Allies of a Kind (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
Christopher Thorne, a Reader in International Relations at Sussex University in Great Britain, is a leading authority on twentieth century diplomatic history. His earlier books in this field include The Approach of War: 1938-1939 and The Limits of Foreign Policy: The West, the League and the Far Eastern Crisis of 1931-1933. Now, to these substantial works, Thorne has added the monumental Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain and the War Against Japan, 1941-1945. With indefatigable energy, the author spent almost five years digging in the recently opened files of the British, Dutch, American, and Australian archives, and in the private papers of prominent Americans, Britons, and Australians. The fruit of all this labor is a new and searching look at the workings of the Anglo-American partnership during World War II.
Thorne’s book is divided into six parts. Part One gives the reader the background of British-American relations in the Far East from 1939 to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor to the Allied Conference of Casablanca, in January, 1943. Part Three treats the period from January, 1943, to the Cairo Conference of December, 1943. Part Four covers the period from the Cairo Conference to the second Quebec Conference of September, 1944, while Part Five carries the story to the time of the Japanese surrender to the Allies in September, 1945. Part Six is an epilogue in which the return of the European Powers to Southeast Asia after the war’s end is briefly discussed. Throughout the book, the continuous Anglo-American debate over the future of postwar Asia is analyzed with regard to China, Southeast Asia, India, Australasia and the Pacific, and Japan herself. The structure of the book is thus rather complicated; and there is some inevitable repetition.
Unlike earlier historians of World War II, Thorne is not concerned with the reasons for either the early Japanese military successes or for the eventual defeat of the Japanese at the hands of the Allies. He does not, therefore, give a detailed history of military strategy and operations. Instead, Thorne is concerned with the reasons for the rapid crumbling of European power in East Asia after 1945. In the two decades following the war’s end, France, Britain, and the Netherlands were all forced to give up their Asian Empires. Only Hong Kong remained under British control. According to Thorne, Japan’s armed bid for supremacy in 1941-1945, although unsuccessful, considerably hastened this process of decolonization.
The stunning defeat of the British Army by the Japanese at Singapore in February, 1942, together with the Japanese conquest of Burma soon afterwards, laid bare the weakness of British defenses in Asia. To hold on to India, and to regain control of Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Britain required the financial and military help of her powerful Anglo-Saxon cousin, the United States. It was the United States Navy and Marines which, after June of 1942, were to carry the brunt of the fighting against Japanese forces in the Pacific Islands. Yet, as Thorne makes clear, both President Roosevelt and many of his military and diplomatic advisers were extremely skeptical about the moral rightness and the postwar political viability of Europe’s Asian empires.
This basic difference of viewpoint, Thorne shows, often led to tension within the Anglo-American alliance. President Roosevelt championed the cause of a strong and independent China, which should take its place as one of the “Four Policemen” of world peace after the war. Churchill, on the other hand, tended to be somewhat more skeptical about the potential military and political power of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic. Roosevelt urged Churchill to cede Hong Kong to China and to make substantial conditions to...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
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