Sunday, September 12, 2010

Active lies and lies by omissions in book reviews

(MF Blog note: A lot more editing and fixing of links than usual...)

This post is a special one regarding reviews of the same book in today's The New York Times and Washington Post. The reviews of University of Chicago History Professor Bruce Cuming's relatively short-essay form book on the Korean Civil Wars of the 1940s and 1950s, including the full scale war North Korea began on June 25, 1950, are excellent examples of how apologists for the American Empire operate. Both reviews rely on attacking around the edges Cumings' book, attacking him for not sufficiently mentioning the positive aspects of American conduct in the Korean peninsula, and, while doing so, the reviewers downplay and sometimes ignore what is often missing in most other books on the South Korean-American conduct of that time. The point of the reviews is to say, "Stay away! Nothing to see here!"

What is great for the public to combat these courtiers is that we now have blogs like mine. And more importantly, we now have, where regular people who show remarkable insight get to engage each other in reviews of the book, and where the "Look Inside" software allows us to search Cuming's book to see if the establishment reviewers are honest. With these additional resources, we will see that these reviews are dishonest and constitute a political libel against a great historian, Bruce Cumings.

Let's start with The Washington Post's review by William Steuck, himself an historian at the University of Georgia, and an authority on the Korean War (1950-1953). Stueck writes at one point in his review:

Cumings also ignores evidence from archives in China and Russia that sheds light on the lead-up to North Korea's invasion of the south. Cumings lays emphasis on a Chinese role in the attack, but newly released documents show that Beijing was largely left out of the pre-war planning while Moscow was intimately involved.

Yet, at, using the Look Inside software, we find the following at page 144 of Cumings' book:

Based on the scattered evidence now available from Soviet archives, it appears that a wary and reluctant Stalin, who had restrained Kim (MJF NOTE: The North Korean leader) for months before, changed his mind in early 1950 and approved an assault on the South. He offered Kim military equipment and sent advisers to help with planning the assault, but sought to distance the Soviet Union from Kim's adventurism (which became evident when Kim, at the last minute in June, changed a major assault on the South designed to seize Ongjin and Kaesong, and perhaps Seoul, into a general invasion). Little definitive information has appeared about Kim's talks with Mao, but other evidence from the time suggests that Mao was probably more supportive than Stalin of Kim's plans.

At the end of this paragraph, we have a footnote 47 citation, which, at the back of the book, states:

Anyone who thinks they know exactly what happened in June 1950 is insufficiently well read in the documentation; there is still much more to be learned from the Soviet, Chinese, and North and South Korean archives--and from the U.S. National Security Agency, which still has not declassified crucial signals intelligence on the Korean War.

Oh, and earlier, at page 24, Cumings tells his readers that Mao had informed Stalin that Mao was sending twelve infantry divisions to help North Korea against the South.

Cumings has written a two volume scholarly study of the Korean War and its Origins during the early 1990s. He has written a few books on the topic since then. This book is for a general reader and is, again, relatively short (less than 300 pages including the footnotes and index).

Stueck's previous paragraph to his paragraph about what Cumings supposedly missed (but didn't) makes a mundane, and ultimately irrelevant, point about American Cold War architect George Kennan and the scope of Kennan's Soviet containment proposal. But, really, who cares whether George Kennan's "version" of "containment," which Stueck does not make clear to a lay leader is non-military containment, may have included the Korean peninsula? Kennan was already being isolated among US policy-makers before 1950, and his ideas for non-military confrontations with the Soviets and the "Red" Chinese were seen as quaint by more than a few military strategists and foreign policy "experts" around President Truman, which experts included, interestingly enough, the Dulles brothers (who are insufficiently recognized as agents of international fascism, if one uses the same nomenclature one sees used against Owen Lattimore or John Service, among others). And how dare Stueck not inform his readers that the Truman administration publicly did not include South Korea in its perimeter of military action in the months before June 1950? That is far more important than what Kennan thought, and Stueck knows this, too.

So, why include that paragraph about Kennan in his review? The goal, of course, is to stigmatize Cumings, who, unlike most other American authors writing about the Korean War, included in his book a reasonably full rendering of American supervision of Southern Korean atrocities, incredible and horrific American bombings and napalm against a civilian population, and very astute analysis as to how the US-supported leadership in South Korea included many Japanese war lord collaborators. Also, contrary to Stueck (who again knows better), the South Korean government under Rhee was in fact in disarray following national assembly elections in late May 1950. Those elections resulted in a decided rejection of the South Korean President Rhee and were in favor of the leftists who were seeking reunification with the North in open elections. Stueck does not want American readers to know that the North Korean invasion of the South saved Rhee from being thrown out of office, and allowed Rhee to implement harsh military repression in South Korea that lasted decades. What occurred was a victory for the polar extremes in South and North Korea.

