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The Four Phases of Japan’s Imperial Expansion: There were in essence four phases of Imperial expansion. In the first phase after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the new government first set about establishing control of the northern island of Hokkaido, which was sparsely populated by the indigenous Ainu. Colonisation was encouraged and military control imposed to prevent the possibility of Imperial Russia’s creep southward from the Sakhalin Island. In the decade after the restoration the Japanese population of the island grew from just 48,000 to over 250,000. In a further move to establish control over its immediate neighbours, in 1879 Japan established control of the kingdom of the Ryuku Islands (including the main island of Okinawa) which had formerly been a tributary state to both China and Japan.

The second phase of Empire moved from tidying up of borders to expansion. The principal targets were Korea (a Chinese tributary state) and Formosa. After defeating China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1896, Japan took control of Formosa and assumed the primary foreign relationship with Korea – a position that was further strengthened after the defeat of Imperial Russian forces in Manchuria at the Battle of Mukden and at sea at the Battle of Tsushima. In 1910, Japan, after murdering Korea’s queen, formerly annexed Korea. In World War II Japan took advantage of Germany’s European preoccupations to absorb significant elements of Germany’s Asian Empire – including the Mariana Islands.

Somewhat thwarted in its imperial ambitions at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which only allowed it to retain the parts of Germany’s Asian empire north of the equator, Japan became a model citizen of the new international order based around the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Washington and London Naval Conferences. However the Japanese Army broke out of this containment when it albeit reluctantly agreed to back its Army’s occupation of Manchuria after the Mukden Incident that they had engineered as a casus belli. The puppet state of Manchukuo was established in 1932. This third phase of Japan’s Empire continued with a creeping Japanese takeover of Inner Mongolia and Northern China until the Marco Polo Bridge Incident brought the start of all out conflict with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist (Kuomintang) government and a takeover of the main coastal industrial cities of China’s east coast including the capital Nanking. In 1940, the Vichy government of French Indochina was forced to yield to a Japanese occupation of North Vietnam followed by a complete occupation of Indochina in July 1941.  

The fourth phase of Imperial expansion was initiated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the invasion of northern Malaya and the attack on American forces in the Philippines. The conquest of Malaya, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and the islands of the central Pacific including Wake (USA) and Tarawa (Great Britain) was followed by the conquest of Burma, and the oil rich British Borneo and the sprawling archipelago of the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese Empire reached its apogee with the occupation of the north coast of New Guinea and the Australian protectorate of the Bismarck Archipelago.

The Economics and Philosophy of Japan’s East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: The Japanese Empire was characterized by military over-commitment that weakened rather than strengthened its strategic position and a territorial overextension whose material benefits were not matched by the costs of sustaining its newly acquired territories. In addition their acquisition in this second period of Imperial expansion, particularly evident after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War after its stunning destruction of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima [1905], started to coalesce a powerful group of enemies – the United States in particular. After 1905, US Naval and foreign policy strategy was aimed at containment of Japan, now firmly perceived as the main threat to the security of America’s Asian empire. And this reaction came as a result of Japan acquiring control of just Taiwan and Korea with an aggregate population of 30 million people. By 1938 however, after the Japanese Army’s opportunistic annexation of Manchuria, much of Northern China, the valuable seaboard on the east coast and its immediate hinterland stretching along the Yellow and Yangztse Rivers, Japan’s Empire had increased in size by a factor of ten. It now compromised almost 300m people and territories of 1.6m squ. km – more than six times the size of just Korea and Taiwan.

In Japan’s first and second phases of Imperial expansion, the government emphasized agricultural development and the export of rice to Japan where it was thought that domestic capacity was going to be inadequate to sustain Japan’s growing population, most of its urban. There were unanticipated consequences. The import of rice from its Empire pushed down prices in Japan and contributed to the agrarian depression of the 1920s and 30s. Perversely the result was that colonization of the new Imperial territories by Japanese agrarian workers and impoverished farmers was encouraged as a means of relieving the pressure being exerted on the agricultural sectors. It was a virtuous circle or a spiral of decline depending on one’s viewpoint. As Japanese colonizers increased productivity in Korea and Taiwan, so agricultural prices fell further in Japan, liberating yet more poor Japanese farmers to emigrate to the Empire. And so on.

In conjunction with the changes wrought in the agricultural sector, the acquisition of Empire was also seen as an answer to Japan’s increasing requirements for key commodities. Its growing economy demanded that commodities such as copper, pig iron, steel, tin, nickel, lead, aluminum, bauxite, tungsten, cobalt etc. had to be imported. Imperial acquisition seemed to be the answer to these problems. In Manchuria the opportunity presented itself as a result of the implosion of Chinese power after Sun Yat Sen’s 1911 revolution. In the 1920s the rule of China had descended into a shifting pattern of alliances between competing warlords.

In addition the pattern of world trade seemed to be changing – possibly forever. Depression after 1929 brought trade protection through tariffs and quotas – most famously America’s Smoot-Hawley Tariffs. Britain and her dominions also agreed a system of preferential trade within its Empire at the Ottawa Conference in 1933. Roosevelt’s administration also began to talk about the creation of a Pan-American Union, even though he started to row back on protectionist tariffs.

Inevitably Japan too began to talk of the need for an economic block. The lack of a Western response to the annexation of Manchurian suggested either the Western powers were not significantly concerned about Japanese expansion in Asia or that militarily they did not have the stomach for a fight. US isolationism in the 1920s and 1920s could only have confirmed this view of American weakness and disinterest. In 1938 the Japanese government announced a New Order in East Asia. It went out of its way to assure the Chinese that this order was not intended as a challenge to China’s independence. But the contradictions in these pronouncements were apparent to everyone except the Japanese government.

If the need to create a larger economic and autarkic trading area was the main thrust behind the idea of the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a geopolitical intent was also apparent; Japan wanted to hold back the tide of western domination of Asia that had the been apparent over the previous century. On 29 June 1940 Foreign Minister Hachiro Arita pronounced, “The countries of East and the regions of the South Seas are geographically close, historically, racially and economically very closely related to each other… they are destined to co-operate.”1 Economic opportunism merged seamlessly with national geopolitical objectives. In a radio address in December 1941, Foreign Minister Dani Masayuki told the Japanese people, “It goes without saying that the aim of the war of Greater East Asia is to free Greater Asia from the yoke of America and Britain… and to contribute to the peace of the world.”2 The political concept thus promoted also served as a recruiting mantra to appeal to Asian elites to work with Japan’s imperial authorities. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere appeared to offer liberation and a modus vivendi in a post-war world for Asia’s independent states.

The economics of the northern, older Empire of Phases I – III was differentiated with the newly acquired territories of Phase IV by the conscious development of industrial activity in Formosa, Korea and Manchuria - something that had been encouraged by Great Britain of the western powers in their Indian Empire. The expansion of colonization in Manchuria massively expanded new business opportunities for traders, merchants, shopkeepers, lawyers and government officials. For the new Pacific Empire of Phase IV, Japanese concerns related almost entirely to the extraction of resources, their contribution to defence and the absolute requirement that they did not act as a drag on Japan’s domestic resources.

Unlike in Korea and Taiwan there was no investment in infrastructure. Likewise Japan, which had made considerable attempts at cultural assimilation in its Phase I - III northeast empire, made no attempt to do so in its phase IV conquests. Ultimately the work of Colonel Keiji Suzuki, a sort of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ figure who had stirred up young nationalists such as Aung San to revolt against the British Empire in Burma, was not backed up by Japan’s military rulers who quickly quashed the hopes of independence of the ‘liberated’ countries of Asia. The political regimes set up with collaborators such as Baw Maw in Burma and Laurel in the Philippines were little more than fig leafs for a brutal Japanese military regime. Similarly in Manchuria and China, Phase III conquests, a façade of independence was maintained with the formalities of signed treaties and local administrations. By contrast in Korea and Taiwan, senior positions in government were awarded to soldiers and administrators dispatched from Japan. Local Koreans trained in Japan’s military and civilian academies and could take jobs in the lower echelons of their own countries, although they could never aspire to leadership. Arguably without the exigencies of war, over time the Japanese might have achieved the same quiescent relationship with the Asian nations conquered in Phase IV.

However whereas cultural and racial brotherhood was claimed for Korea and Taiwan, in Southeast Asia’s Phase IV acquisitions, notably Burma, the Philippines and Indochina, Japan simply proclaimed themselves as liberators. Their assurances were taken with a pinch of salt and guerrilla activities developed almost immediately, though resistance in the Dutch East Indies was fairly minimal. Any sense of liberation was immediately dissipated by the requirement that Japan’s ‘liberating’ armies should live off the land. It was an order issued by Imperial GHQ in November 1941 as Japan prepared for a war against the West that it was logistically unable to support.

