BECK index

Southeast Asia 1941-1945

by Sanderson Beck

Vietnam during World War II
Vietnam's August 1945 Revolution
Indonesia Occupied and Liberated 1942-45
Philippines, Japan, and MacArthur 1941-45

Vietnam during World War II

Vietnam and the French 1800-1941

The Kempetai and Hoa Hao followers abducted Huynh Phus So from French custody on October 12, 1942 and guarded him in Saigon. Hoa Hao leaders organized armed campaigns against rich landowners and the French. Matusita also had the Kempetai protect the Cao Dai leader Tran Quang Vinh, and Cao Dai was re-established in Tay Ninh.

Allied bombing prevented the Japanese from shipping goods to Indochina. As it increased, even exporting from Indochina became more difficult. Japan owed Indochina much but insisted on being paid in piasters for occupation expenses, which increased from 6 million piasters in 1940 to 117 million in 1943. Japanese spread their propaganda, and in July 1943 General Iwane Matsui told journalists in Saigon that they had ended French sovereignty. Indochina showed that it could develop industry by producing 13,000 rubber tires in 1944 after putting out only 360 the previous year. With shipping and railroads destroyed, the Japanese ran out of gasoline and began distilling alcohol from rice. Jute, cotton, and ramie were used for the Japanese army while millions of peasants wore rags.

In August 1941 Ho Chih Minh went back to assess the situation in China, but the Chinese imprisoned him for a year before allowing him to contact Cao Bang. The Chinese organized a conference at Liuzhou in October 1942 to unite the exiled Vietnamese in the Vietnam Revolutionary League (Dong Minh Hoi). They put nationalist Nguyen Hai Than in charge and provided 100,000 Chinese dollars per month; but by the end of the year they realized they needed the Viet Minh and made Ho the head of the League to mobilize the Vietnamese. About this time Nguyen Ai Quoc changed his name to Ho Chih Minh. Vo Nguyen Giap had escaped to China, where he studied guerrilla tactics. He learned that his sister-in-law was guillotined, and his wife died in prison in 1943. Giap was also in charge of propaganda, and by the end of 1943 the Viet Minh controlled more of Thai Nguyen and Bac Kan in northern Tonkin than the French. Gradually they organized armed units of self-defense and guerrillas. Ho revived the Viet Minh and was released in 1944, returning to ICP headquarters in September. On November 11, 1944 the American reconnaissance pilot Lt. Rudolph Shaw had to parachute into northern Tonkin. Ho Chih Minh spoke English and personally escorted him to south China, where he met with General Claire Chennault and began cooperation with the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

In February 1944 the ICP had called for cooperation between the Free French, the Chinese, and Indochinese revolutionaries to fight Vichy traitors and the Japanese occupiers; but Charles de Gaulle and the Gaullists rejected this offer as they intended to reclaim Indochina. In November the ICP asked the Gaullists to stop the Japanese from confiscating rice, to get political prisoners freed, and to provide weapons for the Viet Minh. The Gaullists refused to give them weapons and could not stop the rice appropriations, but they got 150 prisoners released. US President Franklin Roosevelt often expressed his opinion that France had milked Vietnam too long and should withdraw from Indochina.

In March 1944 the Chinese held another congress at Liuzhou. On June 6 Major Langlade parachuted into Vietnam and met at Hanoi with General Eugene Mordant and General Georges Aymé. When  Mordant retired, De Gaulle appointed him Delegate General of the French Government to Indochina on September 12. British RAF pilots began dropping arms and French agents into Vietnam. Ho moved his headquarters in October to Thai Nguyen province in Vietnam. Late in 1944 the Viet Minh leaders urged the people to save their strength for a general uprising. Giap formed the first Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam on December 22, and this day is celebrated as the anniversary of the Vietnamese People’s Army. The Japanese were concerned that they would lose French cooperation, and they increased their troops in Indochina to 60,000.

On March 9, 1945 at 7 p.m. Ambassador Matsumoto Shunichi gave Governor-General Decoux two hours to surrender. Most French units were disarmed and interned the next day as Japanese forces took control of Indochina. Only a few French garrisons resisted, and the Japanese slaughtered about 200 European and Vietnamese prisoners at Lang Son and 53 at Dong Dang. Generals Gabriel Sabattier and Marcel Alessandri led 5,000 troops from Tong Sontay 800 miles to the China border. During the Japanese coup the French lost more than 1,700 soldiers. Most French officials were dismissed unless they were indispensable. In the next five months about 600 French civilians were arrested, and 400 of them died in prison. The Japanese announced that Vietnam was independent, but Emperor Bao Dai and his cabinet led by Pham Quynh knew they had little power. Ngo Dinh Diem cooperated with the Japanese for a while, but on April 17 the Japanese chose the conservative professor Tran Trong Kim to lead the government. Meanwhile the Viet Minh let it be known that they were with the Allies as they prepared for the Japanese defeat. In May an OSS team parachuted to Viet Minh headquarters, and supplies soon followed.

