I finished reading Cold War Orientalism this morning. I found the book to be both interesting on its own terms and helpful to my thinking about my dissertation project. It introduced me to what Klein argues were some of the dominant Cold War era discourses in the U.S. regarding U.S.-Asian relations, both in terms of external relations and in terms of the assimilation of Asians within the U.S. The latter Klein sees as a way for the U.S. to demonstrate to Asia its good intentions during the Cold War era competition for the 'heart' of Asia. (I'm not sure how much Klein sees this as a primary motive for the middlebrow intellectuals' treatment of Asian Americans in their work.)
As I mentioned elsewhere, the idea that middlebrow intellectuals--and the government--in the U.S. encouraged Americans to develop a sense of empathy for the people of Asia provides a useful connection (or counterpoint) to the kind of empathy that development scholars like Daniel Lerner argued was necessary for people in Third World countries. Lerner argued that empathy was necessary for people in undeveloped countries so that they could learn to imagine ways of living that were different from their own. This would provide motivation for the integration of the various groups (tribes, clans) into the "imagined community" (not Lerner's term, of course!) of the nation and for the integration of the new nations into the global community (a community that excluded Communist countries, of course). The kind of empathy that Americans needed to develop, according to Klein, was something that would enable Americans to avoid the accusations of imperialism that were made against other Western powers.
Klein's chapter "How to Be an American Abroad: James Michener's The Voice of Asia and Postwar Mass Tourism" gives a good example of the discourse of empathy that she describes. She argues that Michener positions himself as "a 'listening man'" who does not privilege his own voice in the book but rather privileges the voices of the people he interviews. "Michener presents himself and his interviewees as leaping governments and engaging in direct communication with each other," she writes (132). Michener's portrayal of himself as a listener is an embodiment of the "curious and open-minded American presence in Asia" (133) that was part of the ideal of an empathetic America.
I also like the fact that although Klein does critique what she analyzes (pointing out, for instance, how Michener's work feeds into "the liberal critique of racism as individual prejudice [that] proliferated in the late 1940s and 1950s" ), she also tries to read these texts sympathetically, as well. She argues, for instance, that "it would be a mistake to dismiss Michener's liberalism as only a mystification of neocolonial expansion" (135). She prefers to see the texts and the discourses in which they participated as more complicated than that--as having more than one kind of effect on or relationship to the U.S.'s role in Asia.
[Update: I should also mention that I finished Fires of the Dragon early last week. It was quite an enlightening read. It was a fast read, too--I guess because of its narrative style.]