IN THE RUINS OF EMPIRE by Ronald H. Spector


The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia
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Nature may abhor a vacuum, but nations cannot survive one. Thus the scramble for power at the end of the Pacific War, which set the stage for a dozen other wars.

The Japanese surrender ended World War II, in theory. But, reveals Spector (History/George Washington Univ.; At War at Sea, 2001, etc.), Japanese forces remained in place throughout the former Japanese empire; in Vietnam and Korea, for instance, Japanese troops and police kept the peace until Allied forces could take control, which took months in some cases. Some Japanese regarded the surrender as a temporary measure, predicting a return to regional power and even plotting armed uprisings. When it developed that the surrender was more stable than all that and as Japanese forces were finally repatriated, old political rivalries quickly surfaced. In China, the war between nationalist and communist forces intensified. Emboldened by official U.S. opposition to colonialism and widespread resistance to renewed Dutch rule, guerrillas in Indonesia paved the way for independence, while their counterparts in Malaya and Singapore faced tougher British opposition. And in Vietnam, the Vietminh began to wage a determined war on the French, aided by as many as 3,000 Japanese deserters who, like one officer, “could not bear the thought of returning to Japan when most of his comrades had died for the Empire.” Lacking any balance of power, East Asia erupted into a succession of battlefields, and the presence of foreign powers only hindered the restoration of order; looking squarely at developments in today’s Iraq, Spector writes, “Viewed as an effort to establish peace and stability…the occupations were a resounding failure…. By 1948 all the states occupied by the Americans, British, and Russians were at war, either with their former colonial rulers or with political factions within their own country, sometimes both.”

A useful look at the shaping of the modern world.

Pub Date: July 17th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-375-50915-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2007


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