The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 2

Part 2 of 5 (8 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]


Immediately following World War 2, our Vietnamese brethren kicked out the French imperialists and their British collaborators in the First Indochina War²¹ (1946-1954), with the aid of Chinese forces sent by Mao.  In 1955, just two years after the end of the Korean War, Eisenhower initiated criminal U.S. involvement in the second Indochina War²², also known as the Vietnam War.  The pretext? “Domino Theory”²³, a white supremacist imperialist fig leaf first constructed by George F. Kennan, who once openly professed to believe in the “extermination of the lower races”²⁴. “Extermination” was right.

The war lasted approximately 19 years until U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 and its official end in 1975.  It was a campaign of total annihilation. The U.S. Air Force dropped more tons of bombs solely in South Vietnam than all the bombs of every single aerial bombing campaign by all sides in World War 2 put together.  At least 12 million acres of forest and 25 million acres of farmland were razed and transformed into smoldering craters. This was not to mention the infamous Agent Orange, of which the U.S. sprayed over 70 million liters, leaving future generations to deal with brain damage, mutilation, lifelong deformities, and shortened lifespans.  The total casualties added up to an estimated nearly 4 million Yellow people dead, on top of the 3 million in the Korean War and 1 million in the Philippines. All were killed in wars of explicitly white supremacist imperialist aggression by the U.S.A. The American assault on Vietnam wounded 5.3 million Vietnamese civilians and created 200,000 prostitutes (or as the U.S. military called them, “Little Brown Fucking Machines powered by rice”²⁵), nearly 1 million orphans, 1 million widows, and 11 million refugees²⁶.  The numbers do not do justice to the atrocities and crimes against God and humanity that were committed in the name of white supremacist delusions of planetary domination, immortalized by Bruce Springsteen in the song Born in the USA²⁷:

“Born in the USA, I was born in the USA.
I was born in the USA, born in the USA.

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man.”

The holocaust and atrocities did not end in Vietnam.  The war spilled over into conflicts in Laos and Cambodia, the three countries considered “Indochina” under the former colonial yoke of the French oppressor, conflicts about which the American public is still largely unaware²⁸.  From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of artillery on Laos over the course of nearly 600,000 bombing missions.  This is equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years²⁹, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.  The bombings were part of the U.S. Imperialist Secret War in Laos and destroyed many villages, displacing hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the 9-year period.  A third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos littered with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance that have killed and injured over 20,000 people since the bombing ceased.  One of my Lambda Phi Epsilon³⁰ brothers at Michigan State University (my alma mater) was Lao, and would often crack bitter jokes about the bombings, much like my Cambodian brothers did about landmines blowing off the legs and arms of friends, immediate relatives, or distant cousins and uncles.

The U.S. began bombing Cambodia in 1965, one year after commencing its secret war in Laos.  From then until 1973, the U.S. continued to drop roughly half a million tons of bombs³¹ (a conservative estimate), almost equal to the amount the U.S. dropped in the entire Pacific Theater in World War 2.  In 1970, President Nixon, that old white supremacist crook, issued orders to Hank Kissinger, the racist war criminal, to “crack the hell out of them”³² with complete disregard for civilian life.  The war was illegal and never authorized by Congress³³.  The Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense in the U.S. officially states there were 50,000 Cambodian casualties, though scholars estimate them to be as high as 150,000.  One genocide researcher pegged the real number at 500,000³⁴, with many children killed and 2 million Cambodians left homeless.

The Cambodian people, who had won independence from the Frenchman in 1953³⁵, were completely unprepared for the ferocity of the U.S. campaign, which totally destabilized their society and economy and allowed for previously apolitical indigenous peasants to mount an insurgency that eventually put Pol Pot³⁶ into power.  A U.S. backed coup in 1970³⁷ to install yet another right-wing, pro-U.S. Khmer Republic further destabilized the nation and strengthened the insurgency as the overthrown former Prime Minister Sihanouk allied with the leftist Khmer Rouge resistance forces.  White supremacist imperialist meddling directly led to Pol Pot’s rise to power after U.S. withdrawal in 1973 and the Cambodian genocide that ensued following the war which killed almost 2 million people³⁸.  The comedy of it all is that in 2017, the white supremacists in Washington actually had the gall to demand that Cambodia repay the U.S. $500 million dollars in “war debt”.  William Heidt, the U.S. ambassador in Phnom Penh, was quoted as saying “it is in Cambodia’s interest not to look to the past”, prompting an outraged response from the current prime minister Hun Sen, who hit back with “The U.S. created problems in my country and is demanding money from me.”³⁹

The U.S. created problems in my country and is demanding money from me.  Indeed.  White supremacist imperialist aggression may most accurately be described as a mob of racist gangsters and loan sharks showing up on your doorstep with baseball bats and hammers in hand, who beat you, rape your wife, and kill or kidnap your children, and then burn down your business and home as a show of force, while afterwards peddling protection rackets to you as you lay ruined amongst the ashes, crippled and in debt, and offering you money to help you “get back on your feet”, with all sorts of terms and conditions enforced at gunpoint.


