The purpose of this article is to re – visit the subject and re- examine it from the point of view of the de-colonized and pose the unthinkable and once unimaginable question, Are we in Asia and particularly South – East Asia indebted to the Japanese for their blood sacrifices which undoubtedly contributed to the winning of our freedom from colonial rule?
Japan is the first Asian country to modernize and then take on one of the Great Western powers, the Russian Empire and defeat the Russian Navy in an epic naval battle at Port Arthur in 1905. This raised a great deal of hope in many Asian countries that were suffering under the Western jackboot. Who else in Asia at that point in time were capable of taking on the mighty West except for Japan? Despite Japan’s ultimate defeat it’s victories over Western colonial occupation armies in the early period of WW 2, triggered the independence of many Asian countries. Japan changed the colors of both East Asia and South East Asia on the world map.
Was Japan like its Western adversaries yet another colonial power seeking to expand its empire by war?
Yes and No. In fact, according to observers Japan had never actually been an "empire" before its colonization of Korea with the tacit approval and support of America. Japan had learned lessons from its "Western adversaries" and developed its technology on western lines after the so-called Meiji Restoration had established a theocratic oligarchy based on the model of a British peerage with a hastily adopted "Constitution" predicated on the German model, which had an autocratic ruler i.e. the Kaiser that could amend the law by a simple edict.
The only time that Japan set out to conquer and colonise foreign lands in the medieval period was under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century when he set out to conquer Korea. His naval armada was unsuccessful largely as a result of the valiant defence mounted by a Korean naval commander called Yi Sun-sin, who is a legend in Korea because of his victories against the Japanese Navy. After Hideyoshi’s death, the succeeding Tokugawa government not only prohibited any further military expeditions to the Asian mainland, but closed Japan to nearly all foreigners during the next 300 years.
It is time for people in Asia to review and re-write our history books. Start looking at issues not necessarily from the point of view of victors but also from the point of view of the defeated. Japan suffered defeat. But should Japan due to that alone continue to live in disgrace burdened with a heavy dose of ‘war guilt’ while others from the Occident who had benefited from colonial conquest, oppression and occupation of poor countries all over the world for centuries tend to walk with their head held high without accountability without remorse and without payment of reparations. There is an inversion of morality when such people loudly preach ‘tongue in cheek’ to the rest of the world on human rights, democracy, equality, rule of law and what not, without a qualm of conscience.
Who won freedom for Sri Lanka?
We obtained Independence in February 1948 because India and Pakistan received their independence in August 1947 and Burma in January 1948. It worked cumulatively almost in the form of a package deal.
When we talk of Asian independence movements it would be a remiss to ignore Japan’s significant military contribution towards weakening the might and resources of the British Empire during the 2nd World War.
Japan was the first Asian country to militarily defeat Russian and Anglo – American imperial armies and navies in epic battles in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions that captured the spirit and imagination of the people of Asia long suppressed by western colonial powers and yearning for liberation, under the banner ‘Asia for Asians’.
Though Japan eventually lost the war its military effort was not in vain. It substantially weakened and demoralised the western countries then in occupation of large tracts of Asia, such as Britain, France, Netherlands, Portugal and USA that they were forced to quit Asia in next to no time.
It is political correctness and revelations of Japan’s conduct in war related atrocities during the Second World War that prevent Japan from being given due credit for its unique contribution towards hastening the liberation of Asia from western colonial rule.
Though we in Sri Lanka live under a self – styled grand delusion that independence for Sri Lanka was won from Britain exclusively by the efforts of our own leaders through exchange of letters over cups of tea, it is factually incorrect and a big myth. We were simply lucky. Our local effort was relatively minimal. History shows that it is the intervention of an external power that had always helped us to get rid of a foreign occupier from the soil of Sri Lanka.
For example, the Portuguese were expelled from Sri Lanka (then called ‘Sinhale’) in 1658 when the Kandyan King Rajasinghe II combined forces with the Dutch (an external power) to militarily defeat the Portuguese based on a treaty between the Kingdom of Kandy and the Dutch Republic. It was signed by King Rajasinghe II for the Kingdom of Kandy and Adam Westerwold and William Jacobsz Coster, a commander and vice commander of the Dutch Naval Forces respectively, for the Dutch East India Company. The treaty was signed on 23 May, 1638 in Batticaloa. The treaty secured the terms under which the two nations would cooperate in defending the Kandyan Kingdom from the Portuguese. However this Treaty was very favourable to the Dutch. Then at the insistence of King Rajasinghe II who in 1647, requested for few modifications to a few articles of this agreement, the Dutch envoy Maetsuijker ‘negotiated the matter with great skill and patience and in the mid of 1649 the treaty of 1638, was in certain aspects altered and re-empowered’. (Valentijn vol. v, pt. 1 c Ceylon, page 121 vv, Berigten van Historisch Genootschap VII, 2, pp. 377 vv.).
The Dutch in turn were expelled when the Kings of Kandy appealed to the British (an external power ) who took over the coastal areas of Lanka from the Dutch in 1796. The intervention of an external power (in this case the British) was pivotal to get rid of the Dutch from Sri Lanka.