Without referring to the Japanese takeover, France had made a declaration on March 24, 1945 that the five states of Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia, and Laos would have a federal government under the French governor-general with an assembly that included French. This plan offered less reform than Decoux instituted and was immediately rejected by all the Vietnamese political parties. Food shortages became worse as coal from the north could not be traded for rice in the south, where rice surpluses remained because of transportation problems. In 1945 about one million people died of starvation in Tonkin while about 300,000 died in Annam. In July the Allied conference at Potsdam decided that Indochina would be occupied to disarm the Japanese by the Chinese army north of the 16th parallel and by the British in the south.

Vietnam's August 1945 Revolution

After the atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, Tran Trong Kim resigned on August 7. One week later the Japanese accepted Allied terms and relinquished control over Cochinchina. The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) met in Tonkin on August 13 and voted for a general insurrection. Three days later the People’s Congress of sixty delegates led by Ho Chih Minh met in the village of Tan Trao north of Hanoi and formed the National Liberation Committee of Vietnam. That day Viet Minh guerrillas entered Hanoi, and thousands of leaflets were distributed. The Viet Minh military took over almost all the public buildings except the Bank of Indochina, which was still guarded by the Japanese. The Viet Minh took over Hué, and Bao Dai asked them to form a new government. Only a few Japanese resisted. When five hundred Viet Minh partisans attacked the post at Tam Dao, eight Japanese soldiers were killed.

On August 13 a few French parachuted into Tonkin and Annam, but all except one were killed or captured by the Viet Minh. General Jacques Philippe Leclerc commanded the troops from France, Madagascar, and Calcutta preparing to return to Vietnam, and Admiral George Thierry d’Argenlieu was appointed to govern as High Commissioner. Jean Cédule as commissioner for the South parachuted near Tayninh on August 22. The Japanese captured his group and took them to Saigon, and French Socialists and Communists arranged for them to meet the Vietnamese leaders.

The Viet Minh had strong unity in Tonkin and Annam, but in the south the United National Front was formed after the Japanese coup on March 9 by the religious Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, the pro-Japanese Phuc Quoc, the Dai Viet, Trotskyists, and other minor parties. They decided to take power from the Japanese on August 16. Those that had collaborated with the Japanese now had less support, and a week later the United National Front yielded to the Viet Minh’s Provisional Executive Committee for the South led by Tran Van Giau. On August 25 in Saigon hundreds of thousands marched in celebration of the revolution. The Committee urged the people to welcome the British as friends and decorated the city with Allied flags. Mandarins and big landowners who had collaborated with the imperialists were thrown out of office, dispossessed, or killed. Various groups armed their members to increase their power.

On August 29 Ho Chih Minh formed a government in the north, and on September 2 before a half million people gathered in Hanoi he proclaimed the independence of Vietnam by quoting from the US Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the French Revolution. He interpreted the former to mean that “all the peoples on the earth are equal from birth” and have a right to “be happy and free.” He criticized the French imperialists for having abused the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity for eighty years while impoverishing the Vietnamese people. Ho asserted that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) had taken their independence from the Japanese and that they would fight any French colonialists who tried to reconquer their country. He concluded, “Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country—and in fact it is so already.”2

Saigon also had large demonstrations on September 2; but the lack of unity led to French spectators being mistreated and put in jail; at least three were killed. Tran Van Giao denounced the troublemakers for sabotaging the revolution, and the provisional police chief Duong Bach Mai ordered all the French arrested that day released. Trotskyist leaders who favored armed opposition to the British landing were arrested. Two days later the British told Marshal Terauchi Hisaichi that Japanese troops were responsible for keeping order until the British forces arrived. The first British mission came on September 6, and they immediately demanded that all the Vietnamese, including the Saigon police, surrender their weapons. The Cao Dai, Hoa Hoa, and the Trotskyists refused, and Viet Minh leaders were accused of treason. On September 10 the Viet Minh agreed to more representation by other groups on the Committee for the South, and Phan Van Bach replaced Tran Van Giao as chairman. The British brought in about 1,800 French troops from Calcutta on September 12, and the next day General Douglas D. Gracey arrived with the British occupation forces. Gracey believed that Indochina was French and that it would be governed by them within a few weeks. However, the Allied SEAC Commander Louis Mountbatten sent an envoy to reprimand Gracey and warn him not to take action against the Vietnamese.

The French in Saigon acted aggressively, and disturbances increased. Gracey repeated the order to disarm the Vietnamese and ordered the Japanese troops to police the city. Vietnamese leaders called for a general strike on September 17, and their police arrested sixteen Frenchmen in the next few days. Three days later Gracey suspended all Vietnamese newspapers, and the next day he declared martial law, banning all meetings and demonstrations. On September 22 the British freed the French paratroopers the Japanese had captured, and they armed 1,400 French troops who had been interned since March. The next day the French took control of the police stations and public buildings in Saigon, beating up and arresting hundreds of Vietnamese as the Committee for the South fled. Cédile ordered most of them released, but the French coup turned the disappointed Vietnamese to revolution.

On September 24 the nationalists organized a general strike that closed shops and stopped transportation. The Vietnamese attacked the Saigon electric works and torched the central market, but the Chinese and Indians put out the fire to protect their shops. Most of the British force of 2,800 were Indian troops. About 28,000 French civilians barricaded themselves in their homes or took refuge in the Hotel Continental. Nationalists blockaded Saigon to prevent food deliveries. General Gracey arrested Terauchi and threatened to hold him as a war criminal if Japanese troops were not ordered to subdue the Vietnamese. Thousands of Vietnamese were imprisoned.

