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«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»

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Vietnam Vietnam suffered a shocking famine as the French colonial officials carried out Japanese orders that rice paddies be turned over to Jute, and much of what rice was grown was exported to Burma. Farmers who resisted were beaten or killed. As many as two million died in the hunger that followed. The Viet Minh Front was founded in 1941, and the demand that the rice stores be opened saw the Front’s standing rise. The Vietnam Liberation Army was active from December 1944. On 9 March 1945 the Viet Minh sent a memo to the Free French leader in Indochina, Jean Sainteny, which looked forward to free elections with a universal franchise to found a Vietnamese government under a French governor, with independence to follow in five or ten years, after the colonial power had been compensated for its losses.15 France’s reply was a sharp rebuff. On 24 March Paris announced it wanted Indochina broken up into a French-run federation of five regions. That meant Vietnam would be divided between its provinces Tonkin, Annan and Cochin China.16 France’s post-war plans were looking all the less plausible since the Japanese had, on 10 March, sent the Kempetai to arrest the Vichy administrator and his Sûreté agents, announcing that, with ‘no intention of territorial conquest’, it had decided to take over. Taking advantage of the Japanese promises ‘to help the peoples of Indochina, hitherto toiling under the colonial yoke, to fulfil their ardent desire for independence’, a National Party for the Independence of Vietnam, supported by followers of the Cao Dai religious sect called for demonstrations. But fearing the outcome, the Japanese banned them.17 By June 1945 the Viet Minh had created a liberated zone of six counties. At that time Ho Chi Minh had set up friendly relations with the US agents of the Office of Strategic Services, in particular one Robert Shapleen who remembered the future Viet Cong leader as ‘an awfully sweet guy’.18 Thirty thousand miners of the Hongai-Campha coal mines took control of their town. In the South demonstrators rallying behind the National Party for Independence demonstrated on 21 August 1945 calling ‘Down with French Imperialism!’ and ‘Independence for Vietnam!’. But in July the Viet Minh were still pushing to work with the French and according to a report ‘would have liked, at this juncture, to enter Hanoi side by side with the French delegate’. They had even ordered French tricolour flags for the occasion.19 With the Japanese surrender in August the Viet Minh looked again at its strategy and ‘decided to snatch power from the hands of the Japanese fascists before the arrival of

the Allies’. Ho issued the call for a general uprising:

Countrymen arise! Les us free ourselves by our own energies. Numerous oppressed peoples of the world are vying with one another in the ardent struggle for independence.

We cannot lag behind … Onward under the flag of the Vietminh.

Ho Chi Minh prefaced this call with the warning that ‘we still have a hard fight ahead of us’, and that ‘the defeat of the Japanese does not render us automatically free and independent’.20 On 17 August, with Jean Sainteny stranded in Kunming, the civil servants’ union called a strike. In the hot monsoon rains tens of thousands of men in white shorts marched through Hanoi, and the custodian Consultative Assembly of Tonkin set up by the Japanese under the Emperor Bao Dai fled. The crowds grew with women and coolies joining the throng. Their banners were scarlet with the gold star of the Vietminh. On 14-15 August the Vietminh led a general uprising occupying Japanese positions.21 Over the night of 19-20 August Vietnamese turned on French settlers, and ten or more were killed. By 25 August Bao Dai stood down, recognising the Democratic Republic and thereby granting the imprimatur of the Nguyễn Dynasty.


Towards the end of 1943 Thakin leader Aung San saw that the liberation that the Japanese had promised was a sham. His Burma defence Army began talks with the communist leader Thakin Soe, who had organised a resistance group in the Arakan countryside. Soe’s modest Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League was all the same an inspiration to the disillusioned BDA. Aung San, while still leader of the BDA, gave sharply anti-Japanese speeches, and communicated to the British that he intended an uprising. Still smarting, Lieutenant Dorman-Smith and others in the Civil Affairs Bureau (Burma) were outraged that having helped kick the British out of Burma, Aung San was now offering to help beat the Japanese, and they had to be talked around by a more far-sighted Louis Mountbatten to help arm Aung San. On 27 March 1945 the Burmese attacked Japanese positions. Over the next five months they killed 8,826 Japanese. The BDA proved a fearsome enemy, pinning down large numbers of Japanese, and escaping retaliation by fleeing to the countryside.


