The collapse of the sanguinely conceived and short-lived East-West condominium in Laos and the immediately consequent American military build-up in continguous Thailand enforces vividly the degree of the United States’ politico-military involvement in the affairs of remote countries with which few American communities have in the past had any direct connection. Such direct associations as they have had have in the past been almost exclusively through the few American missionaries in the area. This missionary monopoly of contact with exotic peoples is now being rapidly broken up and superceded by an intercultural confrontation along a very long line, mediated, on our side, by military and other governmental personnel, businessmen, and an increasing host of sightseers.
To be sure, American politico-military involvement in East and South-East Asia is nothing entirely new. Commodore Perry entered Tokio Bay ahead of modern missionaries. American troops acted in concert with those of several European nations and Japan in lifting the Boxers’ siege of the Legation Quarter in Peking, and for decades we had several hundred troops stationed there. I have myself, eight months before Pearl Harbor, crossed the Mekong and Salween rivers as a hitch-hiking missionary in the company of U. S. naval ratings in a latitude between Laos and that border territory which shows this extraordinary spectacle of four of the world’s mightiest rivers—rivers which after fanning out embrace the great and ancient peoples of China and Burma and everything between—the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Mekong, and the Yangtze, all flowing for some distance parallel to one another and all within hailing distance of one another. (The U. S. S. Villalobos was a voluntary ...1
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