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A. B. Abrams Talks About His Book: "Power and Primacy, The History of Western intervention in the Asia Pacific"

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Q2: Is "Power and Primacy" your first published book? If not, what other books have you written? Was it your idea or were you approached by your editor to write it? The research you put into "Power and Primacy" is phenomenal. It must have taken you a while to finish it. Tell us a little about your writing process. Was it all online, or did you go to some sources to see for yourself?

A2: This is my first book. I have published widely in the past under a number of pseudonyms, but usually as articles or papers. A second book with a more narrow geographical focus will be coming early next year.

I began this work because I felt there was a significant gap in existing scholarship in the field, namely that while individual cases of Western intervention in the Asia-Pacific such as the Korean and Vietnam wars have been covered extensively in isolation, an assessment of wider trends in Western intervention and consistencies over time have not been made. This is vital to understanding the nature of Western actors in the region and their intentions towards Asian nations and peoples, which I believe is particularly essential today in light of the 'Pivot to Asia' initiative and the growing focus on the region in Europe and North America.

The research for this book took well over a year, and involved extensive readings from a wide range of sources in multiple languages, visits to a number of key historical sites and a number of interviews.

Q3: I learned much new information about Asia and the West's 500-year history in the region. Was what you learned a surprise? Were you shocked about some of the events that took place? I know I was.

A3: It is widely known that conflicts took place in East Asia between Western powers and Asian nationalist and socialist states, but information on the way these wars were waged and the context in which they took place can certainly change one's outlook, especially when placed in a wider context of multiple Western interventions in the region. Certainly researching this work there were a number of surprises, but from the beginning it was expected that the events covered would naturally be rather scandalous.

Q4: Your description of the Chinese civil war and the role it played in World War II was riveting. As I was reading, especially after Japan surrendered in 1945 and then its remaining forces were used by the Guomindang (GMD/KMT) and United States to try to wipe out the Communist revolution, my admiration for Mao Zedong, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and their heroic citizens increased exponentially. I knew they fought against terrible odds, but your book shows that it was really one of the great underdog stories of modern history, from the CPC/PLA being almost extinguished on several occasions to governing the most populous nation on Earth, to this day. As you wrote your book, did you feel the same way? Any comments?

A4: Certainly I would agree that this conflict was one of the most pivotal in the history of the 20th century, and other than the Second World War, it may well be seen as the most pivotal by future generations. This is particularly true considering what we know now about the long-term consequences for East Asia and the entire world of the establishment of a Chinese People's Republic under the CCP. The only supporter of the PLA in the harshest years of this conflict, from 1945-1947 was North Korea, which considering the billions of dollars and substantial equipment provided to the Guomindang, and its vast manpower, supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. Marines, American air units and even rearmed Japanese troops, does appear to be a victory against all odds. I felt it was important to assess this conflict in which the United States was an active participant because it was the foundation of the Sino-American relationship with consequences for decades to come. It is interesting to contemplate how drastically different the world would be today had the U.S. and its client government in China prevailed. China's regaining of its full independence and beginning of its rise may otherwise not have been a historical inevitability, and the world would certainly look very different today if a Western client government had been in power from 1949.

Q5: You really showed how the Sino-Soviet split in 1959-60 not only really hurt China in the immediate time frame, but gave the United States the "divide and rule" scenario it needed to dramatically influence the course of the Southeast Asian/Vietnam War in NATO's favor. Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that the split never happened and the USSR and China worked arm-in-arm against global capitalism and Western empire from the 1960s onward. How might have world history played out?

A5: It is very difficult to say, but much of the advantage the Western Bloc was able to gain from the 1960s were derived from domestic changes in the Soviet Union under the premiership of Nikita Khrushchev, with the decline of relations with China largely a result of this. Assuming a best case for the two powers in which the status-quo before 1953 remained, we could see continued technology transfers and economic assistance to China to accelerate its economic growth and both states presenting a joint front in a number of theatres. The Vietnam War for example could have played out very differently if the Soviet Union had not been restricted in its assistance to the Viet Minh by Chinese fears of Soviet influence on its southern border, and we may have seen the North Vietnamese equipped with weapons systems a generation ahead of anything they previously had and quite possibly many more Soviet troops in North Vietnam. Multiple other conflicts, from Afghanistan to Angola, could have ended very differently, had Beijing and Moscow worked together rather than against one other.

Q6: You wrote about the Allied forces during the Korean War slaughtering up to 100,000 South Korean refugees. It makes no military or strategic sense to do so, with vast military resources burned up and spent on innocent non-combatants - mostly women, elderly and children. Why? What gives?

A6: I believe the figure was closer to 200,000, but also included political prisoners and their families, and those thought to have pro-North Korean or leftist sympathies. The decision by the U.S. military leadership and by servicemen to massacre South Korean refugees cannot be attributed to a single factor, but to multiple complementary factors. Under the Presidency of Rhee Syngman the U.S. aligned government in Seoul was extremely unpopular, and North Korean forces were widely welcomed into the south. The Americans were well aware of this, and widely suspected North Korean sympathies and support for North Korea. This had a complementary effect to the conditioning of U.S. soldiers, which was relatively consistent in the Philippine-American War, the Pacific War, the Korean War and later the Vietnam War. The enemy was defined by their racial qualities, which not only dehumanised the adversary but also facilitated to brutal mistreatment of Asian civilians and indiscriminate killings in all cases. Interviews with American soldiers who participated in the massacres, and eyewitness sources such as the memoirs of British writer Elizabeth Comber, as well as the testimonies of Korean survivors, all give testament to this.

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Jeff J. Brown is the author of 44 Days (2013) and Doctor WriteRead's Treasure Trove to Great English (2015). In 2016 Punto Press released China Rising, Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations The Truth behind Asia's Enigmatic Colossus. For (more...)

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