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A Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2022
A harrowing history of the conflicts that swept Asia during the decade following World War II—and determined the fate of the continent.
The end of World War II led to the United States’ emergence as a global superpower. For war-ravaged Western Europe it marked the beginning of decades of unprecedented cooperation and prosperity that one historian has labeled “the long peace.” Yet half a world away, in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, and Malaya—the fighting never really stopped, as these regions sought to completely sever the yoke of imperialism and colonialism with all-too-violent consequences.
East and Southeast Asia quickly became the most turbulent regions of the globe. Within weeks of the famous surrender ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, civil war, communal clashes, and insurgency engulfed the continent, from Southeast Asia to the Soviet border. By early 1947, full-scale wars were raging in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, with growing guerrilla conflicts in Korea and Malaya. Within a decade after the Japanese surrender, almost all of the countries of South, East, and Southeast Asia that had formerly been conquests of the Japanese or colonies of the European powers experienced wars and upheavals that resulted in the deaths of at least 2.5 million combatants and millions of civilians.
With A Continent Erupts, acclaimed military historian Ronald H. Spector draws on letters, diaries, and international archives to provide, for the first time, a comprehensive military history and analysis of these little-known but decisive events. Far from being simply offshoots of the Cold War, as they have often been portrayed, these shockingly violent conflicts forever changed the shape of Asia, and the world as we know it today.