American Nationalism and Asian Wars
Department of Sociology
From at least the French revolution, nationalism and war have been deeply intertwined phenomena. A large literature examines the rise of Asian nationalism in the course of wars and anti-colonial struggles. Largely ignored, however, has been the role of Asian and Pacific wars in forging nationalism in the core nations and colonial powers that have fought numerous wars in the region. More than any other nation, the United States has defined itself as a nation through its involvement in, and as a result of the consequences of, Asian and Pacific wars that bracket the long twentieth century: from the Philippine colonial war of 1898-1902 to the Iraq invasion of 2003, with landmark wars including the Asia-Pacific War of 1941-45, the Korean War of 1950-53 (-2003 in the absence of a peace treaty and with mounting tensions) and the Vietnam War of 1960-75 (but with U.S. military involvement from 1945). In every one of these wars (can the Philippines War of 1898-1902 have been an exception?) the American promise was self-determination and democracy for people threatened by armed intervention or held captive by murderous dictators, a promise that in turn simultaneously reinforced American conceptions of what was most prized in their national heritage and underlined the altruistic nature of the enterprise. While the Cold War is famously remembered for having shielded the two superpowers from nuclear holocaust, it is important to recognize that the U.S., China and the Soviet Union fought head to head (if at times in disguised form) in both Korea and Vietnam, while their conflicts were at the root of many other American conflicts in post World War II Asia and the Pacific. This paper examines the relationship between AP wars and American nationalism in the long twentieth century. It suggests that these wars provided Americans with their most significant 'other' and posed troubling problems for Americans in defining national identity, nationalism, and hegemony throughout the century. In significant senses, in short, Asia and AP wars have played critical roles in defining American nationalism, internationalism, and national identity, and in the shift in the course of the twentieth century from a self-image as a European or Western power within an East-West binary to one simultaneously as a Pacific power. American wars in Asia and the Pacific have simultaneously been central in forging and defining a variety of Asian nationalisms. This paper thus problematizes not only Asian nationalism but also the geographical frontiers of Asia and the Pacific.