Mountbatten ordered Cédile to negotiate with the Vietnamese nationalists, and a truce began on October 2. General Leclerc marched into Saigon three days later with the first troops from France. On October 9 British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin signed an agreement authorizing the French as the only civil administration south of the 16th parallel. The fighting resumed on October 11, and the Vietnamese fled or were driven out of Saigon. In two weeks the French broke the blockade. With heavily armored columns the French took over Mytho, Vinh Long, and Cantho before defeating the Cao Dai at Tay Ninh in early November.

In the north the Viet Minh government did not allow attacks on the French in Hanoi. General Lu Han led the Chinese troops across the border into Tonkin on August 28 without any French. Chinese forces first reached Hanoi on September 9 and took over the governor-general’s building, displacing Jean Sainteny, who had been in charge of Mission 5 in Kunming. About 50,000 Chinese troops would occupy northern Vietnam for the next six months, and they took whatever supplies they needed or wanted. The inflated Chinese dollar was made the currency, and new Chinese companies bought up French mines, factories, and other businesses at low prices. Chinese forces effectively kept the French from crossing the 16th parallel into the north.

Ho Chih Minh’s government had abolished the undemocratic councils on September 5, and three days later they announced elections with suffrage for all citizens over eighteen. The Viet Minh Government abolished the poll tax and the hated monopolies on salt, alcohol, and opium. They prohibited opium, prostitution, alcohol, and gambling. They confiscated and gave to landless peasants the land of the French and those considered traitors as well as communal lands. To end the famine all untilled land was given to peasants for cultivation, and dikes were repaired. The eight-hour day became law, and unions could organize. They nationalized all the public utilities that had been owned by the French. A massive literacy campaign was begun with the goal of teaching everyone to read within one year. Ho sent a memo to the people’s executive committees at all levels in October urging them to love the people and avoid the following mistakes: breaches of the law, arrogance, debauchery, sectarianism and connivance, division, and conceit. The University of Hanoi was re-opened in November, and that month the Government prohibited unauthorized distribution of large landholdings with the death penalty for attacks on private property.

The anti-Communist Chinese army replaced the local Viet Minh committees with their own Vietnamese allies, using some of the 400 million piasters they collected for the occupation costs to influence the revived VNQDD, Dong Minh Hoi, and the Dai Viet. However, the Chinese discovered that these groups had little support among the people, and they did not want to have to fight the Viet Minh. So they tolerated them, and on November 11 Ho Chih Minh announced that the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) was dissolved and replaced by the Indochinese Marxist Study Society. Members later admitted that the ICP continued secretly. Eight days later Ho and the Viet Minh formed a unified national government with the VNQDD and the Dong Minh Hoi. In the agreement Vo Nguyen Giap and Propaganda Minister Tran Huy Lieu were removed from the government. Elections were scheduled for December 23, but these less popular groups got them delayed until January.

Indonesia Occupied and Liberated 1942-45

Indonesia under the Dutch 1800-1941

The Japanese invaded Indonesia on January 10, 1942 and went first for the oil installations at Tarakan and Balikpapan on Kalimantan and at Palembang in southern Sumatra. By the end of February they had defeated the Dutch fleet in the Java Sea. The Japanese occupied much of Sumatra and invaded Java in March. The Dutch refused to collaborate with the Japanese as the French had in Indonesia. Instead they signed an unconditional surrender on March 8, and Governor-General van Starkenborgh was arrested. Japan’s 25th Army occupied Sumatra, and their 16th Army was stationed in Java and Madura; their navy controlled eastern Indonesia and Kalimantan (Borneo). During the next year about 170,000 Europeans were interned, including 65,000 Dutch military and 25,000 Allied soldiers. About a quarter of the men and about an eighth of the women and children interned would die by 1945. In February in Acheh the ulamas began sabotaging the Dutch and killing the administrators, and they welcomed the Japanese; but in March they began a general revolt that lasted until November. The Japanese army put down revolutions and executed the leaders. They forced thousands of “comfort women” to serve them.

The Japanese imposed military law and enforced colonial laws. They banned the use of Dutch and English and tried to promote Japanese, but for their propaganda to reach people they had to use Indonesian. All political activities and associations were banned as the Japanese set up their own organizations, starting with the Triple A Movement praising Japan as the “light of Asia, leader of Asia, and protector of Asia.” When this failed, the Japanese turned to Indonesian leaders. Hatta had just written an article urging they resist the Japanese; but in March he decided to cooperate rather than be punished. Sukarno joined Hatta and Sjahrir in Jakarta in July 1942, and they collaborated with the Japanese in order to work for independence. Sukarno got a commission appointed in September to study Indonesian customary laws, and it became an advisory council to the military government.

