** war and social upheaval: World War II Pacific Theater -- Asian nationalism

World War II: Asian Nationalism

Figure 1.--Here a Japanese soldier sits with a Chinese boy in front of a propaganda wall painting. Some Asians bought Japanese propaganda that they were liberating Asia from the Europeans. Few Chinese who witnessed unspeakable Japanese attrocities, attrocities still affecing Chinese-Japanese relations, were convinced. Given the dimensions of the Japanese attrocities in China, one wonders why they even bothered. Some of the younger Japanese solduiers may have been affected. The NAZIs never bothered to make any such effort in their military campaign in the East. The photograph came from an unidentified Japanese soldier's photo album.

The Japanese in only a few stunning months after Pearl Harbor carved out a huge empire in the Pacufic and Southeast Asia. And it looked for a time that it might not only be a permanent situation, but perhaps be expanded to include Australia and India. In fact, the Japanest conquests lasted only 2-3 years. While the Japanese East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere lasted only a few years, the impact for Asia was nothing short of monentous. The Japanese conquests has a stunning impct on Asian nationalism. Asia at the time of World War II was largely colonized or strongly influenced by European countries (Britain, France, the etherlands, and Portugal). Nationalist movements within the European empires were, except for India, weak anf poorly organized. There were no Europeam plans to grant independence. Only in the Phillipines was the United States moving toward independence. Britain was moving Ceylon and India toward domestic self rule, but not indepencence. Thus the Japanese conquests were seen in Asia in a very different light than the NAZI conquests in Europe. It also explains why resistance movements (except in Indochina and the Philippines) were weak and of little impact on the War. And the Japanese were able to orgnize local military formations (Burma, India, and Indonesia) to fight the Allies. The outcome was a notable impetus to nationalist movements throughout Asia. The realtively easy Japanese defeat of the colonial powers undoubtedly inspired local nationalists. The Japabnese establish compliant puppet states which however powerless and subservient created a precendent for independence. And within a few years after the War, the European colonial powers had granted independence to their former colonies.

Japanese World War II Propaganda

The NAZIs were not overly concerned with war propaganda exceopt in convincing the German people that Hitler di not want war. This changed somwhat after Hitler launched Barbarossa. Popaganda Minister Goebbels launched a camapin to couch Barbarssa as a European chrusade against Jewish Bolshevism. It had little impact on the occupied Europeans experiecing the NAZI jackboot. Some right-wing collaborators did support the effort. The Japanese had a very different propaganda line. The Japanese military government did not have the problem with public resistance to war. The Japanese military was after the Emperor the most respected institutiion in the country. And the country had been at war in China since 1937. The Japanese popaganda line developed for the War was that Japan was liberating Asia from the Americans and Europeans (British, Dutch, and French). We are not sure how the Jopanese justified the War to the Japanese people. We do not know if the need for raw materials was used in domestic propagabda. Liberating Asia from the Europeans anad "Asia for Asians probably was. It would seem difficult to believe that any one could take such nonsence as Japan liberating Asia with a straight face. Japan was an imperil power, colomizing Formosa, Taiwan, Manchuria, and now China proper. Unlike the Europeans, the Japanese were forcing their culture upon conquered people. In addition the brutality of Japanese occupation matched if not exceed NAZI ad Soviet occupation policies. Even so, some Asian nationalists did take them seriously and cooperated with the Japnese occupation forces.

Japanese East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (GEACPS)

The resource-poor Japanese had for years focused on China as a source of raw materials and market fot its indistrial output. They also enviously looked at the resources of siberia and the establishment of the Soviet Union created ideological reasons for seizing Siberia--fueling the Strike North Faction. The outbreak of World War II escalated forces in Japan seeking to expand the Empire, but undercut the influence of the Strike North faction. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact shocked the Japanese. The NAZIs had not consulted with the Japanese and the Strike North faction was preised on a alliance with Germany. At the same time the cost of the war in China created a desire for greater access to resources--especially petroleum. The United States was increasing pressure on the Japanese to en its aggression in China and American was Japan's principal source of petroleum. As a result, the War brought on the increasing influence of the Strike South Faction with the aim of the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). The SRZe of large petroleum resouces, but the enticement was not just petroleum. The SRZ also offered various critical mineral resources: rubber, tin, nickel, bauxite (aluminum) and minerals. And not only minerals were involved. The SRZ was a major source of food. Rice was the most important, but not the only food resoure. Southeast Asian produced nearly 70 percent pf the rice involved in international trade. And the Japanese were phenomenally successful, seizing the SRO largely undamaged within only a few months and with minimal losses (December 1941-April 1942). The Japanese in an effort to sell their new role to Asian nationalists, called thrir empire the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (GEACPS). This was actually a much more of an old-fashioned empire than the Europeans had installed. Economically the British had for the most part permitted free trade. The GEACPS streaching from Manchuria south to Burma and New Guinea, included Korea, Formosa, China, Indochina, Thailand, Malaya, the Philippines and the DEI. It involved both territorial and trade hegemony. The progressive sounding name was a cover for for brutal imperialism and exploitive trade policies. The Japanese seized resources without comprnation to the local economies. The result was famine. The most severe was in the DEI where over millions Indonesians perished during the Japanese occupation. There was a total breakdown in the rule of law. The result in the DEI. The overall goal was to modernize the region on a Japanese model, such as the one pursued in both Formosa and Korea. Nationalist leaders primarily focused on European colonialists cooperated to varying degrees with the Japanese. This was particularly true of Sukarno in the DEI and Aung San in Burma. The Brutal Japanese rule, especially the requisitioning of supplies and the conscripting of labor made the Japanese very unpopular. Promises of indepedence of course never materialized. Nationalists for the most part fully understood the real nature of the GEACPS before the end of the War.

