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In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia Hardcover – July 10, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0375509155 ISBN-10: 0375509151 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Americans considered World War II over in August 1945, but in this enthralling sequel to Eagle Against the Sun, historian Spector recounts the brutal postwar conflicts inside former Japanese conquests. Although hailed in American media as China's savior, Chiang Kai-shek enlisted and received the help of the undefeated Japanese army in fending off Mao Zedong's Communist forces. The modest assistance of two U.S. Marine divisions barely slowed Chiang's ultimate defeat. WWII's end in Malaya produced a vicious racial conflict between Malaysians and the Chinese minority. Vietnam considered itself independent when the French returned to resume control, a bloody process that, after eight years, failed. Before surrendering, the Japanese granted independence to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), but four years of warfare and anarchy passed before the Dutch withdrew. American occupation forces arrived in South Korea, entirely ignorant of its culture and language, and remained till 1949, leaving a turbulent country ruled by the only Koreans the U.S. could understand: missionary-educated, English-speaking and very conservative; U.S. troops returned the following year. Spector relates dismal accounts of civil war and mass slaughter, much of it provoked by the blundering victorious powers—a painful lesson backed with impressive research and delivered with Spector's usual wit and insight. (July 17)
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From Booklist

Although some Allied political and military officials hoped the dropping of two atomic bombs would quickly end World War II, many others fully expected Japan to fight on indefinitely. When Japan did accept the demand for unconditional surrender on August 14, 1945, Japan still had massive military forces stationed in China and Southeast Asia. Allied officials were left woefully unprepared for the aftermath of the withdrawal of Japanese forces. Professor Spector provocatively asserts that from a global perspective, the war did not end with the Japanese surrender. British and American soldiers went home, but chronic and wide-scale violence continued in Asia as various forces struggled for control of the remnants of Japanese, British, French, and Dutch empires. In Korea, Indochina, Malaya, and the Indonesian archipelago, long-standing nationalist yearnings and religious and class antagonisms exploded in the absence of any accepted effective political authority. Inevitably, these older divisions intensified as they became entangled in cold war competition. This is a superbly researched, well-argued work. Freeman, Jay
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375509151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375509155
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Truthteller on July 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
On July 26, 1945, the goverments of the U.S., Britain, and China issued the Potsdam Declaration, a document that in no uncertain terms demands the unconditional surrender of Japan or it will face "prompt and utter destruction". Japan refused to surrender.

On August 6, 1945, the U.S. drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 9, 1945, the Soviet Union breaks its neutrality pact with Japan and invades Manchuria, which was still under Japanese control. The Supreme Council in Japan met that morning, August 9, to discuss the import of the atomic bomb attack (at the time there was a serious question whether the U.S. had the ability to make more than just one) and the Soviets' invasion of Manchuria (which many in the Japanese military downplayed). During that very meeting, news arrived that the U.S. had dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki. During the next several days intense talks among the Emperor, the government, and the military over possible surrender (including peace feelers to the Allies) took place, with a military coup to avoid surrender and continue fighting a very real possibility. On August 13, the Emperor agreed to surrender. On August 14, a military coup was attempted, but failed. (That same night, August 14-15, the U.S. conducted its largest bombing raid in the Pacific theatre with 1000 planes dropping bombs on eight Japanese cities.) On August 15, 1945, the Emperor's recorded surrender speech was broadcast to the Japanese people.

Although August 15, 1945 is generally considered to be the end of World War II, the fighting did not automatically stop.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By R. C Sheehy on August 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Most WWII histories act as if all hostile action ended on September 2 when the Japanese surrendered on the USS Missouri. Mr. Spector in this book shows that in many regards that the end of that drama was the beginning of another one.

This book does an excellent job of exploring an under reported aspect of the Second World War and helps to explain why in the 20 years after the end of the War, east Asia became such a global hotspot. A great deal of attention is given to the failed attempts and assumptions of the European powers that they would simply walk back in and return to their lives as formal colonial masters. Mr. Spector does a great job exploring the various nationalistic conflicts and explaining why some were so violent and others were not.

This is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about the end of World War II in Asia or of Asian history in general.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on November 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The surrender of Japan in August 1945 unleased a series of events which led to the collapse of the British, French and Dutch Colonial Empires and the resumption of the Chinese Civil War. The political decisions made in the war's immediate aftermath laid the foundation for a series bloody wars that would rage across East Asia for the next thirty years. This is the big and important type of history that educated people need to know if they want to understand the second half of the Twentieth Century.

The value of "In The Ruins of Empire" is that it examines the big picture. Instead of having to read the detailed histories of individual counties, Ronald Spector presents the reader with succinct summaries of what was happening in a number of East Asian countries. By looking at the big picture, Spector keeps the reader from getting bogged down in the small details. Ronald Spector is a conscienitous historian and does an admirable job of weaving the various plot lines together.

Of all the history to write, big picture history is the most difficult to create. It requires a very sure narrative hand. Only the most gifted writers can do it well. Although, Ronald Spector is an able historian, he is no Niall Ferguson, Tony Judt or Norman Davies. Spector had a great idea in writing a popular history of 1945-1947 in East Asia. Unfortunately, he does not have the writing skill to lift this book from four stars to five stars.

As a final note, for anyone interested in this time period, I would recommend that they check out "The Aftermath: Asia" the last volume in the Time/Life series on World War II. There are some amazing photos of post war Asia that really add to the experience of reading "In the Ruins of Empire." The Chinese photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson are especially memorable. These great photos tell a truth that only the most gifted of writers can come close to conveying.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Andrew E. Cox on October 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Drawing on reports and dispatches from the Office of Strategic Services as well primary source documents from both Asian and American soldiers from the years immediately after WWII, Ronald Spector takes a fresh look at a pivotal point in history in "The Ruins of Empire. As WWII ended, the Japanese surrender left a power vacuum in East Asia; countries previously under the yoke of the Japanese stood poised to claim their independence even as the American and European powers rushed in to recapture what they considered their old empire. Spanning 4 years and 5 countries, Spector's narrative documents the struggle for power and independence in the aftermath of a war that never ended for millions of Asians. Though the account is fascinating, Spector's work would have been well-served with additional context on the history, politics, ideology of the various struggles that served as a foundation to the struggles even prior to Allied re-occupation. As it is, the accounts--excellent in that they are primary sources from real people who experienced the events--seem too narrow to capture the intensely complex forces at work. Yet Ruins is worth the read because it is well-written and inherently interesting.

Spector's purpose in writing Ruins was not simply to write a history of the post-WWII East Asia. "Ruins" also serves as a series of case studies illustrating how disasterous occupations of foreign countries can be. Spector's narrative of the independence struggles against European re-occupations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the American Korea, make a convincing case that the successful occupations of Japan and Germany were the exception rather than the rule.
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