Bruce Cumings and what he deserves

Many of you are objecting to my post on his book, either in the form of comments or emails.  You are objecting to his ideology and objecting that he does not denounce the North Korean regime with sufficient fervor and with sufficient recognition of its true awfulness, though he does denounce it, using the word "reprehensible."

On these points I (mostly) agree with you, the critics.  Yet it is still a good book and it should open many people's eyes to the history of the Korean War and the not always pretty American role in that war.  I haven't seen good comments or reviews finding fault with the book itself (but if I do I will pass them on).  The book, by the way, does not allege that South Korea started the war.

Keep in mind how many history or foreign policy books or essays are written by people who are essentially toadies to power or apologists for the U.S. government, or for some other foreign regime.  It is expected that we accept those problematic inclinations and affiliations without comment or condemnation.  In contrast to many of the works by establishment historians, Cumings is a breath of fresh air.

Overall I seek to narrow rather than widen the following category: "cannot be praised without accompanying symbolic denunciation."  If it turns out that, in the process, Cumings reaps more relative status than he deserves (and I am not very influential in shaping the reputations of historians), I'm not especially troubled by that.

In fact maybe I'm happy to see you squirm a bit.

One of my major purposes in writing this blog is to nudge people away from judging political issues, or for that matter books, by asking which groups or individuals rise or fall in relative status.


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