Men who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.--Santayana
At a Military
Museum, the Losers Write History
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
TOKYO, Oct. 28 — Judging by the texts on the walls at this new museum of military history, Japan sacrificed its blood and treasure throughout the 20th century not to conquer other Asian countries but to fight for their independence.
In much the same vein, the museum presents Emperor Hirohito as a selfless statesman who ended World War II out of concern for the loss of innocent lives, not caring "what became of me." Nowhere is there any hint of the volumes of recent scholarship that show how the emperor urged his armies to keep fighting long after defeat was inevitable in what many historians say was an effort to negotiate his own security atop the throne.
The museum is a provocative addition to Yasukuni Shrine here, which commemorates the country's 2.5 million modern war dead, including 14 internationally designated war criminals from the last world war. The museum offers the Shinto shrine's unapologetic attitude about Japan's militaristic past to crowds of visitors year-round.
Some of those who come are the idle curious. Others, though, are drawn by strong feelings, from families with living memories of wartime loss, to people smoldering with resentment over an international order defined by the West.
"Currently, the West holds power and their perception is always considered to be justice," said Shozo Ninomiya, a 29-year-old student who had come from faraway Ehime prefecture to visit the museum. "Aren't things the same at Arlington National Cemetery? There are people who died for our country and if we do not respect them, who else will?"
The museum's directors declined to be interviewed, and would not provide even basic information, like the cost of the new building or the source of its financing.
Taro Nagae, a historian at the National Institute of Defense Studies, who edited the museum's displays, had the same explanation for every uncomfortable chapter passed under silence, from sex slaves to Japan's infamous biological warfare outfit, Unit 731. "The debate over what really happened is still under way," he said. "Therefore we shouldn't take this matter up in a museum."
The museum's jingoism begins in the very first room. There, a saber adorned with gold braid, an ancient relic from the Imperial Palace guard, hangs, dramatically lit, above a block of text glorifying 2,600 years of independence, secured by valiant warriors against unnamed invaders. The succeeding rooms march visitors briskly through the centuries, depicting a Japan that is always on the defensive, never the aggressor.
Many visitors sob openly at the museum's emotional crescendo: the final letters to family and official portraits of soft-faced uniformed kamikaze pilots who stare blankly forward. "I have learned why I was born and where, as a man, I must die," one wrote. "I hope you will be proud of me when I go calmly to my death."
On the eve of war with the United States, which began with Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Emperor Hirohito is quoted in this peaceful vein, "In a world where all the seas are brethren, why, then, do wind and wave so stridently clash?" The explanation, furnished quickly afterward, is an American "plan to force Japan into war."
Here, the infamous "Rape of Nanjing" — in which international historians say Japan massacred 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese in December 1937 — becomes the "Nanjing Incident." Japanese troops were reported at the time to have held killing contests and to have raped women by the thousands. Yet the first mention of civilian deaths in the war does not come until the American firebombings of Japanese cities, in 1944.
"Chinese troops were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties," the text says of Nanjing. "Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace."
A Chinese university student who visited the museum gasped audibly, shaking her head in barely contained anger at the Nanjing text. "This is why our two countries can never be true friends," she said. "How can we trust a country that continues to lie so boldly about its past?"
The museum's account of history is reminiscent of that in the strongly nationalistic history textbooks that were offered to — and overwhelmingly rejected by — Japanese school districts last year. Like the textbooks, the museum seems aimed at replacing the prevailing culture in Japan — an embarrassed circumspection about its 20th-century militarism — with a muscular "my country, love it or leave it" spirit.
"The official postwar pacifism that reigns today is tied to an understanding of a stupid, feckless militarism, which ended in hellfire and defeat," said Louise Young, author of "Japan's Total Empire, Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism" and associate professor of history at New York University. "The museum is offering a totally unreconstructed regurgitation of pre-1945 justifications of its past; a return to fascist mytho-history."
Many who visit the museum come away strongly influenced by its viewpoint, but other seem put off by the nationalist dogma.
"I detest war, because it never brings about happiness," said Katsue Horiuchi, 61, who visited with her son. "Most of the explanations were made from Japan's viewpoint, and failed to ask how we could possibly have avoided war. We have always been taught that the war was inevitable, but there could have been a way."
Rape of Nanking (The
New York Times Bestseller)
December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within
weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers were systematically
raped, tortured, and murdered – a death toll exceeding that of the atomic
blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with
survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written the definitive
history of this horrifying episode.
Rape of Nanking
tells the story from three perspectives: that of the Japanese soldiers, that of
the Chinese, and that of a group of Westerners who refused to abandon the city
and created a safety zone which saved almost 300,000 Chinese. Among the heroes
was the German John Rabe, a Nazi, whose diaries Chang discovered and whom she
calls the “Oskar Schindler of China.” More than just narrating the details
of an orgy of violence, The Rape of Nanking analyses the militaristic
culture that fostered in the Japanese soldiers a total disregard for human life.
It also tells of the concerted effort during the Cold War on the part of the
West and even China to stifle open discussion of this atrocity.
:Excerpted from the New Secondary Histories Book
from page 216 to229) –
Singapore, Malaysia Brunei 1400-1970 by N. Rajendra and G. Saunders. Longman Singapore
Publishers (Pte) Limited First published in 1975.
The Japanese Occupation was a tragic interlude in the history of Malaysia
and Singapore. Yet, as war has often done, it produced great changes. At the
beginning of 1941 it appeared as though the British hold on Malaya would never
weaken. In 1957, twelve years after the Japanese defeat, the Federation of
Malaya was proclaimed an independent nation and Singapore was well on the way to
self-government. In Borneo, the White Raja and the Charted Company had ceded
their territories to the British Crown and steps were being taken to prepare
them for an independent existence. The British, like the other colonial powers,
were leaving Asia, and the Japanese were largely responsible.