The Korean War led to an armistice in 1953 in which the Yellow Man fought Uncle Sam to a standstill for the first time.  In 1973, the Yellow Man, despite being brought to his knees against the most powerful armies the White Man has mustered in all of human history, defeated him and sent him packing from Indochina.  As we were engaged in mortal combat from 1950 to 1975 to prevent him from swarming over Asia like a plague of locusts in order to fulfill their “Manifest Destiny” of conquering the entire Pacific, invading China, and breaking open her markets, 12 Asian and African countries were simultaneously engaged in anti-colonial revolts throughout the 50s and 60s that led to independence from European domination and colonization⁴⁰.

The speed and ferocity of these anti-colonial movements shook the white supremacists in the UN to their very core, as formerly vast racist empires crumbled into dust — sometimes in an orderly fashion, sometimes through violence — and the mighty despaired.  The language of “human rights” in the 70s was co-opted by Western imperialists from anti-colonialists in order to find a political weapon⁴¹ with which to stave off the onslaught of human freedom, flourishing, and independence.  One international lawyer even dared to go so far as to ask: “Is self-determination passé?”⁴² in 1973, right as Uncle Sam was getting his butt kicked out of Indochina (what about the Declaration of U.S. Independence?).  White fragility, indeed.

Inspired and collaborating trans-nationally and across the Pacific, we, our African, Indian, Arab, and Latin American brothers came together in solidarity, both here and abroad, leading to what is known as the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.  Anti-colonial movements⁴³ such as the Indian National Congress, the Association of Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth, and the United Gold Coast Convention in Ghana were all aware of one another, and there was a worldwide sentiment of solidarity against colonial domination by the White Man.  Those 12 African and Asian Nations met at the Bandung Conference⁴⁴ in 1955, which was attended by famous African American human rights activist Malcolm X⁴⁵, to pursue solidarity and internal development. They shared an adamant refusal to cooperate with America’s racist imperial project in Asia.  

Meanwhile, in 1968 and 1969, Third World Liberation Front strikes erupted at San Francisco State here, as a coalition of Ichioka and Gee’s Asian American Political Alliance joined with PACE, the Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action, as well as Black, Latino, and Native American students to demand more ethnic studies and more faculty and students of color⁴⁶.  Affirmative action at universities grew out of these protests and the Civil Rights Movement, from which we greatly benefited here at home, up until 1978, when a rejected prospective white student sued UC-Davis for “reverse discrimination”.  Thomas Powell, a rightist white Supreme Court Justice, played a shell game with the legal rationale for affirmative action, changing it from “remedying racism” to “achieving diversity” (known as the “Harvard Plan”), which had the direct consequence of banning and excluding Asian Americans from admittance⁴⁷.  Interesting in light of current events, no?⁴⁸

In the streets and the pool halls of San Francisco, away from the din on campuses, Chinese American men were organizing and mobilizing into an armed paramilitary force known as the Red Guard Party⁴⁹.  Led by former UC Berkeley student Alex Hing, who had dropped out to focus on pushing for minority studies, they fought with guns in hand to protect their local community, demand civil rights, and fight gentrification, aka domestic imperialism.  Their battle to try and save the I-Hotel⁵⁰, which was affordable low-income housing that was home to many Asian Americans, especially Filipino-Americans, was eventually defeated by racist real estate developers, but the fight brought pride to many in the Asian American community and galvanized their resolve that they could truly change the world.

The New Red Guard Party was inspired by the Black Panther Party, who in turn had been inspired by Mao⁵¹. The history of cross-cultural collaboration between Yellow and Black was formalized in Mao’s 1963 “Declaration of Appealing All the People of the World to Unite Together To Fight Against the Racial Discrimination in Imperialist America and Support African American’s Struggles Against Discrimination”, which he had made at the request of the NAACP⁵².  President Mao Zedong called on “all workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals, enlightened bourgeois and other enlightened ones from all colors of skins of white, black, yellow and brown to unite together to fight against racial discrimination of American imperialists and support African American’s struggles against discrimination”, against the backdrop of napalm and global revolution.  Yellow Peril supported Black Power, and vice versa.

This period of our history was known as the Asian American Movement⁵³, and lasted from the late 60s until the end of formal military U.S. imperialism and aggression in Indochina in the 70s.  The political identity known as “Asian America” was formed, not as a description of our personal experiences or family histories, but rather as an organizing logic for uniting disparate Yellow and Brown peoples into a common united front against white supremacy and the oppressor.  The term was officially adopted into the U.S. Census in 1980⁵⁴.  The victories of the Viet Cong, the tenacity of the Koreans, and the achievement of self-determination of a dozen African and Asian nations throwing off the yoke of the oppressor rippled through the world like an earthquake, and the Civil Rights Movement here at home had the white racists and imperialists in Washington shaking in their boots.  In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson outlined his vision of the “Great Society”⁵⁵ at the University of Michigan (my parents’ alma mater and where my mother used to teach Political Science), which explicitly focused on helping solve issues of racial discrimination and led to the signing of landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, which abolished the National Origins Formula and finally lifted the immigration policy of Chinese restriction and exclusion dating back to the Page Act of 1875.

Defensive wars and anti-colonial revolution, domestic and foreign, had brought Asians together in solidarity with all people of color worldwide, and it seemed that we would finally be able to rid the world of the specter of white supremacy, the European ghost that had haunted the entire globe since the dawn of the Age of Discovery.

(Part 1)
(Part 3)
(Part 4)
(Part 5)


  22. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn (2010)

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