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Bruce Cumings – professor of idiocy

Anthony Daniels, in the course of reviewing the work of someone more sensible (more about that book here), in the Telegraph, ends up devoting rather more space to nailing useful idiot Professor Bruce Cumings of Chicago University.

What is the antiidiotarian blogosphere for, if not for bouncing paragraphs like this around, and generally rubbing salt into well deserved wounds?

Like every useful idiot before him, Professor Cumings is much impressed by free child-care and kindergartens, much more so than by gulags and famines. There is no Potemkin village so transparently a fraud that he would not be taken in by it. Such matters as collective family responsibility, whereby entire families are severely punished for the political dissent of one of its members, do not impinge on his imagination – a faculty with which he is not much blessed.

While Cumings admits that the personality cult of Kim Il-Sung (who, though dead for 10 years, is still President For Eternity) is absurd, he attributes its extravagance entirely to the Confucian strain in Korean life, thus displaying a complete and startling ignorance of Communist iconography. Is he not aware that almost every Communist dictator was, according to the paintings of him, followed by an eager amanuensis capturing for posterity his on-the-spot guidance to farmers about how best to harvest potatoes, and to car mechanics about how best to change the spark plugs? The pictures of multi-racial crowds stretching their arms in the direction of the Great Leader as the only hope of Mankind are not unique to North Korea.

It is true that North Korea is the ne plus ultra of this vile and inglorious tradition, and that Confucianism might have been an added ingredient, but to overlook the part that Communism itself played, as Professor Cumings does, and blame mainly the Americans, is preposterous.

I feel a little sorry for Professor Cumings. He has spent his life studying the language, culture and history of a nation that not so long ago was disregarded and ignored, if not despised. Despite his erudition, however, he will, in the long run, be regarded as a buffoon. His works on North Korea will be seen in the same light as those of the Webbs on the Soviet Union. They knew everything about the Soviet Union except the truth.

Personally I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for the hapless people of North Korea, as Daniels does too, I do not doubt. I hope and trust that the US government is working busily for the demise of the vile regime which now imprisons them, and that their day of deliverance may not be too long delayed.

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9 comments to Bruce Cumings – professor of idiocy

  • Sansara

    Now now, you are naiive. Cheney and his Bush aren’t that stupid.

    Why should they work for the demise of the KimIlSungian clique when their continued existence is so profitable?

    Because they are so great at selling these overwhelmingly profitable missile defense systems.

    Dont forget that when the USSR disintegrated, US defense budgets went down. That made some people very angry!

    Why overthrow North Korea? Why kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

    Gulags and slave camps, torture, experimentation on whole families with chemical weapons, millions died of starvation – aside – there is much to like about this man Kim Jong Il. He even likes James Bond movies.

    Blame it all on the world’s narcissists. The “let them eat cake” types, you know them.

    Free markets or captive, they don’t care about people one zit and in their utter and complete selfishness and lack of a conscience they create all evil in the world.

    Politics is next to irrelevant, we are talking about extreme examples of simple greed.

    In that sense, both Bush and Kim are cut from the same cloth. (Bush is just better at hiding it, and less desparate, so he doesn’t need the extreme repression that Kim’s seriously twisted reality-distortion field requires – yet!)

    We desperately need a different tailor.

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    You mean to say that Prof. Cummings is from the University of Chicago (the one known for its school of economics which produced about 1000 Nobel laureates). There’s also a University of Illinois at Chicago (which is a campus of the U of I, but not the main campus, which is at Urbana-Champaign).

  • M. Simon


    Thanks for clearing that up. As an alum with a son a frosh at the school we can’t have people confusing us with other places.

    With so many libertarians and capitalists at the school these days I was wondering if they had any truly leftists on the staff.

    I will wonder no more.

  • Andrew X

    Ironic for me in that I, just a couple hours ago, posted to Tim Blair’s magnificent blog a quote from Daniel’s ‘Utopias Elsewhere’…. his trip to North Korea, Albania, Romania, Cuba and Vietnam when they were all still commie in the eighties.

    But I read somwhere…. (here?)… that Daniels is in fact Theodore Dalrymple, the also magnificent essayist. I believe(d) that is true, because they are both British psychiatrists, both less than enthusiastic with statism, be it the allegedly benign Western type or the psychotic charnel house variety elswhere, and both write with a combination of sorrow at the folly and a PJ O’Rourke-ist wry humor at… well the folly.

    But while Dalrymple is all over the place, it looks like Anthony Daniels is back now. So what’s up? Anyone know? Are these the same two people or not? Can anyone settle this definitively?

  • ed

    RE: Now now, you are naiive. Cheney and his Bush aren’t that stupid.

    Don’t be an ass.

  • Guy Herbert

    Andrew X: It’s quite straightforward. The estimable Dr D writes in his own name on foreign affairs, et al., but since he works as a GP and prison doctor, uses a pseudonym when discussing medicine or touching on UK public policy.

    The latter probably started out as discretion but survives as branding.

  • Almost picked Cuming’s book up in Seoul this weekend. Kind of regret that I didn’t.

    Look, I don’t agree with a lot of what Cumings had to say, but before we beat the guy up too badly, it should be pointed out that the guy does write a lot of really insightful stuff that you won’t find other Korean Studies scholars writing — his book “Korea’s Place in the Sun” is one of the best works on the country (or countries) ever produced. He’s somewhat of an iconoclast, which actually helps him when he’s discussing South Korea. Unfortunately, that same iconoclasm tends to lead him off the mark when he discusses North Korea, where so much of his analysis is just dead wrong. It doesn’t help that he’s also a helpless wise-ass who tends to make snarky little comments that a scholar of his standing shouldn’t be making.

  • Alan Furman

    Voltaire (I think) disposed of Cumings long ago: “A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant fool.”

  • JukJae Master

    As far as Multi-Racial crowds pointing or whatever to Kim Jong Il is totally false. As for the cult iconism of him it is most certainly known that even Russia didn’t have that kind of power in it’s last days. The US seems closer to that in it’s unconditional support for presidents, despite what they do, are deemed nobel or just based on their partisan side. I’m not equating NK Jukjae to this. Each country that has arrived at communism or capitalism did it in their own way with their own cultural artifacts. Did S Korea become a capitalist dictatorship in it’s beginnings because of the US model? I think not.

    I bought his “Sun” book and it’s been spot on. I just wish he left much of his personal experiences out of it. I do think it has a bias however. It’s very much less oriental however. Every historian has an opinion.