Arc of Empire: America's Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam

Arc of Empire: America's Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam

Arc of Empire: America's Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam

Arc of Empire: America's Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam


Although conventionally treated as separate, America's four wars in Asia were actually phases in a sustained U.S. bid for regional dominance, according to Michael H. Hunt and Steven I. Levine. This effort unfolded as an imperial project in which military power and the imposition of America's political will were crucial. Devoting equal attention to Asian and American perspectives, the authors follow the long arc of conflict across seventy-five years from the Philippines through Japan and Korea to Vietnam, tracing along the way American ambition, ascendance, and ultimate defeat. They show how these wars are etched deeply in eastern Asia's politics and culture.

The authors encourage readers to confront the imperial pattern in U.S. history with implications for today's Middle Eastern conflicts. They also offer a deeper understanding of China's rise and Asia's place in today's world.

For instructors: An Online Instructor's Manual is available, with teaching tips for using Arc of Empire in graduate and undergraduate courses on America's wars in Asia. It includes lecture topics, chronologies, and sample discussion questions.


Between 1899 and 1973 Americans fought four wars in eastern Asia. This prolonged though intermittent military engagement began with a brutal and now barely remembered struggle in the Philippines (1899–1902). As that conflict was winding down, tension began building between the United States and Japan, another rising Asian power. It exploded at Pearl Harbor. Nearly four years of savage fighting followed, culminating in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in the addition of U.S. strong points in eastern Asia, including occupied Japan. Five years after Japan’s surrender, Korea became the third link in this chain of conflict. Civil war in a country divided by Cold War rivalry turned in 1950 into an international conflict pitting American troops against Chinese forces backed by the Soviet Union. The Korean War in turn helped push U.S. policymakers, anxious about China’s seemingly aggressive communism, toward a major commitment in Indochina. The war there that U.S. troops took over in 1965 proved the most protracted and frustrating of all. It ended in a humiliating defeat that wrote finis to U.S. dreams of dominance in eastern Asia.

These four wars—in the Philippines, against Japan, in Korea, and in Vietnam—were not separate and unconnected, although they are conventionally treated as such. They were phases in a U.S. attempt to establish and maintain a dominant position in eastern Asia sustained over some seven decades against considerable resistance. These wars, along with other conflicts in which Americans had a part, such as the Boxer expedition (1900), the Chinese civil war (1946–49), the Huk insurgency in the Philippines (1947 to mid-1950s), and the Cambodian revolution (1970–79) constitute a single historical drama in four acts. The Philippines set the scene, Japan’s defeat brought the American protagonists to the apogee of their dominance, soon challenged in Korea and then broken in Vietnam. These developments carried profound consequences for eastern Asia as well as the United States. Ultimately the political and social changes transforming the . . .

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