Amir Sjarifuddin organized a resistance movement, but in January 1943 he and 53 others were arrested. Several leaders were executed, but Sukarno and Hatta persuaded the Japanese to commute Amir’s death sentence to life imprisonment. The Japanese formed the Center of People’s Power (Putera) in March 1943 and used Sukarno, Hatta, Dewantara, and Mas Mansur of Muhammadiyah as its leaders. Sukarno urged people to support the occupying Japanese because they had freed Indonesia from “centuries of slavery.” Military governor General Yamamoto Moichiro arrived in March and made it clear the only cooperation he wanted from the Indonesians was in helping the Japanese to win the war. On May 13 a secret conference in Tokyo resolved to incorporate Indonesia into the Japanese empire. Yamamoto began censoring the press and Sukarno’s speeches. On June 15 Tojo told the Diet that the Javanese should be allowed to cooperate in the government. In mid-1943 the Japanese began training Indonesian youths as auxiliaries (Heiho), and by 1945 there were 25,000. Muslims refused to declare a holy war in support of the Japanese, and they insisted on using Arabic in their schools; but they had to teach Japanese too. The requirement of bowing toward the Emperor in Tokyo was offensive to Muslims, and it was dropped from religious meetings. In October the MIAI held its only congress during the occupation in order to dissolve itself, and in November the Japanese created the Indonesian Muslim Council (Mayumi) for all the Muslims.

Japan did not consider Indonesia prepared for independence, but they appointed Sukarno chairman of a Central Advisory Board in Jakarta. In November 1943 Sukarno, Hatta, and Muhammadiyah chairman Ki Bagus Hadikusumo were flown to Tokyo and were decorated by Emperor Hirohito. Allied submarines blockaded Indonesia and so trading with Japan was minimal. Agriculture shifted to more food production to feed the Japanese military, and rubber production fell by 80%. Yet food requisitioning, forced labor, and poor distribution led to famines in 1944 and 1945, causing about 2,400,000 deaths. The Japanese estimated that  270,000 peasants were sent to foreign labor camps, some as far away as Burma, and only about 70,000 survived. In his autobiography Sukarno admitted that he used propaganda to enlist workers (romushas) into this slave labor under miserable conditions.

The Japanese formed a volunteer army of Indonesians that reached 37,000 men in Java and 20,000 in Sumatra. Those and the youths in the Protectors of the Homeland (Peta) were trained to resist an Allied invasion with guerrilla warfare. Putera was replaced by the Java Service Association (Jawa Hokokai) for everyone over fourteen years of age in January 1944. That month Zainal Mustafa led five hundred Muslims against the Japanese near Tasikmalaja for a few days.  Peasants at Priangan rebelled against rice requisitioning in February, but the Japanese brutally suppressed them. A botched experiment with tetanus injections caused the death of more than 5,000 workers outside Jakarta.

Japan’s Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso promised the East Indies independence on September 7, 1944 without setting a date, and that month Americans landed on Morotai in eastern Indonesia. The Japanese gave the Indonesians permission to fly their flag and sing their national anthem, and rallies and processions celebrated the promise of independence. In November the Central Advisory Committee adopted the five duties (pantja dharma) of the Indonesian people that merged the goal of independence with loyalty to the Japanese empire, and Sukarno began promoting this propaganda. Vice Admiral Maeda Tadashi founded a school for Indonesian independence in December, and he financed speaking tours in Java; Sukarno spoke on politics, and Hatta lectured on economics and cooperatives.

In February 1945 the Japanese let their Muslim organization Masyumi begin training volunteers for the Army of God (Hizbullah), and by the end of the war they had 50,000 members. On February first a Peta battalion led by Lt. Suprijadi killed some Japanese soldiers at Blitar in eastern Java; 68 were court martialled, and eight were executed. On May 1 the Allies invaded eastern Borneo at Tarakan. Youth organizations met at Bandung in May and decided to challenge the Japanese with the slogan “independence or death.”

The Japanese formed an Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPKI), and 62 nationalist leaders met in late May with Radjiman Wediodiningrat as chairman. On June 1 Sukarno made a speech in which he recommended five principles (pantja sila). He had been strongly influenced by the three principles of Sun Yat-sen—nationalism, socialism, and democracy. He got humanitarianism from Gandhi and belief in God from his Muslim background. The first principle of national unity meant independence, and the second principle of humanitarianism expanded this to internationalism as well. For Sukarno democracy was representation, deliberation, and consensus. Social justice, the fourth, meant social and economic rights as well as political ones, and the fifth principle, belief in God, included tolerance of all religions. These five were unified by the Indonesian principle of mutual help (gotong rojong).

On July 2 the youth (pemuda) formed the New People’s Movement (Gerakan Rakjat Baroe). The Japanese tried to control them but failed to unite the youth groups. The BPKI met and voted 55-6 for a republic rather than a monarchy. The Committee drew up Indonesia’s first constitution for a unified republic with a powerful president. They included Malaya as well as all of Borneo, Timor, and New Guinea. Muslims complained and insisted on the president being a Muslim and the obligation of Muslims to carry out Islamic law. Sukarno persuaded the delegates to accept this Jakarta Charter. On August 7 the Japanese in Saigon announced that the BPKI was replaced by the 21 members of the Preparatory Committee of Indonesian Independence (PPKI). Sukarno, Hatta, and Radjiman were flown to Saigon, and they met with Field Marshal Terauchi Hisaichi in Dalat on August 11. He promised them independence but without Malaya, British (northern) Borneo, and Portuguese (eastern) Timor. Sukarno was appointed chairman of the Preparatory Committee with Hatta as vice-chairman.