The myth of liberation of Asia still persists in Japan. Even politicians, intellectuals, academics and journalists maintain that Japan was a liberator of countries oppressed by Western imperialism. Hayashi Fusai in 1963 concluded in a series of articles later published as Daitoa senso kotei ron (An Affirmation of the Greater East Asia War) “America fought for a white Pacific… (while Japan fought for a) yellow Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”3 It is a view that is largely sustained in Japanese textbook history and a narrative that has severely comprised Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbours in the post war period. The governing party of the post-war period, the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), has largely upheld this view. However there are a minority of naysayers, notably Ueyama Shumpei in Daitoa senso no imi (The Meaning of the Greater East Asian War) who countered that Asian countries were delighted to see the back of the Japanese invaders. He also points out that, in a century that he describes as a hundred years war, Japanese aggression was manifested by the fact that every military engagement took place on territory outside of Japan.

Old Empire: Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria: During World War I the role of Korea moved from being a granary for Japan to a colony allowed limited industrialization. Some of this occurred when demand for Japanese textiles worldwide had meant that the demand for manufactured goods from its own colonies could not be met. Twenty companies with capital up to 30 million Yen were established during this period encompassing activities such as mining, brick making, shipbuilding, pig iron, steel, forestry, cement, sugar refining and milling. Makato Saito, who was Governor-General for all but two years of the 1920s abolished existing company law and implemented a company registration system identical to Japan’s. Tariffs were removed between Japan and Korea.

War again gave another spurt to industrialisation from the 1930s as the Kwantung Army in Manchuria rapidly expanded its demand for manufactured products. Historically Korea’s main roads had always fed into Manchuria and the sourcing of industrial products from the more northerly areas of Korea (now North Korea) was a natural development of Japan’s northern expansion. General Kazushige Ugaki who was Governor-General from 1931 to 1936 strongly supported the economic development Manchuria. Incentives were offered to private companies including low interest loans, expropriation of land and low tax rates.

As full-scale conflict developed in China, Korea too began to be managed on the basis of the total war concept that was developing from within the Japanese Army; essentially Japan and its colonies were a ‘Sparta’ in the making. In 1943 the Governor General reported that employment in manufacturing had risen 800 percent to 1.75m over the previous ten years. As the needs of Japanese military recruitment grew, Koreans moved upwards into more skilled positions, even into managerial and engineering posts. Korean entrepreneurs developed businesses as sub-contractors on the Japanese model. Advancement similarly developed in financial institutions.

As early as 1883 selected Koreans had been admitted to Japanese military academies but after 1915 this was reserved almost exclusively for members of the Korean royal family and the aristocracy. However admission, albeit difficult for Koreans, who had to pass language tests, again expanded rapidly after 1932. In essence elite Koreans were gradually drawn into Japan’s imperial project. In February 1932, shortly before the formal inauguration of Manchukuo, a well-known Christian leader Yun Chiho confided in his diary, “as a Korean patriot I would like to see Japan succeed in its Manchurian policy…” Japan controlled Manchuria,” he added, “will have room for employment of a large number of Koreans.”4 No longer at the periphery, Koreans were moving center stage. Thus Kim Yehyon, a consultant to the Chosen Fire and Marine Insurance Company, noted: “Once the War (Second Sino-Japanese War) comes to an end (with a Japanese Victory), it is not difficult to imagine that we Koreans as well, openly advancing into northern and central China, can reap various benefits as the third parties.”5

In Korea and Taiwan the expansion of the empire into China and later into Southeast Asia was accompanied by what was known as the kominka movement [1937-1945]. In essence it meant a policy “to transform [the colonial peoples] into Imperial subjects”6 It was not a policy designed to extend constitutional rights to Korea and Taiwan but was intended to make the colonial peoples “true Japanese”.7 In Korea an oath of loyalty to the Emperor in Japan was required. It started “We are subjects of the Imperial (Japanese) nation; we will repay His Majesty as well as the country with loyalty and sincerity.”8 In Taiwan emphasis was put on making Japanese the national language, as well as introducing Japanese religion, changing names (individuals and places) and recruitment of military volunteers. Shintoism was promoted in Japan and Korea. In both countries the study of classical Chinese was removed from the educational syllabus. In 1938 Korean was relegated to the status of an option subject and was removed completely in 1941. However in adoption of the Japanese language, Korea lagged Taiwan, which had become a colony 15 years earlier.

In general kominka policies were introduced in Taiwan in an atmosphere of greater acceptability than in Korea where the changes were more coercive and confrontational. Nevertheless in Korea the number of volunteer applicants to join Japanese Army brigades fighting in China increased from 2,946 in 1938 to 303,294 in 1943. A similar growth in numbers was seen in Taiwan. It became the fashion for Korean and Taiwanese colonials to demonstrate their loyalty by joining the ‘Army Volunteer System’. By 1945 207,183 Taiwanese had been recruited of whom 30,304 died in service.

In all conquered countries a certain percentage of the elite always aligned themselves with the new rulers. Manchuria was no exception. Once the warlord regime of Chang Hsueh-Liang was driven out, Manchurian factions stepped forward to help the Japanese invaders, in the form of the Kwantung Army, manage the newly annexed country. There was already an established precedent in Japanese management in Manchuria through the not inconsiderable activities of the South Manchuria Railway Company, a quasi-official joint stock company established after the Treaty of Portsmouth [1906], which had granted this Russian concession to Japan. Using its monopoly position, the company had already diversified into mining and manufacture.

A bold experiment in state capitalism led to a rapid growth in the Manchurian economy. It was a development that was eagerly jumped on by Japanese Zaibatsu. However companies outside the tradition Zaibatsu conglomerates establishment were often even more aggressive. Manchuria gave them the opportunity to escape from the ‘capital capture’ structure that the Zaibatsu had imposed on Japan through their dominant banking institutions. Thus companies such as Nissan, a company outside the Zaibatsu structures, saw Manchuria as a means of breaking out from their inherent competitive disadvantages. Overall however, the economic development of Manchuria came to be seen as a disappointment. In particular, consumer demand for Japan’s industrial products remained weak – not surprisingly given that this largely agrarian society could not avoid the global downturn in commodity prices in the 1930s.

Nevertheless mass migration from Japan was encouraged and over 300,000 people moved to Manchuria. The Japanese-controlled Manchurian Bureau of Affairs was the overarching promoter of the scheme. It was aimed largely but not wholly at impoverished tenant farmers. Most Japanese emigrated under the ‘village colonization’ program organised by the Manchurian Emigration Council, the Colonial Ministry and the Agricultural and Forestry Ministry. In Japan, citizens were urged to “Go! Go and colonize the continent! For the development of the Yamato race, build the new order in Asia!”9

Manchuria became the centrepiece of the wartime Empire and the symbol of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. As historian Louise Young has concluded, “the hubris of Japan’s wartime empire was not the isolated expression of a few individuals, but the collective consciousness of an age.”10 Though it should be remembered that at the initial stages the government in Tokyo was reluctant to acquiesce to the Kwantung Army’s unauthorised annexation of Manchuria. It was only in the early months of 1932 as the Kwantung Army pressed for the setting up of the state of Manchukuo that Tokyo relented and began to accept the Army’s fait accompli.

Soon the Army, Foreign Office and Colonial Ministry were jostling for power in Manchukuo. It was a turf war convincingly won by the Army. In September 1932 Army Minister, Sadao Araki complained “the SMR [South Manchurian Railway] is a political plum for the men of parties, that the company considers only the interests of its stockholders… it has become too fond of profit and has lost sight of the fact that it owes its existence to the state and its citizens… [but] We must first free the SMR from the clutches of the political parties.”11 Army influence was at first rebuffed but after 1934 the Army used its power of veto over the cabinet in Japan to increase its power over the Manchurian Affairs Bureau. The aim of industrialisation was very clearly to prepare the economy of Manchukuo for war. In 1937 alone, the government of Manchukuo founded seventy-nine new companies aimed at the expansion of the military-industrial complex. To a large extent the Manchukuo model for economic expansion became the template for wartime Japan. However, after 1939 Japan no longer had the industrial capacity to provide the capital goods to enable further expansion of its colonies’ expansion. As a result the second five-year plan launched in 1942 was less ambitious than its predecessor.

After the absorption of Northern China, investment increased from Y1.1bn in 1936 to Y1.8bn in 1938; 38 per cent went to mining and industry, 27 per cent to finance and 19 per cent to commerce. The prime focus of these new areas of Phase III Imperial expansion was largely industrial resource extraction. The main commodities included coal, iron and alumina. Most of the industrial activity was financed by the North China Development Stock Company, which was financed 50/50 by the government and private sector. With the exception of the use of private money, the industrialisation of Manchuria and Northern China was not far away from the model used by the Soviet Union. After the America’s freezing of Japan’s financial assets, they created a quasi Yen block; in effect America had now forced on them an autarkic system of economic development. To begin with it was introduced in Manchuria and north China and later partially extended into French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies; it was designed to enable Japan to acquire commodities in a world with which it could not trade because it had been financially frozen out. However areas such as New Guinea, Burma and the Solomon Islands were not integrated into the Yen block system – reflecting a lack of resources and their low priority.  

