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Department of History

H255 South East Asia During the Cold War 1945-1991

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2014/2015
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

This course examines one of the most turbulent periods of South East Asian history, the period from the end of the Second World War to the end of the Cold War. While significant attention will be paid to specific historical developments in each of the major countries of the region during this half century, the emphasis will be upon broader developments that shaped the region from the breakdown of colonial rule and through consecutive regional divisions to the decline of the Cold War divisions and reintegration of the region, a process begun but not completed by the end of the 1980s. The course also seeks to show how many of these developments were informed, re-directed, or determined by the Cold War context of the period. Soviet and American policies had a major impact on the region, especially when given muscle through the deployment of the U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and even covertly through the manipulation of aid.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • Understand the relationship between regional and global interests and policies during the Cold War, in reference to South East Asia.
  • Have a strong understanding of the major political events of South East Asia during this period and to develop independent perspectives based on the prevailing secondary literature on the subject.
  • Draw connections between political events and the cultural and social conditions of one of the countries of South East.
  • Write a competent well-structured essay making substantial use of materials in a research library, but not necessarily in an archive.
  • Complete a meaningful unseen paper within a limited time period, independent of reference materials, on the major aspects of the Cold War in South East Asia.

The objectives of this course are two-fold: 

  1. The course is topically arranged so as to allow for a clear understanding of the relationship between the region’s historical developments during the period and the broader Cold War. American and Soviet foreign policy decisions, overt and covert intervention in local political processes, and the manipulation of aid programs in an economically developing region both triggered and sustained particular forms of government (such as military administrations) and actively sought to create and preserve new elites who would align themselves with one or the other sides in the Cold War. In most, if not all, of the countries examined, Western or Soviet sponsorship contributed heavily to both sides in local conflicts. 
  2. The Second objective, made possible by the simultaneous chronologically orientation of the topical sections, is to provide students with a comprehensive survey of the major political, economic, social, and military developments of the period. Necessarily, religious and cultural developments will be discussed in the context of the aforementioned developments as they relate to the topics discussed. For example, while a complete history of Indonesian Islam or Burmese Buddhism will not be provided for the period under examination, the former will be looked at as it related to the Indonesian crisis in the 1960s and the latter as in the context of the failures of the U Nu regime (1950s), the ideology formulated to sustain the New Win regime (1960s and 1970s), and the role of monks in the emergence of the Democratic Movement (1980s).  Furthermore, attention will be paid to the emergence in the region of ‘Cold War Culture,’ which has been the subject of significant focus in recent historiography. 

In sum, by combining these two objectives, it is hoped that students will leave the course with a strong comprehension of how international and local developments interconnect and a clear understanding of how the South East Asia they will see today was shaped.

Suggested reading