Cumings takes a broad view of his subject, covering not just the Korean War itself but also its origins in civil strife before and during the U.S. occupation, the political and cultural drivers of U.S. policy, the politics of forgetting in the subsequent half century, the painful recovery of repressed truths in recent years, and the war's legacies in both Koreas and in the United States. He sees the war as a continuation of the long struggle by Korean nationalists against Japanese domination and Korean collaborationism, both of which were resurgent under the United States' post-World War II occupation. He exposes the racist attitudes the occupiers brought to Korea and the military atrocities they carried out. Today, he believes, North Korea continues to wage the anticolonial struggle that the rest of the world, blinded by old stereotypes of savage "Asiatics," has never understood. The failure to understand history contributes to the inability of Washington and Pyongyang to understand each other. Cumings covers these difficult topics in a sure-footed style, providing insights that are always stimulating, if not always convincing. More than a reworking of existing literature (including his own previous monographs), the book is full of new discoveries from archival research.
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