The people of Sri Lanka had to wait for nearly another 150 years when another external power i.e. Japan, intervened to defeat allied armies (and navies) all over Asia including Sri Lanka which was bombed by the Japanese in April 1942. As much as the Japanese Armies were welcomed in Burma, Indonesia, Malaya, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, and wherever they went, it is likely that had the Japanese Imperial Army stepped foot on Lankan soil in 1942 the majority of the people particularly the Sinhala Buddhists would have welcomed the Japanese. The people of Sri Lanka particularly the Sinhalese have always resisted colonial occupation of the country. Further both the Japanese and the Sinhalese have a strong bond by sharing a common faith i.e.Buddhism, and the Japanese have always had a high regard for the Buddha whom they refer to as Sakyamuni.
J.R. Jayawardene in defence of a free Japan at the San Francisco conference (1951)
The words of Ceylon´s delegate Finance Minister J.R. Jayawardene in defence of a free Japan at the San Francisco conference on September 06, 1951 is worthy of reproduction here. He said:
“ We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South-East Asia Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producer of natural rubber for the Allies, entitles us to ask that the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that “hatred ceases not by hatred but by love”. It is the message of the Buddha, the Great Teacher, the Founder of Buddhism which spread a wave of humanism through South Asia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Siam, Indonesia and Ceylon and also northwards through the Himalayas into Tibet, China and finally Japan, which bound us together for hundreds of years with a common culture and heritage. This common culture still exists, as I found on my visit to Japan last week on my way to attend this Conference; and from the leaders of Japan, Ministers of state as well as private citizens and from their priests in the temples, I gathered the impression that the common people of Japan are still influenced by’ the shadow of that Great Teacher of peace, and wish to follow it. We must give them that opportunity.”
After 1848 we never fought against the British Imperial armies through force of arms. There were neither civil disobedience movements in Sri Lanka like in India. In India the last great armed uprising by Indian soldiers was in 1857. The so – called Indian Mutiny was crushed but the Indian people with leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel (a Gujerati) never gave up hope of liberation. They organized country wide civil disobedience movements under the banner of ‘Satyagraha ’. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took the radical step of joining hands with the axis powers i.e. Germany and Japan and raising an Indian National Army to liberate his country. Other fellow Asians in Japan, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Malaya and Singapore fought and shed their blood fighting for Asia’s liberation from the yoke of Western imperialism. We benefited from their bloody sacrifices though we have yet to concede this fact. The British Empire would have clung to its colonial possessions in Asia for a much longer time, if Japan did not make aggressive war against the West in Asia with the support of the colonized people of Asia, and drive fear into the colonial west of the dangers of continuing with european colonial rule East of the Suez Canal. This was the only language that the imperial west understood and grudgingly respected.
Who won freedom for India?
Indian-born American writer, author and blogger, Dr. Susmit Kumar PhD, has claimed that Hitler, not Gandhi, should be given credit for the independence of India in 1947.
“ There is a saying that history is written by the victors of war. One of the greatest myths, first propagated by the Indian Congress Party in 1947 upon receiving the transfer of power from the British, and then by court historians, is that India received its independence as a result of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement. This is one of the supreme inaccuracies of Indian history because had there been no Hitler and no World War II, Gandhi’s movement would have slowly fizzled out because gaining full independence would have taken several more decades. By that time, Gandhi would have long been dead, and he would have gone down in history as simply one of several great Indian freedom fighters of the times, such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Motilal Nehru, Dada Bhai Naoroji, and C.R. Das. He would never have received the vast publicity that he did for his nonviolence movement. Political independence for India was achieved not by Mahatma Gandhi, but rather by Hitler rendering the British Empire a bankrupt entity.”
The reasons behind Indian independence are nicely summarized by the esteemed Indian historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar:
“ There is, however, no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience Movement directly led to independence. The campaigns of Gandhi … came to an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence … During the First World War the Indian revolutionaries sought to take advantage of German help in the shape of war materials to free the country by armed revolt. But the attempt did not succeed. During the Second World War Subhas Bose followed the same method and created the INA. In spite of brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaigns of Subhas Bose failed … The Battles for India’s freedom were also being fought against Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys [low-ranking Indian soldiers under British command] for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India.”
British Prime Minister Atlee says Gandhi’s effort was ‘minimal’
It was British Prime Minister Clement Atlee who, when granting independence to India, said that Gandhi’s non-violence movement had next to zero effect on the British. In corroboration, Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of the Kolkata High Court, who had earlier served as acting governor of West Bengal, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Ramesh Chandra Majumdar’s book A History of Bengal:
“ You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it … In the preface of the book Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Subhash Chandra Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee's lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “m-i-n-i-m-a-l!”
In a remarkable documentary now available on YouTube under the title
‘Truth of World War II - What did Japan fight for?’
