* World War II Pacific Theater -- Asian nationalism country movements

World War II: Asian Nationalism--Country Trends

Figure 1.--World War II helped invigirate nationlist movements in Asia and the Pacific. The Allied vicyory was variuly received. Most Fhipinos welcomed the arrival of the Americans. he image here is unidentified, it looks like either the Philippines or the Marianas. Elsewhere the local population was often less enthusiastic about the return of the European colonial powers.

There were many nationalists movemebnts at the time of World War II. The Nationlist movements in the European colonis wer not well developed. For the most part the natuonalits believed that the Europeans were invincible and the military power to control their colonies. Only in India was the nationalist movement achieving siome success agaist the Europeans by pursuing a campign of non-violent resistance. The Japanese exploited the aspirations of Asian nationlists by dangling the alure of independence while their goal was a vast colonial empire of their own in Asia enforced by a brutality that the Europeanswere not prepared to empoly. Some of the Asians bought the Japanese line, including the Burmese and Indobesians and even some Indins. The Chinese and Koreans saw the Japanese for what they were. The same occurred in the Philippines where the Filipinos were abiout to be granted independence when the Japnese sruck. In the end the Japanese propaganda effort had little impact. Most of the Japanese Army during the Pacific War was engaged in China while the Americans stadiy advabnce toward the Home Islands. The nationalists forces organized by the Japanese did not offer ay significant resisance to the Allied advance. The Ibndian Army, however, played a major role in driving the Japanese out of Burma. The natiinalists moement woud after the War play a major part in te d-colonization process.


There was no significant nationalist resistance to British rule before the Japanese invasion. A group of 30 Burmese nationalists opposed to the British founded Burma Independence Army (BIA) in exile in Japan. One was Aung San, father of the contemporary Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi who resisted the Burmese military governmernt. Some 1,000-10,000 organized to accompanied the Japanese forces which invaded British Burma from Thailand (early-1942). The relatively small and poorly supplied Japanese force suceeded as in Malaya and Singapore by seizing British supplies. The British position in Burma was to some extent undermined by the Japanese organization of Burmese nationalist forces. Primarily the British lost because they were unprepared and poorly led. Japanese air power played an imprtant role. The quick defeat of the British gave nationalists the idea that indepence was a viable goal. Burmese nationalist forces organized by Aung San sided with the victorious Japanese who used them for propaganda purposes. They Japanese set up a nominally independent Burmese government under Ba Maw. This was part of their propaganda effort to cloke their conquests as liberating Asians from European colonial rule. The BIA natuiinalists helped the Japanese organize the civilian population and set up a occupation regime. Japan granted Burma a sham independence (August 1943). The BIA did not, however, have any real authority. Burma became part of their Greater east Asia Coprosperity Sphere, esentially the organized looting of Japan's expanded empire. The Japanese for their part proved brutal and exploitive. The Japanese attempted to reform the Burma Independence Army (BIA) into an allied force as the Burma National Army (BNA) under Aung San. Both the Burmese government and BNA were strictly controlled by the Japanese occupation authorities. And Burmese resources were exploited to support the Japanese war effort. The Japanese planned an invasion of India, but were badly over extended. The Thai-Burmese Railway was built with slave labor. The famous 'Bridge on the River Kwai' shows how Western POWs were used and brutalized as slave labor. But the Japanese also used conscripted Burmese labor who they also brutalized. Japanese mismanagement caused famines, especially in the north. Burmese nationalists gradually realized that supporting the Japanese was a big mistake. Japan would not only not deliver on its promises, but was a more brutal and dangerous colonial master than the British. They were also losing the War. The Japanese invased eastern India (Assam), but were badly defeated when they could not resupply their invasion force. Most of the invasion force starved when they failed to seize British supplies. Anti-Japanese feeling grew in Burma.Aung San's BNA switched sides as the Japanese military situation deteriorated. The Burmese assisted the British 14th Army in the latter stages of the campaign to retake Burma. The first organized group was the Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League (AFPFL). After the Allied invasion of Burma, the AFPFL at formed worked with the British who reinstalled the colonial mregime. The AFPFL became the center of the Independence Movement against the British. Britain granted independence (January 1948).


