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Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 / Edition 1

Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 / Edition 1

by Christina KleinChristina Klein
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In the years following World War II, American writers and artists produced a steady stream of popular stories about Americans living, working, and traveling in Asia and the Pacific. Meanwhile the U.S., competing with the Soviet Union for global power, extended its reach into Asia to an unprecedented degree. This book reveals that these trends—the proliferation of Orientalist culture and the expansion of U.S. power—were linked in complex and surprising ways. While most cultural historians of the Cold War have focused on the culture of containment, Christina Klein reads the postwar period as one of international economic and political integration—a distinct chapter in the process of U.S.-led globalization.

Through her analysis of a wide range of texts and cultural phenomena—including Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific and The King and I, James Michener's travel essays and novel Hawaii, and Eisenhower's People-to-People Program—Klein shows how U.S. policy makers, together with middlebrow artists, writers, and intellectuals, created a culture of global integration that represented the growth of U.S. power in Asia as the forging of emotionally satisfying bonds between Americans and Asians. Her book enlarges Edward Said's notion of Orientalism in order to bring to light a cultural narrative about both domestic and international integration that still resonates today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520232303
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/10/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1480L (what's this?)

About the Author

Christina Klein is Associate Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Cold War Orientalism

Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961
By Christina Klein


Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-520-93625-6

Chapter One

Sentimental Education

Creating a Global Imaginary of Integration

What we have to do is to convince not only their minds but their hearts. What we need to do is to make the "cold war" a "warm war" by infusing into it ideological principles to give it meaning.

Raymond A. Hare, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs, 1950

In June 1957 Newsweek published a special report on the spread of anti- American attitudes around the world, and, like many publications on international affairs from the late 1940s and 1950s, it illustrated its story with a map. Titled "Worldwide—The Feeling About Us" and spreading across two pages, the map depicts the northern hemisphere from Iceland in the West to Japan in the East (Figure 3). It represents the scope of U.S. global expansion in an unusually forthright manner: eleven text filled balloons pinpoint the countries and regions where the U.S. had a major military presence, and indicate the number of U.S. troops, government employees, and civilians stationed there. The balloons also summarize the "feeling" of local populations, suggesting the mix of good will and hostility that U.S. expansion provoked. The map notes "minimum personal friction" between Americans and locals in Morocco, "friendly" personal contacts in Great Britain, and "basically good" relations in France. The situation in Asia, however, was less positive: "local frictions" persisted in South Korea, collaboration with Formosa was "endangered" by "increasing civilian-soldier irritations," relations were "worsening" in Okinawa, and irritations were "growing" in Japan. Even in the Philippines, a nation with which the U.S. enjoyed a "basically strong friendship," relations had been "hurt" by jurisdictional and personnel "quarrels." In calling attention to these frictions, the Newsweek map conveys some of the anxiety that the assertion of global power generated among Americans when they faced the contingent character of the U.S. presence abroad and the possibility of Asian opposition. The map offered the personalized language of feeling as the appropriate means for expressing that anxiety and for thinking about the dynamics of expansion and resistance. A few weeks after Newsweek published this map, Francis Wilcox, a mid- level State Department official, delivered a speech to an audience of educators in Philadelphia that recast the problem of foreign resistance to U.S. expansion into an issue of domestic pedagogy. Wilcox emphasized the profound effect that decolonization was having on the United States. He began by describing the rising influence of the new Asian and African nations and the accompanying shift in the Cold War from the military to the ideological plane. He explained that the Soviet Union, which in the late 1940s and early 1950s had "expanded its empire" into China, Korea, and Indochina through the use of force, was now turning to an "all- out war of ideas, ideologies, propaganda, and subversion" designed to win the allegiance of decolonizing peoples through peaceful means. Wilcox impressed upon his listeners that the U.S.-Soviet competition over the developing nations was creating an educational crisis among Americans, most of whom had been educated in what he called the pre-Pearl Harbor "isolationist era" and thus did not fully comprehend the importance of these new nations. He urged his audience of educators to help train the next generation of Americans for their "new role" of world leadership by teaching them about countries such as Indonesia, whose strategic location and vast natural resources made it valuable to both the Soviets and the U.S. Wilcox pointed out that in years to come an unprecedented number of Americans would spend a portion of their lives abroad as "soldiers, technicians, educators, government officials, business men and women, and tourists." In order for these people to do their jobs well and avoid generating "tensions" abroad, he explained, all Americans needed an "education for overseasmanship."

This "education for overseasmanship," Wilcox implied, would not entail the learning of new information so much as the cultivation of new feelings. Wilcox did not suggest that Americans study Indonesian languages or history. Rather, he urged his audience to foster "closer economic, political, and cultural ties with the people of Asia and Africa" by training Americans in new attitudes. "We live in an interdependent world," Wilcox told his audience, and Americans had to learn to "understand the hopes and problems and attitudes of other people." Waging the Cold War in the decolonizing world, this State Department official explained, would require Americans to "cultivate the quality of empathy—the ability to put yourself in the other fellow's position and see things from his point of view." Only by learning new mental and emotional skills, he suggested, could Americans defeat the Soviet Union and secure the allegiance of the decolonizing world for themselves.