Rise of Japan
Opened to western influence only in 1853, Japan began, from 1868, a
remarkable process of modernisation which, by the turn of the century, had made
her one of the strongest military powers in East Asia and had gained her the
respect of the western nations. Her defeat of Russia in 1905 signalled to the
world her arrival as a great power and sent a shudder of excitement through
Asia. Japan's achievement became an inspiration to others who wanted their
countries strong and free.
rise coincided with the first stage of Britain's withdrawal from Asia. Rather
than extend their sea power further north, the British signed a Treaty of
Alliance with the Japanese in 1902. Hong Kong was too far south as a base for
extended naval action off the shores of North-east Asia, and with the
destruction of the Russian fleet Japan became the strongest power in the region.
In 1910 Korea passed under Japanese control.
During the First World War Japan added German concessions in North China
and German Islands in the Pacific to her growing empire. Relying on the Japanese
to protect her interests in Asia, Britain concentrated her naval forces in the
North Sea to oppose the Germans. Australian troops on the way to the Middle East
were convoyed by Japanese warships, and Japanese vessels were among the first to
enter Singapore in 1915 to quell the mutiny there of Indian garrison troops.
When the war ended in 1918, the balance of power in Asia had shifted against the
war-weary European powers. The Washington Naval Conference in 1922 tacitly
recognized Japan's supremacy in East Asia, but the Singapore Naval Base was
designed by the British to protect their interests further south.
Background to Japan's Attack
the British Naval Base was slowly taking shape, Japan was beginning to extend
her conquests in North-east Asia. In 1931, Japanese forces occupied Manchuria,
which they renamed Manchukuo. From their base in Manchuria the Japanese seized
Jehol, Chahar and Hopei and began probing into Mongolia. In 1937, Japanese and
Chinese troops clashed near Peking, and the invasion of China began. The
Japanese soon realised that a quick victory over China was a dream. Although
they captured coastal cities and penetrated inland along the rivers and
railways, they effectively controlled only the ground on which their armies
China's continued resistance posed a problem for the Japanese. It created
increasing sympathy for China, especially in the United States, and strained
Japan's military resources. In particular Japan was dangerously dependent on
outside supplies of oil. Some fifty per cent came from United States. If her oil
supplies from the United States were cut off, Japan's military position would be
greatly weaken. But in the Dutch East Indies was all the oil Japan could
possibly want - as well as rubber, tin and rice. Any such turn to the south,
however, would entail great risks. The colonial powers of Britain, France, the
United States and the Netherlands could not ignore a threat to their territories
in Sough-east Asia as they had ignored an attack on China.
By 1940, Japan had already begun thinking in terms of conquering not only
China but also a great part of Asia. Japan referred to this area as the Greater
East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. One Japanese official described this area as
beginning in Manchukuo in the north and leading to Australia in the south, and
from 180 degrees East Longitude to the Bay of Bengal in the West. With Japanese
assistance, the people in this region would throw off their colonial yokes and
with Japanese political guidance they would co-operate with one another for
mutual prosperity. In practice, however, the area would be under Japanese
political control and would be an outlet for Japanese goods and excess
population, as well as a source for the raw materials and food required by
maintenance of a navy at Singapore was crucial to the security of Australia, New
Zealand and British territories in Asia. It has always been assumed that in
times of emergency a fleet would be despatched to Singapore. However, the entire
stategic situation in Europe had changed. In September 1939 Germany attacked
Poland. France and Britain declared war on Germany. In 1940, having crushed
Poland, the German army turned on Western Europe. Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg,
Holland and Belgium fell in quick succession. In June the French surrendered and
a new French Government, with its capital at Vichy in southern France,
co-operated with the conquerors. Britain's army, navy and air force were needed
for her own defense.
In September 1940 Japan signed the Tripartite
Pact allying herself loosely with Germany and Italy. In the same month,
Japanese forces were granted the use of facilities in Indo-China by the Vichy
French Government. At the same time, Thailand, ruled by a military oligarchy and
with an eye to territory in Cambodia, Laos and Malaya, reached an agreement with
the Japanese. Japanese attempts to obtain concessions from the Netherlands
Government-in-exile failed, and the Dutch refused to allocate any oil from the
East Indies to Japan. In April 1941 the Japanese signed a treaty of neutrality
with the Soviet Union, thus removing the threat of Soviet intervention should
the Japanese move south. The Russians were pleased enough to have Japanese
neutrality for in June they were attacked by Germany.
With no fear of Russian intervention in the north, the Japanese reached
an agreement with the French by which they entered the southern region of
Indo-China on July 24th. Two days later the United States ceased all
trade with Japan and froze Japanese assets in the United States. Britain and the
Dutch Government-in-exile followed suit. Japan's trade with the rest of the
world virtually ceased. In particular, the vital oil was denied. She would have
to act quickly to stave off economic collapse or surrender to allied demands
that she withdraw from Indo-China and China.
Alarmed by the seriousness of the Japanese threat, the British had begun
to improve their defences in Malaya, but they were lamentably weak. The area was
defended by 80 000 troops, British, Indian, Australian and Malayan. They were
not well equipped, they had no tanks (those sent from India to Singapore were in
a terrible state of repair and went straight to the workshop on arrival). The
air force consisted of 141 planes, many of which were obsolete. However, by
December 1941, reinforcements were on the way. The immediate threat to Britain
had passed and forces could now be spared. On 2nd December the
battleship Prince of Wales and the
battle cruiser Repulse arrived at
Singapore. The presence of these ships greatly encouraged the defenders of
Malaya. Since they were considered to be forerunners of the British Far East
Fleet there was little concern over the fact that the ships had no carrier and
destroyer support. The British made no attempt, however, to organise the people
of Malaya to assist in their own defence.
While negotiations with the United States continued, Japanese forces
moved to their attack positions. At 12.25 a.m. on December 8th,
Malayan time, the Japanese struck. Carrier-based aircraft destroyed the bulk of
the United States Pacific fleet laying at anchor in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.
