George McTurnan Kahin, a specialist on Southeast Asia and the Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor of International Studies Emeritus at Cornell University, died Jan. 29, 2000, at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. An outspoken critic of U.S. policy during the Vietnam war, he wrote and edited classic works on Southeast Asia and Indonesia, as well as on Vietnam. He was 82.
Kahin is the namesake of Cornell's George McT. Kahin Center for Advanced Research on Southeast Asia, dedicated in his honor in 1992, and he was a seminal force in the creation of Southeast Asian studies in the United States, in general, and at Cornell, in particular.
"He is a giant in the field of Southeast Asian Studies and his commitment to the field is legendary," said Thak Chaloemtiarana, Cornell's Southeast Asia Program director. "George attracted the very best students from all over the world and they in turn became scholars in Southeast Asian studies and started programs worldwide."
Born in Baltimore, Jan. 25, 1918, he grew up in Seattle. He gained a B.S. in history from Harvard University in 1940, an M.A. from Stanford University in 1946 and a Ph.D in political science from Johns Hopkins in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army between 1942 and 1945, achieving the rank of "buck sergeant."
Kahin came to Cornell in 1951 as an assistant professor of government and executive director of the newly formed Southeast Asia Program. He threw his energies into developing the program throughout the 1950s and served as its director from 1961 to 1970. He also founded the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project in 1954 and directed it until his retirement in 1988. He became associate professor of government in 1954 and full professor in 1959 and was appointed Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor in International Studies in 1968. Kahin remained active at Cornell until his death, attending faculty meetings, conferences and assisting the Department of Anthropology in its search for a candidate with expertise in Southeast Asia, Chaloemtiarana said.
Outside Cornell, Kahin served on the faculty of the Salzburg Seminar (1956) and as Fulbright professor at London University (1962-63), visiting professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, (1971) and visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, Calif. (1971-72). He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, and he was president of the Association for Asian Studies in 1973-74.
Kahin's interest in Southeast Asia developed during the Second World War when he was trained as one of a group of 60 GIs who were to be parachuted into Japanese-occupied Indonesia in advance of Allied forces. The plan did not materialize because it was decided at the Potsdam Conference that U.S. forces would bypass the Indies, so he and his fellows were sent to the European Theater. After the war, he pursued his academic interest in Southeast Asia and carried out graduate research in Indonesia in 1948-49 during the country's independence revolution against the Dutch. Kahin was later arrested by the Dutch for his political activities and expelled from the country. When he returned to the United States, he completed his doctoral dissertation, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia, published in 1951 by Cornell University Press and now considered a classic. In 1991, Kahin received the Bintan Jasa Pratama (Medal of Merit, First Class) from then Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas for his work as a "pioneer and precursor of Indonesian studies in the U.S."
Kahin was strongly opposed to U.S. policy in Vietnam and lectured in numerous forums throughout the country. In April 1965, he was the major speaker against the war at the first National Teach-in held in Washington, D.C. Kahin published a number of articles and monographs on the war as well as two books: The United States in Vietnam (Dial Press, 1967, second edition 1969), which he wrote with John Lewis, and Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (Knopf, 1986; paperback edition, Doubleday-Anchor Books, 1987).
He was a pioneer in making academic study of Southeast Asia an acknowledged part of the university curriculum in the United States and edited the first two important scholarly textbooks focusing on the governments of the area: Major Governments of Asia (1958, 1963) (for which he wrote the substantial section on Indonesia) and Governments and Politics of Southeast Asia (1959, 1964), both published by Cornell University Press. Among his other major publications was Subversion as Foreign Policy (The New Press, 1995) with Audrey Kahin. In recent years, he had been working on a manuscript dealing with the impact of American policies on the political and socio-economic landscape of Southeast Asia, based largely on his own experiences in the area.
Kahin is survived by his wife, Audrey; a son, Brian; a daughter Sharon; a daughter-in-law, Julia Royall; grandchildren Ange and Owen; a sister, Peggy Webb; various nephews and nieces, as well as innumerable former students, for whom he served as mentor throughout his life.
A family service will be held this week at Bangs Funeral Home in Ithaca, followed by a memorial service for family and friends, to be announced.