The Japanese surrendered on August 15, but the Gunseikan had orders to wait for the Allied forces to replace them. Youth leaders and Sjahrir wanted to declare independence, but Sukarno and Hatta were waiting. Peta leaders abducted them from Jakarta because they expected the revolution to begin. When nothing happened, they brought them back to Jakarta. Maeda let them use his house to prepare the declaration of independence. On August 17 to a group of about a hundred people outside his house Sukarno made the following simple proclamation:

We the Indonesian people hereby proclaim
the independence of Indonesia.
All matters concerning the transfer of power etc.
will be carried out in an orderly manner
and in the shortest possible time.
In the name of the Indonesian people

They raised the red-and-white flag and sang “Indonesia Raya.” The proclamation was signed by Sukarno and Hatta, who later said the Dutch should be ashamed that the Japanese did more to recognize Indonesian independence than the “democratic Dutch.” Adam Malik broadcast the proclamation over Japanese short-wave radio, and other youths in Maeda’s office printed thousands of leaflets. On August 19 the Japanese-sponsored PPKI was transformed into the Indonesian National Committee (KNI).

Sukarno and Hatta negotiated with the Japanese, who agreed to maintain law and order without interfering in Indonesian affairs. The KNI formed the Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP) as a provisional parliament and revised the constitution, taking out pro-Japanese phrases and the concessions to the Muslims. The KNIP had 135 members and chose Sukarno as president and Hatta as vice-president. Indonesian administrators were named vice-residents in the Republic that included the eight provinces of West Java, Central Java, East Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes), Maluku (Moluccas), and Nusatenggara (Lesser Sundas). They changed the name of the Jawa Hokokai to the Indonesian National Party (PNI); but Sjahrir, Muslims, Socialists, and Communists objected, and it was dissolved after a few days. Sukarno made his first broadcast as president on August 23 and urged all segments of the people to join together for independence to create lasting unity, provide national security, and give reality to ancient ideals. New organizations were formed in place of those sponsored by the Japanese to aid the families of war victims and protect the people.

Meanwhile the Japanese were trying to disarm the Peta and Heiho forces in Java and Sumatra, but young Indonesians raided Japanese stores. On September 1 the Younger Generation of Indonesia (Angkatan Pemuda Indonesia or API) formed with headquarters at Menteng 31. They published a manifesto calling for the people of Indonesia to take power from the Japanese by seizing their arms and enterprises. Sukarno announced his cabinet on September 5. He appointed G. S. S. J. Ratulangie the republican governor of South Sulawesi, and he was accepted by the king of Bone and most of the Makassarese and Bugis. In September youths took over installations in Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Malang, and Bandung. Communist Tan Malaka had returned from exile, and he encouraged the young leaders of Menteng 31. Rallies were held in Surabaya on September 11 and 17 and a mass rally in Jakarta on the 19th with 200,000 people. The Japanese were prepared with machine guns; but Sukarno’s oratory persuaded the crowd to depart without challenging the Japanese. However, the youths in Sumatra began an armed struggle. Adam Malik and D. N. Aidit were arrested on September 20. Tan Malaka wanted to overthrow Sukarno, but Sjahrir refused. The Dutch internees began leaving their camps after the Japanese surrender, and some fights erupted.

Louis Mountbatten was the Allied commander for Southeast Asia, and in Indonesia he focused on his primary responsibilities of disarming and repatriating 283,000 Japanese and releasing and protecting 200,000 Dutch internees and Allied prisoners of war. Australians began arriving in mid-September and occupied the major cities in eastern Indonesia. British forces landed on September 29, and Lt. General Philip Christison avoided conflicts with Indonesians by directing the Dutch troops to eastern Indonesia. In October the Japanese tried to recover their authority in Java, and on the 3rd the military police (Kempetai) massacred republican youths in Pekalongan. The Japanese took control of Bandung and turned it over to the British. On October 5 the Indonesian government decreed the forming of a national defense force.

Many in the KNIP wanted it to be a legislative body, and they presented a petition to Sukarno and Hatta on October 7. While Sukarno was in Central Java, on October 16 Hatta announced that the KNIP would have legislative powers. Sjahrir was more acceptable to the Allies because of his opposition to the Japanese. He and Amir Sjarifuddin, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese, were elected chairman and vice-chairman of the Central Committee (KNIP) on October 20. The Committee diminished the presidential powers.

In Semarang on October 14 the republicans murdered at least 130 Japanese prisoners. Japanese forces killed about 2,000 Indonesians while losing 500 men before the British arrived six days later. Air strikes were used against Indonesians in Magelang and Ambarawa. Sukarno arranged a cease-fire at the request of the British on November 2, but fighting resumed later in the month.

