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Monday, December 30, 2013

Forgotten Wars

After my graduation, it had become possible once again to do some leisurely reading. I went on a borrowing spree, not certain when they would take my library card away from me. (As it turns out, I graduated in June 2013, and my lending privileges would be revoked on Sept 2014.)

One of the books I borrowed was “Forgotten Wars”, which was an account of the armies of the British empire in Southeast Asia right after The War. So it was mainly about three countries: India, Burma and Malaysia, although I’m sure that the Indonesian war was mentioned.

I’ve only gotten through 1 chapter, but it’s great to read a book about WWII which is actually about your own country, rather than some far-flung place in the middle of Ukraine or North Africa or whatever. Anyway, three thoughts:

1. It was so chaotic in Malaya right after the Japanese surrender. There was one faction of Malays who thought they were going to declare independence with support from the Japanese. There was the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army, and within that there were some guys from the Communists and some other guys from the Kuomingtang. There were the Malay villagers. There was the Japanese. There was the British who had come back. There was Lai Teck, who turned out to be such a backstabber. He was the one who sold out Lim Bo Seng. There was Chin Peng, who reported to Lai Teck. There was the Malay aristocracy, and one of them was a young playboy called Tunku Abdul Rahman. There were the village bomohs. There were the secret society Chinese gangsters.

Things were so chaotic. The Plen ordered the MPAJA to stand down, and some of them obeyed the order and some others didn’t, and in the end both sides ended up fighting. The MPAJA were figuring out what to do with the British when they came back. The Malays thought that the Chinese were taking over the country so they fought them. Some of the British were joining the MPAJA. The MPAJA marched into Singapore and killed a lot of the local Chinese businessmen who set up shop during the Japanese occupation (this took place at Selegie Road). They were at war with the Malaysian nationalists cultivated by the Japs.

2. Us overseas Chinese raised a shitload of money for the KMT to fight the Japanese. At one point we were responsible for 1/3 of the KMT’s budget! And by way of thanks, the Japanese cut down 50000 of us upon entering Singapore. (All you ppl from China reading this better be grateful for what we did for you guys, even though strictly speaking KMT and CCP are enemies).

3. OMG Nee Soon camp – the same place where I did my BMT – was an internment camp for British soldiers during WWII. All those wretched starving angmohs were hanging out in the areas where I was getting pumped for being stupid! Also – the victory parade at the Padang featured a march-past Mountbatten was trying to impress upon the Japs that if they didn’t lay down their arms, the British would have stuffed them good. Nice job Louis but 4 fucking years too late. Also – march-past at the Padang – reminds you of the National Day Parade? It's really fun when you read about places and names that you know.

Good accounts of the war in Southeast Asia are long overdue. The problem is that the reporting is hampered by the level of secrecy in the countries in our region, and they don't allow the story to be told for the historical record - as opposed to countries in Europe and North America where the stories of war are told over and over again ad nauseum. I'm sure that Africa has had an extremely eventful 20th century, and none of it is told. I'm sure that the level of human suffering in that place is as high as anywhere else in human history. And what about the military dictatorships in South and Central America? What about the dictatorships in Central Asia? Even the events surrounding Indonesia's year of living dangerously are not well understood, up till this day.

Also, I wasn't aware but Singapore was some sort of headquarters for nationalist movements. Subhas Chandra Bose of the Indian National Army was operating out of Singapore in the last few years of WWII, getting ready to overthrow the British.

4. Vietnam after WWII was such a mess. The Vietnamese were ruled by Vichy France, who were allied with the Japs because of the Axis. The British stepped in to "restore order". The British and the Japs were fighting each other but they ganged up with the Japanese and the French against the Vietnamese. What a complicated situation!


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