A powerful nationlist movemnent developed in China after avanced western technology shifted the power balance between East ad West. Western power was demonstrated in the Opium Wars (1840s-60s). American at the same time opened Japan (1853), but did not force humiliating conditions on the Japanese. The reaction of the two countries was very different. The Japanese decided they needed to industrialize and develop the militry pwer they needed to resist Western imperialism. The Chinese response was to ignore the Westerers as much as possible ad to retain traditiional Chinese values. Notably the Shogan as overthrown in Japan, but the imperial structure was retained under the trafition minded Emperess Dowger. The Boxer Rebellion was aimed a expelling the foreigers and retaining traditional Chinese values. HJapan was one of the colonial mpowers which supressed the Boxers and after World War I, the Europeans mosly followed American Open Door initiatives. Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) unifoed China reduced the foreign concessions to Shanghai and Hong Kong. The Japanese sought to replace the Europeans. Their plan was to destroy the unified KMT Nationlist Government and convert China into a number of obedient satrapys. They began to put this plan into practice when they invaded China (1937). There were some collaboratirs, but not very many. The great mass of the Chinese peope saw the Japanese for what they were, unimginably brutal oppressors. The Japanese to carry out their plan killed millions of Chinese, mostly civilians-- perhaps 25 million people. Some estimates are even higher. Yet somehow the Japanese managed to convince other Asian nationalists that they were an anti-colonial force liberating Asia.

Indonesia (Dutch East Indies)

The Dutch bregan to colonize the East Indies during an early period of European colonial expansion (16th century). Dutch colnil policy was explotive with little effort to educate Indonesians or prepare them to share in the local administration. Dutch authorities introduced the Ethical Policy (early 20th century). The program included the promotion of farming and limited health and educational services for Indonesians. The Dutch expanded infrastructure projecrs, including the construction of railways and roads and the development of inter-island shipping. The Ethical Policy has social implications, helping to create a small number of Western-educated Indonesians and a group of Indonesian entrepreneurs. These Indonesians began to compete with the Chinese community whichb had played a dominant role in commerce. The Dutch did not, however, succeed in gaoning the loyalty of the new educated Indonesian class that they had created. Rather the educated Indonesians became resentful of the limitations of the colonial regime. The first modern nationalist movement was Sarekat Islam (SI--Islamic Union) which was founded in 1912. SI rose out of the protective association formed by successful batik merchants. SI proved enormously successful and within onlya few years had a membership of more than 2 million Indonesians throughout the archipelago (1918). Dutch authorities at first tried to wirk with SI. They set up the Volksraad (People's Council) as an advisory body (1916). The Volksraad members were selected from major groups of the population. They were allowed to deliberate and advice the Dutch colonial government. Dutch policies began to shift after World War I (1914-1918). Particularly important was an abortive Communist-led insurrection (1926-27). The Dutch began to adopt a more repressive policy toward nationalists. The nationalist movement was at first nostly headed by leaders who were either not Muslim or only nominally Muslim. One of the most prominnt mationalist leader was Sukarno who demanded complete independence. He founded the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI--Partai Nasional Indonesia) in 1927. The Dutch attempted to supress the nationlist movement. They arrested and exiled Sukarno (1929-1931, 1933-1942), Muhammad Hatta (1934-1942), and other nationalist leaders. They banned the PNI and other parties they judged to threaten the colonial regime. These actions, however, did not stop the growth of the movement. The War in Europe dramatically changed the political situation. NAZI Germany invaded the Netherlands (May 1940). Colonial authorities remained loyal to the Dutch Governmeny in Exile established in London. The occupation of the Netherlands, however, severly undercut the authority of the colonial government. Authorities began to hintvat indeprndence after the War. The Dutch West Indies with its oil resources were one of the primary objectives in the Japanese decesion to go to war. The Japanese soon after Peal Harbor and the fall of Singapore invaded and occupied the Futch East Indies. The Japanese decided to court Sukarno and the nationalists to obtain support for their administration. They offered Sukarno and the PNI the fiction of a puppet regime. They did not, however, transfer any authority because their goal was to exploit Indonesian resources to support their war effort. TheJpanese regime included conscript labor and because of the conditions, many did not survive the camps created for them. Even more horendous was the famine that resulted from Japanese exploitation and adn=ministrative policies. As the war situation deteriorated, the Japanese began organizing militias (Java, Bali, and Sumatra) (September 1943). They had not done this earlier as local militias posed a possibe threat, but the war situation changed dramatically in 1943. Allied successes in New Gunia raised threated the Japanese position. The Japanese trained thousands of men. These men would provide the core of the postwar Indonesuian independence army. Thee Allies instead of the Dutch East Indies targeted the Central Pacific and the Philippines. To prepare for an expected invasion abnd to secure local support, Japanese authorities promised the Indonesians independence (October 1944). While the represive Jaopanese policies alienated many Indonesians, Sukarno cooperated with them. And the independence propaganda convinced many Indonesians that ther country would become independent after the War. The expected Allied invasion never came. Japan surrendered to the Allies (August 15, 1945). Sukarno and Hatta declared independence and became president and vice president od a new independent Indonesia (August 17). Brutish troops did not reach Indinesia for several weeks (late September). The Indonesians by this time had set up an independent government. The new government was particularly entrenched in the main islands of Java and Sumatra. The Dutch returned and were soon in conflict with the new Indonesian Republic. The British attempted to facilitate an agreement between the Indonesians and Dutch and the Linggajati Agreement was signed. This involved the recognition of the Republic and plans for the creation of a federal Indonesia. The British then withdrew (November 1946).


