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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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In Arakan Thakin Soe led the Burmese Communist Party in an insurgency against the Japanese from 1944. Their manifesto ‘Drive Away the Fascist Japanese Marauders’ protested at the forced labour that cost so many Burmese their lives. The manifesto also denounced the British Governor Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and his plans to bring back British capitalism to Burma. Britain’s South East Asia Command was wary of the rebels, and tried to persuade them not to rise up before the Allied invasion. The Burmese Communist Party, though, were only a regional force. The real prize was the defection of the Burmese National Army (BNA), which joined with the Burmese Communist Party to form the AntiFascist People’s Freedom League.13 In 1945 the leader of the Burmese National Army made contact with British commanders and signalled his intention to take up arms against Japan. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Command met with his senior officers in Kandy on 27 March 1945, where he set out the policy towards Burma and Aung San’s Burma National Army. Outwardly the policy was to help Burma gain complete self-government. Seeing that Aung San would fight against the Japanese he hoped that the Burma National Army would be ‘seen as national heroes with the British instead of against them’. The former colonial administrators of Burma though were deeply hostile to Aung San’s BNA and to them Mountbatten said that those who had fought against Britain would have to stand trial according to the law obtaining in 1941. The threat was real since the British had prepared charges against Aung San for the murder of Abdul Raschid, a tyrannical village headman.14 Captain Takahashi tried to convince Aung San to stick with Japan, and asked him what kind of deal he had made with Britain. Aung San replied that ‘our ideal is total independence’, but that he would settle for a self-governing Dominion: ‘If the British refuse to grant us one or the other, then we will fight them too’. On 16 May 1945 Aung San met Lieutenant General William Slim, commander of the Burma Corps of the British Army, who said that he could only expect to be a subordinate commander under British orders. Slim challenged Aung San ‘you only came to us because you see we are winning’. Aung San replied ‘it wouldn’t be much good coming to you if you weren’t, would it?’ Though Slim and Mountbatten were impressed with the BNA commander, the Civil Affairs Officers – Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith in particular – still nursed the ambition to arrest Aung San for murder, and outlaw the Thakin Party.15 As the British moved into Burma tensions were high. Officers of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry summarily executed 27 Burmese civilians claiming that they had collaborated with the Japanese in the 1942 retreat. Fearing an open rebellion against British rule, the new governor passed a Bill that let him keep the murder charge against Aung San and other supposed crimes committed by Burmese against Britain in 1942 on file, at his own discretion. Aung San’s confidence was based on a pertinent assessment of the enduring weakness of the British position East of Suez. In a pamphlet titled ‘Why We Should Not Continue to Revolt’, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League judged that ‘English vested interests’ were still too weak to grab back what they had lost in Burma, and that the needs of domestic investment in the British economy would take priority. Astute as this assessment was, it only saw economic motives in British action, but not the fury with which the colonial power would defend its spiritual investment into Britain’s prestige.16 As the Japanese fled, Rangoon was under an uneasy peace, with the Burma National Army renamed the Burma Defence Army, taking part in the victory parade on 15 June, while all the time the Civil Affairs Bureau was planning to disarm them. The British statement of intent on Burma’s future was vague about the timescale of the move towards Dominion Status. On 20 June Governor Dorman-Smith arrived on the Rangoon River and held a party for all his old Burmese collaborators on board the HMS Cumberland. Civil rights for ordinary Burmese were not forthcoming.17 The new British Prime Minister Clement Attlee thought that Dorman-Smith had ‘lost his grip’ and replaced him as Governor with Sir Henry Knight.18 In January 1947 Aung San went to London to sign the deal that would agree Burmese independence. He would not see that day, though, as on the morning of 19 July 1947 four assassins armed with tommy-guns stormed a cabinet meeting and killed all but three of the ministers there. The killers were sent by U Saw, who had been Burmese Prime Minister under Dorman-Smith, and the British government said that it was an internal matter. In the House of Commons, though, Labour MP Tom Driberg spoke out: ‘the moral guilt of the assassinations attaches less to the brutal gunmen in Rangoon than to the Conservative gentlemen here who incited U Saw to treachery and sabotage’. Driberg meant the ‘Friends of the Burmese Hill People’, a group set up by Dorman-Smith to undermine Burma’s independence, by promoting separatism and disorder. In 1997 filmmaker Rob Lemkin uncovered the files that showed U Saw’s links with British intelligence and pointed to their hands in the assassination of Aung San.19 Despite Britain’s efforts to destabilise the country, Burma won its independence, declined invitations to join the Commonwealth and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, preferring to ally itself with the Bandung Conference of independent nations.

