Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Book review: The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949

Japanese troops invade Manchuria
An unsparing, surprisingly even and altogether enjoyable effort that sheds much-needed light on the origins of the region’s troubles — past, present and future 

In times of rising tensions and uncertainty in the Asia Pacific, it is essential that we look back into the region’s complex past to understand why history, to a degree perhaps unseen anywhere else, is so alive as to threaten the very foundations laid by the economic success of the past two decades.

A new book on the wars that defined the first half of the twentieth century — and that reverberate through time to create a mosaic of seemingly intractable conflicts — sheds much-needed light on the origins of the region’s troubles, past, present and future.

In The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949, S.C.M. Paine, a professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College, picks up where she left off in The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy (2005), which did a wonderful job analyzing China’s humiliating defeat in a short war with Japan that ended with the Treaty of Shimonoseki under which, among other things, Taiwan was handed over to Japan. In that defeat, the seeds of China’s “century of humiliation” were sown, which half a century later would reap a new — and this time much more devastating — round of hostilities before, during and after World War II.

My review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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