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The end of the nineteenth century marked the debut of the United States as a colonial power in the Pacific. The annexation of the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands followed victory in the Spanish-American War. American expansionism differed from traditional European colonialism, thanks to the pluralistic tradition of the United States. Americans felt that Asians should become "Americanized," not merely the subjects of a colonial power. Along with the intense proselytizing efforts of American Christian missions in East Asia there was a strain of racial superiority. This found an outlet in the exclusion laws directed against Chinese and Japanese in the 1920s, as well as overbearing paternalism in the Philippines and various examples of anti-Asian "whites only" prejudice. Old-fashioned chauvinism was also involved, as Americans began to have proprietary feelings toward the Pacific as an "American" ocean.


There are comparisons and contrasts to be drawn with other nations in the region, notably the Philippines. As a result of a long-standing American commitment, the Philippines finally achieved post-colonial independence after World War II. Yet over the years, Philippine politics—barring the 1950s interregnum of the charismatic PresidentRamon Magsaysay—devolved into a two-party system divided by personalities and controlled by dictatorial local power brokers. In effect, this represented a return to the centuries-old system of domination by the small ruling elite, with minorities and the rural poor given no effective voice in national policy-making.

The culmination of this system was the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who turned his country into a virtual private kingdom. The video segment uses the example of the Philippines to show both the ill-advised US support of Marcos-almost to the end of his rule — and the unsurprising growth of armed communist guerilla resistance to thePhilippine government.


American policy toward China is another focus of the video segment, for it was in China more than the Philippines that the tragedy of the American postwar strategy in Asia was born. The search for culprits upon whom to blame the "loss" of China to the communists reverberated in American politics for two decades and decimated the ranks of capable Asia expertise in the government.


The postwar policy of "containment" was militarized in the course of the Korean War, a civil war in which Americans participated but which they only vaguely understood. In its aftermath, shaped by the "Red scare" in domestic politics, there emerged an inflexible US strategy to "pay any price" to stop communism throughout the world. The war in Vietnam became the ultimate price of that strategy, and only with the decision to conclude the war and change the policies that underlay containment in ways that emphasized a global and regional balance of power did the United States manage to successfully integrate Pacific Asia into its global contest with the Soviet Union.



Video: "Sentimental Imperialists"

Text: Chapter 9: Sentimental Imperialists: America’s Cold War in Asia



After viewing the video and reading Chapter 9, you should have a basic understanding of the following concepts:

1.  America encountered self-contradictions when it entered the twentieth century as an advocate of democracy and freedom, yet was also an imperial power in the Philippines.

2.   A misperception of China, its leaders, and Sino-American relations left Americans believing that they had "lost* China to conspiratorial communism, thus exaggerating their fear of communism in Asia.

3.   Americans underestimated nationalist aspirations in Asia as the basis for independence movements.

4.    Domestic politics have influenced US foreign policy in Asia, and vice-versa.

Containment policies changed over time, profoundly affecting how the US met the challenge of communism during the Cold War.






Domino Theory


Kim Il Sung

Henry Kissinger


Korean War


Mao Zedong

Pat McCarran

Joseph McCarthy

Ngo Dinh Diem

Nguyen Van Thieu

Richard Nixon

Nixon Doctrine


Policy of Containment

Syngman Rhee


Tet Offensive

Harry S. Truman

Truman Doctrine


Viet Cong



1. Look at the list of Key Concepts and Names for this chapter. Find all the place names, then locate each place on the maps in the text.

2. What was the other major non-Asian power that was aggressively influential in East Asia? How important was the US perception of that power and its influence to the development of American foreign policy initiatives? Why?

3.  Where are Subic Bay and Clark Field? Why are they important to the US? What is the controversy surrounding them and how has this controversy shaped American relationships in the Pacific area?

4.  Describe the international situation that formed the background to George Kennan's policy of containment. Why do you think the term "containment" was adopted for Kennan's policy? What were the differences between Kennan's original emphasis and the emphases of later presidential administrations?

5.  Why was Alger Hiss important to the development of American foreign policy after WWII? What international events influenced public attitudes toward Hiss? domestic events?

6.  Describe the American reaction to Mao's announcement of 1 October 1949 from Tian'anmen. Why would tile US have a reaction at all?

7.   The Korean War began and ended with the thirty-eighth parallel serving as the division between the North and the South. With this result in mind, how would you describe the outcome of the war? Was it a victory or a defeat for either side? What importance, if any, do you think the Korean War had in US history? In East Asian history? To international relations?

8.   Describe the "domino" theory. How valid do you feel this theory was, at the time? What relation do you think this theory had to post-WWII developments in East and Southeast Asia? to developments in the world?

9.   In what ways can Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il be compared to the Yi rulers of Korea who shut their country off from the outside world?




Sentimental Imperialists

America’s Cold War in Asia

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