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Reviewed by:
Hajimu Masuda, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. 388pp. $39.95.

If Hajimu Masuda would consider a new subtitle for his book, he should remove “Korean Conflict” from it. To the degree that I can untangle his interlocking arguments, he believes the Cold War and Korean War are inadequate descriptors of the root causes of the international conflict and domestic oppression of the 1950s. On the other hand, [End Page 215] the Korean War awakened and deepened popular fears of another global conflict, the violence of which would beggar World War II.

Masuda divides his book into three parts. The first section deals with the immediate postwar period, 1945–1950, as experienced by the United States, China, and Japan. This comparison of an undamaged and highly affluent victor in North America with two war-ravaged countries in Asia, including one that had dissolved into civil war, is far-fetched. In the second part, Masuda claims that Korean War–era mobilization policies in China and the United States created a public “Cold War” mentalité that exaggerated any real threat. To make this argument, Masuda sedulously ignores the impact of nuclear war fears (excessive to be sure) in the United States.

The third section of the book makes comparisons of the suppression of domestic dissent justified by the fear of subversion. Although there may be some merit in using China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines as comparative case studies, the inclusion of the United States and Great Britain, where legal relief and media exploitation remained possible, is inappropriate.

Matsuda sets out to argue that the Cold War, defined as a global competition for influence between the United States and the Soviet Union, was an “imagined reality” (p. 9). To do so, he must ignore too much of the history of the 1950s and attach too much influence to the Korean War outside Northeast Asia.

Like the Platte River, Masuda’s research is wide and shallow. Although his use of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean sources is impressive, most of these sources, like those in English, are contemporaneous social commentary or scholarly cultural history, not documentary evidence. The book has no central intellectual focus or theme other than the observation that many people suffered from police-state actions justified by anti-Communism or socialist revolution.

The strongest linkage between domestic oppression and a foreign threat appeared in the People’s Republic of China. Masuda’s treatment of the “Hate America” campaign, clearly linked to the Korean War, is the most persuasive part of his book. In fact, he might have made more of the Chinese fears of an unholy trinity of counter-revolutionary allies: the United States, Japan, and Taiwan.

Masuda admits that excluding the Soviet Union and the two Germanys from his analysis weakens his comparative focus. This is a crashing understatement. The omission of these countries also destroys any symmetry to his use of the United States as a case study in which the crusade against imagined subversives linked dissidents to the Soviet Union, not to China. Masuda’s argument that the U.S.-Soviet rivalry had little influence on the politics of decolonization is persuasive, although it is a point already established by Odd Arne Westad and Michael West.

The revolutionary threat was China, which had influence in Burma, French Indochina, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. However, to lump the United States in the same “decolonizer” category as Japan and Great Britain—and to exclude Portugal and the Netherlands—is a bit of historical sleight-of-hand.

Whatever my reservations about Cold War Crucible, Masuda has written a serious study of the nature and influence of regional and national politics on postwar Asia. [End Page 216] He makes the important point that the Korean War was all too real to Asians, not a “fantasy” or “imagined reality” that can be called the Cold War. The unresolved issue is whether the question is one of history or historiography.

Allan R. Millett
University of New Orleans
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