TIME OUT OF HAND: Revolution and Reaction in Southeast Asia by Robert Shaplen

TIME OUT OF HAND: Revolution and Reaction in Southeast Asia

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This survey is more amitious than other recent Far Eastern correspondents' overviews, but it is basically as lightweight as Shaplen's 1965 book on Vietnam, The Lost Revolution. Now that the American need for progressive anti-Communists is more widely accepted, it is not Shaplen's enthusiasm for ""bona fide nationalists"" which stands out, but his lack of a sophisticated framework for his opinions. Neither does he achieve objectivity; as soon as Shaplen leaves the level of gossip and mechanical fact-accumulation, one gets evasions and distortions: Malaysia ""won its freedom peaceably"" though its composition was ""too hastily contrived."" The book is necessarily selective: Indonesia's prospects for buckling down to its role as a key to the region's future, Thai counter-insurgency efforts, Cambodian foreign policy, Philippine domestic politics. There is a tendency to substitute glib diplomatic and quasi-psychological description for explanation: the U.S. had a ""love-hate"" relationship with Diem, the Thais' ""long experience in maintaining their independence"" is partly due to their ""singular capacity for adroit imprecision."" Shaplen offers an unremarkable chapter on the ""lessons learned or not learned"" from Vietnam: the lack of a clear objective, the administrative dysfunctions, the ""alienation of the intellectuals."" It is worth noting that he refuses to be audibly disturbed by the sufferings of Southeast Asians, including the Vietnamese ""civilian,"" but gets quite heated on the subjects of American vilification of President Johnson and the present tendency to ""become too preoccupied with our mea culpas."" Yet this is not a book to arouse the passions any more than it enlarges the mind; it remains a workmanlike compilation biased in rather self-defeatingly blatant ways.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row