The End of the War in Asia

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

This book is an insightful analysis of the important impact of Japan’s defeat on Asia. “Wars,” writes Louis Allen, “do not come to a clean end,” and Japan’s war in Asia was no exception. For, although World War II ended the short-lived Japanese empire in 1945, the old, prewar order in Asia never revived. For one thing, Western colonialism in Asia ended with the war, and Japan’s surrender, far from marking a clean break in history, actually denoted the beginning of a significant transition to a new Asia based on nationalism and independence.

Allen has not written just a military history: he stresses political and diplomatic aspects of Japan’s surrender, and even touches occasionally on the human element. For example, the plight of Japanese settlers in Manchuria is described in harrowing detail. Allen organizes his broad subject geographically in two large divisions. The first section on Southeast Asia includes chapters on what are now called Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The second section on East Asia deals with the surrender in Korea, Manchuria, and China proper, where the Japanese military and administrative structure was more intact. This approach is well chosen since Japanese occupation policy, indigenous political development, and the military situation differed greatly between Southeast Asia and East Asia. This regional diversity also led to a difference in the nature and outcome of Japanese surrender. It would be difficult to make useful generalizations about the meaning of Japanese occupation and surrender without, as Allen has demonstrated, examining each area separately.

One topic that cannot be treated strictly in terms of Japanese occupation is the story of the Bengali political leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, and the Indian National Army (INA). Major Fujiwara Iwaichi and other Japanese military personnel working through secret organizations in Southeast Asia developed plans to appeal to Indian aspirations for independence from British rule. In the Malaya-Singapore campaign, around twenty-five thousand of some sixty-five thousand captured Indian troops were recruited by Fujiwara and his Indian collaborators to form anti-British military units. In contrast to their cautious policy in occupied areas such as Indonesia, the Japanese, since they did not occupy India, were willing to support the concept of Indian independence for their own purposes. With the possible exception of Wang Ching-wei in China, Bose was the most prominent Asian politician in occupied Asia, although he did not operate within his own national territory. The INA was not an important military factor in the war, and most Indians remained loyal to the British raj. However, the postwar New Delhi trials of the INA officers, which were intended as an object lesson by the British Army, became a focal point of aroused Indian nationalism. They helped speed the path toward independence in 1947.

In Southeast Asia, the surrender of Japanese forces in the field and the return of European colonial powers were awkward logistical and political exercises. Indonesia, for example, was promised independence by the Japanese late in the war, and the occupation had organized and trained an Indonesian military force. On August 17, 1945, with Allied victory apparent, the Japanese permitted the leader of the nationalists, Sukarno, to declare independence. British military forces which landed to take charge were ignorant of nationalist aspirations in much of occupied Asia, and they were urged by the Dutch government not to recognize the Indonesian Republic. Indonesians seized weapons and ammunition because Japanese troops were either unable or unwilling to obey Allied directives to keep the peace until an orderly transition of power could be effected. Most of their arms fell into Indonesian hands, and Japanese military training, especially in night fighting, helped Indonesians launch their four-year successful struggle for independence. As in other parts of Southeast Asia, some Japanese deserters remained behind and blended into the culture, but there were also reprisals against Japanese troops and civilians. About one thousand were massacred in Indonesia.

The author’s analysis of the Vietnamese situation is one of the most interesting and complex subjects covered. During the war, the United States gave logistical support to a Vietnamese popular front guerrilla force led by Ho Chi Minh. This force, the Viet Minh, tried to take over military and administrative control in the brief power vacuum left between Japanese capitulation and Allied-French reoccupation in August, 1945. The Allies had other plans, adumbrated at the Cairo meeting and later, including a postwar Tongkin (North Vietnam) under the control of Chiang Kai-shek.

One of the most momentous decisions was to divide Vietnam at the 16th parallel, a decision partly determined by military logistics. The north was to be administered under General Wedemeyer as part of China operations and the southern region by Mountbatten’s South-East Asian Command....

(The entire section is 2060 words.)