Alexis Dudden received her BA from Columbia University in 1991 and her PhD in history from the University of Chicago in 1998. She is currently writing a book about Japan’s territorial disputes and the changing meaning of islands in international law.
Areas of Expertise (5)
University of Chicago: Ph.D., History 1988
University of Chicago: M.A., History 1993
Columbia University: B.A., East Asian Languages and Cultures 1991
Chosun Ilbo (professional)
Manhae Peace Prize
Inst. for International and Regional Studies, Princeton University
Media Appearances (26)
Flashpoint Ukraine: Why Would North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Go to Russia?
Voice of America online
The North Korean leader is on his way to Russia; what’s the context for a possible meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin? Plus, Kyiv responds to perceived criticism over the speed of the counteroffensive.
Leaders of Japan and South Korea Vow to Deepen Ties
New York Times print
Prof. Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, an expert on Korea-Japan relations, cautioned Seoul, Tokyo and Washington against treating “history as mere background music to the present and irrelevant to how it informs immediate concerns — in this instance, standing firm on North Korea and increasingly on China, too.” As the history of the ties between South Korea and Japan has repeatedly shown, a reconciliatory move over one historical dispute accomplishes little if another dispute, such as over the territorial rights over a set of islets between the two nations, is rekindled.
A Yale Professor Suggested Mass Suicide for Old People in Japan. What Did He Mean?
The New York Times print
But detractors say Dr. Narita highlights the burdens of an aging population without suggesting realistic policies that could alleviate some of the pressures. “He’s not focusing on helpful strategies such as better access to day care or broader inclusion of women in the work force or broader inclusion of immigrants,” said Alexis Dudden, a historian at the University of Connecticut who studies modern Japan. “Things that might actually invigorate Japanese society.”
Itaewon Halloween tragedy conjures ghosts of 1995 Seoul store collapse
The Washington Post print
Just as the Sampoong disaster was a wake-up call for a fast-rising economic power, the Itaewon tragedy came at another moment of ascendance for Korea, this time as a global cultural beacon, thanks to the Oscar-winning film “Parasite” and global pop stars like BTS. “It’s just simply so sad and arguably infuriating, especially to the victims’ families, to realize how preventable all these tragedies are,” said Alexis Dudden, a professor of history focusing on East Asia at the University of Connecticut.
The Fight Over Berlin’s Comfort Woman Statue
The Nation print
Alexis Dudden, a history professor at the University of Connecticut whose research specializes in Korea-Japan relations, helped organize a 2015 letter signed by a group of American academics condemning Japan’s revisionist history regarding comfort women. Denialists retaliated by sending her 10 to 15 death threats every day; eventually, an FBI officer was assigned to her classroom. She is also one of several professors at American public universities who’ve received Freedom of Information Act requests in an unfounded search for incriminating e-mails. The requests emanated from white American men living in Asia, whose online writings are sympathetic to Japanese nationalism and anti-comfort women.
Making Sense of Shinzo Abe
New York Times online
To be sure, the uglier parts of Abe’s nationalism damaged his efforts at alliance-building. His attempts to whitewash history — by changing school textbooks, for example, and downplaying Japan’s wartime brutality — created frictions with allies like South Korea, whose citizens were among the victims. “His personal vision for rewriting Japanese history, of a glorious past, created a real problem in East Asia which will linger,” Alexis Dudden, a University of Connecticut historian, told The New Yorker. “It also divided Japanese society even further over how to approach its own responsibility for wartime actions carried out in the name of the emperor.”
How Shinzo Abe Sought to Rewrite Japanese History
The New Yorker online
After Abe’s death, I spoke by phone with Alexis Dudden, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut who specializes in modern Japan and Korea. She was in Tokyo when we talked. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed Abe’s Second World War revisionism, his complicated feelings about America, and why his push to reform the Japanese constitution ultimately failed.
