Between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1970s, the US engaged in a series of Asian wars. They were “not separate and unconnected,” as often believed, argue Michael Hunt and Steven Levine in Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam . Rather, “they were phases in a U.S. attempt to establish and maintain a dominant position in eastern Asia sustained over some seven decades against considerable resistance . . . . The Philippines set the scene, Japan’s defeat brought the American protagonists to the apogee of their dominance, soon challenged in Korea and then broken in Vietnam.” The results were “profound” for both Asia and the US.
Hunt and Levine believe that the history they recount has important contemporary import: “The history of American empire building and warfare in one region speaks to the current imbroglio across the Middle East and Central Asia in a striking variety of ways. U.S. policymakers have ignored or have deliberately forgotten the lessons from the conflicts in eastern Asia. They have revived a misplaced faith in the efficacy of military power to shape a regional agenda to American liking.” The authors believe we are again likely to see “how beautiful dreams of democracy and development can easily turn into nightmares of death and destruction” (7-8).