JAS at AAS: Contemplating the Cold War in Asia


Sunday, April 3: 10:45am-12:45am--Convention Center, Room 203.


Our central author for this year's roundtable, Alfred McCoy (A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror) writes:


"[H]istorians usually treat World War II and the Cold War as separate conflicts, linked only by the postwar rupture, often minimized as merely coincidental, between the U.S. and USSR. But this almost seamless succession of Asian wars over the span of 50 years offers a disconcerting hint there might be some deeper driver underlying and perhaps uniting these seemingly separate conflicts."

"In this spirit, we must ask: What is so extraordinary about September 2, 1945 (when World War II ended) or March 5, 1946 (when Winston Churchill heralded the Cold War)? If these two days, separated by just six months, were not temporal voids, somehow bisecting time’s seamless web into distinct periods, then we should set aside these chronological benchmarks and begin recalibrating the Cold War’s history accordingly."

"Complicating this chronology further, many of the major events coincident with Cold War’s advent in Asia—notably, the Vietnamese and Chinese revolutions–have multiple meanings, comingling the nationalism heightened by World War II, the communism synonymous with the Cold War, and a discordant element, the decolonization that marked the end of European empires. Indeed, this comingled, even contradictory mix of war and revolution, nationalism and communism mark the first years of the Cold War era in a vast swath of Asia—from India to Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, the Philippines, all the way to Vietnam, China, and Korea. If we add Japan, which suffered the loss of history’s largest empire, then virtually the whole of Asia felt the impact of this imperial transition."

"Once spared from mistaking chronology for causality, we are freed to search for that deeper driver in the dynamics of Asian’s recent history."


Our panelists, Ann Sherif (Japan's Cold War: Media, Literature, and the Law), Shampa Biswas ("Deconstructing the 'New Cold War': Religious Nationalisms, Orientalism and Postcoloniality"), Michael Bodden (“Modern Drama, Politics, and the Postcolonial Aesthetics of Left-Nationalism in North Sumatra: The Forgotten Theater of Indoensia’s Lekra, 1955-65"), and Michael Szonyi (Cold War Island) will use this thesis as a jump-off point for discussion; their comments will, in turn, serve as a basis for a broader conversation with panel attendees.