Philippines ‘People of the Philippines, I have returned!’ General MacArthur on landing, 20 October 1944.

MacArthur immediately set about taking on the Huk guerrillas, to whom he wrote The United States Army does not recognise any political aims or ambitions, and it is the position that in time of war, the only political activity which is legal is political activity aimed at the maintenance of the loyalty of the masses to the established and legal existing government.20 G-3 Section in MacArthur’s General Staff noted in January 1945 that it was ‘necessary to take the wind out of the sails out of this organisation’. The Huks, thought G-3 were ‘a distinct and potential threat to the Commonwealth government and future peace of the Philippines’.

G-3 wrote revealingly that ‘We have a measure of responsibility to the real patriots’; they meant the Filipinos who had been in the US Army Force Far East (USAFFE), who ‘resolutely and with self-effacing loyalty have served our purposes’.21 Noting that the Huks had grown in confidence, and were surreptitiously meeting peasant demands for land reform by expropriating landlords under the guise of attacking collaborators, Gabriel Kolko argues that ‘By the beginning of 1945 all that stood between the Huks and a total transformation of the agrarian economy was the United States military, led by MacArthur’.22 It was true that when the US entered central Luzon in January and February 1944 they found that the Huks already had local government up and running in the towns of Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bulacan, Pampanga and Laguna. There were Hukbalahapbacked mayors: Casto Alejandrino in Pampanga, Juan Feleo in Nueva Ecija and Jesus Lava in Laguna. MacArthur expelled Alejandrino and Feleo from office – he replaced the peasant-leader Feleo with Juan O. Chioco a wealthy landowner, on the grounds that the province of Nueva Ecija was the ‘breadbasket of Central Luzon’, and could not be allowed to fall into the hands of a ‘non-constitutional faction’.23 In fact MacArthur’s intelligence staff overstated the threat the Hukbalahap intended. While they had built up a solid following in the absence of any kind of established government – whether Commonwealth, American Military or Japanese – they were committed to the restoration of the Commonwealth, and promised loyalty to the US governor. On 15 June 1945 acting Commander-in-Chief of the Hukbalahap Mariano Balgos protested that There are misconceptions emanating from those same elements who would not only cut the Hukbalahap off from America, but also separate us from the Filipino people. The Huk is not anti-Commonwealth government. We recognise President Osmeña as the legal president of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth constitution as the legal constitution of the Philippines. We are opposed to civil war and shall fight for the orderly democratic progress of the Philippines.

What was more ‘we are not seeking to conscript capital or socialise industry’.24 These protestations of loyalty would count for little with General MacArthur, who had already decided that the Filipinos must not be allowed to liberate themselves, but wait patiently for his return and follow his instructions.

As he was hostile to the guerrillas who had fought against Japan after he ran away, so he was hostile too to the exiled president Sergio Osmeña (who took over the Commonwealth government-in-exile after Quezon died in 1944). Osmeña had criticised MacArthur’s poor defence plans, and was a friend of Harold Ickes, who MacArthur hated. On 23 October 1944, in Tacloban, MacArthur summoned Osmeña, and in a brusque ceremony, and speech of no more than three sentences, handed over civilian administration, and got up to go, saying ‘Now, Mr. President, my officers and I shall withdraw and leave you to discharge your responsibilities.’ But Osmeña was wholly dependent on the Military Administration which controlled all transport, food distribution and money throughout the Philippines. The ceremony was meant to show up Osmeña’s dependence on the Governor.25 To put his stamp on the Philippines, MacArthur had made sure that executive power was in his hands. MacArthur and his deputy Courtney Whitney agreed that OSS agents from the Southwest Pacific would be barred from the Philippines for fear that they would ‘aid leftwing guerrillas’. Even Robert Sherwood’s liberal propaganda leaflets were rejected as too inflammatory. In fact MacArthur fought off Washington’s attempts to impose any civilian administration. Under the plan he hatched with Whitney MacArthur could strike down any proposed provincial official, and ‘the President of the Philippines should be unavailable, any appointments … should be made provisionally on his behalf by the Commander-in-Chief’.

