Revisionist history casting the 20th-century struggle for control of the Pacific Rim nations as a conflict among various expanding empires.
Noted for arguing in A Time for War (1991) that President Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Thompson (History/Univ. of South Carolina) turns here to mid–20th-century attempts by Britain, China, Japan, and the US to gain supremacy in the Far East. He argues that as British colonialism waned, a political void emerged throughout eastern Asia and inspired the Japanese government, starved for natural resources, to fill the resulting power vacuum. As early victories in China created momentum, Japan’s armies forcibly expelled the British from much of the region and, according to Thompson, awakened a national belief that it could take on the industrial might of the US. The author also explores infighting between Chinese nationalist Chiang Kai-shek and communist Mao Zedong and suggests that the US attempted to position itself to assume Britain’s economic role following the ultimate defeat of Japan. Thompson further supports his argument by documenting General Douglas MacArthur’s obsession with reestablishing himself as the most important figure in the Philippines after his early flight from the island fortress of Corregidor. This combination of opportunism and paternalism, Thompson asserts, established a new economic colonialism that eventually led the US into morally ambiguous conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
While of possible interest to a general audience seeking to explore the historically neglected WWII Pacific theater, this generally conventional history fails to provoke the controversy many readers will expect.