Following their meeting in Tehran on 29, Nov, 1943 (pictured below) US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill flew to Cairo the next day. Here according to General Stillwell's diary, Roosevelt stated in regards to his policy towards Chiang Kai-shek; ”we've been friends with China for a gr-e-e-at many years” but “ a fresh Japanese offensive might overturn Chiang.” And according to Jonathan Fenby Stilwell wrote; “Though neither knew it, this was just what was happening. A group of young officers who wanted to keep Chiang as a figurehead but get rid of the more corrupt and inefficient of his associates had planned to kidnap him on his return from Cairo, and force him to act as they wished. They hoped for US backing. But the secret police discovered the plot, and sixteen of the plotters were executed.” The Chinese really liked the Americans, but not the British, Roosevelt went on. “Now, we haven't the same aims as the British out there. For instance, Hong Kong . Now, I have a plan to make Hong Kong a free port: free to the commerce of all nations - of the whole world! But let's raise the Chinese flag there first, and then Chiang can the next day make a grand gesture and make it a free port. That's the way to handle that! I'm sure that Chiang would be willing to make that a free port, and goods could come through Siberia - in bond - without customs examinations.” Hauling the conversation back to Burma, Stilwell observed that Chiang would have trouble explaining to his people the failure of the Allies to do as Roosevelt had promised. “We need guidance on political policy on China ,” he insisted. “Yes, as I was saying, the Chinese will want a lot of help from us - a lot of it,” Roosevelt responded, only to veer off into a lengthy tale about an occasion on which the Prime Minister, H.H. Kung, had asked him for a multi-million loan to develop China's transport system. Chiang took more than two weeks to tell Roosevelt that the decision to renege on his pledge (cancellation of the landing in Burma ) had,“given rise to serious misgivings on all sides”. As a result, would not go ahead with a planned offensive into northern Burma from south-west China. Never known for his consistency, the Generalissimo did, in fact, allow the attack to take place, under Stilwell's command (Fenby, Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China He Lost, London, 2003, p.416).
The cure for China, Stilwell decided, was the elimination of the Generalissimo. He recorded that,in Cairo, Roosevelt had been “fed up with Chiang and his tantrums and said so. In fact he told me in that Olympian manner of his: "If you can't get along with Chiang and can't replace him, get rid of him once and for all. You know what I mean. Put in someone you can manage.” But no such person was to be found, and the Nationalist leader hung on, waiting for America to defeat Japan so that he could turn back to the elimination of the Communist rivals he had been pursuing since 1927.
At Churchill's behest, the President and Prime Minister went on a trip to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. And the following several days three rounds of talks were held with the Turkish President, Ismet Inonu, to try to bring Ankara into the war on the Allied side. Inonu kissed Churchill on the cheek as he left, but there was no commitment. After Anthony Eden remarked that a kiss on the cheek was not much of a result for fifteen hours of discussions, the Prime Minister told his daughter: “The truth is I'm irresistible. But don't tell Anthony, he's jealous.” (Harold Macmillan, War Dairies, London, 1984, p.294).
Churchill and Stalin, both sought to create a new world order. Both saw in Roosevelt the key to success. (See Oleg Rzheshevsky, Stalin and Churchill, 2007). Next and in fact intended as a message to Stalin by the new US Governement; the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki belong to some of the other, defining events of the twentieth century.
One young female wrote:
We arrived in the early evening. The reddish setting sun hung in the sky. The ruins from an ordinary fire are burned black, aren't they? But the ruins of Hiroshima were brown, the colour of unfired pottery ... The city didn't look as if it had been burned. Yet it was flattened. In the middle of the ruins two buildings, a department store and the newspaper [office] stood all alone. There my father met me ... I remember the tears in his eyes when I met him ... I knew Mother had died. 1
Everywhere such news was received with deep ambivalence. The leaders of the USA and Britain had been determined to save Allied lives by bringing the war to a rapid conclusion, but now they were assailed by guilt and doubt. In London Sir Cuthbert Headlam, a Conservative politician and robust supporter of Winston Churchill, rejoiced that the war was over, but he stood aghast at 'this new and fearful form of bomb' and the wanton destruction it had caused. The bomb would mean 'either the end of war or the end of civilisation'.2
The Japanese themselves were torn by mixed emotions. In Hiroshima itself, some American prisoners of war who had survived the explosion hidden in a cellar were found and beaten to death. But the majority of Japanese viewed the disaster as they would a great calamity of nature.3 Kimura Yasuko later recorded that the bomb did not make her hate the Americans. In the two years before the bomb, life had been horrible and heartbreaking as city after city across Japan had been consumed by incendiary attacks.4 Some 3 million Japanese had been killed since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and millions more had been wounded, bereaved or made homeless. The country was so utterly devastated that the incoming victors were astonished that it had held out for so long. The bomb finally ended that resistance. Some Japanese fainted when the high-pitched voice of Emperor Hirohito was heard over the radio. A few militarists and patriots committed suicide, while other Japanese were shamed. When the Japanese guards came they announced that everyone in Hiroshima was dead.5
