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Reviews

"Japan: 'The Light of Asia,'" in Josef Silverstein, ed., Southeast Asia in World War II:
Four Essays. By Benedict Anderson. New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast
Asia Monograph Series No. 7, 1966.
"Introduction," The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the
World. By Benedict Anderson. London & New York: Verso, 1998.

I. Introduction
This paper is a comparative review of Benedict Anderson's article entitled, "Japan:
'The light of Asia'" in Josef Silverstein's 1966 book, Southeast Asia in World War II: Four
Essays, and of his Introduction to his 1998 book, The Spectre of Comparisons. The topics
of these two articles seem unrelated--the first is about Japan and Indonesia, while the
second about the United States and Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is a 32-year gap
between the articles' publication dates. However, in these two articles, Anderson offers a
metanarrative on how Indonesia and Southeast Asia were imagined as a nation-state and a
region, respectively.
II-A. "Japan: 'The Light of Asia,'" in Josef Siverstein, ed., Southeast Asia in World
War II: Four Essays. By Benedict Anderson. New Haven, CT: Yale University
Southeast Asia Monograph Series No. 7, 1966.
In the first article, Anderson argues that the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia
must be viewed more than as a struggle between the democratic West and the militaristic
Japanese, but as part of Asian and Southeast Asian history that shaped the social and
political systems of the region. Using Indonesia as case study, he dissects Japanese rule
in the world's largest archipelago, how it is similar to and different from Dutch rule, and how
Indonesia's independence leaders emerged from this historical context. For Anderson, the
characteristics of contemporary politics in Indonesia is rooted in the Japanese occupation
during the Second World War.
Anderson begins his essay by acknowledging two perspectives on the Japanese
occupation of Southeast Asia during the Second World War: (1) a traditional view that

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
Anderson rejects, and (2) a newer view (at least in 1966) that Anderson supports. The
traditional view frames the Japanese occupation as a struggle for hegemony between the
democratic West and the militaristic Japanese, wherein the latter disrupted the former's
tutelage of Southeast Asia towards a Western democratic way of life. This view dominates
narratives on Southeast Asia and the Second World War. It is persistent primarily because
of two features of Japanese rule: its emergency quality (i.e. predatory style) and its explicit
racism (i.e. anti-white character). However, Anderson qualifies these two features.
regard to the first feature, Japanese colonialism was not inherently predatory.

With
In

peacetime, it was developmental, as what transpired in Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan. But
in wartime, it became predatory, as what happened in Southeast Asia.

Japan had to

devote almost all of its resources to the war effort. Moreover, it could not avoid going to
war in expanding its empire in Southeast Asia. Western states had already colonized the
region. They would not give it up without a fight. With regard to the second feature,
Japanese militarism's anti-white character was not similar to Nazism's anti-Semitism.
Organized hostility to the "whites" was a political tool to displace the "whites" as colonial
rulers in the eyes of the "natives," not out of a sense of superiority. Anderson notes that the
Japanese did feel superior, but to the "natives."

Their sense of superiority was not a

political tool, but rather an unconscious outcome of the colonial process.


On the other hand, the newer view sees continuities, particularly in Indonesia, from
the Dutch rule to the Japanese rule. Anderson notes that the Japanese thought of the
"natives" the same way the Dutch did, and that they used the same "triple formula" for
colonization, as did the Dutch.

The "triple formula" involved (1) heightening ethnic

differences and rivalries, including fragmenting the archipelago into three separate states of
Java, Sumatra and East Indonesia, and favoring the Javanese majority; (2) appropriating
traditional ruling groups, with the older generation of nationalist intelligentsia as an

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
indigenous bureaucracy for effective administration and efficient resource mobilization, and
the rural Islamic leaders as a central authority for overseeing the Javanese peasantry; and
(3) constructing a myth of racial superiority. However, the content of the myth constructed
by the Japanese was different from that of the myth constructed by the Dutch.

The

Japanese myth was about their physical and spiritual power, while that of the Dutch their
efficiency and technology.