I also find it interesting that, contrary to the accusations from Stueck, and the NY Times reviewer, courtier Jacob Heilbrunn (more in a moment on Heilbrunn), Cumings is very willing to expose and harshly criticize the repressive nature of the North Korean regime. As stated by one of the reviewers at, Cumings wrote that there are still 100,000 to 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea. I confirmed this in Cumings' book at's Look Inside mechanism (page 186 of Cumings' book; cited in index to Look Inside software, not the full page). Cumings also talks about the "Hermit Kingdom" to highlight North Korea's isolation and makes fairly clear that the North Korean dictator, Kim Il Jong, acted perversely and horrifically toward his people. Cumings also describes the pervasive and continued absurdities in North Korean media propaganda (For the last point, see page 98 of Cumings' book, again through's Look Inside software system).

In the NY Times, Heilbrunn does a drive-by shooting style of book review against Cumings. Heilbrunn opens with the usual, "Now children, let me tell you about a very strange man...He seems so smart and learned, but really, he is too radical for us serious adults" that one sees in establishment corporate media reviews of books by Chomsky or the late Howard Zinn or Edward Said. Heilbrunn provides what he claims were Truman and Acheson's view of the Soviet Union in the period of 1945-1950, without informing readers those views were the "public relations" views those two leaders expressed to the American people. Heilbrunn fails to disclose that Truman and Acheson knew very well that the Soviets were acting far more cautiously and defensively than what they were publicly stating to the American public. Thus, when Heilbrunn writes "It’s hardly surprising that Truman administration cold-war liberals, led by Secretary of State Dean Acheson, took a different view of South Korea’s fate", he misleads readers into thinking the public stance from these men was what they really and honestly, i.e. privately, believed. Who is the biased one writer here, Jacob?

(For those appalled by such a statement that maybe Truman and Acheson deceived the public, one may begin with the non-leftist Lafayette College History Professor Arnold A. Offner's "Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War 1945-1953" (published by Stanford University Press), the late Frank Kofsky's more polemic, but fascinating, "Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948," (which shows how there was a lie spread about an imminent Soviet invasion of Western Europe to pass new US legislation regarding the American airplane industry, and incidentally, help pass the Marshall Plan) or an original "revisionist" book, "Architects of Illusion," by my old Rutgers professor, Lloyd Gardner to get an understanding of that fact. Yes, that is a fact, folks, a sad, but true fact that monstrous Stalin was not nearly as aggressive in Eastern Europe as we are so often told in American corporate media.)

Heilbrunn is really misleading and commits a sly libel against Cumings when he writes:

These insights are undermined by (Cumings') penchant for offering excuses about the nature of the North Korean regime. For example, Cumings dismisses the idea that North Korea is a Stalinist state. He claims that “there is no evidence in the North Korean experience of the mass violence against whole classes of people or the wholesale ‘purge’ that so clearly characterized Stalinism.” The large-scale famine of the late 1990s, the cult of personality surrounding the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and, not least, a gulag currently filled with innocents would seem more than enough to qualify the wasteland that is North Korea for the label Stalinist.

In fact, Cumings' point about the non-Stalinist side of the North Korean regime is not an excuse for the regime. Cumings' point in the book (and again I have checked various pages dealing with the word "Stalin" and its "isms" etc.) is that the regime resembles a totalitarian dictatorship with a Confucian hereditary-leadership bent as much as a Leninist-Stalinist dictatorship. Heilbrunn also makes it appear Cumings does not mention the 1990s famine in North Korea, but there it is at page 186 of Cumings' book. And we have already established that Cumings describes the cult of personality regarding Kim Il-Jong and his son (Cumings does not use the hackneyed phrase "cult of personality" though...).

Heilbrunn simply does not want otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable readers of the NY Times Book Review to learn about indisputable American-led atrocities, American leaders' mendacity and other actions of our leaders that might cause us to be more cautious in accepting current American leaders' attempts to drag our nation into further wars. Yes, I have sometimes winced at Professor Cumings' not fully crediting the last 15 years of South Korean history, where it has had a remarkably successful development of democratic-republican values and economic strength. But Cumings knows this, too, and is simply attempting to give us a perspective that helps illuminate those facts not illuminated in the discourse in America on this subject.

The sad thing is that neither Heilbrunn or Stueck have to be told to ridicule or denigrate Cumings or to mislead readers of the NY Times or Washington Post. They know their roles as courtiers for the American Empire and they know how to speak or write about those who dissent from the apologists for the American Empire. For those who see the Post and Times as "leftist," perhaps this review of reviews offers a valuable contrary lesson.

But most importantly, people who have any interest in History or American politics should read Cumings' book about American actions in the Korean peninsula. They will be shocked, amazed and enlightened in ways they would never have imagined before on this topic. That is the reason Heilbrunn and Stueck don't want people to read it. These two courtiers know more than they let on, and they know what their views about the Korean conflicts leave out. And if Stueck or Heilbrunn want to speak with me, they know where to find me....:-)



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