Asians for the Asians

'Asia for the Asians' was not merely a propaganda slogan, it had real meaning for the Europeans and Americans in the regions conquered by Japan as well as fo Asin ntionsls. This varied in the various territories, but involved establishing both POW and civilian internment camps. The conditions in these camps detriorated during the War and internes and POWs were beginning to starve by the ebd oif the War. If the War had not ended wghen it diud, few would have survived. At least there was some chance of survival for the Wesrterners. In China the Japanese simply killed Chinese POWs which gives you a good idea as to how serious the Japanese viewed Asia for the Asians. Not to mention the famines they caused asaesult of seizing food supplies. As regards Westerners it was a different matter. The Japanes were stopped at the eadstern frontier of India and thus fid not occuoy it. There was, however, a propaganda campaign. And there was the complicatioin of the Congress' Quit India campaign. The largest European population in occupied terrfitory was in the Dutch East Indies (DEI). There were some 300,000 Europeans (mostly Dutch) and Eurasians (mixed Dutch and Indinesians) residing in the DEI which tyhe Japanese seized (March 1942). The Dutch had no ida just what the Japanese polanned. They soon found out that the Japanese were implementing political, economic, and cultural policies that would nd any Dutch role and integrate the DEI as a Japanese colony in their reater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The polict was Japanization despite a propaganda veneer of liberation. The Indobesians wre to become loyal subjects of the Emperor. There was no place for the Europeans. The Japanese imbuded with warior code of Bushido resulted in the mistreatment and often murder of POWs and the abuse of civilian internees. The Japanese proceeded to eradicate Dutch influence. And in the process committed terrible atricities and war crimes. [Borch] Of all the Western civilians falling into Japanese hands, the Dutch were the most brutally treated. And other Allied fiorces caoptured in the DEI, wspecially the Australians, including nurses, suffered horific treatment, msny mudred. [Tanaka] The policy of Asia for the Asians was also pursued in the Philippines where there were both America anPOWs and civilan internees. The situation in French Indo-China was different because Vichy France was a quasi ally until Grance was kliberated (August 1944). Most British POWs were taken in Singapore. British civilan internees were also taken in Singapore as well as China (mostly Hong Kong and Shangahai.

Asian Nationalist Movements

There were many nationalists movemebnts at the time of World War II. The Nationlist movements in the European colonis wer not well developed. For the most part the nationalists believed that the Europeans were invincible and the military power to control their colonies. Only in India was the nationalist movement achieving siome success agaist the Europeans by pursuing a campign of non-violent resistance. The Japanese exploited the aspirations of Asian nationlists by dangling the alure of independence while their goal was a vast colonial empire of their own in Asia enforced by a brutality that the Europeanswere not prepared to empoly. Some of the Asians bought the Japanese line, including the Burmese and Indobesians and even some Indins. The Chinese and Koreans saw the Japanese for what they were. The same occurred in the Philippines where the Filipinos were abiout to be granted independence when the Japnese sruck. In the end the Japanese propaganda effort had little impact. Most of the Japanese Army during the Pacific War was engaged in China while the Americans stadiy advabnce toward the Home Islands. The nationalists forces organized by the Japanese did not offer any significant resisance to the Allied advance, in pat becaus Japanese forces were desintegratung.. The Indian Army, however, played a major role in driving the Japanese out of Burma. The nationalists moevment would after the War play a major part in the drcolonization process.


Borch, Fred L. "Asia for the Asians: Bushido, and Japanese War Crimes in the Netherlands East Indies, 1942 to 1946," im Military Trials of War Criminals in the Netherlands East Indies, 1946-1949$ (2017).

Tanaka, Yuki. John W. Dower (Foreward). Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II Asian Voices (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: 2017).


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Created: December 30, 2002
Last updated: 6:44 AM 7/9/2014