After World War II, as the United States pursued an internationalist policy, the American people became active within the global community and began to take an interest in Asian countries. This interest arose from the fear that these countries would turn communist. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, suggested to the American people that “[i]deas rather than brute force were what ultimately mattered” in winning the Cold War (Klein, 57). In general, the American people rose to the challenge of engaging Asia through strategies such as travel, self-education, and extending their familial relationships to include Asians. Klein’s work supports Said’s ideas about Orientalism, yet, at the same time, it also manages to complicate it.
According to a U.S. government report “[t]he achievement of U.S. objectives in Asia was ‘handicapped’ by the lack of qualified and experienced personnel available to live and work in Asian countries”(Klein, 62). As a result of this, the U.S. saw a great need for Americans to educate themselves on Asian cultures and how to interact with Asians in such a way as to leave a favorable impression of the United States. The America people rose to the challenge given to them by traveling to Asian countries and absorbing the cultural productions of middlebrow intellectuals. An example of such a cultural production was the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical called South Pacific. The musical is about two American characters, who realize that their racism is standing in the way of their happiness (Class, South Pacific). In the musical, “[b]y repudiating her racism, Nellie does not so much sacrifice her authority as gain added influence over her new Asian children”(Klein, 165). The message of South Pacific is that the establishment of love is a cure for racism. America’s interest in global expansion is revealed as a motive for eradicating racism as the author of Tales of the South Pacific, Michener reveals that “[o]vercoming racism becomes…a precondition for successful expansion” (Klein, 162-164).
Another roadblock to forging bonds with the countries of Asia was that Americans did not feel bound to Asia. According to Loy Henderson, U.S. ambassador to India, this was because “most people of the United States or their ancestors migrated from Europe” (Klein, 145). Pearl Buck, in an effort to facilitate U.S.-Asia political relations, created Welcome House, an adoption agency dedicated to finding loving homes for Asian and part-Asian children born in the United States. She argued that if Americans would adopt Asian children into their families, this would be an excellent method for cleansing the parents’ hearts of racism and establishing their roots in Asia and as a result they would feel like they had a stake in Asian affairs (Klein, 144-5). The Christian Children’s Fund offered another way that people could include Asians into their families through the process of virtual “adoption”. The CCF allowed the exchange of letters and photographs between the virtual ‘parents’ and ‘adoptees’. As a consequence, “the parents learned about the misery that communism bred, and the child learned about the material abundance and personal generosity that the ‘capitalist free world’ offered” (Klein 158). Thus, the inclusion of Asians through adoption was a successful means of producing ” structures of feeling” and was also successful in winning the “hearts and minds of the people”. This strategy was limited in that racism against Asians was still a problem in the U.S.
Another way that Americans cemented their internationalist position was through travel and global expansion. There emerged after World War II, many travel writers, like Michener, who wrote descriptions of the exotic Asian countries and tales of adventures overseas. The purpose of such literature was to promote travel to Asian countries. Not only did Americans learn about Asia through their travels there, but also, it was a pleasurable way to provide economic help to countries who needed it after the war. “[I]t was much easier to persuade Americans to travel overseas than it was to persuade Congress to approve foreign aid bills” (Klein,108). A limit on this strategy is that Americans had to be educated on how to behave overseas so as to leave a good impression of the U.S. However, it was very successful in providing economic aid to Asian countries devastated by the war, thereby helping them to resist the communist threat.
Klein’s work supports Said’s ideas about Orientalism in some ways. For example, in her analysis of the musical, The King and I, the Western schoolteacher comes to Siam to educate the Oriental children of the King of Siam and his wives and even the King himself. Thus she confirms that the West displays a superiority in knowledge and is portrayed as progressive, and at the same time the people of Siam are imagined as backwards and ignorant (Class, The King and I). At the same time, Klein manages to complicate Said’s ideas about Orientalism. Said’s idea that the West is not interested to learn about the East and relies on outdated stereotypes adopted from the Europeans about the Orient (class, film about Orientalism) is complicated by the numerous examples that Klein recounts about Americans who genuinely desired to learn about the culture of Asians and even relished in the diversity of other cultures. One of the best examples of this is Dr. Dooley. He was against “Americanizing” the Laotians and saw value in other cultures. His cultural tolerance was manifested in his writings and his actions as well as his respect of and excitement to participate in Laotian cultural “by cooperating with local healers and participating in traditional ceremonies” (Klein 93). He celebrates diversity because of the fact that uniformity is a quality that communists value.
In conclusion, Americans and American cultural producers used sentimental education, travel abroad, and the inclusion of Asians into their families to forge “structures of feeling” (Klein,7) and “affective relationships” with Asian countries after World War II. These strategies, although they had some limitations, were very successful methods for containing the communist threat and at the same time helped cement America’s internationalist position.
The King and I. Dir. Walter Lang. Prod. Charles Brackett. By Ernest Lehman, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Alfred Newman. Perf. Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno, and Alan Mowbray. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1956.
Klein, Christina. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961. Berkeley: University of California, 2003. Print.
On Orientalism-Edward Said (2/4) – YouTube. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. .
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Dir. Richard Pearce. Perf. Glenn Close. ABC, 2001.