5 challenges awaiting Biden on his Asia tour
Biden needs to convince South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office May 10, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that their strained relations undermine his Indo-Pacific strategy. “It would be a wonderful opportunity for President Biden to recognize that the so-called history debate problems in the region have become security threats … that lead to diplomatic standoff,” said Alexis Dudden, history professor at the University of Connecticut.
Cultural Heritage Dispute Fuels Seoul-Tokyo History War
TBS TV (South Korea) online
We talked to Historian Alexis Dudden, who's written extensively on Korea-Japan relations, about this issue and she said with good documented evidence of Korean forced labor, the attempt to erase it is questionable. "There are so many beautiful, interesting heritage sites in Japan. The city of Kyoto, for example, which does belong to the world. Why is Japan doing this at this moment is a question that I think has a lot to do with Japan, that is to say, inside Japan dynamics. This is a fight over how to tell Japanese history. And so, in listing this Mitsubishi owned mine, I think it's something that the government would like to explain as 'Beautiful Japan,' yet as a world heritage site it's really strange."
Overlooked No More: Kim Hak-soon, Who Broke the Silence for ‘Comfort Women’
New York Times print
In South Korea, 238 former comfort women would eventually step forward. A protest started by Kim and others in 1992 is held outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday. Amid the uproar triggered by her testimony, Tokyo issued a landmark apology in 1993, admitting that the Japanese military was, “directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations,” and that “coaxing” and “coercion” were used in the recruitment of comfort women. “She remains one of the bravest people of the 20th century,” said Alexis Dudden, a history professor at the University of Connecticut who specializes in Korea-Japan relations. “Kim Hak-soon’s initial statement propelled researchers to unearth documentary evidence to support her claims, which began the still-ongoing process of holding the Japanese government accountable for what the United Nations defines as a war crime and crime against humanity.”
Torch Relay Kicks Off For Troubled Tokyo Olympic Games
"The money spent on the Olympics could easily have helped these families rebuild lives elsewhere," comments Alexis Dudden, a history professor and Japan specialist at the University of Connecticut. Fukushima residents are not the only ones, she says, being sacrificed for commercial and geopolitical interests. "What happens if a great athlete actually accidentally contracts COVID and dies?" she asks. One reason Japan is loath to give up hosting the games is the fear that they might "fall behind or lose to China hosting the Winter Olympics in February, 2022. That is not a reason to sacrifice athlete's health."
Harvard professor ignites uproar over ‘comfort women’ claims
Associated Press online
Alexis Dudden, a historian of modern Japan and Korea at the University of Connecticut, called the article a “total fabrication” that disregards decades of research. Although some have invoked academic freedom to defend Ramseyer, Dudden counters that the article “does not meet the requirements of academic integrity.” “These are assertions out of thin air,” she said. “It’s very clear from his writing and his sources that he has never seen a contract.”
Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women
The New Yorker print
Alexis Dudden, the historian of Japan and Korea, was one of the scholars invited to publish a reply to Ramseyer in the journal. In her comment, she observes that a reason for studying past atrocities is to try to prevent similar occurrences in the future, “not to abuse history by weaponizing it for present purposes.” She told me of meeting Korean comfort women in Tokyo, in 2000, at the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery. “One of them had her tongue cut out,” she said. “Another woman literally lifted up her hanbok to show me where one of her breasts had been lopped off.” Dudden said that the tribunal was “a big watershed in terms of understanding how oral testimony really was necessary, to shift the legal approach but also in terms of doing historical evidence gathering” in the study of crimes against humanity. In some sense, such testimony of atrocities is seemingly irrefutable. But historians such as Dudden continually seek to verify it, producing knowledge of unspeakable horrors, through cycles of historical denial, political conflict, and diplomatic irresolution.
A Harvard Professor Called Wartime Sex Slaves ‘Prostitutes.’ One Pushed Back.