The bomb had killed a microcosm of people caught up in the terrible conflict: prisoners of war, Koreans and Chinese labourers, students from Malaya on scholarships, and perhaps 3,200 Japanese American citizens who were stranded in the city after Pearl Harbor.6 Later, American planes flew over again, but this time they dropped food and medicines. Some of these supplies landed near Petrovsky's mine. Petrovsky and his fellow prisoners of war passed their supplies to the Japanese, who suddenly had nothing to eat. They realized that something quite extraordinary had happened when they noticed that all the flies and the bed bugs had disappeared. The prisoners were put to work digging a trench. They were told that it was an air-raid shelter; only later did they realize it was to be their own grave: if the Americans invaded, they were to be lined up beside it and shot.7 Across their empire, the Japanese were still killing prisoners, and orders had been given in Taiwan, Borneo and elsewhere to exterminate whole camps. But there was, in the end, to be no mass slaughter.8
After the initial confusion, a strange mood of equanimity and freedom prevailed. Allied prisoners in Japan travelled without restraint, 'commandeering' cars and trucks, disarming Japanese servicemen on trains, entering houses in search of food and looking for women. Then, on 9 August, came the bomb at Nagasaki, and the whole valley around it felt the fury of the impact; afterwards 'not a sound. No birds, Not even a lizard. Just brown, treeless soil like cocoa, no grass, and twisted girderwork ... '9
The day before the first bomb was dropped, most military commanders in mainland Asia believed that the war would go on for many months more. The British 14th Army had pushed down into Burma since their defeats of the Japanese at Imphal and Kohima on the horders of Assam in June and July 1944. The British took Rangoon, the country's capital, in May 1945.10
The Japanese continued to occupy Thailand, Indo-China, Malaya and Indonesia. Despite the island-hopping advance by General Douglas MacArthur's forces in the Pacific, the Japanese had held on to the main islands of the Philippines, and pockets of resistance remained in Borneo.11 In the camp for women internees in Singapore, Sheila Allan, the Eurasian daughter of a British mining engineer, kept a secret diary of a youth in captivity. On 10 August she marked her twenty-first birthday by writing: 'Baby born to crippled Jewess - prophecy concerning her - a Jewess Rabbi dreamt that when a crippled woman gave birth to a boy we'll hear of Peace!' The next day she heard one of the paws bringing the news by singing, 'The war is over' .12
Then came other portents: war businesses liquidated overnight; the gambling syndicates and lotteries that had flourished in the occupied lands cashed in their assets. There were celebrations that ranged from the quiet consumption of hidden bottles of brandy and whisky in Malaya to outright rejoicing in Burma. In the mountainous forest fringes of Malaya, the Chinese peasants who taken shelter there slaughtered their pigs and fowl. In the towns, Chinese papermakers and tailors prepared flags of the four victorious powers: Britain, the United States, Russia, and Chiang Kai Shek's China. Then, in a sudden rush of confidence, Malaya burst into light. The blackouts during the Allied bombing had created 'cities of dreadful night'; but now light bulbs appeared on verandas and the 'five-foot' walkways of shophouses.13 The great 'Worlds' - the amusement parks where the townsfolk came to play and to trade in one of the great spectacles of local life - turned on their show-lights and resumed their gyre. People went on a spending spree with freshly printed Japanese notes bearing their distinctive 'banana' design. But the mood was soon deflated. 14
Many Japanese officers - 300 in Singapore alone took their own lives: some in the lounge of the luxury Raffles Hotel where they heard the news Japan had surrenderred.16 Others who submitted to surrender and the prospect of imprisonment were anxious as to whether they would receive the protection of the Geneva Conventions, which Japan itself had not observed. At Kranji (near Singapore airport), where the Commonwealth war cemetery now stands, they first met the Allied forces: Gurkha paratroops from Special Operations Executive. 17
They became 'Japanese surrendered personnel', a term of art introduced by the British in order to avoid implementing the Geneva Conventions' protocols towards prisoners of war. Although a few remained arrogant and uncooperative, the majority were compliant and patient. But it was still unclear what was happening to the more remote garrisons. Some of Itagaki's officers tried to flee to Sumatra, where there was rumoured to be last-ditch defiance. One Japanese officer of the Imperial Guard in northern Sumatra, who had fought down the length of the Malay peninsula and into Singapore in late 1941, wrote that after the announcement the mood was so mutinous that it was dangerous for officers to walk in the barracks.18
As the Allies brought ahead plans to reoccupy the region, it was still unclear whether or not large numbers of Japanese would fight to the death .These events can no longer be viewed as a minor theatre of a global war centred upon Europe. This now, was an 'Asian World War': a connected arc of conflict that claimed around 24 million lives in lands occupied by Japan; the lives of 3 million Japanese, and 3.5 million more in Illdia through war-related famine. It was the most general conflict in Asia sincethe ' Mongol invasions' of the thirteenth century. Waves of Chinese migrants, mostly from the hinterland ofthe southern seaboard, had come to the Nanyang, or the 'South Seas', as traders and artisans. They pioneered the plantations and mines of Malaya, and still provided the bulk of their labour force. South Asian communities were to be found in an infinite variety of specialist trades: Muslim shopkeepers, Malayalee clerks, Chettiyar money-lenders, Sikh policemen, Ceylonese lawyers. The train service