India had a well-established and growing nationalist movement. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 with the moderate goal og gaining Indians a greater role in the British colonial government. After World war I, Mahatma Gandhi gained great influence as a forceful nationlist leader who presented the Colonial government with a dramatic non-violent challenge. The Muslim League founded in 1906 initially worked closely with Congress to work for self-government. The Japanese and Indian nationalists who joined them excpected the Indian people to treat them as liberators and rise up against the British. They did not. India made a major contribution to the War effort. Despite considerable political upheaval when Congress refused to support the Wsar effort, over 2 million Indians served in the Indian Army that fought with the British. Gradually as a future independent India seemed a actual possibility, Indian Muslim began to become increasingly concerned about their position as a minority in a largely Hindu India. The Muslim League proved more supportive of Britain during the War than Congress which refused to support the British war effort. They did not, however, support the Japanese or actively opposed Allied military activities. A member of Congress, Chandra Bose escaped to Germany and then reached the Japanese where he helped form the India National Army. The INA fought with the Japanese in Burma. The Muslim League adopted the position of advocating the partition of India and the formation of an independent Muslim state. Which is what eventually occured. British Ibdia was patitined to form Pakistan and India,

Indochina (Vietnam)

After the fall of France (June 1940), French Indochina (Vietnam) ccame under Vichy French authority. The Japanese invaded first northern Indochina. Vichy with only weak military forces in Indochina, essentially a colonial police force, having no real choice collaborated with the Japanese. The Japanese for their part left French authorities in nominal control. Later the Japanese moved into southern Indochina. This provided bases needed for the assaukt on the British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia--wgat the Japanese aclled tghe Souther Resource Zone (SRZ). The Americans having cracked the Japanese Diplomatic (Purple) Code were fully aware of what the Japanese were doing and began slapping sanctions on the Japanese. The move into southern Indochina resulted in an oil embargo and convinced the Japanese to go to war. The poorly equipped Viet Minh were a natiomnalist group that had begun to resist the French before the War. The Viet Minh resistance the Japanese duruing the War. The communists led by Ho Chi Minh were the strongest element in the Viet Minh. There was Very little nationalist feeling in Laos and Cambodia which were also part of French Indochina, but the Viet Minh found support among the Vietnamnese. The French even used the Vietnamese to govern Laos and Cambodia. Japanese colonial administration was a disaster. A dreadful famine occurred in the north. Historians report 1-2 million daeths, but the number is in fact not known. It was probably much larger. Unlike most of the Japanese empire, there was nationalist resistance to French rule in Indochina, especially in northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh continued low-level resitance throughout the Japanese occupation. The U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) delivered aid to the Viet Minh (1944-45).


Japan victory in the Russo-Japanese War left in preeminant in northern Asia (1905-06). It then annexed Korea (1910). It proceeded to rutlessly supress Korean nationalism. This was a factor in the growth of Christianity in Korea. Koreans established a provisional government in exile. The president in 1919 was Syngman Rhee. The Japanese throughly suppressed nationlist resistance. Their policy was to essentially Niponize the Koreans. Outwardly they seeed to be successful, but while speaking Japanese at school,few Koreans saw the Japanese as anything but brutal occupiers. The Japanese consripted Koreans for servuce as labor brigades throughout the Empire. The Japanese indutrialied northern Korea and it proved useful as an industrial rea outside the range of Americamn bombing. Rhee became the first president of independent South Korea after the United States liberated the southern half of the peninsula following World War II.


