all this.
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on 18 January 2014
it is such a good and nice condition of item and I highly recomended to my friends and work colleg to read it
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