Vice Admiral Shibata Yaichiro gave the Indonesians the Japanese weapons in Surabaya as he surrendered to a Dutch navy captain. Muslim leaders declared a holy war in defense of the Indonesian fatherland. When 6,000 British Indian troops arrived in Surabaya on October 25, they demanded that all Indonesians turn in their weapons or they would be killed. Large gangs of youths totaling more than 120,000 attacked them, and many of the Indian soldiers, especially the Muslims, defected to support the struggle against colonialism. The British flew in Sukarno, Hatta, and Amir Sjarifuddin, and they arranged a cease-fire on October 30. However, fighting broke out again hours later, and Brigadier-General A. W. S. Mallaby was killed. On November 10 using naval and air bombardment, the British forces killed more than 6,000 Indonesians while conquering half the city in a few days. The Indonesians probably killed about a thousand Dutch and Eurasians and even more Chinese. After this the British realized the revolution had popular support, and they decided to be more neutral. By the end of 1945 about 8,000 Indonesians had also died in Jakarta.

On November 10 Sjahrir published his pamphlet “Our Struggle” advocating democratic socialism and calling for a purge of the collaborators. On November 14 Sukarno agreed to be only a “representative” head of state, and he appointed Sjahrir prime minister. Sukarno’s cabinet resigned. Sjahrir also became minister of Foreign Affairs. Amir was appointed minister of Information and Security. Only Defense Minister Amir Sjarifuddin was carried over, and many independent commanders refused to obey him. That month the Arab League recognized the Republic of Indonesia. In December 1945 social revolutionaries became active in northern Java, and they were supported by republican army units. Indonesia’s war for independence had begun.

Philippines, Japan, and MacArthur 1941-45

Philippines under Spain and the US 1800-1941

Four hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began bombing various places in the Philippines on the morning of December 8, 1941. Two hours before that, General Douglas MacArthur was officially notified that war with Japan had begun, and he was ordered to defend the Philippines. His air commander, Major General Lewis H. Brereton, hurried to his office, but MacArthur’s chief of staff, General Richard K. Sutherland, denied him access. Seven more hours went by before MacArthur authorized him to launch a reconnaissance mission. By then Japanese planes had devastated Clark Field, destroying thirty-six P-40 fighters and fourteen of the seventeen B-17 bombers while they were on the ground. The Japanese began landing on some of the islands. In the next two days the Japanese air force attacked Cavite naval base and Nichols Field near Manila, killing about eighty Americans while they lost only seven pursuit planes. Despite his negligence, MacArthur was considered too valuable to be subjected to an official inquiry, though the commanders at Pearl Harbor were investigated.

On December 22 General Masaharu Homma landed 43,000 Japanese troops at the Lingayen Gulf and started marching south toward Manila. General Jonathan Wainwright established a line of defense on the road, but thousands fled into the jungles. Two days later 10,000 more Japanese invaded at Lamon Bay in southeastern Luzon, the main island. MacArthur ordered his poorly equipped army of 80,000 men to retreat to the Bataan peninsula west of Manila Bay, and on Christmas Eve he, President Quezon, their families, and other officials went to the small island of Corregidor in Manila Bay. Quezon asked Chief Justice Jose Laurel to stay in Manila. MacArthur warned Laurel that if anyone swore allegiance to Japan, he would shoot them when he returned. Jorge Vargas also remained as mayor of Manila. On December 26 MacArthur declared Manila an open city to protect the civilians, withdrawing guns in accord with international law. Nevertheless the Japanese bombed the city. The police had turned in their guns, and people looted the stores. Two days later President Franklin Roosevelt announced his pledge to the Philippine people that their freedom would be redeemed and their independence protected. Quezon had been re-elected president, and he took the oath of office on December 30.

Japanese forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942, and the next day General Homma proclaimed that they had come to emancipate Filipinos from American domination. During the early days many Japanese soldiers raped women, and some Filipinos died defending their relatives. Three weeks later Homma appointed Vargas chairman of the Executive Commission, and the Council of State was formed on January 29. On February 17 the Japanese propagated their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with education and labor. On the last day of March their department of Education, Health, and Welfare announced that public elementary schools would begin in June, but enrollment reached only 267,977 by March 1943.

The Filipino and American army reached Bataan in mid-January 1942. Quezon had persuaded MacArthur to ban American officers from taking food and clothing from warehouses, and they were poorly supplied. Offers of $10 million induced few private shippers to risk running the Japanese blockade of the Philippines. MacArthur demanded reinforcements, believing that the Philippines was critical to the war; but Eisenhower determined that enough forces could not arrive in time, and they were needed in the Atlantic. The Allies had made the war in Europe their first priority. President Quezon asked Roosevelt to declare the Philippines independent so that they could be neutral; but Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to stand and fight. Quezon agreed to stand by the Americans and transferred $500,000 to MacArthur’s bank account in the US. Eisenhower declined a similar offer because US Army regulations prohibited officers from accepting emoluments. MacArthur and 10,000 Americans were much better supplied on Corregidor, and during his 77 days there he visited nearby Bataan only once. MacArthur had previously dispersed throughout Luzon the supplies needed by the troops at Bataan. They suffered malaria, dysentery, scurvy, beriberi, and dengue fever. Roosevelt appointed MacArthur army commander in the Pacific, and he went to Australia on March 11, famously telling reporters there, “I shall return.”

