Southeast Asia: A Testament

Southeast Asia: A Testament

Southeast Asia: A Testament

Southeast Asia: A Testament

Excerpt

A scholar's highest obligation, the phrase had it in the 1960s, was to speak truth to power. It turned out, however, that truth was a tragically relative term in the Cold War era. Many Americans were sent abroad to die by the tens-of-thousands, while Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans were sentenced to death by the millions, because US officials disagreed with foreign leaders about what each believed was true in terms of the needs of their own national interests.

George Kahin circumvented this problem by raising the intellectual obligation one level higher. He believed it was most important to speak knowledge to power. This obligation required work, not revelation - least of all a revelation shaped by a 1945-to-1950 world that did little to explain the rising nationalisms that tore the two superpowers' policies apart in the post-1950 era. George, to understate, did not trust preaching and revelation.

Because of his pursuit of the facts on the ground, a pursuit so disciplined that even two heart attacks after age 38 could not limit it, he became a towering figure, especially during the era of America's longest war. As Jayne S. Werner has noted, “Virtually all the arguments he made at the time have since been accepted by both academics and journalists, including many who once supported or quasi-supported the US position. Even former government figures have acknowledged the foresight he had at the time.”

This testament tells of George's life-long search for both the facts on the ground and the complex historical background that shaped what he studied. It also reveals the immense personal risks he took and the traumas he suffered, including continuing nightmares after visiting Vietnamese hospitals during the war. It contains a highly detailed, compelling, first-person account of the 1948-9 Indonesian revolution against Dutch colonialism. As he understood at the time, and elaborated in his landmark 1952 study, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia, the upheaval marked a crucial turn in the great historical process of anti-colonialism that shaped the next half-century. This view of Asian anti-colonialism, sharpened by the Dutch who arrested him because of his work, intensified George's determination to create the systematic study of nationalisms for the foreign policies of a nation that acted as a superpower while also acting, as it turned out, in considerable

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