Courtesy Reuters

Southeast Asia - Before and After

Thirty years ago, when I first traveled through Southeast Asia, there was everywhere an exhilarating atmosphere of political adventure and zeal. The conviction that justice was on the side of the rebellious and retribution the foregone fate of the outdated colonialists was infectious. Whatever the imperialist rearguard actions, however long they might last, it seemed apparent that these first-stage fights for freedom would succeed, no matter how complicated and difficult they might prove to be or how disorganized the nationalist elements were.

But with the exception of the North Vietnamese, guided by the almost metaphysical force and genius of Ho Chi Minh, the most experienced revolutionary leader in the region and at once the best-trained Communist and most ardent nationalist, the Southeast Asian revolutionary movements soon revealed an increasing ideological factionalism and a lack of cohesive leadership. There were charismatic men, such as the young Aung San in Burma, and highly educated and sophisticated Socialists such as Soetan Sjahrir in Indonesia, but they were passing figures on the historic stage. Except for Ho, there were no Titos, with whom he has often been justifiably compared, and no other Communist figures who had the qualities of leadership and organization of European leaders, even those who were Soviet puppets. The non-Communists, while often better schooled, were even less sure of themselves and of the direction they wanted the nationalist movements to take. It was thus no accident that the pattern of nationalist development was chaotic and violent at the outset, and erratic and frequently stultifying afterward, with the result that brilliant demagogues like Indonesia's Sukarno, or colorless but crafty generals like Burma's Ne Win, took over their countries and ran their own revolutions, or counterrevolutions, which were autarchic and often became despotic.

Today, after the traumatic experience of the Vietnam War-which still continues but without the shattering impact of American participation-Southeast Asia is once again in a state of transition. The trend toward authoritarianism, in varying degrees, is not only still predominant, but

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