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Mountbatten’s Samurai: Imperial Japanese Army, Navy Forces under British control in Southeast Asia, 1945-1948.

11 Comments

Stephen B Connor's book is a perceptive and shrewd analysis of the secret diplomatic stand-off between London and Washington over Britain’s post-war detention and use of tens of thousands of Japanese prisoners in combat and as forced labor.

"The Japanese may be so deployed and…drastic action including shooting should be taken against any who refuse." Adm Louis Mountbatten (to War Office), Kandy, 24 August 1945.

"The men concerned are surely Japanese prisoners-of-war and if the War Office, in order to evade compliance with the Geneva Convention, have decided to call them something else, this should not…avoid responsibility for decent treatment." Foreign Office, London, 18 March 1946.

"[A] stain which would blemish the honour of the United Kingdom…" Gen Douglas MacArthur, Tokyo, March 1947.

Only six weeks after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, British and Japanese troops were fighting side-by-side against nationalist revolutionaries in Indonesia and Vietnam. In Java, Dutch civilians cheered as their former jailors rescued them from what had seemed certain death at the hands of armed mobs. In late November 1945, a Japanese Army major was recommended for a British Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for assistance rendered to Southeast Asia Command after his troops helped restore order in Indonesia. These are just two examples of the astonishing levels co-operation between former foes described in "Mountbatten’s Samurai."

From August 1945 to late 1947, Britain made a number of questionable demands upon surrendered Japanese in Southeast Asia. All were in breach of the Potsdam Declaration or the 1929 Convention Relative to Prisoners of War. Security operations were one aspect of the story. The other was the deliberate retention and use of unpaid Japanese labour for major construction = projects, infrastructure repair, dockyard work and transport services at a time when civilian unemployment in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong was at record levels. Britain’s actions met with criticism from the United States Government, General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo, the International Committee for the Red Cross and even the Vatican. Desperate to sooth relations with Washington and to avoid public criticism in the United Nations and the Far Eastern Commission, Britain twisted and turned on the diplomatic stage to keep discussion of its policy out of the international spotlight.

Sources: Based on research in archives in London, Amsterdam, the United States and Tokyo, as well as memoirs and personal interviews with British and Japanese veterans who served in Indonesia and Vietnam. "Mountbatten’s Samurai: Imperial Japanese Forces under British Control in Southeast Asia, 1945-1948" reveals a post-war Britain struggling to match Great Power status and obligation with a Great Power budget, presence and commitment in Southeast Asia.

Photographs and maps: 38 photographs (many previously unpublished) and 3 maps.

The Author: Dr Stephen B Connor obtained his PhD at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, England, in 2011. His research interests include the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies and British foreign policy in Southeast Asia in the immediate post-war period. His work has also appeared in the Mainichi Daily News (Tokyo) and the Journal of Contemporary History.

Price: UK£27/US$40 (hardcover) ISBN: 978-0-9576305-5-0

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11 Comments
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Is this for real? This information is grimly strange and fascinating.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Cool, never heard of this.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

More evidence, as if any was needed, of the ugliness of colonialism.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Wow, that is hectic

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Interesting. "Truth is stranger than fiction."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It was a pragmatic choice. I can see it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In the middle of reading a small book in Japanese about a former army soldier who spent some terrible years in a British surrendered personnel camp after the war. All they wanted to do was get on a boat back to Japan, but this was used as a leveraging threat aginst them. (Pretty grisly stuff, but maybe not nearly as bad as those prisoners kept by the Russians.)

English translation available, it seems.

Aida, Yuji (1966). Prisoner of the British : a Japanese soldier's experiences in Burma. translated from the Japanese by Hidè Ishiguro and Louis Allen. Cresset Press.

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%93%E3%83%AB%E3%83%9E%E3%81%A7%E3%81%AE%E9%99%8D%E4%BC%8F%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E8%BB%8D%E4%BA%BA%E3%81%AE%E6%8A%91%E7%95%99

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Interesting -- more than 70's year after the war and we are still making new, and important, discoveries. This book should prove to be a fascinating read.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Interesting is that last days of the War have been done to death. However the peace is a highly neglected field.

In the South East Asian theater there are various newsreels available: this is not the best example, but you can get the picture, from British Pathe, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGeN-kengdk

For instance also, some similar findings occasionally come to light about the use of German and other belligerents' personnel in the European theater up to 47 or so.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are is at least one fictional treatment of this topic: Japanese-British co-operation/friction during the Indonesian revolution is central to the plot of Rory Marron's novels 'Black Sun, Red Moon' and 'Merdeka Rising.'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I found out the Vietnam part of this story a few years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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