In a Japanese policy statement issued on 20 November 1941, it was cautioned that a “premature encouragement of native independence shall be avoided.”12 There was no plan as to how the Southeast Asian countries should develop and fit into Japan’s empire model. That the occupation would be rapacious was made clear from the outset. The Army been ordered to live off the land and it was made clear that the native populations would have to lump it: “Economic hardships imposed on native livelihood as a result of the acquisition of resources vital to the national defense for the self-sufficiency of troops must be endured.”13 It displayed a prosaic exploitative pragmatism though officers such as Iwaichi Fujiwara and Keiji Suzuki carried a more emotive and idealist message. Given the overextension of Japanese power and the lack of pre-planning for Phase IV of the Empire, it is perhaps not surprising that local rule was military, ad hoc, chaotic and more often than not brutal.

Apart from the idea of pan-Asian liberation and the strategic and economic arguments for the southward advance, a clear plan is impossible to discern. E. Bruce Reynolds noted that Japan “failed to capitalise on the pro-Japanese Asian mood.”14 Opportunistically Phibun, Thailand’s prime minister and effective dictator, used the advance of Japan’s Empire to make an opportunistic alliance that enabled him to filch disputed border territories in both Indochina and Burma. Thailand was arguably a model for the future development of a Japanese Empire though as soon as the war started to go against Japan Phibun defected at the earliest opportunity.

A key figure in the Dutch East Indies military government, Shizuo Saito, stated that, “Our major objective in the war was to acquire the natural resources of the land, and this was impossible to achieve without the cooperation of the natives.”15 In the 1920s Sukarno had predicted that Japanese aggression was bound to result in war with the “two imperial states of Britain and the United States.”16 Sukarno also noted that as an imperialist country in its own right Japan was hardly suitable for the role of “standard bearer of the oppressed Asia people.”17 Nevertheless Sukarno let it be known that he preferred Japanese militarism to Dutch democracy; whether he would have felt the same if he had known that Japan had decided to keep the Dutch East Indies and Malaya ‘for eternity’ is doubtful. Japan’s views on Empire only began to change as losing the war becoming increasingly inevitable. The compliance of nationalists such as Sukarno led Japanese authorities to declare, “Indonesian people rendered hearty co-operation to our military administration.”18 His policies did not please all of his followers and in a coup reminiscent of the Xian incident in China, Sukarno and his deputy Mohammad Hatta were captured by younger nationalists in the so-called Rengasdengkok Incident.

Although a post-war liberation of Asia by Japan was never intended and in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Japan’s liberation of Asia became a post-war self-justification for their empire. On rare occasions ‘liberation’ was resisted. On 9 October 1942 Chinese inhabitants of Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu in northern Borneo) rose in revolt against their Japanese ‘liberators’ slaying forty Japanese soldiers. In putting down the revolt the small port town was indiscriminately bombed, mostly killing innocent civilians. The tiny Suluk Muslim population, which had offered little support for the uprising, was reduced from 838 to 288 by the end of the war.

The Philippines was the most westernized of the Asian countries. Uniquely the Philippines even had representation in the United States Congress with two non-voting members. Quezon averred: “We owe loyalty to America, and we are bound to her by bonds of everlasting gratitude.”19 He referred to America as “Mother America”.20 In spite of the close relationship between the Filipino elite and the United States, collaborators were soon found. José Laurel visited Japan after becoming President of the Second Philippine Republic in October 1943 and was promised independence. Unlike in Burma, Japan did not make it a condition that Filipinos participate in the war on Japan’s side. Nevertheless Laurel, the Philippine’s puppet ruler, attended the Greater East Asian Conference in November 1943. Other attendees included Subhas Chandra Bose who was the provisional head of ‘Free India’. Ba Maw attended from Burma but the Dutch East Indies was not represented.

Ba Maw developed a close personal relationship with Tojo after meeting the senior Japanese leadership on five occasions. Laurel met Tojo before the conference and opined, “Should Japan be defeated, we know that we in East Asia will become slaves.”21 It was one of the reason given by Hirohito in his post-war confessions (Showa Tenno no Dokuhaku Roku [1936]) for not removing Tojo earlier: “a reshuffle that disregarded those ties might make it difficult to retain public goodwill in Greater East Asia.”22 Phibun refused to go to the conference in Tokyo, correctly judging that the balance of the war had moved in favour of the Allies.

Slave Labor in Japan and in the Field: In the early months of 1942, with Japan’s conquering army suddenly faced with an unexpectedly large influx of Allied prisoners of war (POWs), it seemed logical for them to use captured troops as slave labor. Not being signatories to the Geneva Convention there was no legal restraint on Japanese actions.

Burma’s railways, made famous by the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] were not the only ones to be built by POW labor. In the last year of the war some 5,000 British and Dutch servicemen were put to work on Sumatra along with 30,000 natives coolies. Death rates over the course of the year were 12 per cent for white soldiers but an astonishing 80 per cent for native workers. The railway was never used.

POWs were often shipped from place to place to perform slave-gang work. Though working conditions were often appalling, being transported was usually worse. On 17 September 1944, Allied troops were ordered aboard a small steamer, the Maros Maru. Inside prisoners were battened down and the new prisoners were lashed together as deck passengers to face the ravages of sun and sea. Flight Lieutenant W.M. Blackwood recalled, “Day after day, men who were grievously ill lay on the hatch cover fully exposed to the pitiless sun.”23 At the Celebes Islands, a further 150 prisoners were shoved on the preposterously packed decks: “Tongues began to blacken, raw shirtless shoulders to bleed, and all vestiges of sanity deserted many,”24 recalled Blackwood. At Macassar where some cargo was unloaded the steamer remained at anchor for forty days – during which time some 159 soldiers died. By the time that the Maros Maru reached Java only 325 of the complement of 650 POWs were left alive.

On the Mayebassi Maru carrying Allied troops from Singapore to Burma, 650 POWs had to occupy a lower hold that was 75ft by 48ft. It was even worse than the journey from Java to Singapore aboard the King Kong Maru, which they had considered an intolerable inferno. “From the bottom of this pit the patch of daylight at the top of the hatch seemed as remote as the clouds from the depths of the Grand Canyon…”25 For the next fifty-four hours the ship remained motionless in Keppel Harbor. The soldiers fried. The entire journey from Moulmein took seventeen days. Hundreds died. The journey for the 1500 Dutch prisoners coming from Java was even worse. There was an outbreak of dysentery and by the time their ship had reached Rangoon after twenty-two days, 200 were dead and 450 could not walk.

At least there was no storm. The POW ship, Byoke Maru, was caught in a typhoon. Chief Petty Officer Ray Perkins recalled, “Men fell into helpless paroxysms of sickness… The sounds were those of wordless animals, forced out – half screech, half scream – by the violence of the muscular contraction… the noise of some 200 sick men sometimes rose louder than the storm.”26 The dead would be tossed overboard in rice sacks. Some prisoners envied them. The smell of shit, urine and vomit made every moment a living hell. Many went insane aboard the hellships; their screams adding further torture to the inmates. Men would kill to get water. There were always fights during rail squalls as men fought to get water dripping from the hold covers. There are numbers of recorded instances where the insane drank pales of urine thinking it was water. If they were fortunate, Japanese guards left open the hatches to let in air; but some times entire voyages were conducted with the hatches closed. At port stops, guards would sometimes take away the sick under the pretence that they were to be taken for medical treatment. Usually that meant execution by bayonet or beheading. The lives of the sick were worthless if they could no longer work.

Arguably the worst recorded journey was that of 1,6191 American POWs from Manila to Fukuoka on Kyushu Island. Starting on 13 December 1944, the journey took 49 days aboard three ships. American bombers hit one of them, the Enoura Maru. Hundreds were killed. Some were machine gunned by the Japanese as they attempted to escape the stricken ship. Most however died on the journey from dehydration, starvation and disease. When they finally docked less than 500 men had survived. Of these a further 235 would die in Japanese prison camps within weeks. Over 80 per cent of this group of POWs perished.

There were other dangers at sea. Notably sinking by Allied submarines. On 1 October the Lisbon Maru, carrying 1,800 POWs in the hold, was struck by a torpedo and started to sink. Some 2,000 Japanese troops aboard were taken off while the prisoners were left to go down with the ship. A British officer begged for the hatches to be left open but Nimori, a Japanese translator shouted down, “You have nothing to worry about, you are bred like rats, and so can stay like rats.”27 Eventually many POWs were able to escape from the sinking ship but were gunned down on deck and in the water. Over half the POWs, some 970 of them were drowned or were killed. Some POW ships suffered a worse fate. Usually they were unmarked. In July 1942 the Montevideo Maru sailing from Rabaul was sunk. All 1,000 POWs and civilian internees were drowned in the crammed holds. Meanwhile in 1944 two torpedoes hit the Rakuyo Maru taking 1,248 POWs from Singapore to Formosa; 971 of the prisoners were killed. By not showing Red Cross signs as required by the Geneva Convention, Japan’s slow moving POW transports were floating death-traps for their unfortunate inmates.

