Masuda Hajimu. Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. vi + 388 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-59847-8.
Reviewed by Nicholas Sambaluk (Purdue University and the United States Military Academy)
Published on H-War (May, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Through a wealth of archival exploration and careful analysis, Masuda Hajimu lends a multifaceted set of local lenses through which to understand the process of the emergence of the Cold War. At the heart of Masuda’s argument is that individual people played a crucial role in building aggregate effects that constructed a Cold War “reality,” and that the construct of the Cold War was therefore a product manufactured for diverse and parallel motives in the minds of people. The Korean War catalyzed these activities and produced a Cold War reality.
For example, regarding the crackdowns nominally against the Communist Huk in the Philippines, Masuda writes that “the ultimate end of domestic purges was not necessarily to fight ‘communism,’ as it appeared on the surface, but to overcome social conflicts and culture wars,” and to reestablish “order and tranquility at home by eliminating various dissidents and non-conformists who embodied social changes that emerged as a result of World War II and the chaotic postwar period” (p. 276). The broad contours of this dynamic, Masuda finds, were hardly confined to the Philippines. Rather, they tended to be embodied most starkly in the parts of the world that had felt the destructiveness, bloodshed, and reverberating impact of World War II most heavily. Thus Europe, Asia, and the United States witnessed powerful movements forging (or coercing) consensus either for or against “communism,” but actually clamping down on social challenges that groups interpreted as dangerous or destabilizing.
A strong current throughout Masuda’s work is the message that the fears and actions of ordinary people provided a power and even a driving force beyond the capacity of the contending Cold War regimes. Cold War Crucible shows that, counterintuitively, the regimes themselves did not necessarily see these local efforts as beneficial, and occasionally worked to mitigate them. Across many societies, people participated and promoted the suppression of different viewpoints and practices in order to bring “order, unity, and a sense of national pride” (p. 189).
Conceptually, Masuda’s work continues a trend by such studies as Odd Arne Westad’s Global Cold War (2005), illuminating ways in which the Cold War was far more complicated than the simple East versus West confrontation of superpowers that was once taught and imagined. Where Westad decisively shows that smaller geopolitical entities were independent and deliberate actors in a struggle that was more nuanced than mere bipolarism, Masuda displays the role in which ordinary people (particularly when acting together and driven by concern for the future and recollection of the recent past) constructed the Cold War. His book leaves no doubt that this was a process that occurred on both (or, more accurately, on many) sides of the Cold War gulf.
Cold War Crucible is a strong work with much to be celebrated. Masuda’s research draws on an impressive array of archival sources from throughout the United States, Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, India, Singapore, and elsewhere. Although a book whose attention to a large number of countries during a specific timeframe could easily leave the reader bewildered, Masuda’s work is crisp and descriptive and his organization produces a sense of becoming well informed, armed with a mix of statistical evidence and individual study, rather than of being overwhelmed. Editorial cartoons, not only from government-run news outlets but also from sources beyond immediate government control, are frequent subjects of analysis throughout the work, especially in its first half. In nearly every instance, Masuda provides the illustration itself, which is useful and quite literally illustrative for the reader.
Nearly any book-length work will include a few items leaving room to quibble. Masuda’s spotlight on a US Progressive Party member living in Vermont and shunned by her community during McCarthyist fervor shows that “many were not convicted officially and legally but condemned socially in unofficial publicity trials” (p. 205). This tendency is an important aspect of Masuda’s argument, and it is in fact a dynamic that was recognized in philosophy at least as early as John Stuart Mill’s works of the mid-nineteenth century. However, Mill’s characterization of exactly this phenomenon, which could help illustrate trends that Masuda describes, receives no mention whatsoever.
Masuda could also have done more to explain why “the battle line was not so much ideology or international politics as social customs, common sense, gender and sexual norms, and way of life” (p. 216). He does skillfully show that these factors overlap and coincide. However, it is not entirely obvious that ideology took a backseat, rather than being conflated in the minds of ordinary people with whatever they rejected as deviant, challenging, or distasteful.
Masuda repeatedly uses the outmoded term “housewife” when describing Western homemakers, despite the term’s modern pejorative implications and his own study’s evidence that “housewifery” was in contemporary parlance a term of derision by some feminist advocates of the era. Although he describes a number of contested spaces in gender roles, sexual orientation, and other social convention, in no other case does he himself blithely use pejorative terminology when describing one or another group. This exception is a small but slightly irritating anachronism, largely because Masuda is otherwise alert to the weight that words have.
Overall, Cold War Crucible is a significant book that is ably researched, engaging to read, and valuable to integrate into the scholarly understanding of the Cold War. It is a good match for an undergraduate or graduate audience in its writing style and a useful work to include when considering the early period of the Cold War or the role of individuals in actively shaping geopolitical environments.
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Nicholas Sambaluk. Review of Hajimu, Masuda, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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