Agreement on who or what caused the Cold War remains elusive – smoking guns do exist but there are rather too many of them for us to make much sense of who really pulled the trigger and brought this geopolitical reality about in the first instance. All that can be safely agreed upon is that a deep hostility between the communist and democratic states of the world had become a grim fact of life for millions of people in the years after the ending of the Second World War.
Victory in war for the Grand Alliance had come at an enormous price. Once Hitler’s Nazi state had been eclipsed in Europe in May 1945 and Imperial Japan had been bombed into seeking an immediate armistice in mid-August, the rationale for the original formation of the Grand Alliance no longer applied and the tri-national grouping of the UK, US, and USSR, swiftly fell apart. While the British, beset by financial and economic problems, swiftly subsided into the ranks of the also-rans, the Americans and the Soviets emerged as the two superpowers intent on leading their direct allies or client states across the ideological divide during the post-war period. Having won the war neither had any intention of losing the peace thereafter.
By 1947-48 the Orwellian term ‘Cold War’ had entered political discourse. Much like Churchill’s use of the descriptive phrase ‘the Iron Curtain’, it soon became popularly applied to life in post-war Europe - representing, as it did, an unrelenting struggle for power, influence and territory between the proponents of capitalism and communism, democracy and totalitarianism.
Although the Cold War had been spawned in Europe, it certainly didn’t remain confined to that continent. Instead it spread over the globe almost like an ideological pandemic in the post-war years conjuring up emotive vistas of decolonization and struggles for independence, nationalistic fervour as well as civil wars that were often aided and abetted by open and/or clandestine support from the superpowers and their proxies.
From 1947 onwards official American policy towards the Soviet Union had been one of containment short of war; but the same geostrategic principles did not necessarily prevail elsewhere. This soon became clear when conflict broke out into active military engagements in Asia in the late 1940s and early 50s; Central America in the early 1950s; and in many African states in the following decades. Whether it was civil war, major campaigns against foreign states, guerrilla, or tribal warfare, the Cold War remained a convenient shorthand expression for many of these military confrontations even though there was little that was ‘cold’ about them!
Apart from the mountainous literature on the Vietnam War and innumerable references to the ‘domino theory’ that Eisenhower and others were so concerned about in the 1950s the role of the Cold War in Southeast Asia has not been subject to much scrutiny. I thought it was high time, therefore, to address this particular shortcoming and that is what this new volume of essays seeks to do.
Cold War South East Asia - publisher's website with bibliographical details
http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/hist/about/hismhm.htm - Associate Professor Malcolm Murfett's profile in the Department of History website