In Japan, far from receiving better treatment, POWs from Asia discovered conditions that were often much worse. Already emaciated Allied soldiers who had arrived in even worse condition on the ‘hellships’ found that they were worked even harder in mines, quarries or foundries. Twelve-hour shifts were the norm though every five days they had to endure an eighteen-hour shift. They were not helped in 1944-1945 by the harshest winter on record with temperatures falling as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Death rates in Japanese camps were 36 per cent on average but there were significant variances. At Zentsuji on Shikoku Island a model camp was built to show off to the Red Cross and international delegations. Other terminal destinations for POWs from Southeast Asia included Taiwan; at the Kinkaseki mines every man was forced to move between 9 -15 tons of rock per day. After 814 day only 89 of 524 Australian POWs were left alive.

Public concern about the issue of ‘comfort women’ is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was not for example an issue raised during the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. This silence was not because Allied soldiers did not come across comfort women; it was that simply that regimental brothels and camp followers have always been a part of military culture, western and Asian. Nor should it be overlooked that, after the US occupation of Japan in 1945, local authorities in Japan connived with General MacArthur’s administration to recruit women for the task of servicing GIs. Indeed, it would seem that the main concern at the time was that many Japanese women were fearful of the legendary size of the geijin penis; fortunately for the Japanese ‘onri won’ ladies these rumours proved to be inflated.

The issue of comfort women in the Pacific War only became a public debate and scandal after investigative reporting by Kako Senda for Mainichi Shimbun in 1962 revealed the vast scale of the sex slave operations. Using much of this research work a Korean activist, Kim Il-myon published The Emperor’s Forces and Korean Comfort Women [1976]. In the 1980s, Seiji Yoshida, an administrator in the wartime National Labor Service Association became the only Japanese witness to come forward and give evidence about recruitment and management of comfort women.

Pressure gradually mounted for full disclosure and in May 1990 South Korean President Roh Tae-wu’s visit to Japan brought an official request for information. Japanese officials blamed local entrepreneurs (pimps): “They (comfort women) were just taken around the military forces by private entrepreneurs, so investigations of them were not possible.”28 In response to this official obfuscation the Korean Comfort Women’s Problem Resolution Council made six key demands including admission, apology, compensation, and inclusion of the truth in historical education. The response of the Japanese embassy was to refer to the Japan-Korea Basic Treaty [1965], which they argued settled all outstanding issues between the two countries. Anger at the response spurred Kim Hak-sun to become the first comfort woman to come out openly to speak of her experiences. Others followed and court proceedings regarding compensation began in earnest. A hotline set up to find information in Tokyo received 240 substantive calls as well as 24 in Urawa, 91 in Kyoto and 61 in Osaka.

As a result of this increasing cascade of information, a fuller picture has now emerged. Firstly there was a clear War Ministry Directive: “The psychological influence received from sexual comfort stations is most direct and profound and it must be realised how greatly their appropriate direction and supervision affect the raising of morale, the maintenance of discipline, and the prevention of crime and venereal disease.”29 Throughout the newly acquired wartime empire, the setting up of comfort women operations became remarkably ubiquitous – even in remote parts such as Chichijima in the Bonin Islands, Rabaul on New Britain (New Guinea) and Ishigaki in the Ryukyus.

The Tokyo hotline alone revealed 79 comfort units in China, 56 in Manchuria, 36 in Southeast Asia, 22 in the western Pacific, 23 in Japan and 6 in Korea. Other hotlines also revealed significant operations in Malaya, the Philippines, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Taiwan, Indochina and Thailand. The numbers of women involved in the operation were vast with official documents revealing that one woman was provided for 30 to 50 troops. Typically research has shown that women ‘serviced’ up to 100 men per day. In total it is estimated that there were in the order of 100,000 comfort women on the Japanese Army’s books at the height of the war. In aggregate it is estimated that, over the course of the war, as many as 200,000 women were forced to become sex slaves.

Apart from Japanese women who tended to be reserved for officers, their most common nationality was Korean, followed by Chinese, and Filipino. However virtually all races were represented including White Russians and Dutch. There are well-documented cases of forced prostitution of Dutch internees in Semarang and Java. Some women were forcibly recruited as punishment for perceived anti-Japanese views, some simply seized from the countryside, while some were volunteers lured by the promise of good pay. In other cases young girls were purchased from their families. 30 Yen per month, which was considered a norm, was twice the pay of a regular soldier. In general Japanese women were paid a premium. However, pay that was often given in military scrip was worthless particularly when there were no goods to buy. Of course, after the war the scrip had no value. Hopes that some women had of saving for the post-war world were usually dashed. Conditions varied. Some comfort stations were virtual prisons while at others comfort women were allowed a relatively free and open life. For many, however, life was constrained by the need to follow the army into battle. Comfort women were even shuttled up to troops in pillboxes on the front line – even being provided with pistols for defence or suicide.

A shortage of condoms meant that venereal disease became rampant. Syphilis within the ranks of the Japanese Army was rampant. It did not help that many soldiers did not disclose a condition that prevented career advancement. However illness was the least of the problems for comfort women. Significant numbers died from bombing or were killed in the cave and tunnel fighting of the desperate battles to the death of the Japanese soldiers that they served. On Saipan many joined in the mass suicides of civilians in cliff top leaps. Others simply died in crossfire. In Burma, a group of seven Korean women were found to have killed themselves with a grenade. Others took potassium cyanide. At Truk Atoll seventy women were found massacred by machine gun. When starvation beckoned some comfort women were eaten.

Cruelty and Suppression: Hirohito’s War is replete with detail about Japan’s wartime atrocities. Though atrocities are the normal stuff of war and the Allied armies were far from innocent in this respect, the massacre of Japanese soldiers at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea is particularly notable, the scale of the brutality across the breadth of Japan’s Asian Empire is nevertheless perhaps unique in the annals of modern history.

Not surprisingly perhaps most of the information has come from Allied POWs.

Few kempeitai (secret police) have ever come forward to discuss torture methods. However, Yoshio Tschuchiya, who joined the secret police in 1933 at the age of twenty-two has been a rare interviewee. Torturing prisoners for information developed a standard routine. Beating would begin with fists but would soon become exhausting. It was followed by hitting the prisoner with a red hot iron bar. That too had disadvantages: “it was hard to stay in the room because human flesh is burned and it smells bad.”30 Hanging torture was frequently endured for hours; as was water boarding, which gave the victim the sensation of drowning. The kempeitai were well aware that a high percentage of the confessions were lies but carried on anyway because that was what was expected of them.

Indian soldiers were particularly badly treated. Being considered racially inferior to the Japanese did not help their case. At Kual Balait (in modern day Brunei) fifty-five Indian soldiers were starved to death for refusing to join Bose’s Indian National Army. Another sixty-five were bayoneted or beheaded. Naik Ram “saw that all of the Indians’ heads had been cut off.”31

Allied bomber crews were dealt with particularly harshly. Most were tortured and executed. Those who parachuted onto mainland Japan were often killed by enraged civilians; “they were extremely hostile and beat me with clubs, rods, rocks and many other objects,” recalled Lieutenant ‘Hap’ Halloran, a B-29 bomber, “I blacked out from the beatings. I felt I would die that afternoon on enemy soil.”32 Paradoxically they were saved form the mob by the kempeitai who were keen to interrogate them. Even if they were not killed, fliers were tortured and humiliated. In one bizarre episode American fliers were stripped naked and placed in animal cages at a Zoo for the Japanese public to view and taunt them.

After the Great Tokyo Air Raid on 8 March 1945, in which 100,000 Japanese perished, a jail holding sixty-two American prisoners was hit. Many were killed but the remainder were butchered as the infuriated prison guards ran amok with their bayonets. Remarkably American flyers at Omori Prison Camp, where they were used as slave labor, survived.

In addition to many first hand witnesses to torture, confirmation of kempeitai techniques came with the capture of a handbook Japanese Instructions on How to Torture. The booklet advised that threats could be as good as torture to extract confessions: “Hints of future discomforts, for example, torture, murder, starvation, solitary confinement, deprivation of sleep,”33 were all recommended. Evidence suggests that ‘hints’ were rarely used as the first step in the torture program.

At Tamarkan camp on the River Kwai, the kempeitai used thumbscrews, sharpened bamboo and whips. Lighted cigarettes would be pushed into the ears and noses of prisoners chosen for punishment. Other punishments included regular beating with open or closed fists, beatings with iron bars and wood, kicks to the stomach, genitals and head, being made to stand for hours holding a heavy piece of wood or stone, kneeling on bamboo poles, forcing POWs to beat each other up, indefinite hand presses followed by beating when they stopped, and solitary confinement in tiny bamboo cages. Toosey would later say, “Nowhere in the world was sadism practiced with greater efficiency than in the Japanese army.”34

Prisoners of War: In the Japanese war code it was not possible for a soldier to surrender and retain honor. As Hirohito’s War has described, in battle after battle in the long retreat from the outer reaches of Japan’s empire, from the central Pacific, New Guinea, the Indian border, and from the Solomon Islands, Japanese soldiers chose death over capture. To the amazement of the US Marines, in many instances the death rate of Japanese in the Pacific Island battles was as high as 99.9 percent. To the Japanese the surrender of tens of thousands of Allied troops in the first months of the war was simply incomprehensible. To Japan’s commanders it bespoke not only cowardice but a lack of seishin (pure heartedness) on the part of their western enemies.