Because of this "triple formula," the Dutch and then the

Japanese were able to colonize the world's largest archipelago with each having only about
40,000 men.
However, having similarities between Dutch and Japanese rule does not mean not
having differences. The Japanese made at least two major political changes: (1) utilizing a
style suggesting spiritual and psychological strength that could overpower material
equipment and technology, and (2) underscoring political romanticism by involving in
propaganda and paramilitary activities the younger generation of nationalist intelligentsia,
whom the Japanese developed as a political force. These political changes resulted in the
younger generation's respect and admiration for the Japanese Army, and military career
and virtues; as well as their radicalization. The younger generation's radicalism was further
amplified by what was happening in Indonesia at that time, particularly: (1) the "natives'"
belief in a golden age after a dark and troubled period, (2) difficult social and economic
conditions, and (3) the system of forced labor that the older generation of nationalist
intelligentsia supported.

But the younger generation's radicalism did not inspire social

change after Indonesia's independence, but instead a guided democracy of the president,
the army and the Generation of 1945. Their radicalism was not a critique of their current
social and political systems, but rather a response to their conflict with the older generation.
The intergenerational conflict between the younger and older generations was the result of
the two distinct political roles that the Japanese assigned to them--a more agitational

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
propagandist role for the younger generation and a more conservative administrative and
organizational role for the older generation.
II-B. "Introduction," The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and
the World. By Benedict Anderson. London & New York: Verso, 1998.
In the second article, Anderson argues that the Southeast Asian region is an
imagined reality. It is imagined because the term Southeast Asia, although it was used
before 1943 (Emerson, 1984), became a significant political term only that year, when the
Allies created the combined South East Asia Command under Admiral Lord Louis
Mountbatten. This means that the region's naming came from outside. Anderson cites the
following reasons why the region's naming did not come from within: (1) there was no single
ruler in the region until the Japanese came during the Second World War; (2) there was
also no single religion; and (3) there was no single western colonizer, nor did colonization
happen all at once. Anderson calls this phenomenon mottled imperialism. Part of this
phenomenon is the jealousy and rivalry that western colonizers had with each other, so
much so that they closed off their colonies from each other. For people in the colony, those
in the metropole felt closer to them than those in neighboring colonies. But, for people in
the metropole, those in their colony felt most remote to them. However, the outbreak of the
Second World War in the region did not only give rise to the region's first hegemon, it also
brought down mottled imperialism. As a result, the Southeast Asian region began to take
shape. But the collapse of mottled imperialism is not the only factor.
Anderson cites the next three factors in transforming Southeast Asia from the
imagined to the real: (1) decolonization; (2) Cold War; and (3) the United States as the
region's new hegemon. After the war, western colonizers could no longer return to the
region as rulers. Standing in their way were an armed and trained indigenous population
determined to attain independence, and the United States, the Soviet Union and the United
Nations that were dedicated to accomplish decolonization (Christopher, 2002). After the
Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman
AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
war, another war began to brew, this time between the capitalists, led by the United States,
and the communists, led by the Soviet Union. From the perspective of the United States,
the giants in Asia had already staked out their positions--India with its former colonizer, the
United Kingdom; Japan with its new colonizer, the United States; and China with
communism. But the new states in the Southeast Asian region had not. In these new
states, conflict between capitalists and communists were at an all-time high. The United
States, after replacing Japan as the region's new hegemon, became even more determined
not to lose the region to communism. In 1954, the United States sponsored the formation
of the anti-communist Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The only member
countries of SEATO from the Southeast Asian region were the Philippines and Thailand,
while the rest were from outside. SEATO was eventually dissolved two decades later, long
before the end of the Cold War. The United States also supported the establishment in
American universities of a field of research, based in American anti-communist hegemony,
called Southeast Asian studies. Anderson, who was one of the first products of this field,
cites two critical outcomes from the field's establishment: (1) professors and students began
to see the new states in Southeast Asia from a regional lens, reinforcing the view that
Southeast Asia is a real place, at least in these American universities; and (2) libraries and
scholarship funds for Southeast Asian studies attracted students from various countries
around the world, including those from Southeast Asian countries.

With American

scholarship on Southeast Asia written in English, English, thus, became the region's lingua
franca and, as Anderson puts it, guarantor of its reality.
Anderson mentions two historical events that ingrained Southeast Asia into
mainstream consciousness: (1) the Vietnam War, and (2) the rise of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Vietnam War brought into mainstream

consciousness not just the country in conflict, but also the region where that country is

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
invariably located in--Southeast Asia. As the Vietnam War draft continued in the United
States, enrollment in Southeast Asian studies increased.

