Invading Southeast Asia, The Japanese Had Help

pows-considered-fit-for-work-by-their-japanese-captorsJapanese POWs

Capitalism tends to create enemies of those not born into its frameworks. It creates nationalists who look at their own country in a new light. The idyllic lifestyle enjoyed by Malaysian rice farmers was sorely missed when British and French and Dutch entrepreneurs bought large farms and began hiring locals and working them to death exporting goods raw materials across the ocean. There was competition to see who could exploit third world countries rich in resources, like silk and oil and timber. By the beginning of World War II there were European trading companies treating Indonesians and Indians like they were slaves, paying them tiny wages, working people with few perks and little rest. By failing to understand the depth of the disaffection for Western companies, the Japanese made an unusually large tactical error, and I believe it cost them the war.



The Japanese enacted two blistering defeats on the Allies after Pearl Harbor. One was pushing retreating British and Indian troops across the Burma trail, and the other was the Filipinos campaign that drove General Douglas MacArthur packing out of Bataan. The battle of the Philippines cost the US 30,00 casualties, the Filipinos fighting on the US side lost 110,000. One reason why the Japanese seemed impervious to Allied troops was because they had help. Remember Burma was created by a trading company and conquered with an army. They did not ask for capitalism or trade. Once the British East India Company offices were closed by the Japanese, thousands volunteered to fight against the imperialists.


So the Japanese were looked at as liberators in the early portion of the expansion phase that started on December 7th, 1941. On March 8th, 1942, 35,000 Japanese troops invaded Rangoon with thousands of local helping them march in. British traders were prosecuted or worse. Their ships were stolen, their factories taken and their workers reassigned. The exploitative companies that ran amuck without oversight were now under fire.


The drive to take over western business interests was not a philosophical one. It was a military decision. The Japanese were also traders and capitalists and were not there to liberate anyone. They were there to purloin as much money and power as they could for the good of the emperor. The love affair with the new conquerors did not last lost, On October 25th, 1943, some 250,000 slaves and 50,000 Allied prisoners had died building a train line connecting Rangoon, Burma, Thailand and Bangkok. A regime that treats prisoners so miserably showed little compassion for even the locals who helped them drive out the British. Before long, a guerilla movement began in earnest against the invaders.


Strategically, the Japanese were also not as strong as they imagined. The first naval battle with the US after Pearl Harbor was March 7th, 1942. The Battle of the Coral Sea ended with the Japanese aircraft carrier the Shoho slipping beneath the waves and the Shokaku listing to port and trailing smoke. The US lost the USS Lexington. Not long after that, Admiral Nimura felt they needed to take Midway island and build an air force there bigger enough to prevent US warships from approaching Japan. Four Japanese carriers, the Shokaku, the Zoikaku, the Hiryu and the Soryu were sunk at Midway.


So not six months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had been bested at sea. That alone halted any attempts to invade the Australian mainland. That would have been a bad idea.


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