New York Times print
The dispute over the academic paper has echoes of the early 1990s, a time when the world was first beginning to hear the voices of survivors of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery in Asia — traumas that the region’s conservative patriarchal cultures had long downplayed. Now, survivors’ testimony drives much of the academic narrative on the topic. Yet many scholars say that conservative forces are once again trying to marginalize the survivors. “This is so startling, 30 years later, to be dragged back, because in the meantime survivors from a wide range of countries found a voice,” Alexis Dudden, a historian of Japan and Korea at the University of Connecticut who has interviewed the women.
Whither Tokyo's Summer Olympics?
Yet this is not the first time that Tokyo had problems being able to host the Olympics. Eighty years ago, the world’s greatest athletes were supposed to arrive in the Japanese capital for the competition — but those games never took place. The weird history of the 1940 Olympics began with Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria and its establishment of the puppet state Manchukuo in 1932. Alexis Dudden, professor of history at the University of Connecticut and author of the forthcoming book “The Opening and Closing of Japan, 1850-2020,” noted the United States attempted to lead international criticism against Japan, even though its absence from the League of Nations limited its efforts. The Japanese government believed its creation of Manchukuo fell within “the rules of the road for European and American states at the time” and bristled when the League of Nations criticized it. “So, Japan walked out of the league,” she added.
Will North Korea's Kim deliver an 'October surprise' to Trump?
The Japan Times online
Alexis Dudden, a Korea and Japan expert at the University of Connecticut, was even more blunt in assessing the odds of another Kim-Trump meeting — or an entirely different approach by the unpredictable U.S. leader. “If it strikes Trump’s fancy in the middle of the night to fly to Pyongyang and meet Kim in an effort to appear presidential, he will,” she said. “If it strikes Trump’s fancy in the middle of the night to order a militarized attack on a North Korean nuclear facility in an effort to appear presidential, he will.”
U.S. Marine’s Son Wins Okinawa Election on Promise to Oppose Military Base
New York Times print
Denny Tamaki, the son of a Japanese mother and a United States Marine, became the first mixed-race governor in Japan on Sunday after winning a close election in Okinawa, a southern archipelago heavily populated by American military installations. Mr. Tamaki’s victory suggested that Japan might be opening, just a little bit, to more racial diversity. “It all helps broaden the discussion of what it means to be Japanese,” said Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut who specializes in the modern history of Japan. “And it broadens the reality of being Japanese, at a time when some voices would have a very old-fashioned notion of Japanese ethnicity.”
Amid praise for Trump, North Korea doubles down on criticism of Japan
In North Korea, Japan appears to have replaced the United States as the most vilified imperialist enemy, with state media deriding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government as a “cult” bent on derailing Pyongyang’s diplomatic outreach. The repeated salvos of rhetoric highlight North Korea’s continued need for an enemy to target, as well as possible hopes to push Tokyo into providing cash as part of economic incentives to get North Korea to limit its weapons program, said Alexis Dudden, a Korea and Japan expert at the University of Connecticut.
Trump’s On-Again, Off-Again Summit Style Unnerves Asian Allies
New York Times print
But casting North Korea as the bad guy may not be so straightforward in the Trump era. “The hard-liners who define the Abe worldview will continue with this ‘Look, the North Koreans can’t be trusted,’” said Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut, who specializes in the modern history of Japan and Korea. “But in this regard, it’s the Trump administration who has pulled the plug out right now, so who can’t really be trusted right now? That’s the longer-term challenge: In the final push, the U.S. might not be there for Japan.”
Kim Jong-un’s Sister Turns On the Charm, Taking Pence’s Spotlight
New York Times print
Analysts of Korean affairs said that Mr. Pence had missed an opportunity. “I think it would have been really helpful to the conversation of denuclearization for the Pences to have appreciated the effort put into bringing team unified Korea into the stadium,” said Alexis Dudden, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut. “And it wouldn’t have lessened the American position.”
'Comfort women' deal called into question
China Daily online
The upside to the 2015 accord is it acknowledged that Japan had orchestrated a violent, systemic program of sexual slavery in the 1930s and 1940s, said Alexis Dudden, professor of history at the University of Connecticut. "This aspect was helpful," she said. But the problem with the deal was - and remains - what the South Korean government task force highlighted: The surviving victims were ignored in the deal, Dudden said.