Since Osmeña was wholly dependent on the US military for his transport, he was often ‘unavailable’.26 Instead of a civilian administration, MacArthur had his circle of cronies among the foreign business elite. Among MacArthur’s staff Courtney Whitney was in William Manchester’s account, an ‘ultra-conservative Manila corporation lawyer’. Whitney was ‘condescending towards all Filipinos except those, who, like himself, had substantial investments in the islands’. US Navy Commander Charles Parsons had bought into the Luzon Stevedoring Company in 1934, having arrived as part of the US administration.

Another key player on MacArthur’s team was Spanish-born Andres Soriano y Roxas, who had made his fortune on one of the first Coca-Cola franchise businesses, before branching out into San Miguel beer and airlines. Soriano was a supporter and financier of Spanish dictator Franco’s Falange party and had been photographed giving the Fascist salute. He was acting Consul General for Franco in the Philippines, until he decided it was more politic to take Filipino citizenship in 1941 (and American citizenship in 1945). When Senator Millard Tyldings tried to introduce a resolution for the immediate recognition of Philippine independence in Congress in 1943 Sorriano, fearful of losing his extensive holdings, successfully lobbied against it.27 As an alternative to Osmeña, MacArthur pushed Manuel Roxas – who he felt was more trustworthy, though in fact he had served in Jose Laurel’s pro-Japanese administration.

MacArthur had Roxas flown over by a specially commissioned plane to meet the Governor in Manila, where he was publicly exonerated for his wartime role. Later, MacArthur endorsed Roxas in the presidential race against Osmeña.

For the Hukbalahap resistance, the writing was on the wall. Frozen out of any post-war settlement, they were vilified as bandits and traitors. From January 1945, local US Commanders started to disarm the Hukbalahap – often at gunpoint, by Military Police. All the time that the Hukbalahap was losing its weapons, the USAFFE forces were being built up.

USAFFE commanders realised that the promise of back pay would draw recruits. Ramon Magsaysay’s Zambales Military District counted only 1100 troops in early 1945, but in two years it had grown to a force 10,441-strong. As a MacArthur General Staff report had it the Hukbalahap were ‘the bitterest foes of our staunchest patriots – a scourge to USAFFE remnants’. Once disarmed, the Huks were at a disadvantage. In February 1945 the disarmed Huk ‘Squadron 77’ passed through Malolos on their way back to Pampanga. They were seized by men under the command of USAFFE Col. Adonais Maclang. Jailed overnight, the Huk men, over one hundred of them, were taken out into a courtyard and made to dig their own graves, before they were shot and bludgeoned to death. Maclang was arrested, but quickly released: indeed two days later he was made mayor of Malolos by Courtney Whitney’s Philippine Civil Affairs Unit.28 Later that month Huk leaders Luis Taruc and Casto Alejandrino were arrested by the Counter Intelligence Corp, along with other commanders.

But MacArthur had acted too soon – 50,000 peasants protested demanding their release, which was granted. Then on 8 April, they were detained again, and taken to the Iwahig Penal Colony.

MacArthur’s war against the people who had fought to free the Philippines, the Hukbalahap, was carried on after he left by the President, Roxas. Carrying on a dirty war against the Huk leaders and struggling to disarm the rank-and-file, Roxas only succeeded in galvanising a great insurrection that did not end until 1954.


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