Simultaneous attacks were launched on Hong Kong and on the Philippines, where
United States aircraft were destroyed on the ground. At the same time, Japanese
troops landed at Singora and Patani in Southern Thailand and at Kota Baru in
Almost immediately the British suffered a disastrous loss. The Prince of Wales and Repulse
steamed into the Gulf of Thailand to intercept Japanese troop and supply ships.
They had no success and were returning to Singapore on 10th December
when the protective cover of heavy cloud dispersed and they were found and sunk
by Japanese aircraft. Their loss was demoralising.
On land the Japanese swept aside any opposition. On 11th and
12th December they broke through the British lines at Jitra, north of
Alor Star, and north Malaya had to be abandoned. With the fall of Penang, the
Japanese captured many small craft, which enabled them to threaten the British
retreat down the Peninsula by landing forces in their rear. Down the long
straight roads of western Malaya the allied forces retreated, travelling in any
vehicle they could find. Whenever they stopped to fight, they were beaten. The
Japanese practically wiped out the two Indian Brigades holding the Slim river,
and central Malaya was in their hands. On 11th January they entered
Kuala Lumpur. The next British stand was on the Muar-Segamat line. A brief
Australian success at Gemas could not check the Japanese advance and by the end
of January the Japanese were at Johore Strait. On 8th February, they
landed on Singapore and on the 15th, General Percival, the British
commander, surrendered the island to General Yamashita. Into captivity went
British reinforcements which had arrived too late to affect the battle.
Singapore had fallen.
Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah had also fallen. Defended by a small garrison
of Indian troops, Sarawak could offer only token resistance. The Japanese first
occupied Miri and the oil fields on 16th December. Kuching and the
other towns were raided from air on the 19th. On the 24th,
Japanese forces moved up the Sarawak river and occupied Kuching on Christmas
Day. Sibu was taken on 27th.
At this time of danger there was no Brooke in Sarawak to give guidance.
The Raja was in Australia and the Tuan Muda was in charge of the Sarawak office
in London. The Raja tried to return but had only reached Batavia when the
Japanese took Kuching. He returned to Sydney in Australia to arrange for the
evacuation of those of his officers who might have escaped.
Meanwhile, the Japanese advance continue. They had occupied the Sulu
Island on 25th December and then turned to snap up the rest of
British Borneo. On 1st January Labuan was taken without resistance.
Jesselton was occupied on 6th and Sandakan on the 19th.
With the fall of Singapore on 15th February, British power had been
swept from South-east Asia. The Japanese Occupation had begun.
Reasons for the Japanese
The Japanese victory was due to thorough preparation and planning as much
as to their fighting ability. Their first surprise attacks had seriously
weakened the allied power to resist and their attack down the Peninsula had
caught the British ill prepared. The British forces were demoralised by the loss
of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales and by the lack of tanks and adequate air cover,
both of which the Japanese had. In particular the morale of the Indian troops
was low and they were the objects of constant Japanese propaganda. Some Indian
nationalists had found refuge in Japan where they had formed an Indian
Independence League whose members were used by the Japanese to spread
anti-British propaganda among the Indian troops in Malaya. This propaganda
lessened the desire of the Indians to fight. The British and Australian troops
were also disheartened. Not accustomed to the jungle, they were confined to the
roads and were constantly threatened with encirclement by Japanese forces
landing behind them or out-flanking their positions. The speed of the Japanese
advance was also demoralising. Equipped with bicycles, carrying light supplies
of rice and living off the land as much as possible, the Japanese pressed after
the retreating allies. Shattered bridges which would have delayed an advance by
trucks and other heavy transport, did not deter cyclists, who carried their
light cycles over the rivers and streams and rode on. The British had no time to
organise a firm line of defence. Already the victors in many campaigns, the
Japanese fought confident of victory. Planning, speed, ruthlessness and high
morale made the Japanese master of Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo territories.
The capture of Singapore was the biggest blow the British suffered. They
had believed that the island would continue to resist even in Malaya fell. Yet
they had assumed that the main threat to Singapore would come from the sea and
the defences facing Johore were inadequate. Moreover, the island's main water
supply was in Johore and this was immediately cut off. The effects of Japanese
bombing and shelling in the crowded streets of the city were appalling, the
garrison was demoralised and there was little hope of their being relieved. The
garrison's surrender was a humiliating blow to the British. Their position in
Asia could never be the same again.
The Japanese Occupation
Japanese had overrun South-east Asia in three months. They had delivered a
shattering blow to European prestige, but, almost immediately, their victory
began to turn into defeat. The Japanese had no plans beyond the conquest of
South-east Asia, yet they could only hold on to what they had won by totally
defeating the colonial powers. At the time of their attack, they had expected
their German and Italian allies to be victors, thus removing any danger of
reprisals from the European powers. But 1942 saw the halting of the German drive
into Russia, the defeat of the German advance towards Egypt and the Suez Canal
and the beginning of allied recovery. The colonial powers were not defeated.
Moreover, the Japanese had no plans for knocking the United States out of the
war and had underestimated the speed with which American industry could adjust
to war conditions. By the middle of 1942, the United States was arming forces
far greater than Japan could ever muster. There were no plans for the conquest
of India and Australia, the bases from which the colonial powers would strike
back. Japanese thinking was short-sighted. The conquest of South-east Asia had
been brilliantly conceived and carried out: but where were they to go from
By the middle of 1942 the tide of war had begun to turn against the
Japanese. In the Coral Sea in May and off the Island of Midway in July, United
States naval forces defeated the Japanese and halted their advance. The Japanese
advance into India was checked and British and Indian troops pushed back into
Burma. Under Admiral Nimits and General McArthur, Allied Forces began the long
conquest of island after island from the sea and air and by 1943; the Japanese
were unable to stop the Allies attacking where they wished. Before long the home
islands of Japan were under air attack. In May 1945 Germany's surrender ended
the war in Europe. The allies could now turn their full attention to the defeat
of Japan: they had also developed a fearsome weapon. In August 1945 atomic bombs
destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 15th
August Japan surrendered.