Japan’s sacrifices for Asia
The following excerpts are found:
" You don't understand how Malaysians and Singaporians and other nations of S E Asia felt and thought when Japanese military attacked and occupied Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Indonesia etc. in the earlier part of the "Pacific War" They were all inspired by the victories of the Japanese military which motivated their aspirations for independence, freedom from the yoke of colonial powers of the West."
" Britain was colonizing, enslaving Asian people before WW2. They ruled the Indian people for 180 years. It was Japan that got rid of the British from most of Asia and later all those countries gained independence"
" Japan lost WW2 but as the consequence of Japan’s entry to war all S E Asian countries and India achieved their long hoped for independence from the Western colonial powers within 15 years after the end of the War. As the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee and Lord Mountbatten, uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, said:
“Japan put an end to West's colonialism in Asia once and for all”
“ That's why all S E Asian nations have sent their Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers and other high ranking officials to visit Yasukuni Shrine to pay respect for the war dead. Not only that; American sailors, Italian soldiers, Argentine sailors, German military officials, French military, Spanish, Israelian, Chilean military, the former Indian National Army Colonel Sharzada Brandin Khan, Pakistani general Mohamed Musa and so many other military officials from other countries have paid their respects at Yasukuni every time they visited Japan. They know the meaning of WW2 or the "Greater East Asian War" (as Japanese used to call it) and have showed their respect to the war dead."
“ In Japan except for special occasions, showing the national flag is considered to be an abnormal nationalist or right wing conduct. After WW2 Japanese people have been brain washed to be hesitant, passive and only learn exaggerated/fabricated stories showing the negative side of the war. This masochistic view of the war inculcated by the foreign victors, who were afraid of Japanese people's potential, has successfully removed the sense of patriotism and pride from the hearts of the Japanese people. However today more and more Japanese people are beginning to wake up and realize the true factual position. We will become a strong nation again. Please support Japan and Japanese people! We are always very happy to welcome you”
Need for War Memorials in Sri Lanka to remember our heroes
Japan honors its war dead and their patriots who have sacrificed their lives over the years for the defence of Japan at the Yasukuni Shrine. A section of the Yasukuni Shrine Museum in Tokyo is also devoted to Asian independence. It highlights the role of the Indian National Army and the Indonesian and Vietnamese anti-colonial struggles.
If we in Sri Lanka wish to honour our heroes who fought and sacrificed their life and limb for our liberation from foreign armies, then we must re-visit the battles of Danture ( 1593), Randeniwala (1630), Gannoruwa (1638), Matara (1765), Uva – Wellasa (1818), Matale (1848) among others. Like in other countries our school children must be given a sense of national pride through proper identification of our authentic national heroes.
A Nation that fails to pay tribute to its war heroes and martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for the liberation of one’s country from foreign conquerors is an ungrateful nation. The absence of appropriate war memorials, plaques, statues in remembrance of our heroes and historic battle grounds that kept the light of freedom burning until 1815 in the Kandyan Kingdom is adequate testimony to this monumental lapse.
The more we forget history the more we allow history to repeat itself to our detriment. We must keep our memory alive. It is time to recover our national pride.
Call for Reparations
In May, 2015 the Oxford Union held a debate on the motion "This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies". Speakers included former Conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway, Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor and British historian John Mackenzie. There were no representatives from Sri Lanka but Tharoor spoke for all former colonies with a special focus on India.
Tharoor, said that “Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India” “We paid for our own oppression,” he said “It’s a bit rich to impress, maim, kill, torture and repress and then celebrate democracy at the end of it” Tharoor also called on Britain to apologise for colonial rule. To many Indians, British colonialism is nothing but a history of loot, massacres, bloodshed, and the banishing of the last Mughal emperor on a bullock cart to Burma. Sri Lanka too was a victim of western colonialism.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has endorsed the call for Britain to pay reparations for colonial rule. Centuries of injustice cannot be compensated for with any specific amount. What's important than the quantum of reparations that colonial countries should pay, is the principle of atonement.
Western countries can no longer hide behind the veil of human rights, democracy, rule of law and other hackneyed propaganda when its sordid past now lies exposed on center stage. Very soon the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America among others will join India in calling for an apology and adequate compensation from the West.
In 1953 the West German government agreed to pay reparations to Israel for damages suffered by the Jews under the Hitler regime. Japan had to pay reparations after World War II. The United States administered removal of capital goods from Japan, and the USSR seized Japanese assets in the former puppet state of Manchukuo. Japan also agreed to settle the reparations claims of Asian nations by individual treaties with those countries. These treaties were subsequently negotiated.
At a United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa from 31 August - 7 September 2001 representatives from third world countries, primarily African, told the Conference that the problems facing their nations, among them, widespread poverty and underdevelopment, stemmed in part from slavery and colonialism. The wrongs, they further said, could only be corrected by clear acceptance of the past by the oppressing countries, and by developing schemes for compensation. A number of the speakers urged the Conference to recognize that colonialism and slavery were crimes against humanity.
The world will no longer tolerate double standards. Instead of preaching to others incessantly the West must now make a concerted effort to come to terms with its disreputable past and engage in a process of catharsis in the public domain.