There was one striking difference between the Asian and European War. The Germans wanted to turn indepedent countries into colonies, especially in the East. And in in the East, they not only planned to seize the land and resources, but to murder a substabtial part of the population as formulated by Generalplam Ost, making way for German settlers. With the exception of China, the countries which Japan invaded and conquered in Asia and the Pacific were not indepedent countries, but rather European colonies and the American semi-colony of the Philippines which was about to granted independence. The Japanese saw Southeast Asia as the Southern Resource Zone, although they did not have the same genocidal objectives as the the Germans in the East. The fact that the Japanese invaded colonies meant tghat thy were not viewed in the same way as the Germans in Europe nor were the victorious Allied armies viewed as liberators except in the Philippines and Guam. The Japanese sought to capitalize on this sentiment with propaganda formulations like the Greater East Asia Co-prospeity sphere. Here the situation varied from country to country. One major consequence of this situation was that unlike in Europe, there were no major resistance movements to opose the Japanese in the occupied countries, with the exception of the Phiilippines and Vietnam. The Japanese soon alienated most of the occupied people both thriugh brutal tratment amd mismanagemnent which set in motion terrible famines. And in India, a colony which the Japanese did not succeed in conquering, the British were able to hold on with some difficulty because of the Congress Party's refusal to support the war effort, although India was a major support to the British war effort. The Japanese destroyed the aura of European invincibility. This set in motion a struugle for independence after the War.
European ciuntries (Briatain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States) colonized Soitheast Asia and Oceania during the 19th centuty. Only Thailand managed to remain independent, in part by playing the British in Birma off against the Freench in Indochina. With the rise of the NAZIs in Europe, the Western democracies began to focus increasingly on Europe and German rearmament (1930s). America decided to grant independenve to the Philippines (1935), None of the European countries considered for their colonie, although the British in India had moved toward home rule. for their colonies. Concern with the NAZIs caused the colonial powers to shift their focus to Europe as well as military preparations. Few resources were available for Asia. This gave Asian nationalists the opportunity to gather strength. The Europeans did not fully appreciate Japan's rissing military power. And the Asians did not understand that Japan ws simply another colonial power and one oprepared to use force and exploit colonial subjects much more brutally than the Europeans beypind even he hont of the rule of law.
The Japanese were phenomenally successful when after long study they struck. After impbilizing the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, they seized the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) largely undamaged within only a few months and with minimal losses (December 1941-May 1942). The Japanese were able to sweep through the Southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia. Guam was quickly taken. Resistance at Wake sland suprised the Japanese, but after the initial assault was repulsed, a second assault took the island. MacArthur's defense of the Philippines was compromised when most of his planes were destroyed on the fround at Clarke Field. General MacArthur commanded the most important American military force west of Pearl. His handlong of the defense of the Philippines wasdisapponting at best, bordering on incompetence. He failed to strike back at the Japanese in the hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing Jpanese bases in Formosa. He also allowed much of the available aircraft to be destroyed on the ground. [Schom] The horror of the Batan Death March created an impage of the Japanese military in the American mind that fueled a hatred for the Japanese. [Schom] Hong Kong quickly fell. The Japanese also seized the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). Allied naval forces fought a series of engagements to stop the Japanese, but could not match the powerful Japanese naval forces. Animitz and Halsey tried to distract the Japanese with hit an run carrier raids. The Japanese moved south from IndoChina, seizing Malayia and then the bastion at Singapore. The Repulse and Prince of Wales are lost in the defense of Singapore. Then they moved west through Thailand and defeating the British in Burma. Within a few months the Japanese had carved out the huge empire with enormous resources that they had long coveted. The Japnese then targeted New Guinea in preparation for a move south to Australia. All that remained to stop them were four American carriers.
There was one striking difference between the Asian and European War. The Germans wanted to turn indepedent countries into colonies, especially in the East. And in in the East, they not only planned to seize the land and resources, but to murder a substabtial part of the population as formulated by Generalplan Ost, making way for German settlers.
With the exception of China, the countries which Japan invaded and conquered in Asia and the Pacific were not indepedent countries, but rather European colonies. Asia at the time of World War II was largely colonized or strongly influenced by European countries (Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal). Nationalist movements within the European empires were, except for India, weak and poorly organized. There were no European plans to grant independence. Only in the Phillipines was the United States moving toward independence. Britain was moving Ceylon and India toward domestic self rule, but not indepencence. The Japanese in only a few stunning months after Pearl Harbor carved out a huge empire in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. And it looked for a time that it might not only be a permanent situation, but perhaps be expanded to include Australia and India.