The Japanese Occupation, therefore, was that of a power which was
increasingly on the defensive. This helps account for some of the brutality and
exploitation of the Japanese regime, though not for all.
The Japanese retained some of the divisions of British rule. The Straits
Settlements were governed directly by the Japanese, but in the Malay States the
Sultans were retained. Their powers were limited to heading the Bureaus of
Religious Affairs, set up in each State to deal with matters of Malay religion
and customs. The States were regarded as provinces, each governed by a Japanese
administrator aided by other Japanese in key positions and by members of the
local civil service who remained in office. In effect, the Japanese had replaced
the British administrators who were now in prison camps.
Until the second half of 1943, the Japanese linked the administration of
Sumatra with that of Malaya and Singapore. This was largely an attempt to
encourage Malay support by appearing to create a greater Malay state, but the
experiment was discontinued in 1943. In August of that year the northern Malay
States were returned to Thailand, which had become an ally of Japan. In October,
the remaining provinces each received a
Consultative Council with the Japanese Governor as its Chairman and the Sultan
as Vice-Chairman. Nor other Japanese were to be members, though their ultimate
control was not weakened. At the same time, the proportion of Malay officials in
the civil service was increased. However, while the Malays received a greater
say in affairs, no offer of independence was made as in Burma, Indonesia and the
Philippines, probably because there had been no organised independence movement
in Malaya before the war.
Singapore, renamed Syonan (Light of the South), had a special status as
the headquarters of the General commanding the Seventh Area Army. The city had
its own mayor, but in fact it suffered a military government for the period of
In the Borneo territories a military government was established also. As
in Malaya and Singapore, the European administrators who had not escaped were
imprisoned. The administration was run by Japanese, although local officers were
retained at the lower levels.
The Japanese administration was supported and imposed by an elaborate and
ruthless police system. It was composed of the Tekkikam (Secret Service), the
Kempetai (Military Police), who were the most feared and hated, the military
garrison itself, the Toko (CID), the Constabulary, and the Auxiliary Police. The
ordinary civilian population was closely watched. Towns were divided into
sections, a family registration system was introduced, and each member of a
group was made responsible for the behaviour of others in the group. In the
event of one member of a group committing a crime, others might be punished.
Political offenders were tried by a military court and punishment was harsh.
Civil courts were established for dealing with normal crime.
Economic Effects of the
The Malaysian area was to be part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity
Sphere, an area that was to be economically self-sufficient under Japanese
political guidance. But there was neither prosperity nor self-sufficiency. At
first this was to be expected. War, however brief, adversely affects a country's
economy. To deny their use to the enemy, the retreating British had destroyed
many public and private installations - bridges, warehouses, workshops, oil
supplies, docks, railway installations, tin dredges and rubber stores and
treatment works. The economy of the area was crippled.
Nevertheless, destruction was not complete and damage could be quickly
repaired. More crippling was the disruption of normal trade. All European
markets were lost. Japan's demand was dependent on the amount of shipping that
could be spared and as the war progress, Japanese shipping losses increased so
that only the most essential war commodities could be carried. The loss of trade
ruined Singapore and the shortage of consumer goods brought hardship everywhere.
Substitutes for unobtainable imported goods were made and small factories
produced nails, paper, soap and bicycle tyres, refined sugar, turned red
palm-oil into lubricants and produced a host of other things. These small
industries faded out again after the war, but they helped supply commodities
during the occupation. Larger business enterprises passed into Japanese hands,
but the breakdown in overseas trade restricted their activities. Malaysia's two
major industries not only came to a standstill but actually regressed. Rubber
trees were cut down to make way for subsistence agriculture, generally the
growing of tapioca, maize and millet. Heavy machinery from the mines and estates
was either allowed to rust or was dismantled for despatch to Japan to be melted
down for the construction of war equipment.
Particularly serious was the shortage of imported foodstuffs. The
Japanese could not spare transport for the importation of rice, even though the
rice-growing areas of Burma and Thailand were under their control. The towns
were most hard hit by food shortages and many people, predominantly Chinese,
moved into the countryside, taking up any unused land they could find and
growing their own food. This happened everywhere. In Malaya it resulted in the
'squatter' problem of post-war times.
The pre-war economy had broken down very quickly. The Japanese worsened
the situation by issuing large quantities of paper money which had no real value
and which people would not trust. Money ceased to be used in many areas and
trade was reduced to barter, the exchange of goods for goods. As Japanese defeat
became more certain, prices fluctuated wildly and people spent the Japanese
money as rapidly as they could, knowing that it would have no value when the
To add to people's hardships, the health services developed by the
British were neglected. The Japanese looted dispensaries, hospitals and medical
stores for medicines and equipment to supply their military hospitals, the
imprisoned British doctors and nurses were not replaced by Japanese, and
preventative measures against tropical diseases were not carried out. Local
staff carried on as well as they could, but epidemics broke out on a scale not
known for many years. They raged all the more easily among a population weakened
by poor diet because of food shortages.
Though they paid inadequate attention to health services, the Japanese
realised the importance of education if you were to hold on to their conquests.
Japanese became the official language and the language of instruction in
schools. Japanese instructors tried to teach respect for Japanese achievements,
veneration for the Emperor and contempt for the British. Most aspects of
European culture were progressively banned in Malaya. Although few of their
pupils became pro-Japanese, they retained some of the anti-European attitudes
inculcated by the Japanese. Moreover, the Japanese had shown them what an Asian
nation could do. There was a new pride in being Asian, even if there was little
love for the Japanese.
Divide and Rule Policy
More openly than the British, the Japanese used a divide and rule policy
to govern. From the beginning they treated the different peoples differently.