of Malaya was known as the 'Jaffna railway' because of the monopoly by Tamils from Ceylon on the post of ticket-collector. The large-scale European rubber enterprises in Malaya pulled in another three-quarters of a million Tamils from the hinterland of Madras. Many more Indians made the shorter journey from eastern Bengal and Orissa into the rural economy of Burma. Migrations from Java and Sumatra kept alive a sense that the Malay peninsula was the heart of the Islamic civilization of the islands, that dated back to the fifteenth-century empire of Melaka. The traditional Malay rice, fishing and trading economy survived in the midst of some of the most advanced and regimented systems of wage labour on earth. The main points of arrival for most of these pioneers were the great port cities such as Rangoon and Singapore: dynamic and diverse, they were built for playas much as trade or government, and their citizens were obsessed by their own modernity. They were glittering outposts of the West, where the colonial elite enjoyed a lifestyle they could lIever aspire to at home. Yet the lives of the Europeans, contained by their gross obsessions with race and hierarchy, barely touched the complex Asian worlds around them. The cosmopolitanism of a place like Singapore, for example, was built by Chinese, Indian, Arab, Armcnian and Jewish merchants and professionals, many of whose own businesses were now regional in scope.19
For example Singapore's political topography baffled the layman: as colonial power stretched to the south and east, the great traditions of the Raj gave way to complex arrangements of indirect rule. Even the 80 million people of Bengal, the oldest British possession in India, were governed at a distance. Assam to the northeast was an uncertain border region. BlIrll1a had been part of British India until 1936, and although the prcdominant Burmese population of the lowlands was governed on a Raj model, the ethnic minorities of its hill regions enjoyed a good deal of autonomy. British Malaya was a cluster of Islamic sultanates; there was no central government as such: British rule rested on the treaties of 'protection' that had been signed with Malay rulers from 1874 to 1914· The British governed, but they did not, strictly speaking, rule. The Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca were older outposts of the islands: models of Anglo-Saxon municipal management with oriental trappings. To all this the war gave a flaking veneer of coherence. If there was an 'imperial system' it really functioned only in Wartime: men and materiel were mobilized across the crescent: Indian soldiers for the garrisons of Malaya, Chinese labourers for the Burma Road that supplied Chiang Kai Shek's war effort. But in Malaya, the mobilization and the defeats of 1941 and 1942 exposed the inadcquacies of a now, outdated administration.20
The final, squalid exodus from Singapore laid bare the complaccncy and racial arrogance of its colonial masters. When the city fell on 15 February 1942, General Yamashita Tomoyuki's armies shattered the myth of white invulnerability, and broke the mandate of 'protection'. This loss was catastrophic to Britain's global prestige and material strength. As India became a drain on the domestic balance of payments, Southeast Asia had emerged as one of the Empire's prize assets. The region exported two-thirds of the world's tin, and British Malaya alone provided half the world's production of rubber. 21 The Japanese in turn had sought to impose their vision upon the Asian crescent hy incorporating it, with their other conquered territories, a dream of a new Asian order, with Japan at its political and economic core. 22
Thus the old trading links to South Asia and China were severed. After August 1945 the peoples of the region scrambled to reconnect their world. The great crescent was to be forged anew. The instrument for this was South East Asia Command (SEAC), and the tribune of the new imperial vision was its supremo, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of the British king-emperor, George VI. Created in 1943, Mountbatten's new command was the first expression of 'Southeast Asia' as a distinct geopolitical entity. It was a partner to the Pacific vision behind General MacArthur's South West Pacific Command, but there was little love lost between the two unequal allies. To Americans, Southeast Asia was an 'unnecessary front'. 23
To wits, SEAC stood for 'Save England's Asian Colonies'. There was much truth in this: 'Here,' Winston Churchill thundered in September 1944, 'is the Supreme British objective in the whole of the Indian Ocean and Far Eastern Theatre'. But the resources necessary to achieve it were a long time coming. In the interim Mountbatten, unable to wage war didctly, encouraged others to do so on his behalf, using covert methods for which he exhibited a puckish enthusiasm. No fewer than twelve clandestine or semi-clandestine organizations operated in the theatre. Not for nothing was SEAC a~o known as 'Supreme Example of Allied Confusion'.24
Only after the fall of Germany were the materials of conventional war released for Southeast Asia, and it was not until August 1945 that Mountbatten was in a position to take the war back to the Japanese through a series of massive amphibious landings on the coast of Malaya. However, the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki denied him the opportunity to restore Britain's martial pride in the region. The main task of South East Asia Command was to begin only after the surrender of Japan. But there were new tasks at hand: at the final hour, in addition to the Asian mainland, Mountbatten was given responsibility for the vast Indonesian archipelago. This marked the beginning of a final era of British imperial conquest. The pre-Hiroshima war plan had required a massive build-up of men and materiel in India at Bombay, Cochin, Vizagapatnam and Madras. And even after VE Day, the reconquest been delayed owing to a shortage of shipping, repatriation of personnel and uncertainty of conditions of the ground.