Southeast Asianist students

became even more politicized as they took sides, spoke on, and wrote about issues
regarding the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Southeast Asianist students from Southeast Asian
countries returned to their home countries, and contributed to ASEAN's rise. Anderson
admits that, even if ASEAN is lacking in substantive action on issues facing the region
because of its strict adherence to the ASEAN Way of non-interference and consensus
building, it has nevertheless managed to be taken seriously in international diplomacy.
Moreover, Jones and Smith (2007) acknowledges that, while some still see ASEAN as a
regional security arrangement, others now see it as a regional community.
III. Analysis & Conclusion
Anderson's two articles share a metanarrative on how communities are imagined
when certain actors (i.e. hegemon, elite group) and factors (i.e. power struggle, sphere of
influence) are present. First, a hegemon is involved in a power struggle over its sphere of
influence. In the first article, the hegemon was Japan, the power struggle the Second
World War, and the sphere of influence the ethnic groups in the former Dutch East Indies.
In the second article, the hegemon is the United States, the power struggle the Cold War,
and the sphere of influence the new nation-states in the former South East Asia Command.
Second, the hegemon responds to the power struggle by asserting its dominance over its
sphere of influence.

In the first article, Japan utilized a style suggesting spiritual and

psychological strength, and underscored political romanticism. In the second article, the
United States championed the formation of SEATO and the establishment of Southeast
Asian studies in American universities. Third, the hegemon institutionalizes a program for
developing an elite group that would assist in securing its sphere of influence. In the first
article, Japan developed the younger generation of nationalist intelligentsia as a political

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
force by involving them in propaganda and paramilitary activities. (Japan succeeded in
getting the younger generation's respect and admiration for military career and virtues, in
general, and the Japanese Army, in particular. Japan also succeeded in radicalizing the
younger generation.) In the second article, the United States, particularly American private
and state universities, as well as American private foundations, hoped to develop Southeast
Asianists supportive of American anti-communist hegemony.

(But the United States did

not succeed as much. If it did, Anderson, the preeminent Southeast Asianist, would not
have been a historical materialist!) Fourth, even with the end of the hegemon's power
struggle (and regardless if it results in the hegemon's defeat or victory), the elite group
continues its role in securing the hegemon's sphere of influence until it becomes an
imagined reality, independent of the hegemon, but not necessarily different from it. In the
first article, some of the younger generation of nationalist intelligentsia clamored for
independence after the Second World War. The independence they sought was not a
return to their precolonial state/s, but the formation of a postcolonial state (i.e. Indonesia)
based on the colonial state (i.e. Dutch East Indies), where they could have a monopoly or a
majority of power (i.e. Guided Democracy).

In the second article, some of the Southeast

Asianists that have contributed to ASEAN's rise continue to transform its purpose after the
end of the Cold War, from a regional security arrangement to a regional community.
Anderson's metanarrative offers (in)valuable lessons on nation- and region-building.
Nation-states, such as Indonesia, and regions, such as Southeast Asia, are products of
history, of how actors respond to factors. Not all responses to conflict keep us apart; some
bring us together. All it takes is a fraction of the population to imagine a community far
larger, far greater than kinship ties allow. However, this imagined community may not
necessarily serve the interest of all. Often, it serves the interest of those that dared to
imagine it. Anderson has not lacked in warning us.

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16

Reviews
References
Anderson, Benedict. 1966. "Japan: 'The Light of Asia,'" in Josef Silverstein, ed., Southeast
Asia in World War II: Four Essays. New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asia
Monograph Series No. 7.
Anderson, Benedict. 1998. "Introduction," The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism,
Southeast Asia, and the World. London & New York: Verso, pp. 1-26.
Christopher, A. 2002. "Decolonization without Independence," GeoJournal 56 (3): 213224.
Emmerson, Donald. 1984. "Southeast Asia: What's in a name?," Journal of Southeast
Asian Studies 15 (1): 1-21.
Jones, David Martin and Michael L. R. Smith. 2007. "Making Process, Not Progress:
ASEAN and the Evolving East Asian Regional Order," International Security 32 (1):
148-184.

Kristine S. Calleja | MA Asian Studies | University of the Philippines, Diliman


AS 201-A | 1st Sem, AY 2015-16