While the Japanese were taking over more important resources in other parts of Southeast Asia, General Homma had older occupiers in the Philippines. Fresh Japanese reinforcements arrived in late March. General Wainwright reported that rations were down to a thousand calories per day, and supplies would run out in two weeks. Most of the men had malaria and dysentery. MacArthur ordered a counter-attack on the Subic Bay supply dump, and Wainwright passed the order on to Major General Edward P. King. General Homma’s assault began on April 3, and six days later King surrendered the largest American force that had ever done so. Homma attacked Corregidor on May 5, and the next day General Wainwright gave up to avoid useless human sacrifice. About 75,000 prisoners were herded by the Japanese on a long death march north to Camp O’Donnell. On the way about 10,000 men died from disease, malnutrition, and brutality; the Japanese killed those who could not keep up. The Japanese commander at Camp O’Donnell announced that the survivors were not prisoners of war but captives. In the next three months about 25,000 Filipinos and 2,000 Americans died. Thousands were transported to Japan for slave labor, and some of these were killed en route by US submarines.

In June 1942 a Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence was formed under Jose Laurel, Benigno Aquino, and Ramon Avanceña to draft a constitution, which was approved on September 4 and ratified two days later. The National Assembly elected Laurel president on September 25, but he and the Republic were not inaugurated until October 14, 1943. In June he had been seriously wounded by an assassin. The Japanese formed a legislature called the Association for Service in the New Philippines (Kalibapi) and selected Benigno Aquino to be its leader. President Laurel made Tagalog the official language and tried to encourage nationalism. Japanese was also an official language. Spanish was banned, but English was needed and allowed. Laurel required Filipino teachers, and for the first time Filipinos learned their history without a western viewpoint.

The Japanese planted cotton in place of rice and sugar, ruining the sugar industry without knowing how to grow the cotton. Most of the remaining rice production went to the Japanese army. Laurel urged people to grow vegetables. Consumers’ Cooperatives were organized in Manila to encourage private initiatives, and Laurel formed the National Distribution Corporation (NADISCO) to distribute commodities. Medicine was scarce, and thousands died of malaria, malnutrition, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The Japanese military police (Kempetai) executed hundreds for stealing or having unregistered radios. The Japanese sent the gold and dollars they found to Japan, and the billions of pesos they printed were so worthless the Filipinos called them “Mickey Mouse pesos.” The Japanese army imposed forced labor and ran rackets in prostitution, drugs, and gambling. Laurel legalized divorce, but after the war the Catholic Church got it prohibited again. The Japanese avenged guerrilla attacks by executing ten Filipinos for every Japanese  person who was killed. In August 1942 the Japanese formed the District and Neighborhood Associations (DANAS) for protection against guerrillas, and more than a million and a half Filipinos joined.

Many Filipinos fled to the mountains and organized underground resistance. Walter Cushing headed a guerrilla band that killed five hundred Japanese soldiers before he was killed on September 19. The guerrilla movements were estimated to have 260,000 men and even more supporters. On March 29, 1942 the Communists and Socialists organized the People’s Anti-Japanese Army (Hukbalahap), which had 30,000 guerrilla fighters led by Luis Taruc and Casto Alejandrino with thousands of supporters north of Manila. The Huk initiated an alliance with the Philippine-American guerrillas in June. The Hukbalahap fought two thousand encounters and killed about 20,000 Japanese troops. In addition to ambushing the Japanese, the resistance movement sent intelligence reports to MacArthur in Australia about Japanese troop movements and ships. They also killed Filipinos who spied for the Japanese. The Barrio United Defense Corps (BUDC) was organized to provide local government, and they tried to keep the harvests from the Japanese, who controlled only twelve of forty-eight provinces.

The Japanese broadcasted propaganda; but the Filipinos could get real news from Radio San Francisco, and underground newspapers circulated. Pedro de la Llana edited The Flash in Tagalog, Spanish, and English, but he was mistakenly killed as a collaborator by guerrillas. The Hukbalahap began Ing Masala (The Light) in October 1942, and The Thunderclap started publishing in 1943. Governor Tomas Confessor in Free Panay published Ang Tigbatas (The Common People) in Hiligaynon and English, and other provinces also had guerrilla newspapers. President Quezon went to Australia and then to America, establishing his exiled cabinet in Washington. His health declined, and he died on August 1, 1944. He was succeeded by Sergio Osmeña.

The American forces moved step by step across the Pacific Ocean and began the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19, 1944 by invading Guam. Planes from US carriers attacked Manila on September 21. MacArthur threatened to send a high commissioner back home, and Roosevelt let the arrogant general have his way in the Philippines. Americans landed on the beaches of Leyte on October 20, and three days later MacArthur set up the Commonwealth Government at Tacloban. The Battle of Leyte Gulf has been called the greatest naval battle in history and was fought October 23-26. The Japanese Southern Force was destroyed in the Surigao Strait, but the Americans suffered heavy damage off Samar. The Japanese fleet lost half its naval tonnage, including three battleships, four aircraft carriers, and ten cruisers. American planes sank 80% of the Japanese convoys, but Lt. General Tomoyuki Yamashita managed to triple his forces on Leyte to 65,000 men by December. The Americans had nearly four thousand killed and fifteen thousand wounded on Leyte, but Yamashita lost about 60,000 troops. MacArthur landed forces on Mindoro in mid-December, and they built an airfield to support invading troops.

