Monday, 26 October 2015

Was it the wrong war?

A story from the Alaska Dispatch News caught my eye recently.  It covered the relics - including a midget submarine - of the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands in the Second World War.  It's left me wondering how we can best make sense of this part of the Asia-Pacific past.

Image from here

The popular conception of the Pacific War is of a war of free peoples against a fearsome totalitarian overlord.  Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen declare that -
In its relentless march of conquest, Japan had grabbed more territory and subjugated more people than any other empire in history and, for the most part, had accomplished all this in a matter of months … (1)
The Australian calendar includes a day to commemorate the (largely spurious) Battle for Australia Day.

Flag of Azad Hind.svg
Image from here

At one level it's enough to point out that, regardless of what people believed at the time, neither Australia nor the United States faced a meaningful existential threat during the Pacific War.  More challengingly, the sympathies of a large part of the population of East Asia actually seem to have lain with Japan.  Siam/Thailand formally allied itself with the Japanese Empire.  Some 43,000 men were prepared to serve in the pro-Japanese Indian National Army.  And Japanese soldiers were frequently welcomed (at least initially) by civilians in East Asia as liberators from Dutch and French imperial masters (2).

Is it possible that behind every patriotic invocation of Kokoda, and every rescreening of The Pacific, there is a refusal to confront the possibility that this may have been in part the wrong war to fight, in order to preserve the wrong empires?

Disclosure: In preparing this I have recycled some material from another blogpost titled "History in a Corner".


(1) Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States (?pl, 2007), ch. 17.
(2) Sebastian Conrad and Prasenjit Duara, Viewing Regionalisms from East Asia (Washington DC, 2013) at p.23; Ethan Mark, ‘The Perils of Co-Prosperity: Takeda Rintaro, Occupied Southeast Asia, and the Seductions of Postcolonial Empire’ (2014) 119 American Historical Review 1184.

No comments:

Post a Comment