The Europeans, civilian and military, were amongst the worst treated. The
Japanese desired to humiliate them as much as possible and to exhibit their
present weakness to the people they had once governed. Large numbers of
prisoners of war were forced to work on a new railway being built between Burma
and Thailand. Poorly fed, harshly treated, overworked and without adequate
medical care, thousands died. Condemned in Japanese eyes by their European
heredity, Eurasians also suffered severely during the occupation.
Japanese attitudes to the Indian community varied. At first the Japanese
tried to win them as allies by playing on their desire to see India freed from
British rule. Indian Independence Leagues were formed throughout the country
wherever there were large Indian minorities. With Japanese assistance an Indian
National Army was formed. Young men were recruited into the army whilst others
contributed cash and valuables. A government in exile called Azad Hind was established in Singapore under the leadership of
Subhas Chandra Bose, who had been the leader of the left wing group in the
Indian National Congress. Indians now rallied behind the call Chalo
Delhi (Onward to Delhi). However, their enthusiasm waned when Japanese
forces were near the borders of India and Japanese statements on the future
independence of India were either vague or unsatisfactory. Meanwhile, the
Japanese military machine required a large labour force on projects such as the
Burma-Thailand railway. The Japanese solved this problem by conscripting the
estate workers in Malaya, many of whom had turned to subsistence agriculture
after the collapse of the rubber industry. These men were now taken to Thailand
and put to work with the prisoners of war on the infamous death railway and
nearly 100 000 died.
The section of the local population that was most brutally treated was
the Chinese, Thousands were massacred within a few days of the capture of
Singapore. On a smaller scale, similar killings took place in Malaya and in the
Borneo States. Japanese hostility to the Chinese was partly due to years of
warfare and hatred springing from the Japanese invasion of China. Chinese in
Singapore and elsewhere had contributed generously to the China Relief Fund,
used to finance China's war effort against the Japanese, and the massacres were
partly in retaliation for this aid. Being mainly town dwellers, the Chinese
suffered most from the economic disruption of the time. Moreover, as the
Japanese controlled the towns more firmly than they did the rural areas, the
Chinese were most completely under Japanese rule. The brutality of the Japanese
regime and their own hatred for them drove many Chinese to join the guerilla
bands operating in the interior, and caused others to actively support the
guerillas with supplies and information. Such activity brought Japanese
vengeance upon them and whole communities were sometimes wiped out, but, in the
end, the Japanese treatment of the Chinese was self-defeating. Though they
conscripted them as labourers and extracted their wealth for the Japanese war
effort, what the Japanese gained by doing so was far outweighed by the growing
hostility of the Chinese to their rule and the cost of maintaining extra troops
in the country to combat the guerillas.. On the other hand, Chinese hatred for
them was so great that the Japanese may have thought there was no possibility of
reconciling them to their rule.
Another reason for Japanese harshness towards the Chinese was their
desire to create bad feeling between the Chinese and the Malays. Among the
Malays there was an underlying resentment at the way the Chinese had prospered
under British rule. There was a growing feeling among the Malays before the war
that they were not sharing fully in Malaya's progress. They felt that Malaya was
their land by right and began to resent the Chinese control of the economy. They
felt that the British were not protecting the Malays' interests enough. The
Japanese hoped to exploit this resentment by favouring the Malays and
prosecuting the Chinese.
To some extent this policy was successful. Malay officials served the
Japanese in the civil service and the police. The Sultans remained as
figureheads for the Japanese administration. Some Malays took the opportunity to
seize Chinese property and some acts of violence were committed against Chinese,
especially since the Police force was predominantly Malay, whilst those who
actively resisted Japanese rule were mainly Chinese. However, the Malays did not
co-operate whole-heartedly with the Japanese. There was still a lingering
loyalty to the British and, in any case, the Japanese were there as conquerors.
As time passed, the Malays suffered, too, from the breakdown in the economy.
They suffered also from disease and malnutrition. Numbers became more active in
opposition to the Japanese regime and acts of Japanese brutality against Malay
communities became more frequent. Nevertheless, on the whole, the Malays were
better treated by the Japanese; their rural communities were removed from close
Japanese surveillance and they had no deep seated hatred such as the Chinese
felt for their new rulers.
Resistance to Japanese Rule
Many of the harsher actions of the Japanese were in retaliation for
actions by resistance fighters based in the interior. Whole villages were
sometimes destroyed and their inhabitants killed or imprisoned because they were
suspected of aiding the guerillas. Such retaliation more often than not forced
more people to oppose the Japanese.
The resistance fighters were a mixed group. They included British
officers left behind or smuggled in to organise such groups, a few British
soldiers who had failed to keep up with the retreat, some Malays and Indians,
but mainly they were Chinese. The Chinese elements were also a mixture. Some
were merely robbers and bandits, others were supporters of the Kuomintang regime
in China and fought the Japanese as enemies of China, but the most highly
organised were members of the Malayan
Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), a Communist-led movement divided into
state groups and directed by a central committee. Not all MPAJA members were Communists. Many of them had fled from Japanese
persecution or had escaped Japanese massacres which had killed their families.
Such members were seeking revenge. But the Communist Party leadership had a
further aim in view. Not only did they wish to destroy the Japanese: they wished
to establish a Communist republic in Malaya.
When the Japanese conquered Singapore and Malaya, the Communists were
among the first to establish themselves in the jungle. It was partly a matter of
survival because the Japanese were determined to destroy Communist influence.
The British were prepared to co-operate with them against the Japanese, although
they knew that the Communists would be equally opposed to the restoration of
British rule. The British supplied arms and ammunition and smuggled in British
officers to train guerillas in their use. These joined with those who had stayed
behind after the Japanese victory. By the end of the war there were some 300
British officers and 7000 active guerillas waiting for the British invasion of
The guerillas were trained to attack Japanese supply routes along the
roads and railways. They were to wait till the eve of the invasion and to
disrupt the Japanese defence as much as possible. In the meantime they committed
only a few acts of sabotage, trained in the use of their weapons and gathered
information on Japanese positions and strength to relay by radio to the Allied
Forces. Even so, their very presence caused the Japanese to keep more troops in
Malaya than they would have needed otherwise, and Japanese energies were wasted
in tracking them down.