On January 9, 1945 the Americans took the Lingayen Gulf by surprise. Kamikaze pilots dove their planes into US ships in the Lingayen Gulf, destroying 24 ships and damaging 70. MacArthur splashed ashore for the cameras and marched south with about 300,000 Americans and Filipino guerrillas. They killed about 200,000 Japanese while 8,000 Americans were lost. Three weeks later they took over Subic Bay without opposition. American forces entered Manila on February 3. Yamashita tried to spare the city of 800,000 people by ordering his troops to withdraw into the hills, but Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi ignored him and sent 20,000 sailors into the city with automatic weapons. The Japanese fought furiously in Manila for twenty days, and about 100,000 civilians were killed. The Japanese took Laurel, Aquino, and other puppet leaders to Japan. The US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) arrested Taruc and other Hukbalahap members on February 22 in San Fernando, Pampanga; but after 40,000 peasants protested, they were released.

General MacArthur governed the Philippines as Military Administrator, and on February 27 he turned the civil government over to President Osmeña. In his speech Osmeña recalled the contributions of Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, and Quezon. Osmeña ordered Corregidor taken back, and three thousand Japanese died defending it and blowing up the arsenal. MacArthur delayed the distribution of food, clothing, and supplies, causing Osmeña to be blamed. MacArthur lost more men in campaigns to reconquer the southern islands, which had little strategic value. They invaded Palawan on February 28, Zamboanga on March 10, Panay on March 18, Cebu on March 26, Negros on March 29, Bohol on April 4, and Mindanao on April 12. Yamashita refused to surrender and fought defensively in the mountains. The US bombed them with the largest napalm raids in the Pacific war. On July 4 MacArthur proclaimed that the Philippines had been liberated from the Japanese. Hundreds of B-29s took off and bombed cities in Japan. The Japanese empire surrendered in August, and MacArthur presided over the ceremonial signing of papers on September 2. As MacArthur took over Japan, High Commissioner Paul McNutt replaced him in the Philippines. Yamashita surrendered at Baguio on September 3, but some uninformed Japanese soldiers were still fighting in the jungles.

During the Japanese occupation the domestic assets of the Philippines had been reduced by at least $1.5 billion, the US Army estimate, and 65% of the livestock had been lost. The Philippine Bureau of Census and Statistics calculated the losses at 5,589,580,005 pesos, and the Government claimed that the reparations owed by Japan were 16 billion pesos ($8 billion). The US Army established the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit (PCAU) under Courtney Whitney to provide relief for the people. President Osmeña set maximum prices on rice, wheat flour, brown sugar, dried fish, fruit, eggs, petroleum, clothes, and so on, but some charged higher prices anyway.

Manuel Roxas began his campaign for the presidency on May 26, 1945, and Osmeña called a special session of the Congress on June 9. Roxas argued that collaborators were loyal to the Philippine government, but on June 29 President Roosevelt warned that collaborators should be removed from political authority and economic influence. MacArthur exonerated most collaborators to keep conservatives like Roxas in power; but he had Japanese leaders such as Yamashita tried for war crimes, and he was hanged. Roxas had been captured by the Japanese, who spared him to make him president. Roxas declined but took charge of food distribution for the Japanese; later he secretly sent information to the Americans. MacArthur made Roxas a brigadier general in the US Army. Osmeña proposed a bill for a court of judges who had not collaborated, and with some amendments it passed. Various working-class organizations formed the Democratic Alliance (DA) in July. Roxas was chosen president of the Senate, and MacArthur released 5,000 collaborators in August.

In September the US Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) gave the Commonwealth Government a list of political prisoners, and Osmeña and Roxas agreed to free some of them. Hukbalahap leaders had been arrested again on April 8, but a march with 50,000 people to the presidential palace on September 23 organized by the DA got them released by the end of the month. The DA also demanded independence, removal of collaborators from public offices, protection of democratic rights, agrarian reform, and industrialization for economic development.

Senator Millard Tydings arrived in Manila on May 23, 1945 and returned to the US to recommend $100 million for reconstruction. The US Congress appropriated $120 million for public buildings, roads, and bridges, and $100 more for administration and to redeem guerrilla currency. Army surplus worth a billion dollars was donated, and another $60 million was loaned to the Philippines. Roxas quit the Nacionalista Party in December and with High Commissioner McNutt’s help founded the Liberal Party. The date for Philippine independence was set for July 4, 1946, and the Bell Trade Relations Act extended free trade for an additional eight years. Included was a provision that would allow Americans to exploit the natural resources and public utilities of the Philippines, but this would require the Filipinos to amend their constitution.


1. “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam” in Ho Chih Minh on Revolution, p. 145.
2. Historical Dictionary of Indonesia by Robert Cribb, p. 193.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

Southeast Asia to 1800
British India 1800-1848
British India's Wars 1848-1881
India's Renaissance 1881-1905
India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918
Gandhi and India 1919-1941
Tibet, Nepal, and Ceylon 1800-1941
Burma, Malaya, and the British 1800-1941
Siam, Cambodia, and Laos 1800-1941
Vietnam and the French 1800-1941
Indonesia under the Dutch 1800-1941
Philippines under Spain and the US 1800-1941
South Asia 1941-1950


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