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Reviewed by:
  • State Violence in East Asia ed. by N. Ganesan and Sung Chull Kim
  • S. C. M. Paine
N. Ganesan and Sung Chull Kim, eds., State Violence in East Asia. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2013. 294 pp. $50.00.

State Violence in East Asia provides chapters on eight case studies concerning the uniformed military (sometimes out of uniform) turning its weapons on the home population. The editors focus on four issues: the rationale for the violence, the violence in public memory, the social healing process, and the connection between political transition and reconciliation. They argue that resolution of the violence can take the form of “retribution” (punishment) or “restoration” (reconciliation).

The case studies cover violence varying greatly in magnitude. The three worse cases occurred during regime change: the Khmer Rouge repression from 1975 to 1978 left 1.7 million Cambodians dead; the Indonesian counterrevolution from 1965 to 1968 took over half a million lives, and the Japanese military’s policies caused the deaths of over 100,000 Okinawan civilians in 1945. In the midrange are the thousands of deaths in Myanmar/Burma in the 1990s and in Thailand’s Phatthalung Province in 1972, and the hundreds of fatalities in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in China. The low end includes the over 200 killed in South Korea’s Kwanju massacre in 1980 and the fewer than twenty killed in the 1987 Mendiola massacre in the Philippines.

An introductory chapter by Vince Boudreau provides the analytical framework, categorizing state violence as “instrumental” (to eliminate a threat) or “exemplary” (to instill a lesson on an audience). This violence often crops up during periods of “state building” (the expansion of the geographic scope of state authority) and “regime building” (the regularization of the rules for politics and particularly for political succession). The afterlife of the violence then endures as long as the victims seek justice and the perpetrators seek safety, making reconciliation difficult.

All of the cases, except Japan and Myanmar, occurred during the Cold War. Communists figure prominently in the five Cold War cases, in three as victims (Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia) and in two as perpetrators of the killings (China and Cambodia), leading the editors to conclude that “state violence has been a phenomenon of both the extreme right and the extreme left” (p. 271).

Hayashi Hirofumi examines an ethnic minority (the Okinawans) subject to exemplary violence by the Imperial Japanese Army often in the form of “mass suicide”—a [End Page 243] misnomer for mass murder. The violence occurred not during regime or state construction but during regime and state collapse.

Namhee Lee examines the South Korean government’s use of exemplary violence for regime construction in the massacre of students and townspeople in Kwangju. This chapter offers the volume’s only case of comparatively successful reconciliation, which occurred as part of the transition to democracy and in the form of retributive justice in the 1990s when the perpetrators went on trial. The chapter by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Kate Merkel-Hess on the Tiananmen Square crackdown follows the Korean pattern of exemplary violence in the pursuit of regime-building minus any signs of a transition to democracy, let alone reconciliation.

The use of instrumental violence to promote state-building and exemplary violence to promote regime change is highlighted by Sorpong Peou when characterizing the violence in Cambodia as “preemptive.” Reconciliation attempts via retributive justice by court trial have so far been unsuccessful in Cambodia. In many ways Douglas Kammen’s description of the Indonesian counterrevolution is similar, also occurring during state-building and regime change, with both an instrumental and an exemplary purpose. The key difference is that the former was a revolution by the left and the latter by the right.

Tyrell Haberkorn provides a haunting description of exemplary violence in Thailand. The army incinerated accused Communists in oil drums. Later, during a brief period of democracy, the government confirmed the army’s complicity, but the return to military rule has precluded redress. In the Philippines, Rommel A. Curaming highlights a progressive government’s inability to rein in the armed forces, whose officers were complicit in the Mendiola Massacre. The violence occurred during regime transition...


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pp. 243-244
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