This had allowed the Japanese, who were well apprised of Allied intentions, to pour more troops into Malaya. The received wisdom of amphibious warfare was that, for landings to be successful, a superiority in numbers of three to one was needed; in August 1945 Mountbatten had an advantage of only eight to five, and a high proportion of his men had yet to experience combat. Mountbatten returned from a visit to London on 14 August to learn that, following Emperor Hirohito's formal capitulation, the operation was to be launched immediately. And it was still not clear whether or not the Japanese would obey their emperor's order to surrender.25
1. Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook, Japan at war: an oral history (New York, 1992), p. 306.
2. Stuart Ball (ed.), Parliament and politics in the age of Churchill: the Headlam Diaries, I935-SI (Cambridge, 1999), p. 473.
3. John W. Dower, 'The bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese memory', in Michael J. Hogan (ed.), Hiroshima in history and memory (Cambridge, 1996), pp. II6-42.
4. John W. Dower, Embracing defeat: Japan in the wake of World War II (London, 1999), p. 45.
5. Dr Constantine Constantinovich Petrovsky interview, OHD, SNA.
6. The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the physical, medical and social effects of atomic bombings (New York, 1981), p. 478; Rinifo Sodei, Were we the enemy? American survivors of Hiroshima (Boulder, 1998).
7. Petrovsky interview.
8. Brian MacArthur, Surviving the sword: prisoners of the Japanese, I942-45 (London, 2005), pp. 420-1.
9. Hugh V. Clarke, Twilight liberation: Australian PO Ws between Hiroshima and home (Sydney, 1985), pp. 63-95, 121.
10. The best account of the campaign remains Louis Allen, Burma: the longest war I94I-45 (London, 1984).
11. Datuk Mohd Yusoff Hj. Ahmad, Decades of change (Malaysia - I9IOSI97os) (Kuala Lumpur, 1983), pp. 283-4.
12. Sheila Allan, Diary of a girl in Changi, I94I-45 (2nd edn, Roseville, NSW, 1999), p. 137.
13. The title of a vivid early memoir by N. 1. Low & H. M. Cheng is This Singapore (our city of dreadful night) (Singapore, 1946).
14. See Chin Kee ann, Malaya upside down (Singapore, 1946), pp. 199-202.
15. Cheah Boon Kheng, Red star over Malaya: resistance and social conflict during and after the Japanese occupation of Malaya, 1941-1946 (Singapore, 1983), pp. 130-I. This is a classic study.
16. Romen Bose, The end of the war: Singapore's liberation and the aftermath of the Second World War (Singapore, 2005), p. 101. He quotes a figure of 300 suicides.
17. Carl Francis de Souza interview, OHD, SNA.
18. Takao Fusayama, Memoir of Takao Fusayama: a Japanese soldier in Malaya and Sumatera (Kuala Lumpur, 1997), pp. 147-50.
19. Nicholas Tarling, Britain, Southeast Asia and the Onset of the Cold War, 1945-1950 (Cambridge, 1998), p. 26.
20. Mountbatten to H. R. Hone, I February 1944, in A. ]. Stockwell (ed.), British documents on the end of empire: Malaya, part I (London, 1995),
21. Nicholas]. White, Business, government and the end of empire: Malaya, 1945-1957 (Kuala Lumpur, 1996), pp. 64-5.
22. Paul H. Kratoska, The Japanese occupation of Malaya, 1941-45 (London, 1998), p. 32.
23. M. E. Dening, 'Review of events in South-East Asia, 1945 to March 1946', 25 March 1946, in Stockwell, British documents: Malaya, part I, p. 211.
24. Richard]. Aldrich, Intelligence and the war against Japan: Britain, America and the politics of secret service (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 172, 186-7,
25. S. Woodburn Kirby, The war against Japan, vol. V, The surrender of
Japan (London, 1969), pp. 77-82.
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