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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Filed under Burma, Japan, religion, war

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