For too long, diplomatic and cultural historians have taken the Truman Doctrine speech as the emblematic expression of Cold War ideology. Truman's 1947 address, in which he solicited Congressional support for a $400 million aid package to civil-war-torn Greece and Turkey, is often read as marking the start of the Cold War. In it the president cast the postwar situation as a worldwide struggle between "free peoples" who believed in "individual liberty" and "totalitarian regimes" that ruled through "terror and oppression." In a world structured by this Manichaean opposition, Truman declared, the United States must assume leadership of that half of the world that was "resisting attempted subjugation" by internal or external forces. The representative status accorded to Truman's speech has, however, obscured as much as it has revealed about the postwar era. Wilcox's 1957 speech in Philadelphia—a boilerplate address that reiterated the Eisenhower administration's key themes and concerns—deserves attention as an equally representative document, just as polemical and just as intent on rallying support for the Cold War, but one that expresses a different set of ideological principles.

These two speeches should be seen in the context of the gearing up of a vast educational machinery designed to direct the attention of the American people to the world outside the nation's borders. As Wilcox indicated, the expansion of U.S. power around the globe depended upon the support and services of millions of ordinary Americans, acting as private citizens and as employees of the state, and it could not move forward if Americans continued to think in narrowly national and "isolationist" terms. In the view of political elites, the collective consciousness needed to be reshaped along internationalist lines. This internationalist education occurred in various places throughout the postwar social order, including grade schools, high schools, and universities. It also took place in less formal venues of education, such as the global imaginaries created by political elites and cultural producers.

The speeches by Wilcox and Truman are worth comparing in part because they express two distinct Cold War global imaginaries. A global imaginary is an ideological creation that maps the world conceptually and defines the primary relations among peoples, nations, and regions. As an imaginative, discursive construct, it represents the abstract entity of the "world" as a coherent, comprehensible whole and situates individual nations within that larger framework. It produces peoples, nations, and cultures not as isolated entities but as interconnected with one another. This is not to say that it works through deception or that it mystifies the real, material conditions of global relations. Rather, a global imaginary articulates the ways in which people imagine and live those relations. It creates an imaginary coherence out of the contradictions and disjunctures of real relations, and thereby provides a stable sense of individual and national identity. In reducing the infinite complexity of the world to comprehensible terms, it creates a common sense about how the world functions as a system and offers implicit instruction in how to maneuver within that system; it makes certain attitudes and behaviors easier to adopt than others.

Truman's 1947 speech articulated the relations between the United States, the Soviet Union, and the other nations of the world through what I am calling a global imaginary of containment. Wilcox's 1957 speech, in turn, articulated those same relations through a global imaginary of integration. These two global imaginaries were not invented by these individuals; they were collectively produced over the course of the late 1940s and 1950s by a broad array of political elites, journalists, academics, and cultural producers. These two global imaginaries educated Americans about the world and their role in it in very different ways. The global imaginary of containment offered a heroic model of education: it imagined the Cold War as a crusade against communism and invited the American people to join in. Much of the energy it generated, however, was directed inward and aimed at ferreting out enemies and subversives within the nation itself. The global imaginary of integration, in contrast, proposed a model of sentimental education. The State Department's "education for overseasmanship" encouraged Americans to "look outward." Directed to the world beyond the nation's borders, it represented the Cold War as an opportunity to forge intellectual and emotional bonds with the people of Asia and Africa. Only by creating such bonds, Wilcox suggested, could the economic, political, and military integration of the "free world" be achieved and sustained. When it did turn inward, the global imaginary of integration generated an inclusive rather than a policing energy.

Most cultural histories of the Cold War take the foreign policy and ideology of containment as their foundation. I want to emphasize the discursive workings of integration instead. This chapter compares the global imaginaries of containment and integration, and explores the discursive and institutional means through which political elites undertook the sentimental education of the American people.


Containment and integration constituted the two ideological foundations of postwar foreign policy. Containment was a distinctly Cold War strategic ideology. Based on U.S. balance-of-power concerns vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, it posited a zero-sum conflict between Moscow, which it figured as aggressive and expansionist, and Washington, which it figured as defensive and peaceful. Containment held that, since cooperation with the Soviets was impossible and all communist governments were subservient to Moscow, the expansion of communism anywhere in the world posed a direct threat to the U.S. share of world power. George Kennan articulated its defining logic when he called for the "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies" through the "adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points." After the Truman Doctrine speech, containment became one central goal of postwar foreign policy.

