The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II

The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II

The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II

The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II

Excerpt

Over the past half century, few corners of the globe have experienced more conflict, turmoil, devastation, and change than South‐ east Asia.And few have drawn more interest and attention from the United States—or more fevered bouts of activism and interventionism on its part.

Before World War II, Americans paid scant notice to South‐ east Asia. U.S. officials viewed its mainland and insular territories largely as preserves of the European imperial powers.The colonial order presided over by the British, French, and Dutch did not conflict with America's minimal interests in the area; quite to the contrary, it ensured U.S. importers reasonable access to Southeast Asia's rubber, tin, and other important primary products while maintaining an overall structure of peace and stability throughout the region.The Americans, for their part, were busy readying the Philippines for independence prior to Pearl Harbor, a move that would have constituted a formal divestment of Washington's own modest prewar empire in Southeast Asia.

World War II, and the Cold War that followed so closely on its heels, changed all that, dramatically altering American perceptions about Southeast Asia's value and triggering broad‐ gauged American intervention in the affairs of the region.With surprising speed, the administration of Harry S. Truman came to identify Southeast Asia as a region of vital significance to the peace, stability, and prosperity of the world—and a region, consequently, that held vital importance to the national security interests of the United States.Truman and his successors gradually constructed a new empire across postcolonial Southeast Asia, a Cold War empire.In doing so, they aimed to keep a critical area within the boundaries of the so-called Free World.So obsessed did Americans become with Southeast Asia's presumed centrality to the global balance of power, and to their own exercise of world leadership, that they became embroiled, by the mid-1960s, in a shattering, self-defeating war there.

That conflict carried far-reaching consequences, not only for . . .

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