Daily Archives: 29 March 2006

Vengeful Attacks on Burmese Buddhists, 1943

The negative consequence of the first Arakan campaign [on Burma’s border with Assam] was further to envenom relations between the Arakanese Buddhists and the local Muslim population. Zainuddin, a Muslim civil officer posted to the areas which the British temporarily reconquered in Arakan, wrote a confidential account of the hostility between the communities. The British Baluch troops in the area treated the local Buddhist population very badly, he recorded, telling them that the Muslims who had suffered at their hands during the Japanese invasion of the previous year ‘would take full revenge on the Arakanese “Mugs”‘. The coolies and other camp followers who flooded into the region in the wake of the British stole large numbers of local boats and brutalized the people. Zainuddin compared the British treatment of the civilian population very unfavourably with that of the Japanese. Indeed, [Viceroy of India] Wavell himself was worried by rumours that British troops had shot out of hand village headmen in Japanese-occupied areas. All in all, these events seem to reverse the usual stereotypes of Japanese brutality and British solicitude for the civilian population. They were also part of a pattern common to the whole crescent [of British colonies in Southeast Asia]: inter-community conflict became endemic in the wake of the fighting and would persist for at least a generation. Finally, Zainuddin delivered his most savage observation. On the appearance of the Japanese the indifferent and lethargic British troops ‘began to run as no deer had ever run when chased by a tiger’.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 275-276

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Vengeful Attacks on Singapore Civilians, 1942

Singapore city was placed under the Kempeitai, the military police, who moved into a Japanese hotel, the Toyo on Queen Street, and set up road blocks. These checkpoints were volatile places. The soldiers manning them reacted violently to the confusion and resistance that ensued when people began to move around again in search of family and food. But people had learned from tales of the China campaign that a sentry was a ‘mighty lord’, and that to bow to him was to show the respect due to the Emperor himself. This offended the Muslims: to them, it was ‘as if we pray’.

Malaya had been bombarded with the crude racial stereotypes of Japanese in British propaganda and in the cartoon art of the [overseas Chinese] National Salvation movement. People were unprepared for the tough, bearded men they encountered in the first wave of the occupation; they were noxious too from two months in the field. They were not prepared either, despite the grim predictions, for the full savagery of their arrival. The hospitals were the first target. At Alexandra Hospital in Singapore, after the bitter fighting nearby on the western outskirts of the city, a terrible retribution was taken. The doctors who met the Japanese at the hospital entrance were slaughtered and many patients were bayoneted in their beds. Around 400 others were crowded into an outhouse overnight, later to be killed. The Asian doctors on duty were aghast as they watched the soldiers smashing the X-ray machinery. ‘Why were they like lunatics, their eyes, just like lunatics?’

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 208-209

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