The Japanese humiliated the British forces in Malya, invading with a realtively small, poorly supplied force. They succeeded by capturing British supply dumps as they moved south down the peninsula. There was no well developed natuionalist movement. The population (Chinese, Induian, and Malay) divided into destincr communities with no common nationalist bonds. After fighting the Chinese on the mainland for years, the Japanese were especially brutal toward the Chinese they encvontered in both Mauya and Singapore. Dreadful attrocities insued.



The United States seized the Philippine Islands from Spain during the Spanish American War (1898). The United States also had to fight a bloody guerilla war with Philippine nationalists (1898�1901). The most significant nationalist movement was in the Philippines. The United States granted the Philippines commonwealth status (1935). A Philippines government was organiized and free elections held. As the United States was in the process of granting independence to the Philippines, unlike the situation in the European colonies, Filipino nationalists for the most partv sided with the Americans. The longest and strongest armed resistance to the Japanese occurred on the Philippines which already had a nationalist government functioning when the Japanese invaded (December 1941). The U.S. and Filipino forces fought the Japanese together for 6 months, but as resupply was impossible eventually had to surrender, resulting in the Bataan Death March (March 1942). Some of the men on Bataan escaped into the hills. And as Japanese brutality became increasingly evident, more Filipinos joind them. Some Filipinos as in All occupied countries, impressed with the Japanese victory collaborated with the Japanese. It is unclear to what extent they believed the Japanese or thought the Japanese had won the War and there was no alterntive to collaboration. Some of course just saw the possibility of benefitting from the situation. For most Filipinos there are only bitter memories of Japanese brutality during the occuopation. In addition to the pro-American nationalists there were also Communist grouos which opposed both the Japanese and Americans. General MacArhur convinced President Roosevelt to liberatge the Philippines for largelu political reasons although Formosa (Taiwan) made more strategic sence. The Americans invade Letye (October 1944) and Luzon (1945). The Japanese committed terrible attrocities, espcially in Manila. The United states granted full independence (1948).


The defeat in Malaya was bad enough, but the fall of Singapore was a national humiliation. The defenses of Singaporre were based on a naval attack from the sea. The substantial defenses were largely naval guns in fixed posiions pointing out to the sea. The Japanese seized Singapoere with a smaller foirce than the poorly prepared and led garison. Again the Japanese suceeded by seizing British supplies. The population was largely Chinese which after internung the Westerners, the Japanese brutalized.


Thailand or Siam at the time had been the only Southeast Asian country to prevent Europan colonization. Thailand was, however, in the British economic sphere. Britain was the major purchaser of Thai exports, mostly raw materials. There was a Chinese minority with somne econimic importance. The British and French had forced Thailand during the colonial era to give up some regions. King Mongkut and Chulalongkorn had managed to play off the British and French against each other to maintaon independence. Thailand thus proved to be a buffer between French and British colonies. The Thais also learned from British and French colonial actions in surrounduing countries. They avoided the temptaions to becone too deeply in debt to the Europeans. The absolute monarchy was replaced by a constitutional regime (1932). The growing nationalist movement aspired to make Thailand part of the world culture and economy. Thai music and literature in this environment flourished. The military rise in influence. Philbun began to show his turn of mind by adoptingb the dress of the European Fascist militarists. Many Thail natiionalists admired Japanese achievements in industrialization, economic development, and military and especially their ability to confront the European colonial powers. Japan began courting the Thais in the 1930s. Japanese diplomacy used themes that appeaed to some nationalist Thais: anti-Western, anti-British, and racist anti-European ideas. The Japanese pushed the theme that all Asians were brothers. Nationalist sentiment grew during the 1930s. Japanese diplots offered to reclaim territiories lost to the Europeans (areas of Laos, the Shan states, and northern Malaya). The Thais joined the Japanesea as a junior member of the Axis. They allowed Japanese troops to pass through from Indichina to attack the British in Burma. Thailand became a part of the Japanese Co-Prosperitty Sphere. Eventually resistance developed. The anti-Japanese Seri Thai (Free Thai) or Seri Thai) had several branches. Some units operating from overseas while others worked underground in Thailand to resist Japanese occupation. The Underground (Seri Thai) seized cintrol of the government (August 1944). By this time Japan was clearly losing the War. Pridi�s group with Khuang Aphaiwong as prime minister took over. Seri Thai (with Amnerican assistance) received Japanese surrender (August 1945). America and Britain differed on how they interpreted Thailand's behavior during the War and how Thailand should be trearted after the War.


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Created: 6:16 AM 7/9/2014
Last updated: 5:25 AM 10/14/2020