In Sarawak and Sabah, resistance to the Japanese did not begin so soon.
The Japanese were confined mainly to the coast and larger river settlements.
They hardly penetrated into the interior. The same breakdown in administrative
efficiency occurred as in Malaya. Trade virtually ceased and food shortages
occurred. Many town dwellers moved to the countryside to farm. Health services
were inadequate and disease spread. Japanese rule was harsh and again the
Chinese suffered most, partly because of their concentration in the towns,
partly because their important place in the economy meant that its disruption
affected them most, partly because of Japanese hatred for them stemming from the
war in China. As a result, when resistance groups formed, the Chinese took the
The biggest uprising occurred in Sabah. Under the leadership of Albert
Kwok Fen Nam and advised by American-aided guerillas from the Sulu Islands, a
resistance force was slowly built up. As in Malaya, its main task was to supply
information. However, in October 1943, angered by Japanese brutality and knowing
that the Japanese were about to conscript more Chinese for slave labour, the
guerillas seized Jesselton and killed all Japanese in sight. Japanese
retribution was swift and terrible. Thousands of men, women and children were
killed in retaliation, often after torture, and their property confiscated or
destroyed. Hoping that his capture would bring the slaughter to an end, Kwok,
who had retired into the interior with a small force, surrendered and was
executed. A second revolt, planned for April 1944, was betrayed. This time the
Japanese turned upon the Island peoples, executing, for instance, every male on
Suluk and Dandwan Islands. It has been estimated that about sixteen per cent of
the population of the west coast of Sabah was killed or died in this period.
At the end of 1944, British officers were parachuted into the highlands
of Sabah and Sarawak to organise guerilla forces to aid the invasion when ti
came. Small groups were trained for sabotage actions against the Japanese and
information was radioed out.
Malay Nationalism under the
Some Malay nationalists, especially those in the Kesatuan
Melayu Muda, had established contacts with the Japanese long before the
invasion. Many of the leaders of the organisation had been arrested by the
British authorities. After the Japaneses victory, these leaders were released
and the KMM, was re-established under
the leadership of Ibrahim Ya'akob. However, the KMM
did not last long. The Japanese soon discovered that the apparent co-operation
of its leaders was merely a camouflage for its main aims - the independence of
Malaya and a political union with Indonesia. The KMM had established contacts with various anti-Japanese resistance
movements, and in June 1942, the Japanese banned it. However, its leader were
not arrested. Instead, the Japanese assisted in the formation of a para-military
organisation known as Giyu Gun or Pembela
Tanah Air (Avengers of the Motherland). Ibrahim Ya'akob was made the
Commander in Chief of PETA. This
apparent generosity of the Japanese can be explained by the fact that they
needed the support of the Malay masses. The Japanese could not turn to the
aristocratic Malays or to the English-educated Malays for providing the
leadership since they were sympathetic to the British. Hence, the Japanese had
no alternative but to turn to the former leaders of the KMM.
Nevertheless, the Japanese plans failed. By 1944 PETA
was already in contact with the MPAJA.
The banned KMM, too, maintained links
with the Communists, especially through Sultan Djenain. Thus PETA,
which was formed through Japanese assistance, was actually working against
Japanese interests and was a part of the anti-Japanese resistance movement in
Malaya. Their apparent collaboration with the Japanese had given PETA
members the opportunity to receive military training for use later, if
Meanwhile, the Japanese had come to realise that the war was going
against them. Now they were making preparations to resist the return of the
British. Part of their plan was to encourage the Malaysa to be active
politically and work towards the independence of their country. Under the
circumstances, Ibrahim's aim of a political union with Indonesia was acceptable
to the Japanese. The Jakarta Charter drawn up in June 1945 ahd included Malaya
as part of a greater Indonesia. The Japanese hoped that such concessions would
make the Malays more determined to resist the return of the British.
The plans for an Indonesia-Malaya independence were worked out by a new
organisation formed for the purpose. This was Kesatuan Rakyat Indonesia Semenanjung (KRIS) or the People's
Association of Peninsula Indonesia and was led by Ibrahim Ya'akob, Dr.
Burhanuddin and others. On 8th August 1945 an Indonesian delegation
led by Dr Sukarno and Dr Hatta arrived in Singapore en route to Saigon for talks
with the Japanese Regional Command. A small section of the delegation remained
behind in Malaya to confer with KRIS
leaders. Later, Dr Sukarno and Dr Hatta met the leaders of KRIS at Taiping and
after a short discussion Ibrahim Ya'akob was able to announce that the Malays of
Malaya fully supported the idea of a single motherland with Malaya forming part
of an independent Indonesia.
However, the sudden surrender of the Japanese a week later disrupted the
plans of KRIS. In Indonesia, Dr
Sukarno, on behalf of the people of Indonesia, announced the establishment of an
independent republic of Indonesia. Malaya was left out of the territories
comprising the new republic. This was a severe blow to KRIS and the organisation was subsequently dissolved. The struggle
for a political union with Indonesia was not taken up by the newly form Malay
The Allies landed in Malaya on 5th September, 1945, three
weeks after the Japanese surrender. All left-wing Malay leaders who were still
in Malaya at the time were arrested, by were later released when the MPAJA intervened on their behalf. Ibrahim Ya'akob and a few of his
close friends, however had already left for Jakarta. It should be borne in mind
that the left-wing Malay organisations represented only a minority view. The
great majority of Malays should little enthusiasm either for the organisations
or their ideologies. It is very doubtful whether Dr Sukarno himself believed
that a union with Malaya was feasible or that such an arrangement would be
acceptable to the majority of the Malays in Malaya. In any case, these early
Malay nationalists were overtaken by events. They had no future in a British
dominated post-war Malaya.
