Beyond Vietnam: Shifting Threat Perceptions of East Asia during the Kennedy Years

AHA Session 110
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Midori Yoshii, Albion College
Midori Yoshii, Albion College

Session Abstract

In the effort to explain America’s growing involvement in Vietnam, historians of the early-1960s frequently overlook Washington’s policies toward and views of other nations in the East Asia region.  These under-analyzed policies offer fresh ground for new debates and discussions of the complex events of the early-1960s.  This panel will pursue that goal by examining the Kennedy administration’s policies toward Japan, China, Taiwan, and Laos, particularly with regard to its shifting perception of regional threats in each of those cases.  These papers specifically highlight the internal policy debates regarding the nature of the threats and the methods for dealing with them.  In addition to addressing the general conference theme of Disagreement, Debate, and Discussion, the panel also reflects the institutional, career stage, and gender diversity of the AHA membership. 

          Our first presenter, Jessamyn Abel, focuses on U.S.-Japanese relations as they related to technological developments.  As China replaced Japan as the region’s pre-eminent military threat, she argues, Washington sought to engage Tokyo in peaceful technological development that, ironically, produced a new Japanese economic threat to domestic American interests.  Jeffrey Crean, our second presenter, seeks to reverse the standard interpretations of Washington’s reaction to the 1962 Sino-Indian War.  Far from confirming the American perception of China as belligerent and unpredictable, Beijing’s actions during that conflict actually convinced many of China’s previous detractors of Chinese Communist moderation and rationality.  Our third presenter, Brian Hilton, traces the Kennedy administration’s management of its relations with Taiwan.  He argues that Washington’s arrogance and rejection of Eisenhower’s practices enhanced the threat of Taipei taking the kind of independent, aggressive military and diplomatic action that the administration hoped to avoid.  Our final presenter, Richard Filipink, focuses on the administration’s shifting views of Laos.  Internal debates vacillated between military intervention and neutralization, with the latter course winning out by mid-1962.  The presentations will be followed by commentary from award-winning International Relations specialist, Midori Yoshii, who studied under former Kennedy administration official James C. Thomson, and who has published extensively on U.S.-East Asian relations in the 1960s.  Dr. Yoshii will also act as the Panel Chair.

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