The sense of shock and disgust on the part of the Japanese troops was followed by a more pragmatic question. How could they deal with such large numbers of prisoners In part the Japanese Army’s brutal treatment of their captives was caused by it being logistically quite unprepared to deal with the tens of thousands of prisoners of war. Another shock was the sheer size of their prisoners. As Toyoshige Karashima recalled thinking, “How on earth are we going to look after people of this size.”35

For the Western captives the brutality of their treatment was equally surprising. In Hong Kong, prisoners were kept in roofless huts with no protection from the rain and were forced to sleep on bare concrete. There was no medicine. Food was limited to a bowl of rice in the morning and another in the evening. There was no sanitation and rats and flies were everywhere. The smell was almost the worst thing to bear. Beatings were frequent – often meted out for failure to bow or salute. Anthony Hewitt, who was ordered to escape by his commanding officer recalled, “I thought they were terrible people, the Japanese. There was absolutely no link between normal civilized behaviour and the way these Japanese troops were behaving. No reason at all why they had to behave in this awful, cruel and sadistic manner.”36

Yet it should be noted that Japanese soldiers in the field often suffered conditions much worse than those described by Hewitt. In New Guinea and the Solomons, troops would dream about two bowls of rice a day, and their living conditions were often much worse. This is not to excuse the barbarity of Japanese punishment of prisoners; but as to living conditions, the Japanese Army simply lacked the logistical assets to feed themselves let alone armies of prisoners. When one prisoner, Jim Miller complained about lack of food, his commandant Hoshijima told him that “people die of starvation every day in Japan. You’re only POWs – why should we feed you? The Japanese only feed POWs if they work.”37 For some the lack of food was excuse enough to murder prisoners. One Japanese soldier, asked why he bayonetted Chinese soldiers, responded, “Well, there was an administrative problem and not all of them could be fed.”38

The shortage of food was a constant issue for prisoners. Ruff, a Dutch teenager at the time of her internment recalled unremitting hunger: “It was really dreadful – the starvation. You really had hunger pains. We ate anything. We ate weeds. Towards the end we even ate rats and snails. We even ate a cat – the camp commandant’s cat – because we were so hungry.”39 Starvation brought specific illnesses. Like Japanese soldiers in the field, prisoners suffered from beriberi and pellagra. Early symptoms were aching feet, the pain of which eventually kept people awake all night.

For women POWs the fear of sexual attack was as great a problem as hunger. Two years into her captivity Jan Ruff O’Herne, along with other of the younger women, was taken away and put in a brothel; when they protested the Japanese said “they could do with us what they liked.”40 Ruff, a virgin, had her clothes ripped off by a “large, fat, bald Japanese officer”41 who ran his sword over her body before raping her. The first night she was raped by ten Japanese soldiers. After a week she was subjected to a gynecological examination by a doctor. She appealed to him for help believing that a doctor would help her. She was more than disappointed; he raped her and did so every week during his visits. After three months the Dutch girls were taken to a prison camp in Batavia (Jakarta). It is interesting to note that the Japanese kept them separate from other prisoners to prevent them from talking about their experiences. It is clear from this that Japanese officers were quite aware that what they were doing was morally wrong. After the war she confessed to a priest about what had happened and told him that she wanted to become a nun. The priest told her that would be inappropriate given her experiences. In 1992 Ruff became the first European ‘comfort woman’ to speak out and demand an apology from Hirohito and the Japanese government.

Prisoner punishments were varied. Some commandants simply shot prisoners who escaped. Others were savagely beaten. Special punishment sometimes involved keeping prisoners in wooden cages where they could not stand up. Their screams would keep other prisoners on edge. Daily exercise consisted of being taken out for a beating.

Singapore’s Changi barracks before the war were renowned as a luxury showcase for the British Army. Set in green parkland dotted with trees and bougainvillea and overlooking the sea, it had every appearance of an island paradise. Apart from troop barracks set on the ten square mile site, there were officers’ bungalows, mess quarters, warrant officer accommodation and messes, theatres, canteens, cinemas, squash courts, playing fields, garages, workshops and churches. However when 52,200 mainly British and Australian troops were transferred there by their Japanese captors in February 1942, most of the accommodation had been bombed. For the first week there was no food at all; a testament to how badly the Japanese Army was resourced in logistical capability.

The Japanese set about breaking the spirits of the Allied troops by humiliation. When Lieutenant-General Percival refused to allow his men to teach the Japanese how to use captured British weapons, he was locked up and denied food for four days. Officers were forced to remove insignia of rank. Orders were also given that prisoners would have to salute guards – a humiliation for many when renegade soldiers who had chosen to join the Indian National Army (INA) were given many of the guard duty tasks. One Sikh guard who inflicted butt and bayonet wounds on British prisoners ended up being murdered when he was bundled into the latrines. He was upended head first in the latrines and drowned.

Nevertheless the British were better treated than many Indians and Chinese who were taken bound into the sea and mown down by machine gun. Robert Reid, 2nd Lieutenant, reported: “We are voluntarily sending out burying parties to bury the hundreds of Chinese and Indians butchered by the Nips on Changi Beach.”42

Using extraordinary ingenuity prisoners were able to fashion goods from waste. Huts were repaired and fitted with bunks and bedding made from rice sacks, pots and pans were fashioned from junk, a disused electricity source was used to connect the huts for fans, and fresh water was pumped for showers. Vegetables were grown using urine to water the plants. Eventually the troops kept pigs and chickens. The camp’s commandant connived at and encouraged these luxuries but it still proved little more than a starvation diet. Thereafter with just 2,000 calories available for men required to do physical labor, deterioration of physique was inevitable.

Boredom was alleviated by the foundation of a university. The commandant was persuaded that if men’s minds were occupied they would be less likely to plan escapes. Accordingly 20,000 books were transported from Singapore. Major E.W. Swanton, after the war a famed cricket correspondent for The Telegraph, wrote, “You go round and see a flock of gunners listening to a lecture on the modern history of Europe or a Shakespeare play reading.”43 Not surprisingly sport played an important role in keeping up morale. Games of touch rugby, soccer, badminton, volleyball and tennis were conjured from what was available. The camp even held swimming and athletic competitions. On occasions Japanese and Korean guards participated. As historian Brian MacArthur points out in Surviving the Sword [2005], by the end of the war “Changi became a small city, with its own government, ‘schools’ and ‘universities’, churches, factories, farms and gardens, theatres, medical services, cookhouses, craftsmen, technicians and ‘businessmen’, who became moneylenders.”44

Camps brought out the best of human behaviour – and also the worst. ‘King Rats’ operated like Chicago mobsters. Theft, protection rackets, dealing in food and rare goods became the norm. Cigarettes were the main trading currency having the advantage of keeping currency supply limited as new issues went up in smoke. By common acknowledgement, the Australians were the smartest of the ‘rat’ set. Sometimes the ‘King Rats’ worked closely with the POW chief officers to sustain a form of welfare system. Others however looted medicines, blankets and other goods desperately needed by the POWs.

Dr. Cyril Vardy made detailed notes about the diet in his diary: “Breakfast. Rice with ½ sardine, or rice alone, or 1 small piece of cheese. Strong black tea. Lunch. Rice and milk (very little milk) ALWAYS. Dinner. Rice and a little stew, or curry or small piece of vegetable or one small piece of meat about that size. We twice a week get bread (2 slices, one with butter, one with jam). Once a week Army biscuit. Once a week sugar – teaspoonful. But there is always rice.”45 Eventually cooks learnt how to flavour rice with foraged spices or fish, coconut and chillies. The men also learnt how to make rice flour. Regimental Sergeant Major Peter Neild calculated that he ate 3,800 consecutive meals of rice. It may have been a harsh regime but tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands would have craved a diet as rich as this. Nevertheless by August 1942 some 22,342 soldiers had been admitted to hospital. The main illnesses were dysentery but 926 had beri-beri and 1,314 had malaria.