A Japanese Imperial Conference in May 1943 decided that ‘Marai, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and the Celebes are Japanese territory and a priority effort will be made to develop them as supply areas for major natural resources’.22 The requisition of men and materials in Java was brutal. By November 1944 some 2.6 million were working as forced labourers.

Farmers and labourers who were transported as labourers often died.23 When Premier Tōjō promised that Burma and the Philippines would become independent, Sukarno was distraught asking why did the Japanese rip up railroads and round up labourers from Indonesia and send them to Burma, while ignoring loyal Indonesia?24 As it happened, Indonesia was not that loyal.

In Java Japanese officers blamed opposition on lingering loyalty to the Dutch, rather than native resentment at their treatment. The Kempetai saw a ‘full-scale anti-Japanese movement’ which ‘drew the entire island of Java into a vortex of strategems’. Kempetai commander Murase, frustrated at the slow pace of the courts-martial investigating rebels was ‘thwarting Kempetai goals and paralyzing the army, thereby impeding the work of the military government’. Murase got the approval for a gloves-off strategy called ‘Operation Hades’. Indefinite imprisonment and summary execution became the norm in Kempetai interrogations and some 300 Javanese lost their lives.25 Tensions between the Indonesian auxiliaries and their Japanese commanders were high, and a volunteer corps unit in Blitar mutinied in February 1945. In West Borneo, Japanese troops came under attack from Dyak tribesmen angered by the destruction of their forests for timber. On 16 August 1945 members of the Indonesian volunteer corps burned the Japanese flag and declared the first liberated zone in Indonesia.26


Japanese administration in the Philippines was fronted by local collaborators, led by President Jose Laurel and the senior civil servant Jorge Vargas. The Filipino elite took MacArthur’s advice to collaborate with the Japanese, and many of the wealthy landlords and merchants played key roles in the pro-Japanese administration. While paying lip-service to Filipino independence, and Jose Laurel’s administration, the Commonwealth was dominated by the Japanese military and the Kempetai.

Disloyalty to the Japanese was punished severely, often with summary execution, and Kempetai commonly beat Filipinos. The Japanese censored newspapers, and made owners of printing presses, and even typewriters and radio receivers register with the authorities. On the other hand, the policy of promoting the Tagalog language in presses and the theatre was a popular move. The Japanese talked up opposition to American imperialism, just as they instituted their own. Farmers were encouraged to shift from sugar (which had been exported to America) to cotton, as a move to economic independence. As it turned out the imposition of an over-inflated Japanese-backed currency wrecked the economy and farmers mostly withheld their produce, so that the planned cotton targets were never met. What cotton was grown went into Japanese military uniforms. While the Japanese incorporated leading Filipino senators into the administration they banned political parties. In their stead the organised a conservative movement the Kalibapi, which was led by Benigno Aquino Sr (his son, of the same name, would play a decisive part in the struggle against the US-backed dictator Marcos).

There were many disparate resistance bands in the Philippines that were started by members of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East, both Americans and Filipino.

