Historian Bruce Cumings awarded April 3 Jeju Peace Prize

July 27, 2017 (last updated on November 21, 2019)

Bruce Cumings, the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History and the College, was awarded the second annual Jeju 4.3 Peace Prize at a June 9 ceremony on Jeju Island, South Korea.

Jeju is the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, located 75 miles south of the mainland. More than ten percent of the island’s population of 300,000 is believed to have been killed during the suppression of a rebellion that began April 3, 1948 and continued through the early 1950s. Thousands more were displaced, imprisoned, or missing, and witness accounts of the violence perpetrated by South Korean forces were banned for decades.

Information about the events remained obscure until South Korea’s democratization in the 1980s. While researching the extensive archives of the US Military Government in Korea, Cumings found evidence that the US military effectively authorized the brutal quashing of the uprising on the island. “It now is clear that a merciless, wholesale assault on the people of Jeju Island occurred under the direct leadership of the American Military Government,” he said in a speech accepting the prize.

Cumings added that a recently created Jeju 4.3 Peace Memorial Park and Museum are “monuments to the truth that revealing a terrible history can also be an important step on the path to reconciliation—in this case, reconciling the people of Jeju with the mainland and those who have governed it since 1948.”

Cumings’ scholarship explores modern Korean history, 20th-century international history, US-East Asian relations, East Asian political economy, and American foreign relations. He addressed the Jeju incident in detail in his acclaimed two-volume study, The Origins of the Korean War (1981/1990), and again in Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (1997).

The Jeju 4.3 Prize was established in 2015 to recognize “local and foreign figures who have contributed to finding facts on the Jeju 4.3 incident, and who have been dedicated to developing world peace, human rights, and democracy.”