In December 1942 change came to Changi as 18,000 troops left for Burma, Thailand and Borneo. In the following months a further 16,000 were sent to Thailand and Japan, also to serve as laborers. For those who left, memories of Changi would be a paradise compared to what lay ahead. Indeed those fortunate few who survived the labor camps and found their way back to Changi basked in happiness. Flight Lieutenant Dick Philps rejoiced when he returned after surviving the building of an airport from coral on Haruku Island in the Moluccas: “Wonderful Changi Jail, civilized and, by our own standards, luxurious.”46

Packed into cattle trucks, the Allied troops were taken north to work on the Thai-Burma railway. Four days of horror followed; searing heat, foul conditions, and widespread dysentery. They were dispersed to different construction projects. Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Toosey’s British troops were joined by 1,000 Dutch troops from Java to work on the construction of two bridges over the River Kwai. With no construction equipment jungle clearing of teak and deeply rooted bamboo forests had to be done by hand. The bridge too was hand built. Unlike their life at Changi where soldier’s had the day to themselves, at the River Kwai men were on their feet for twelve or more hours per day: Stephen Alexander noted “the primitive nature of the tools, and the sheer number of men slaving away – some digging, some in long snaking queues carrying baskets of earth, some chaining sand and stones from the river bed – made for a positively biblical scene. We felt like the Israelites building a temple to Moloch.”47

There were constant beatings by the Korean guards who themselves were cruelly treated by the Japanese. One Korean was knocked down and had his eyes gouged out by the heel of a Japanese officer. In the Japanese Army brutality was handed down rank by rank – Allied prisoners were the end of the line. In the face of the appalling conditions Toosey’s refused to back down with regard to army discipline. He took the view that the Japanese would ignore all aspects of the Geneva Convention in order to get the bridge built – however many POW lives were lost. “It became clear to me that whether we liked it or not, the work had to be done.”48 Rather than defy the Japanese Toosey focused on the negotiation of better conditions. As part of the arrangements British officers were given a greater management role. Tamarkan camp was eventually rebuilt and became the model for others in Thailand. Remarkably the POWs were paid. Toosey organised a confiscation of a third of officers’ pay to buy medicine and food for the sick. Dr. Arthur Moon managed to save thousands of lives dealing with dysentery, malaria, malnutrition and frequent construction site injuries. An outbreak of cholera also had to be dealt with. Japanese doctors who visited once a month refused to enter the ulcer ward because of the unbearable stench. Out of the nearly 2,000 men, 30 were dying each month – a figure that would have been greatly increased if Toosey had not made contact with a helpful Thai resistance group (V organisation) who supplied him with money and medicines. Toosey also managed to persuade the commandant to allow him to develop a pig and duck farm.

The addition of Dutch prisoners added significantly to knowledge about how to prepare rice and flavour it with herbs and ground sambal bajak (a sort of peanut butter). They also taught the British better hygiene methods. Stephen Alexander noted that “it was a godsend to us the Dutch coming in and showing us how to use water.”49 For Toosey, a stickler for hygiene, their fastidiousness was welcome. Toosey himself refused to allow men to go unshaven and used Dutch barbers – thus preventing lice infestation. In spite of Toosey’s efforts, the condition of the men deteriorated. He later recalled one man “who was so thin he could be lifted easily in one arm. His hair… was full of maggots… a ragged pair of shorts, soaked with dysentery excreta. He was lousy, and covered with flies all the time… could be smelt for hundreds of yards.”50 When Toosey forced the Japanese guards to look at such men, “with the exception of the Camp Commandant, they showed no signs of sympathy and sometimes merely laughed.”51 By September 1943 15,000 of the 40,000 prisoners in Thailand were sick – not including those with dysentery and beriberi, who were still working in the slave gangs.

Miseries increased during the monsoon especially as the war turned against Japan and their engineers urged ‘speedo’ on their POW work gangs. Three 8-hour shifts working 24 hours a day was changed to two 12-hour shifts. Later even the POWs had to admit that the completion of the railway in the given time was a stupendous achievement. The conditions for the POWs were horrific and clearing the jungles brought an astonishing array of insects to add to the torment. Sapper Ronald Earle, later a cartoonist whose creation inspired the St. Trinians series of films, wrote, ‘”Mosquitoes and foul fat flies were a horror, and their bites were often fatal… we were kept awake by the swarms of bed bugs that wandered over us, sucking our blood… sometimes giant centipedes wriggled into our hair when we finally got to sleep…”52 The ‘speedo’ campaign drove Japanese guards to a frenzy of brutality. They knew that if they failed to meet targets, they too would be humiliated, beaten and flailed.  

Unlike in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] Toosey’s teams attempted to sabotage the bridge. Concrete was incorrectly made, poor termite infected trees were selected for key joints, and nuts and bolts were left loose or left out. The film’s suggestion that Toosey (Nicholson in the film) tried to build the perfect bridge was a slander to Toosey, as was the suggestion that it was British rather than Japanese engineers who designed it. Incongruously actor William Holden, playing an American soldier, played the heroic part even though there were no Americans at Tamarkan and there was no commando raid. Their efforts to weaken the bridge were unnecessary. Eventually the bridges were destroyed in air raids by British and American bombers at the end of 1944.

As a result of Toosey’s work and in spite of its miseries, Tamarkan became known as the best in region. Arrivals from other jungle camps were amazed. Australian war correspondent recalled that “on my birthday, a fortnight after arrival, with eight of my cobbers I had a discussion with four roast ducklings, stuffed with onions and herbs – a discussion more profitable in our pellagra-ridden condition than the finest of the Socratic Dialogues.”53 No better testimony could be given for the work of Lieutenant-Colonel Toosey, who became a legend and hero to those POWs who worked in the Japanese labor camps in Burma and Thailand. It remained a constant sadness to him and his troops that his reputation was so badly besmirched by David Lean’s famous film.

Officers were paid though enlisted men were only paid if they worked. A black market flourished and with it spivs and entrepreneurs. Difference in pay rankled as did the maintenance of rank, including an officer’s mess. Inevitably money went on the purchase of extra rations. A day’s pay for an enlisted soldier could buy an egg or four cigarettes. Officers were paid twice as much. Theft became commonplace – from the Japanese and each other. At Changi when the camp commandant harangued the POWs about theft of petrol he drove off in his car, which spluttered to a halt after a few hundred yards. While he was talking his gas tank was syphoned off.

While most post-war attention on POWs has been placed on Changi Prison in Singapore and on the building of the Burma railway by POWs, in others areas of Japan’s Empire prisoners suffered much more egregiously. After the war the Netherlands Forces Intelligence service deduced from captured documents that the kempeitai alone swept up 1,918 POWs of whom 743 were killed. Remarkably 304 persons, including 92 Europeans, 117 Indonesians and 35 Chinese and other Asians were pronounced as dead before sentence. Cause of death was listed as heart failure. It is clear that POW deaths speeded up as Japanese defeat came closer. As Major Katsumara confessed, “in view of the possibility of an Allied landing it was decided to deal with criminals as quickly as possible.”54 Throughout the Japanese Empire, Allied prisoners were dispatched as defeat drew nearer. In the Philippines the rapid rescues by General Krueger’s invasion forces on Luzon almost certainly saved hundreds and possibly thousands of lives. (SEE Chapter 32: “I have returned”: MacArthur Regains the Philippines)

During the course of the Pacific War some 27 per cent of the 350,000 male POWs died in capitivity. Given that these were mainly young men it was an astonishing mortality rate over a three and half year period. By comparison only 4 per cent of POWs held in German or Italian prison camps died in captivity. The figures hide the death rates of some camps that were much higher than the average. At Sandakan in Borneo only six POWs out of 2,500 (mainly Australians) survived the war. The surviving six all managed to escape. The remainder either died of disease or starvation, were beaten to death or shot. After the war Captain Hoshijima, Captain Watanabe and Captain Takakuwa were found guilty of murder, sentenced to death and executed.

Startling though the death rates were in the Pacific War, by way of comparison, of the 5.7m Soviet troops taken prisoner by the German Army on the Eastern Front, some 3.3m died in captivity – more than double the mortality rate of Japan’s POWs.

Although most of the focus of attention is placed on the physical conditions of captivity and the brutality of the Japanese regime towards the Allied prisoners of war , the psychological effects of imprisonment should not be ignored. On his forty second birthday, Dr. Vardy reflected “I cannot remember anything, except misery, disappointments, unhappiness – disillusions – friends, love, peace, home comfort for all seem to have flown out of life’s window.”55 Corps discipline, the focus on the daily fight to survive, friendship and large doses of humor were the qualities that kept men going. The collective singing of rude ditties about the Japanese did wonders for morale. Dr. Pavillard described camp life as a make believe. Mind games helped keep them alive: “We refused to think in terms of not going home. We took our survival and ultimate freedom for granted and related all our experience as prisoners of war to that fact.”56

Hatred of the Japanese was another unifying force. On occasions however compassion proved the stronger power. On Ambon in 1944 Flight Lieutenant Dick Philips recalled the arrival of wounded Japan troops who were expected to transfer themselves to a nearby empty ship for onward transportation. Emaciated British POWs, witnessing the pathetic state of the wounded Japanese, boarded the boat and carried them to their new ship. The Japanese guards looked on, incredulous.

In part the apparent disconnection of the Japanese towards the human suffering of the POWs may reflect the profound differences between Zhen Buddhism (Japan’s main religion) and Christianity. Buddhism teaches disconnection from the world while Christianity does not. The parable of the ‘good Samaritan’ is the perfect illustration of how one should ‘love thy neighbour’ by doing practical self-sacrificing actions. Christianity, even imbued by non-believers, promotes engagement, not detachment. It is noticeable that the deeply entrenched social structures of charity and community work do not exist to the same degree in Japan as in Europe. In Japan group beliefs may be psychologically strong but do not necessarily manifest themselves in giving outside the family unit.

However it would be wrong to put too much emphasis on these differences. The atrocities committed by Russian Orthodox Christians and Christian Germans (Catholic and Lutheran) stand comparison with anything done by the Japanese in Asia. In the camps at Changi, in Thailand and Burma, religion played a significant role in maintaining the morale of the troops and Father Noel Duckworth became a legendary figure among POWs not only for pastoral work but also for founding a black market operation to get supplies into the camps. On Sundays he thundered against the Japanese, lumping them together as the incarnation of evil and pointing at the guards standing nearby.  