For them, the resistance was carrying on the Philippine-American war effort, and giving force to General Douglas MacArthur’s promise ‘I will return’. As they made contact with MacArthur in Australia, though, they got the message back from him that their Primary mission is to maintain your organisation and to secure maximum amount of information. Guerrilla activities should be postponed until ordered from here.27 MacArthur’s opposition to independent action stymied the action of these bands. The exception was the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, ‘People’s anti-Japanese Army’, called the Hukbalahap, or just Huks. The Hukbalahap was set up by communists and socialists on 29 March 1942. To counter the Japanese-inspired Kalibapi the Hukbalahap organised Barrio United Defence Corps, community based self-government groups. The BUDCs elected their own officers (taking advantage of the democratic deficit in the Japanesebacked Philippine government) and organised local amenities, as well as hearing complaints in their own courts, and even officiating at marriages and baptisms. The BUDCs drew as many as half a million Filipinos into a parallel administration that was dedicated to liberation, while the guerrilla force itself grew to a strength of 100,000.28 By 1944 Manila was, the Kempetai said, a place they feared, full of armed guerrillas who disguised as vegetable carriers would suddenly shoot at a sentry on duty in front of the military headquarters and then get away. Even Kempetai drinking coffee on the streets would be shot at, and in the evening Kempetai on their way to the cabarets would be met by assassins lying in waiting. Day or night, Manila was a city infested with assassins.29 The Hukbalahap raised such high hopes amongst the Filipino peasants that they often had to stop them from seizing landlords’ holdings and rents. Though they took heart from Mao Tse-Tung’s guerrilla tactics, they feared that land seizure would risk relations with the Allies and the United States in particular. The Hukbalahap had sent Casto Alejandrino and Fernando Sampo, two mayors to see MacArthur when he was still at Corrigedor, but got little encouragement. Still they held up the alliance, and when they led a force that seized the town of Nueva Ecija, they raised both the Philippine and US flags.30 The Japanese Empire turned out to have been built on sand. As quickly as the British Empire and the US Navy had melted away, so too the Japanese collapsed after them. It was not that the Japanese army was weak; on the contrary it continued to fight on fiercely, island by island, to defend the mainland. But just as for the British and Americans, it was the attitude of the local peoples that was decisive. The ‘Co-Prosperity Sphere’ had been conceived as an extension of the pre-war division of labour, with Japanese technological goods exchanged for East Asian primary goods. But the needs of fighting the war turned Japanese industry to military work, so there was no exchange, just plunder. Japan’s idealistic projection of ‘Asia for the Asians’ was undone by that basic inequality, and the promised political independence was withheld. Instead of freedom, the Japanese military had nothing to offer but brutality. Already predisposed to persecute the Chinese across East Asia, the Japanese failed to consolidate their initially promising base of support amongst other races. The exposure of the Co-Prosperity Sphere as just another western-style imperialism was its undoing. The great challenge for the region was whether the outcome of the war would be liberation or subjugation again.

Chapter Twenty Three Collapse of the German Empire in the East Early on in the German occupation of the USSR there had been some notable attempts to consolidate local support. Alfred Rosenberg, an early member of the NSDAP and a Baltic German pushed a policy of making a buffer zone of anti-Soviet states: Ukraine, Byelorussia, Finland and a federation of Balkan states. At first he had Hitler’s blessing. Another German administrator, Wilhelm Kube tried to build ties with ‘White Ruthenians’ (Byelorussians) promoting local officials and education. The most suprising consolidation of local support was among the Baltic states, whose racial ‘German-ness’ and cultural ties with the Reich were emphasized, just as local police forces and municipal officials were integrated into the eastern regime.1 On the whole, though, German policy was viciously hostile to the people it ruled over.

Rosenberg’s eastern administration was a chaos, and he lost out to Goering, Himmler and Backe, who called for a wholly predatory rule. In the Ukraine Gauleiter Erich Koch had no interest in Rosenberg’s plans to appeal to Ukranian national pride.

As a measure of the deleterious impact of the occupation, some 30 per cent of pre-war capital stock was destroyed, according to a Soviet government commission of September 1945, while in the occupied territories of Ukraine and Byelorussia, the figure was two thirds.

Though peasants looked forward to an end to collectivisation when the Germans came, the collective farm system was kept in the occupied areas – the better to seize what grain they could, ‘in the interests of the German war economy’, said Goering on 27 July 1941.2 The German embassy in Moscow had warned that the more mechanised collective farms would fail for lack of fuel, though, and German fantasies that the Ukraine would feed the Reich never materialised.3

Major-General Hans Leykauf summed up the insanity of the occupation policy:

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