Projections of Power

The United States and Europe in Colonial Southeast Asia, 1919–1941

Projections of Power

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 6 photographs, 2 tables Published: July 2010

Author: Anne L. Foster

Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, History > U.S. History, World History

Throughout its history, the United States has been both imperialistic and anticolonial: imperialistic in its expansion across the continent and across oceans to colonies such as the Philippines, and anticolonial in its rhetoric and ideology. How did this contradiction shape its interactions with European colonists and Southeast Asians after the United States joined the ranks of colonial powers in 1898? Anne L. Foster argues that the actions of the United States functioned primarily to uphold, and even strengthen, the colonial order in Southeast Asia. The United States participated in international agreements to track and suppress the region’s communists and radical nationalists, and in economic agreements benefiting the colonial powers. Yet the American presence did not always serve colonial ends; American cultural products (including movies and consumer goods) and its economic practices (such as encouraging indigenous entrepreneurship) were appropriated by Southeast Asians for their own purposes. Scholars have rarely explored the interactions among the European colonies of Southeast Asia in the early twentieth century. Foster is the first to incorporate the United States into such an analysis. As she demonstrates, the presence of the United States as a colonial power in Southeast Asia after the First World War helps to explain the resiliency of colonialism in the region. It also highlights the inexorable and appealing changes that Southeast Asians perceived as possibilities for the region’s future.


“Foster displays impressive interpretive range, analyzing the contents of Hollywood movies and the complexities of the rubber industry with equal skill. Moreover, she deserves enormous credit for combing not just U.S. but also French, British, and Dutch archives in order to weave together a truly international history of imperialism in Southeast Asia. The result is a book that merits the attention of scholars of Southeast Asia and European colonialism as well as U.S. foreign policy.” — Mark Atwood Lawrence, Pacific Historical Review

“Foster's diplomatic history methodology, which reads closely the American diplomatic traffic, as well as the Dutch, English, and French archives, is refreshing in that it treats old problems in new ways—for example, her fascinating account of the anticommunist collaboration between the colonial powers long before the Cold War-while also examining new areas such as American efforts to navigate the film-censor boards in Southeast Asian colonies. . . . [Foster’s] conclusions that the U.S. was a fuIl participant in colonial southeast Asia, and that this involvement continued after 1945,are important and timely.” — Andrew Goss, Marine Corps University Journal

“Foster's work is an invaluable source for teachers who want to focus on American foreign relations and imperialism in Southeast Asia during the interwar period. By pointing out the struggle between Western interests and nationalistic movements and juxtaposing Westem perceptions of these movements as communist, Foster's volume is an excellent analysis of American colonial history in Southeast Asia for students at the secondary and undergraduate level, but is too narrowly focused for graduate studies. In addition, the volume is a useful reference source and Foster provides a rich bibliography of primary and secondary material that teachers and students alike would find useful in researching the subject farther.” — Alexander Shelby, The History Teacher

“This study persuasively argues that the United States was clearly an imperialist regional actor in Southeast Asia, maintaining its interests through economic, political, and cultural means throughout the interwar years of 1919-1941. . . . [A] timely, well-constructed, and compact investigation of
a too-long neglected topic.” — Annika A. Culver, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

”This study is a valuable elucidation of a complex subject involving contradictions at both the metropolitan and local levels.” — Ian Nish, International History Review

“[Foster’s] study is of real value as a foray into this topic, and as a demonstration of the advantages of a comparative approach. . . . Future scholars who seek to proceed further with the project of seeing United States imperialism in comparative perspective(s) will surely have to consider this work as one of their first points of departure.” — William H. Frederick, Itinerario

“Anne Foster has produced a well-crafted and richly documented monograph that addresses some of the most seminal issues of U.S. foreign policy, including isolationism and exceptionalism. . . . Foster’s monograph is an important contribution to our understanding of the continuities and contradictions in U.S. attitudes toward Southeast Asia and the perceptions of the United States by the peoples of the region well before the Cold War and the War in Vietnam.” — David L. Anderson, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

“Anne Foster’s Projections of Power is a significant scholarly achievement which helps to reshape our understanding of U.S. power in Southeast Asia on the eve of its global ascendance. . . . Anne Foster has written a fine and provocative book, and largely succeeds in integrating the United States into the history of interwar Southeast Asia in ways that neither read as prelude to the Cold War nor exaggerate American difference in its colonial attitudes and practices.” — Brad Simpson, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

“Anne Foster’s well written and extensively researched book. . . . Based on extensive and detailed research in a variety of both official and unofficial British, US, Dutch, and French archives, as well as wide reading in the secondary literature on modern South East Asian history, there is to my knowledge no other volume comparable to this.” — Robert H. Taylor, Asian Affairs

“Foster raises interesting questions about the nature of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia during the early years of the twentieth century. Her conclusions about economic and cultural influence in the region are especially insightful. . . . Foster has identified a promising topic for future research and her book may be profitably read by historians of Southeast Asia.” — NGUYEN THI DIEU, American Historical Review

“Professor Foster makes a compelling case that U.S. imperialism warrants reexamination. . . . Projections of Power is ground-breaking. It ties together the histories of U.S. foreign, economic, and cultural relations, European colonialism, and Southeast Asia. The research on which the arguments are based is remarkable, the extensive use of multilingual and multi-archival sources praiseworthy. Professor Foster’s book will engage scholars of U.S. foreign relations, imperialism, and Southeast Asian history, while representing a significant contribution to the historiography of international history.” — Sudina Paungpetch, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

Projections of Power will no doubt attract attention from scholars working in fields from U.S. diplomatic history to imperial and postcolonial studies and modern Southeast Asian history. Anne L. Foster’s capacious narrative and marvelously expansive primary source base allow her to consider America and Americans from transnational perspectives, including those of the other major colonial powers in Southeast Asia and the Southeast Asians themselves. Her book is a major contribution to efforts to destabilize still-prevailing notions of American exceptionalism.” — Mark Philip Bradley, author of Vietnam at War

“With Anne L. Foster’s superb work—solidly based on documentary sources from Europe, Asia, and the United States—the story of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam should now begin not with the 1950s, but a half-century earlier when Americans publicly preached their 1776 anticolonialism while quietly supporting the European colonial powers in Southeast Asia. As Foster demonstrates, Americans notably sent Charlie Chaplin’s Hollywood films (‘trade follows the film’) and Christian missionaries to help with the colonial work. This book puts another—and elegant—nail in the coffin of so-called ‘American isolationism’ before World War II by analyzing the 1900–1930s era as the background necessary for understanding the tragic wars of 1950 to 1975.” — Walter LaFeber, author of The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad, 1750 to the Present


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anne L. Foster is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana State University. She is an editor of The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Preface ix

Introduction 1

1. New Threats and New Opportunities: Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia, 1919–1929 15

2. "The Highways of Trade Will Be Highways of Peace": United States Trade and Investment in Southeast Asia 43

3. An Empire of the Mind: American Culture and Southeast Asia, 1919–1941 73

4. Depression and the Discovery of Limits 111

5. Challenges to the Established Order, 1930–1939 143

Conclusion: The United States and Imperialism in Twentieth-Century Southeast Asia 175

List of Abbreviations 181

Notes 183

Bibliography 219

Index 235
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4800-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4786-6
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