One of the most striking developments of the Cold War international order was the reconstruction and integration of Japan into an American-led orbit. Another critical feature of postwar Asia was the phenomenally rapid economic growth that began to take place in the 1960s in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. More and more historians have been showing that the origins of the American embroglio in Vietnam, itself part of the Cold War, were inspired by the effort of US officials to safeguard the resources and markets of Southeast Asia which were thought to be essential for the Japanese economy. The implementation of containment in Indochina also reflected Washington’s desire to buy time so that the burgeoning economies in the region could be integrated in the Japanese semi-periphery and the American-led free world.
Bruce Cumings is a political scientist who has found a home in the History Department of the University of Chicago. In his pathbreaking work on the coming of the Korean War he has combined comprehensive archival research with stimulating theoretical insights. In the following article he shows that developments in postwar Asia must be studied in historical and geographical context. If one is to understand why the Cold War came to Asia and what has happened there during the Cold War, one must take cognizance of the hegemonic position of the United States in the world capitalist system. But that is not enough. The unique evolution of events in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan can be understood only by combining an analysis of US policy with a knowledge of the social structure of these countries and with an appreciation of the strength and autonomy of the state. The dynamic interaction of these factors explains how and why the United States coopted the region into its own orbit and stymied the growth of Soviet/Communist influence. These factors also help to explain the configuration of power