End of the Occupation
The Allied advance reached Borneo in June 1945 when Australian forces
landed on Labuan. Devastating air-raids on Jesselton and Sandakan totally
destroyed both towns, but the Japanese surrender came before serious fighting
took place. Australian troops entered Jesselton at the end of September and
Sandakan on 19th October. A military administration was set up until
a civilian government could be established. The Japanese troops were disarmed
and collected together for eventual repatriation. In some cases an outraged and
vengeful population could not be restrained. A column of 6000 Japanese prisoners
travelling overland from Pensiangan to Beaufort was set upon by Muruts and
slaughtered. Only some two hundred survived.
In Sarawak the end came before much fighting took place. Miri was bombed
and the Japanese destroyed the oil installations there and at Seria in Brunei,
but no other town in Sarawak suffered much damage. Australian troops arrived in
Kuching on 11th Semptember and accepted the surrender of the
Japanese. A military administration was set up and the Japanese were disarmed
while arrangements were made to send them home. A certain amount of lawlessness
occurred, and some Japanese who had escaped into the interior were killed. All
imprisoned Europeans had been brought to Kuching from Sabah and Brunei. These
were now released, many suffering severely from years of privation.
In Malaya the end came without fighting. Indeed, peace had come so
suddenly that it was not until September that British forces arrived to accept
the Japanese surrender. Those few weeks were unsettled ones. The Japanese still
retained their arms and were responsible for maintaining order until the British
arrived. However, their control was ineffective. The MPAJA emerged from the jungle and in many areas tried to establish
political control. The British officers with the MPAJA tried to work out arrangements with the Japanese so that
control would pass directly to the British. In the confusion, law and order
broke down. MPAJA members committed
acts of vengenance against collaborators and others who had been too friendly
with the Japanese. Communal violence also occurred. Malay nationalism had
developed during the occupation and it was strongly anti-Chinese, while many
Chinese resented Malay passivity under Japanese rule. In some areas Malays
attacked Chinese and were in turn attacked by Chinese guerilla forces. The
police were ineffective. They had been used by the Japanese and people no longer
respected or trusted them. Arms and ammunition were easy to obtain and
individuals and groups found it in their power to act against enemies and
rivals. The British Military
Administration (BMA) had to act firmly to restore order.
While the predominant mood was one of uncertainty and lawlessness,
violence did not occur everywhere. In many communities, Chinese and Malay
leaders took the initiative in setting up local committees to look after
property, to guard against bandits and to decide on terms of trade and barter.
Aware of the danger of racial strife, these leaders maintained good relations
between their communities and removed sources of friction.
The defeat of the Japanese did not alter some of the effects of their
conquest of South-east Asia. The prestige of the Europeans was irrecoverably
damaged. The British had signed various treaties with Malay rulers offering them
protection in return for several rights and privileges. Yet, when the Japanese
invasion came, the British had been pushed out of the country within 70 days.
Many people now began to wonder whether they could rely on British promises of
protection. Moreover, despite the great hardships during the Japanese
Occupation, life had gone on without presence of the British who had been
considered so important in 1941. There was no reason why life could not continue
to go on without their presence.
Japanese propaganda, too, played an important part in lowering British
prestige. The Japanese had implanted in the minds of the people that their
social, economic and political backwardness was due to Western colonial rule.
They had promoted the spirit of Pan-Asianism so that the people began to take
pride in being Asians and showed sympathy for other Asians who were struggling
for independence. In short, the experiences of the Occupation awakened a
There was less complacency after the Occupation. Peoples' lives had been
disturbed and uprooted. Nearly all had suffered hardship of some kind. Nearly
all had faced dangers and fears in these unsettled years. Peoples' occupations
had changed, they had known insecurity and want. Their political consciousness
had been awakened. Conditions were therefore far different when the British
returned from what they had been in 1941. There was o possibility of picking up
where they had left off. The post-war world was to be one of change on a scale
not known before. In Sarawak the Brookes and in Sabah the Company handed over
their territories to the British Government. In the Peninsula the British
returned with plans to reshape the political pattern of the Straits Settlements
and the Malay States, and found themselves faced with a nationalist response
from the Malays. Within three years, the Communists made their bid for power,
launching a guerilla war which continued for twelve years. Despite this, by 1957
Malaya was an independent State and Singapore well on the way to internal
self-government. This period of rapid change and upheaval was one consequence of
the Japanese Occupation and the blow struck at European dominance in South-east
1. The Japanese Advance in Malaya
(This account is by a British Officer who was behind the Japanese lines in Perak.)
…………………..Here there was no question of falling asleep, since we lay only a hundred yards from the road and could see the enemy, hundreds and hundreds of them, pouring eastwards towards the Perak river. The majority were on bicycles in parties of forty or fifty, riding three or four abreast and talking and laughing just as if they were going to a football match. Indeed, some of them were actually wearing football jerseys. They seemed to have no standard uniform or equipment, and were travelling as light as they possibly could. Some wore green, others grey, Khaki, or even dirty white. The majority had trousers hanging loose or enclosed in high boots or puttees. Some had tight breeches, and others shorts and rubber boots or gym shoes.
Their hats showed the greatest variety: a few tin hats, topees of all shapes, wide-brimmed planters' hats or ordinary felt hats, high-peaked jockey hats, little caps with eye-shades or even a piece of clot tied round the head and hanging down behind. Their equipment and armament were equally varied and were slung over themselves and their bicycles with no apparent method. We noticed with delight that their weapons - tommy guns and rifles - were usually tied on to the frames of the bicycles, so that they would have taken some time to go into action had they been suddenly attacked. Every now and then a convoy of staff cars and lorries would go past heavily camouflaged with palm fronds. There was little need for this, as the Jap planes seemed unopposed and flew very low up and down the road. They had been ordered to go to the bridgehead, and in their thousands they were going, though their equipment was second-rate and motley and much of it had obviously been commandeered in Malaya. This was certainly true of their means of transport, for we saw several parties of soldiers on foot who were systematically searching the roadside kampongs, estate buildings and factories for bicycles, and most of the cars and lorries bore local number-plates. Their cooking gear was also of the lightest, and they were living off the country by collecting rice, fowls and vegetables from the roadside villages.