The United States had established the Philippines as a Commonwealth and was preparing to grant independence when the Japanese invaded. The Philippines was not a priority Japanese target, but located between the Home Islands and the SRZ, it could niot be left in American hands. A Filipino Government dealing with domestic issues was already functioning. Presidential elections were held (1935). The candidates included former president Emilio Aguinaldo who as a young man led the insurection against American rule (1898). Another candidate was the Iglesia Filipina Independiente leader Gregorio Aglipay. Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osme�a of the Nacionalista Party won the election. The Commonwealth Government was inaugurated (1935). Some 300,000 attended the ceremonies in Manila. The Commonwealth government launched many imitioatives, as they oprepared for economic and political independence. Initiatives included national defense (Generral MacArthue was hired ti assis un the Defense effort) including conscription, expanded control over the economy, development of democratic institutions, education reforms, transport infrastructure, local capital promotion, industrial development, and colonization of Mindanao. Full independencve wa schuledued for 1946. Nothing like this was happening anywhere else in the European colonies of Southeast Asia or Oceania
The Japanese saw Southeast Asia as the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ), much like the Germans saw the East, although they did not have the same genocidal objectives as the the Germans in the East. The Japanese leadership saw the ourbreak of war in Europe (Septmber 1939) as offering an opportunity for resolving the war in China. The Strike South Faction saw as the Germans achieved sp[ectacular victorie the opportunity to seize Southeast Asian from the European colonial powers. This included British (Malaya, Borneo, and Burma), French (Indo-China), and Dutch (Dutch East Indies) colonies in Southeast Asia. The Japanese called Southeast Asia as the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). The American-controlled Philippines was not an essential part of the SRZ. Its geograohic posituiin astride the sea lanes betwee the SRZ and the Home Islands meant that it could not be allowed to remain in American hands. Australia was eventually added to the Japanese concept of the SRZ as well as Pacific islands neded to build a hard defensive shell around the SRZ, a shell that would prove too hard for the United States to crack. Seizure of the the SRZ would not only cut off Nationlist China from Western aid, but also provide the Japanese military the resources it needed to complete the conquest of China. Japan would no longer be dependent on American resources. The SRZ offered large petroleum resouces, but the enticement was not just petroleum. The SRZ also offered various critical mineral resources: rubber, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum) and minerals. And not only minerals were involved. The SRZ was a major source of food. Rice was the most important, but not the only food resoure. Southeast Asian produced nearly 70 percent pf the rice involved in international trade. [Kratoska, p.9.]
The fact that the Japanese invaded colonies meant that thy were not viewed in the same way as the Germans in Europe nor were the victorious Allied armies viewed as liberators except in the Philippines and Guam. The Japanese sought to capitalize on this sentiment with propaganda formulations like the Greater East Asia Co-prospeity Sphere. Here the effectiveness of Japanese propaganda varied from country to country. The NAZIs were not overly concerned with war propaganda exceopt in convincing the German people that Hitler di not want war. This changed somwhat after Hitler launched Barbarossa. Popaganda Minister Goebbels launched a camapin to couch Barbarssa as a European chrusade against Jewish Bolshevism. It had little impact on the occupied Europeans experiecing the NAZI jackboot. Some right-wing collaborators did support the effort. The Japanese had a very different propaganda line. The Japanese military government did not have the problem with public resistance to war. The Japanese military was after the Emperor the most respected institutiion in the country. And the country had been at war in China since 1937. The Japanese popaganda line developed for the War was that Japan was liberating Asia from the Americans and Europeans (British, Dutch, and French). We are not sure how the Jopanese justified the War to the Japanese people. We do not know if the need for raw materials was used in domestic propagabda. Liberating Asia from the Europeans anad "Asia for Asians probably was. It would seem difficult to believe that any one could take such nonsence as Japan liberating Asia with a straight face. Japan was an imperil power, colomizing Formosa, Taiwan, Manchuria, and now China proper. Unlike the Europeans, the Japanese were forcing their culture upon conquered people. In addition the brutality of Japanese occupation matched if not exceed NAZI ad Soviet occupation policies. Even so, some Asian nationalists did take them seriously and cooperated with the Japnese occupation forces.
The Japanese unlike the Germans made some pretence of supporting nationalist groups and offering independence.
The Japanese soon alienated most of the occupied people both through brutal tratment amd mismanagemnent which set in motion terrible famines. The Japanest conquests lasted only 2-3 years.
Nationalist sentiment began to grow in Southeast Asian, especially during the 1930s, although this varied substantially from colony to colony. European colonial regimes made few concessions to this rising tide of nationalism. Some Asian natioanlist groups fixated on European colonialism admired the Japanese as the only modern industrial satte in Asia. Few saw the different character of Japanese militarism or even recognized Japan as an imprrial poweer. This was despite the clear evidence of Japanese imperialism and brutality in China. Instead Japan was admired as an Asian power capable of easily expelling the Europeans. Some even welcomed the Japanese.
Some were shocked to find that promises of independence were mot forthcoming. One author writes, "The most significant development of the World War II period in Southeast Asia was that Southeast Asia nationalists seized the opportunity for leadership and nationalist independenc movements flourished." While the Japanese East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere lasted only a few years, the impact for Asia was nothing short of momentous. The Japanese conquests has a stunning impct on Asian nationalism.Thus the Japanese conquests were seen in Asia in a very different light than the NAZI conquests in Europe. It also explains why resistance movements (except in Indochina and the Philippines) were weak and of little impact on the War. And the Japanese were able to orgnize local military formations (Burma, India, and Indonesia) to fight the Allies.
One major consequence of this situation was that unlike in Europe, there were no major resistance movements of any consequence opose the Japanese in the occupied countries, with the exception of the Phiilippines and Vietnam. This only began to change as the Japanese became increasinhly oppresive and the Allied military effort began to drive back the Japanese, both in the Paciic and in Burma. Nationalist leaders who had once openly sides with the Japanese (Burma and the Dutch East Indies) began to reconsider their positions.
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.
The Japanese destroyed the aura of European invincibility. This set in motion a struugle for independence after the War. The outcome was a notable impetus to nationalist movements throughout Asia. The realtively easy Japanese defeat of the colonial powers undoubtedly inspired local nationalists. The Japabnese establish compliant puppet states which however powerless and subservient created a precendent for independence. And within a few years after the War, the European colonial powers had granted independence to their former colonies.
Kratoska, Paul H. "The impact of the Second World War II," in Kratoska, ed. Food Supplies and the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia (Macmillan: London, 1998).
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