The Psychology of Brutality: One officer, Ken Yusasa recalled, “In 1941, I became a doctor and specialised in infectious diseases. I believed that under the Emperor we were the greatest country in Asia… I was proud to be under direct control of the emperor, and I was taught that if I believed in the Emperor, my own happiness would come as an extension to that.”57 “…women’s bellies were cut open, homes were burned. If you couldn’t do this, then you weren’t a loyal soldier of the Emperor.”58 During his wartime ‘medical’ career he dissected a total of fourteen Chinese. He eventually spent eleven years in prison after the war. Later he wrote a book called Unerasable Memories.

Murder was nearly always committed in the name of the Emperor. Kenichiro Oonuki, a Japanese schoolboy in the 1920s, was taught that Hirohito was a ‘living God’: “We were taught that the emperor was a god in the form of a human being. That was the education that we received.”59

Masayo Enomoto admitted to entering a Chinese village and shooting a father who was protecting his 15 year-old daughter. He then raped and killed her. When interviewed he admitted, “I didn’t feel any sense of guilt then… because I was fighting for the Emperor. He was a God. In the name of the Emperor we could do whatever we wanted against the Chinese. Therefore I had no sense of guilt.”60 It was a commonly repeated response. Thus Hajime Kondo similarly believed that “if you kill a person then it’s good for the Emperor.”61 He admitted to gang raping a Chinese woman who with her child they took with them on a mountainous trek, which she had to complete naked. In the mountains the baby was thrown off the cliff. The mother then leapt to her death. Kondo “felt sorry for them for a while, but I had to carry on marching.”62 As to rape, Kondo admitted that there was peer pressure to join in. Officially rape was a crime but throughout the war only a few men were held to account.

Peer pressure was a powerful motivator. Yoshio Tshuchiya admitted, “I didn’t have courage at the beginning (to murder captives), but I couldn’t escape from it. I would be labelled as ‘Chicken’. So I had to do it.”63 Tshuchiya also noted that troops were taught to look down on Chinese as a lesser form of life equivalent to animals: “I felt like I was just killing animals, like pigs.”64

Toyoshige Karishima, a Taiwanese guard who accompanied POW porters on Borneo admitted to killing the many prisoners who couldn’t keep up. On occasions POWs, already sick before they started, begged to be shot. Karishima refused to accept personal responsibility for his crimes saying, “I don’t feel guilty now about what I’ve done because in a war people cannot be normal… when we joined the Japanese Army, we were told that we were the soldiers of the Emperor and all we needed to do was to obey orders…”65 Being one of the Emperor’s soldiers did not protect Karishima. As a Taiwanese Karishima was on the lowest rung of the ladder and was himself often beaten and abused. Japanese soldiers would often be beaten themselves for showing lack of spirit. Afterwards they would be forced to apologise and to bow to their fellow soldiers. The culture of brutality was endemic in the whole system of Japanese military discipline.

An even more distasteful aspect of the treatment of captured prisoners was cannibalism. This became a widespread practice in New Guinea. In part it was thought that the complete breakdown of Japanese logistics was the cause. At first instances of cannibalism were believed to be just isolated occurrences. However Professor Yuki Tanaka, on deeper investigation of the subject, has concluded, “cannibalism was an organised group activity.”66 Victims could include their own dead, natives and most frequently Australian soldiers. New Guinea was not the only place where cannibalism was practiced. One Indian POW, Hatam Ali, a soldier in the British Army, spoke of Japanese guards selecting a soldier every day for eating. On some occasions flesh might be hacked from their bodies while still alive before they were flung into a ditch. During the Battle of Kokoda Trail, Bill Hedges, an Australian soldiers, found one of his best friends whose body had been stripped of flesh: “We found them with meat stripped off their legs and half cooked meat in the Japanese dishes.”67 Some prisoners were eviscerated for their livers and hearts – Japanese delicacies. 

Survival was the prime motive particularly in New Guinea where some 93 percent of the 160,000 Japanese soldiers stationed there, died – mainly from starvation. However in some instances Professor Tanaka found that cannibalism was practiced even when there were alternative supplies. He explains the practice in these cases as being part of a group ritual that ensured solidarity – a similar phenomenon to group rape, another practice that was widespread in Japan’s conquest of China and Southeast Asia. In the face of defeat, Japanese moral and social values became completely disorientated. 

War has always been a morally disorienting force, and Japanese soldiers were not the only ones to do things in the Pacific War that in peacetime would have been considered despicable. Some Marines would take the skulls of Japanese soldiers as souvenirs. Mutilation of dead Japanese soldiers was common. So was the extraction of their teeth – often full of gold. Air Force pilot, Paul Montgomery recalled, “I saw Marines that had a paper sack of gold teeth – it weighed 10 to 15 pounds… the Marines I met were just kids – seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old – they appeared to me to be a bunch of animals.”68 Similarly American soldier Michael Witowich admitted: “I shot him [one of the Japanese dead] in the head with a .45 and automatically the mouth opens up. Man! All them gold teeth just staring at me. And I didn’t knock them out with a rifle, but I used pliers. I had a whole canteen of gold teeth… during the war everything is so horrible.”69

In one sense the idea of post death mutilation was understandable. After US Marines’ first wartime land engagement at the Battle of Tenaru on Guadalcanal, it was found that wounded Japanese troops would lie doggo. Passing US Marines would then be shot in the back or bayonetted. It therefore became standard practice to bayonet all Japanese bodies found on the battlefield - just to make sure. From here, the mutilation of bodies for purposes other than survival was not such a great stretch.  

However in the post-war period it is interesting to note how many Japanese and American troops alike looked back incredulously at how their inner consciences evaporated in the collective madness of war. Allowing for the fact that in most histories of the period American atrocities in the Pacific War are under reported (See Chapter 20 The Battle of the Bismarck Sea p569), it is clear that Allied atrocities were widespread. It cannot escape comment that probably one of the reasons that there were so few Japanese prisoners was not just that they committed suicide but that many of them were shot. It has to be asked whether this practice was more widespread in the Pacific War than in Europe where the Allies were fighting Caucasians. The comments of senior commanders such as Admiral Halsey, who famously described the Japanese as ‘monkey meat’ to warm applause in the US, would suggest that there was a large racist element in the perception of the Japanese as enemies. As for the Japanese, the scale, almost psychopathic brutality and universality of their wartime atrocities in the Pacific is perhaps unprecedented in modern history.

The ethical values and norms of Japanese social behaviour at the time taught that Emperor Hirohito was a God and that Chinese people were sub-human. Western POWs, who were never indoctrinated to give their lives for the state, had meanwhile forfeited their rights to be treated as humans by their cowardly surrenders. By contrast Japan’s citizens, in ritual school incantations, were required to proffer their lives to the state as embodied by their Godhead – the Emperor. Surrender was therefore unacceptable. Many captured Japanese troops begged American soldiers to shoot them. As Jonathan Clements points out in Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite [2010] “With conflict between nations now involving all the participants in those nations, not merely the military class, the government of Japan called upon its citizens to sacrifice their all in the manner of their soldiers at the front.”70 In effect, in a perversion of the ethos of the Samurai, the cult of death at its lowest common denominator was passed to the common soldier. Not surprisingly perhaps crude brutalism ensued. It is a not unfamiliar pattern of descent in today's world where the high ideals of Islam have been perverted in ISIS’s death cult. 

Some senior officers, as expressed by General Adachi before his death (See Hirohito’s War p.791), may have seen the war in terms of some great Wagnerian quest that bespoke the chivalric honor and sacrifice of the mythological Samurai, but these were sentiments way beyond the comprehension of the standard junior officer or foot-soldier - it was beyond many of their Generals too, some of whom explicitly encouraged brutality toward the conquered - natives and POWs.

The concept of bushido, literally the way of the fighting knights, was intended for a cultural and social elite not for a modern army of enlisted men. The cult of the Samurai was a semi-modern mythology based on texts such as the 11th Century The Tale of Genji, just as 19th Century romanticism in Europe idealised the warlike Arthurian, Norse and Teutonic sagas. The mythology of bushido was buffed up in the 1930s by Eiji Yoshikawa’s fictional account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, the famed 16th Century ronin, a wandering Samurai warrior who has no master - like Sir Lancelot of Arthurian legend or Billy the Kid in Wild West mythology.

Musashi wrote Go Rin No Sho (The book of Five Rings) [1645], one the key texts that sustained the romantic idea of the Samurai long after the demise of this social class. It is symptomatic of the importance of mythology in the Pacific War that one of the two super-battleships built by Japan, the Musashi, which was sunk at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was named after this semi-mythological figure. The idea of the Samurai and its relevance to modern Japan was as fake as Hollywood’s depiction of the heroic ‘gunman’ of the Wild West. Indeed in reality in most Western shoot-outs the victims were shot unawares in the back – the honourable quick draw contest was strictly for the movies.