To understand East Asian nationalism, climb a mountain
When Japan annexed Korea in the early 20th century, the colonial authorities understood the sacred significance of mountains. As Alexis Dudden of the University of Connecticut explains, the peaks overlooking the city of Seoul determined the layout of Gyeongbok Palace, home to the ruling dynasty. Its throne room was aligned with the mountains to channel the spiritual power of the landscape through the Korean emperor’s veins. In 1911, in an early act of colonial violence, the Japanese governor ordered the construction of a massive, neoclassical building to block the flow and serve as colonial headquarters. In 1945 the naive American liberators understood none of this, lowering the Japanese flag on the building and raising the Stars and Stripes. The offending structure was at last razed in 1996.
The U.S. is Ready to ‘Fight Tonight’ but South Koreans Reject War as the Solution to North Korean Threats
Alexis Dudden, a professor of Korean and Japanese history at the University of Connecticut, stresses the importance of understanding the complexity of modern Korea-Japan relations to better appreciate Korean resistance to U.S. demands. Dudden said it is “imperative that Washington planners take seriously South Korean desires for renewed engagement.” Nearly 77 percent of South Koreans want renewed talks with the North according to a recent poll. In a country where one in six families is directly affected by the North-South divide, Dudden said, “the obliteration alternative is no alternative at all.”...
Japan at a Crossroads
Japan’s emperor has given a historic televised address where he all but stated his wish to abdicate the throne. He would be the first emperor in 200 years to do so in the world’s oldest continual monarchy. He lived through the post-World War II era which saw the symbol of Imperial Japan, the divine emperor, reduced to a figurehead. In many ways he represents the contradiction between two national identities: A post-war democracy and its complete rejection of war, and an imperial history of wars of conquest. ..
The Shape of Japan to Come
The New York Times
Bolstered by his party’s victory in Diet elections last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has renewed his vow to free Japan from the fetters of the past, especially its defeat in World War II. Mr. Abe and his supporters view the prevailing accounts of that era as “masochistic” and a hindrance to taking pride in what he calls the “new Japan.” They propose to modify the article in Japan’s Constitution that states the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.”...
Revolution by Candlelight: How South Koreans Toppled a Government
2017 Any plan that does not include South Korea as an equal at the negotiating table will fail. The calls by some in Washington for diplomacy with Pyongyang focus on weapons but ignore North Korea’s long sought peace treaty to end the 1953 armistice—as if all of this sprang from nowhere. More troubling, others in D.C. favor an “America first” military approach that would immediately involve South Korean and Japanese troop participation, too, making “kinetic” in this instance just another word for “slaughter.” The chance not to have this war exists, and learning from the Candlelight movement is the surest course for this alternative future.
South Korea took rapid, intrusive measures against Covid-19 – and they workedThe Guardian
Alexis Dudden and Andrew Marks
2020 South Koreans are famously nonchalant about North Korean nuclear weapons. Bewilderingly to the rest of us, they “keep calm and carry on” whenever Pyongyang threatens to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”. The South Korean approach to Covid-19 could not have been more different. On 16 January, the South Korean biotech executive Chun Jong-yoon grasped the reality unfolding in China and directed his lab to work to stem the virus’s inevitable spread; within days, his team developed detection kits now in high demand around the world.
Japan’s Antiwar LegacyDissent
2017 There is a deep division among Japan’s leaders today over the definition and future direction of their nation. On one side are those who favor maintaining the so-called peace clause of Japan’s post-1945 constitution, Article 9, which renounces Japan’s sovereign right to wage war. On the other side are those who argue that Japan must become what they call a “normal nation”—meaning one that can fight wars against other nations. A group of college students has given most traction to the cause of maintaining Japan’s antiwar international posture. Currently reorganizing themselves for long-term political involvement, the SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) worked tirelessly throughout 2015–2016. Their message remains clear: preserve Article 9.