The Korean Military Advisory Group (kmag) – a relatively small unit of U.S. Army officers – developed, advised, and exerted influence over the Republic of Korea (rok) Army from its inception in 1946 through the signing of the Korean War armistice in July 1953. kmag advisors served down to the battalion level, working alongside South Korean counterparts in rok Army units, causing language to be a crucial battlefield that animated American anxieties and negative racial assumptions. In a moment when few, if any, American military officers had Korean language proficiency, South Koreans with English-language capability became essential to the U.S. foreign policy project in South Korea. South Korean interpreters, too, amplified racialized concerns about the trustworthiness of rok soldiers. This article places American understandings of language in kmag affairs into critical focus, highlighting the cultural assumptions that came to effect material change in U.S. Army policy towards the rok Army before and during the Korean War. It shows how language was a means of U.S. penetration into the fabric of Korean state and society, but also a target of imaginations that disturbed the U.S. military because of its consistent reminder of how language could resist American suggestion.
This article examines the problem of Operational Control (opcon) in the relationship the Republic of Korea Forces in Vietnam (rokfv) built with the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. When the rokfv deployed in Vietnam, they faced the dilemma of pursuing their own interests while maintaining a good relationship with U.S. forces. Therefore, the rokfv refused to fight under the opcon of U.S. forces, even though all rok troops remaining in South Korea were under U.S. opcon. Instead of arguing who would have opcon over the rokfv, the United States and the rok negotiated the establishment of a cooperative relationship. Although their opcon was not perfect at first, the rokfv nevertheless proved their military professionalism and achievements through securing areas and building company bases in their Vietnamese territories, rather than search-and-destroy operations, to achieve pacification. As a result, the rokfv built a parallel command in which the South Vietnamese, Americans, and South Koreans cooperated, which allowed them to carry out a Korean style of war under a more equal relationship with U.S. forces.
The discourse of Korea’s failed history has been mostly a production of Japanese colonial scholarship, but the early texts that American authors produced were what guided the Western understanding of Korean history during the long 20th Century. Despite the importance of these texts that left significant imprints on later academic works and policy decisions, scholars have not as yet examined properly the American discourse of failure in Korean history. This article analyzes the representative American books on Korean history of authors William E. Griffis and Homer B. Hulbert to describe the emergence of the American discourse of Korea’s failed history in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. It argues that early American authors of accounts of Korean history wrote them in a specific narrative structure that depicted Korea’s past as a story of gradual decline that ended with failure. These works identify three major themes – isolation, victimization, and dependency – as explanations for why Korea failed. Then, the article examines the doctoral dissertations of Harold J. Noble and George M. McCune to show how this early narrative framework during the 1930s and the 1940s continued thereafter to shape U.S. understanding of Korea even into the 1950s, informing both policymakers and scholars.
This article historicizes the transnational counterinsurgency that the U.S.-Philippine governments have conducted against diasporic Filipino/a/x activists. In examining the period of the Cold War to the early 2020s, it makes a case for recognizing existing continuities of counterinsurgency tactics targeted at Filipinos in the United States, such as extradition, deportation, surveillance, and assassination. The Philippine state’s resort to red-baiting during the Cold War and contemporary “red-tagging” has aimed at the elimination of communism and terrorism at home and beyond its national borders, at the expense of human rights. This long history of counterinsurgency also highlights the acceleration and formalization of diasporic Filipino organizations dedicated to promoting democracy in the Philippines during the period of martial law under President Ferdinand E. Marcos, showing how diasporic Filipinos organized opposition not only to dictatorship, but also U.S. support for violent regimes. The transnational opposition against Marcos and then President Rodrigo R. Duterte has characterized diasporic Filipinos as a primary component of democratic movements in both the United States and the Philippines who have linked domestic racial oppression to U.S. imperialism and state fascism in the Philippines.
This essay examines the Alpha Gallery, an independent artists’ cooperative that Malaysians and Singaporeans established, which staged art shows during the 1970s to spark an artistic renaissance in Southeast Asia. The cooperative’s transnational vision involved showcasing Balinese folk art as a primitive and, therefore, intrinsically Southeast Asian aesthetic, while asserting that it shared cultural connections with the Bengali Renaissance of the early 20th Century. Alpha’s leaders believed these actions might awaken indigenous artistic traditions across Southeast Asia. Their project underscores the lasting cultural impact of colonialism on Southeast Asia and the contested character of the region. Alpha’s condescending view of Balinese folk art echoed the paternalism of Euro-American colonial discourses about civilizing indigenous peoples that persisted because its key members received much of their education or training in Britain and the United States, a by-product of their countries’ pro-U.S. trajectory during the Vietnam War. Equally, Alpha’s transnationalism ran counter to Southeast Asian political elites’ fixation with pressing art toward nation-building. Indeed, the coalescing of nation-states does not define the region’s history during and after the Vietnam War. Rather, non-state actors like Alpha’s members, in imagining and pursuing their versions of Southeast Asia, contributed to the persistent contingency of the region.