When Allied powers and Japan clashed in Southeast Asia during World War II, the consequences reverberated across the globe and into the present day.
At the Crossroads: Southeast Asia, a web resource for teachers and students created with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), investigates diverse voices and perspectives to explore how global conflict transformed Southeast Asia into an arena for rival ideologies and a fulcrum for historic forces.
Southeast Asia delineates the peninsular and island areas extending east from India and south from China. For centuries it was the crux of maritime trade routes between East Asia and South Asia, Africa, and Europe. At the eve of World War II, European colonial powers controlled most of the region and its abundant natural resources, in particular the variety of spices including nutmeg, clove, and mace (known as the “holy trinity” of spices), but also tin, rubber, and oil which Japan needed to fuel its global ambitions and growing war machine.
During World War II, Southeast Asia became a decisive theater where colonialism, imperialism, and nationalism as well as fascism, communism, capitalism, and democracy converged, clashed, and ultimately established a new world order. Yet, history as relayed in textbooks and classrooms overlooks the region’s pivotal role. Turning a lens on Southeast Asia in World War II builds understanding of not only events surrounding the war, but also change and continuity in the region and how they reshaped the world order that continues to influence nations and lives of people today.