The ideology of integration, in contrast, originated in the nation's fundamental economic structures. Americans have always understood their democratic political freedoms to be inseparable from their economic ones. Since at least the early nineteenth century they have also believed that the nation's economy, in order to remain healthy, had continually to expand and integrate new markets and sources of raw materials. As the U.S. extended its reach, first westward and then into the Caribbean and the Pacific, it gradually created an economy that had a regional rather than merely a continental scope. This regional Pacific economy began to take shape early on, when the U.S. began trading with China in the 1780s and opened Japan up to Western trade in 1853. Seeking reliable stepping stones to these Asian markets, Washington acquired a territorial empire in the Pacific: it annexed the Midway Islands in 1867, Samoa in 1878, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines in 1898 (through the Spanish- American War), and Wake Island in 1899. Washington launched a policy of informal, or free trade, imperialism in 1899-1900 when it issued the "open door" notes to China and extended it in the 1920s under the rubric of "dollar diplomacy." World War II helped create a U.S. economy with a worldwide rather than merely regional reach and cemented the belief in the unity of economic and political freedoms. In the decades that followed, any restrictions on U.S. economic growth—such as those posed by communist governments—were seen as a threat to the nation's fundamental political structure and to what came to be called "the American way of life." At a time when the U.S. economy needed truly global access to markets and resources in order to sustain itself, the defense of the nation demanded securing that access through a variety of political and military means.

The ideology of integration took on a distinctive shape during the Cold War. Melvyn Leffler and Thomas McCormick have argued that the Cold War should be seen as a competition between the United States and the Soviets not just for strategic advantage, but also for exclusive access to the world's markets, industrial infrastructure, and natural resources. Washington concluded that the best way to guarantee its own access was by expanding the capitalist system of free trade on a global scale. As a result, it sought to create an internationally integrated free market economic order, in which each nation would have unrestricted access to the markets and raw materials of all the others, while capital, goods, and people would move freely across national borders. By giving up any efforts at economic self-sufficiency, individual nations would become dependent on each other for their prosperity and thus, Washington believed, much less likely to engage in activities that would lead to war. In practice, creating this economic order meant integrating the core industrial economies of the democratic West and Japan with the markets and resource-rich economies of the decolonizing periphery. Washington perceived any effort on the part of decolonizing nations to remain outside of this integrated system—by pursuing nationalist economic policies, for instance—as a threat to the economic and political stability of the capitalist "free world." The creation of this integrated global economy—and its preservation through political and military means—became, along with the containment of the Soviet Union, the other fundamental goal of postwar U.S. policymakers.

Far from being opposed to each other, the containment of the Soviet Union and the integration of the capitalist "free world" are best understood as two sides of the same coin. The military alliances designed to contain Soviet expansion also facilitated economic integration among member nations, and the foreign aid programs designed to stimulate struggling economies served as channels for delivering military assistance. Together the principles of containment and integration under- girded Washington's postwar foreign policy agenda and led to the creation of international financial institutions (International Monetary Fund, World Bank), massive foreign aid projects (Marshall Plan), and world-straddling political and military alliances (NATO, SEATO).

Washington pursued this double strategy of containment and integration throughout Asia in the late 1940s and 1950s. At the end of World War II, the U.S. had preponderant power in the region (as it did in the rest of the world), with troops spread throughout the Pacific and on the Asian mainland. Washington undertook as its first major postwar project the occupation and reconstruction of Japan. Between 1945 and 1952 the U.S. promoted the democratization of Japan's political structure, restored its industrial economy, and ensured that it remained beyond Soviet reach; the peace and security treaties of 1951, which granted the U.S. extensive military rights, cemented Japan's integration into the Western political and economic system. In the late 1940s the U.S. intervened in China's civil war, giving financial and military support to Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang (Nationalist) government in its struggle against Mao Zedong's communist forces; when Chiang fled to Taiwan in 1949, the U.S. continued its support and refused to recognize the communist government on the mainland. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Washington rushed in thousands of troops to contain what it saw as a Soviet-backed invasion of South Korea. In subsequent years, the U.S. dispatched military advisors to and launched nation- building projects in South Vietnam, exploded atomic bombs on the Bikini atoll, and sent the Seventh Fleet to protect Taiwan from Chinese attack. It constructed a network of military bases centered in the Philippines, Okinawa, and South Korea, and crafted a web of political treaties that allied the U.S. with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaya, and Pakistan. It increased its economic presence by pouring in billions of dollars in foreign aid, exporting American goods, importing Asia's raw materials, and encouraging private corporate expansion.


Excerpted from Cold War Orientalism by Christina Klein Copyright © 2003 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Sentimental Education: Creating a Global Imaginary of Integration
2. Reader's Digest, Saturday review, and the Middlebrow Aesthetic of Commitment
3. How to Be an American Abroad: James Michener's The Voice of Asia and Postwar Mass Tourism
4. Family Ties as Political Obligation: Oscar Hammerstein II, South Pacific, and the Discourse of Adoption
5. Musicals and Modernization: The King and I
6. Asians in America: Flower Drum Song and Hawaii


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