After a time it came on to rain and we had to put away our note-books, but even the cloudburst rain of Malaya did not stop the Japs. They all produced efficient mackintosh capes with hoods - apparently the only standard equipment that they carried - which covered themselves and the paraphernalia on their bicycles. Although there were several buildings beside the road, we saw none of the men stop to take shelter.
(F. Spencer Chapman, DSO, The Jungle is Neutral, Corgi paperback, London 1965.p.21)
2. The fall of Singapore
(In the first extract the defeated British commander explains his reasons for surrendering. In the second, a Japanese officer describes his entry into Singapore.)
(a) …………The military food reserves under our control had been reduced to a few days, though there were still fairly large civil reserves. Deprived of the Alexandra ammunition magazine, where fires were still buring, the 25-pounder field-gun ammunition reserves were getting very short and the reserves of Bofors ammunition were almost exhausted. We had practically no petrol except what was in vehicle tanks.
That was the situation which I had to report when the conference assembled. The D.G.C.D. (Director General of Civil Defence) was asked to report on the water situation in more detail. He confirmed what he had said before and added that, if total failure took place, it would be some days before piped water could be obtained again. Ways and means of overcoming our various difficulties were discussed. None of them were really vital except the water problem. Heath stressed the danger of the water shortage as it affected the Indian troops, while the danger to the civil population was also taken into account. I felt that there was no use in remaining passively on the defensive as we were. There seemed to be only two possible alternatives, i.e. either to counter-attack to regain control of the reservoirs and of the military food depots and to drive back the enemy's artillery with a view to reducing the damage to the water supply system, or to capitulate. I put these alternatives to the commanders. They were unanimously of the opinion that in the existing circumstances a counter-attack was impracticable. Some of them also doubted our ability to resist another determined attack and pointed out the consequences that might result to the crowded population in the town. It was in these circumstances that I decided to capitulate.
(Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival, The War in Malaya, London, 1949, p.291.)
(b) Passing shell crates, burnt-out cars and trucks, and other traces of the recent severe fighting, we entered Singapore city, which was a whirlpool of chaos.
For the whole Japanese Army we conducted the first triumphal entry into the fortress. The first thing in the city to strike the eye was the waves of men in Khaki uniforms. Many of them still carried their rifles, walking about and nibbling bread. Groups of them were squatting on the road smoking, talking, and shouting in rather loud voices. Strangely enough, however, there was no sign whatever of hostility in their faces. Rather was there an expression of resignation such as is show by the losers in fierce sporting contests ……..
The English storehouses and dwellings were swallowed in waves of looting Chinese and Malays. Even the women and children were all mobilized like thieves at a fire. The inhabitants, who were to be pitied, were today giving vent to the feelings of hostility that more than a hundred years of coercion had aroused ……..
At Far Eastern British Headquarters, which were firmly closed, two sentries stood, still holding rifles. Their faces showed resentment. With due solemnity they opened the gate. Only a few British subordinate officers remained behind, and there was no agitation or confusion anywhere. Inside and outside the Headquarters building had been neatly cleaned and swept. I climbed on to the roof of the four-storey building. On Bukit Timah heights the Japanese flag fluttered in the breeze as if ruling the whole island. Black smoke with occasional bursts of flame from the burning oil-tanks covered half the island.
(Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore: The Japanese Version, Mayflower-Dell, Longon 1966,pp.220-221)
3. The Guerillas in Malaya
(The writer was a
British officer left behind to help organise resistance to the Japanese. Note
the rivalry between different guerilla groups and the Japanese policy of
In September 1942 my friend Ah Loy and about eight others had left the Menchis camp somewhat mysteriously. I now gathered from Siouw Ling that they had gone about a hundred miles up the west-coast railway line to form a new guerilla patrol on the border of Pahang and Kelantan near the villages of Merapah, Pulai, and Gua Musang. The Chinese who lived in this isolated valley were very independent and bitterly opposed the Japs, with whom they had had several pitched battles. Indeed, Siouw Ling told me that the Japs dared not enter the valley at all and had even used aircraft in an attempt to drive the guerillas out of Gua Musang. This Patrol was in tough with the Perak group, fifty miles over the Main Range to the west, and also carried on a private war with a rival band of Chinese guerillas (whom they referred to as bandits) whose headquarters were at Kuala Krai, another fifty miles further north up the railway line.
We also received a visit from the Bahau leader whom I had met at Palong, and the leader of the whole Negri Sembilan group, who was know as Martin ……..
Martin was extremely intelligent and spoke excellent English. He told me that the Negri Sembilan group had patrols at Bahar, Kongkoi, Titi, and Pertang and were in a very flourishing state. They had gone into action even before the fall of Singapore, and in reprisal for this the Japs, as soon as they had established themselves in Negri, had carried out a most brutal massacre at Titi, the Chinese mining centre of Jelebu District, in which some thousands of guerilla supporters - men, women, and children - had been put to death. Martin described how a recent raid on a police station had failed, not one of the six grenades which they had lobbed through the window at night exploding. On the other hand, they had carried out a successful ambush against lorries containing Japanese, Indian and Malay troops, and had captured arms from isolated police posts. As a result of these activities the Japanese were known to be planning a concentrated attack against the guerillas ……..
(Chapman. op. cit.,pp.146-147.)
preoccupied with other issues. The Burmese, for example, have been too embroiled
in their own fight for democracy and some semblance of constitutional rule, to
want to espouse more causes.