Some Japanese academics in the post-war period, less coy and guilt ridden about World War II than their German counterparts, have been enthusiastic to see the linked influence of Japanese and German saga mythologies. Indeed there are similarities in the war their respective totalitarian regimes used mythology. Faux romanticism helped engender a real militarism that descended into barbarity in the 20th Century's age of total war. War now belonged to the masses, not a cultured and spiritual elite pining for a noble mythological warrior past. While in the liberal Anglo-Saxon nations Arthurian romanticism found its outlet in the Arts & Crafts movement, the 19th Century paintings of the pre-Raphaelites, the parodies of Mark Twain [A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889] and ultimately in the comedy of Monty Python, in totalitarian Germany and Japan the path of mythological romanticism took a darker course.

Unit 731 and the Secrets of Medical Experimentation: The man most closely associated with Unit 731, Shiro Ishii was born in 1892. Japan’s Dr. Mengele (the SS Officer and Auschwitz physician) came from a wealthy landed family in Chiyoda Prefecture, several hours north of Tokyo. He graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Kyoto University in 1911 where he specialised in bacteriology. His reputation for being pushy and selfish did nothing to hinder this career. In 1920 Ishii joined the army, becoming a commissioned officer and transferring to the First Army Hospital in Tokyo. Japan’s leaving of the League of Nations in 1932 provided an opportune moment for Ishii to bid for funding for research in biological warfare. A facility was established with 200 rooms a hundred miles south of Harbin in Manchuria; it was a walled in fortress surrounded by a 3-meter-high electrified fence. Five years later escapees revealed the secrets and a new establishment was constructed at Pingfang nearer to Harbin. When people asked what Unit 731 was for, the answer was that it was a lumber mill. (It should be noted that the designation Unit 731 only started in August 1935) Researchers privately joked, “the people are the logs (maruta).”71 From now on prisoners became known as maruta. Their names were expunged and replaced by numbers; as one researcher noted, “They are counted not as one person or two persons but ‘one log, two logs’. We are not concerned with where they are from, how they came here.”72

Satellite facilities had other specialities. Unit 100 managed by veterinarian Yujiro Wakamatsu specialised in producing pathogens such as glanders and anthrax. The targets of his research were horses and other edible animals of the Chinese and Soviet Armies. At Anda, three hours from Unit 731, outdoor experiments were made with pathogens. Tests were also carried out on prisoners using poison gasses. Nami Unit 8604, established at Guangzhou in 1938, carried out experiments for the spreading of bubonic plague. Plague was also a major part of the work of Beijing based Unit 1855. Choi Hyung Shin who worked as a translator at Unit 1855 remembered, “in the plague tests, the prisoners suffered with chills and fever, and groaned in pain… until they died. From what I saw, one person was killed every day.”73 Apart from plague human experiments also involved Cholera and Epidemic Haemorrhagic Fever. Experimenting with suffering of other kinds included frostbite.

Victims of Ishii’s research victims included all nationalities including Americans, French and English, though, given the location of Unit 731, most of the evidence for experimentation on white POWs comes from proceedings of the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials in 1949. However, given the location of Ishii’s operation it is not surprising that Chinese victims predominated. The mass experiments were also carried out in China. It is estimated that Ishii’s disease campaigns, which involved the dropping of pathogens from airplanes, killed more than 400,000 Chinese citizens. Some reports suggest that epidemics were still sweeping northern China as late as 1948.

Perhaps vivisections on living people were the most horrifying of all Unit 731 activities. Information is inevitably scarce but the leading researcher on the subject of Unit 731 activities recalled in a lecture that she gave in Osaka in 1994 that one of her interviewees broke down and wept as he admitted to committing six live vivisections. Sometimes chloroform was used but sometimes not. One Chinese woman regained consciousness on the operating table and screamed, “Go ahead and kill me, but please don’t kill my child!”74 She was held down and given more anaesthetic.

In March 2007 Akira Makino admitted to performing live vivisection. It was a startling testimony: “We removed some of the organs and amputated legs and arms. Two of the victims were young women, 18 or 19 years old. I hesitate to say it but we opened up their wombs to show the younger soldiers. They knew little about women – it was sex education.”75 Seemingly every type of vivisection was carried out, often for reasons of dubious or non-existent medical value. One former Unit 731 medic, Takeo Wano, testified to seeing a whole man pickled in formaldehyde standing in a six-foot-high glass specimen jar. He had been vertically cut in two, like a Damien Hurst art work. Another story tells of kempeitai guards who “grabbed a prisoner and held him down while one of them cleaved open his skull with an axe.”76 It seems that General Ishii had demanded a fresh brain to experiment on.

Naokata Ishibashi, a civilian employee, also recalled being given a job cleaning the human specimen room. He perused the medical charts of maruta used in plague experiments at Anda: “Some would die in two days, some in five or seven, sometimes in ten days or more… The records showed that every month between forty and sixty people were killed in these plague tests.”77 Others obstinately refused to die. A Japanese major at Harbin recalled one sixty-eight year old man: “He had been injected with plague germs but did not die. He was put through the phosgene gas test and survived. An army doctor then used an extra-heavy needle, and again injected air into the vein, but the man still survived. Finally the doctors killed him by hanging him by the neck from a tree.”78 Not surprising, given their fears of post-war reprisals including war crimes trials, when the Soviets invaded Manchuria, urgent orders were given to blow up Unit 731 facilities and hide the evidence of human experiments.

A member of Dr. Hideo Futagi’s vivisection team recalled, “we injected women with syphilis.”79 They were looking for ways to treat Japanese soldiers who often hid their illness because it led to disgrace and a barring from promotion. Babies born to imprisoned mothers were used for research. Japanese researchers at Unit 731 would take pleasure from the victims of experiments. With some time to kill one researcher recalled deciding to rape a Chinese woman exposed to frostbite whose bones were turning black and gangrenous. He decided to rape her anyway until he noticed, “her sex organ was festering, with pus oozing to the surface.”80

After the war, at a meeting with Dr. Fell, who worked for the US Chemical Warfare Division, General Ishii reportedly informed him “My experience would be a useful advantage to the United States in the event of war with the Soviet Union.”81 Three of Ishii’s subordinates, Dr. Masaji Kitano, the head of frostbite research, Lieutenant-General Naito Ryoichi, head of bacteriological research and Hideo Futagi, the vivisection team leader, set up Japan’s first blood bank in 1951 and the company later named Midori Juji, or Green Cross as it was better known when it listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, became a successful developer of blood products. The founders distanced themselves from Ishii and refused to employ him though Kitano officiated at his funeral. Other important figures attached to Unit 731 either continued to work in government at a high level or took senior posts in academia or industry. It is speculated that many of them continued to be paid for their work by the US government. MacArthur brought none of the senior Unit 731 staff before the war crimes tribunals.

As ever the practice of mass torture, the information as to who knew about Unit 731 is opaque. However it is known from his memoirs that Prince Mikasa, Hirohito’s younger brother, visited Ishii’s operations where he saw a film of Chinese prisoners “made to march on the plains of Manchuria for poison gas experiments on humans.”82 It seems unlikely that Hirohito did not know about what was going on. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, a former head of the kempeitai in Manchuria, was so delighted with Ishii’s work that he organised for Hirohito to award Ishii a special service decoration.

Given Hirohito’s known inquisitiveness regarding military affairs, is it likely that he was unaware of Unit 731’s activities? As has been suggested in pages 111-121 of Hirohito’s War, it may never be known what the Emperor knew; court papers were destroyed and MacArthur’s decision to excuse the Emperor and his family from prosecution, part of an orchestrated plan to obfuscate the truth, means that it is very unlikely that the real story will uncovered. It can only be surmised that, given his own family’s involvement in war crimes in China and his detailed involvement in and monitoring of all aspects of the war, it is highly unlikely that he did not know of the activities of Unit 731. Whether he authorised its activities or was simply guilty of the sin of omission is again a matter of speculation – almost certainly unprovable in court.

Conclusion: In looking at the management of Japan’s Empire, it is clear that extreme variance was the norm. The Phase I conquests, the Ryuku Islands and Hokkaido, were simply absorbed into Japan’s body politic and it must be assumed that they were net beneficiaries of Japan’s economic rise.

Phase II acquisitions also fared well. Although Korea suffered a brutal annexation and suppression of indigenous culture, it is clear that its economy benefited from the Japanese connection and many elements of its society were bought into the Imperial project. On Formosa, hitherto only loosely connected to China, resistance to Japanese suzerainty was limited. Absorbed some fifteen years before Korea, it became the most integrated of Japan’s imperial assets and was perhaps a marker for how other colonies may have developed.

The Phase III annexation of Manchuria and northern China was a quantum extension of Japanese power but very quickly a colonial model of development was apparent. It seems likely that economically it was a preferable model to the previous warlord state. Again resistance to Japan was sporadic.

Phase IV expansion was entirely different. The Japanese Empire created under the exigencies of war meant that occupation and control was far more important than development. Given Japan’s logistical limitations, its armies could not be supplied from overseas and therefore became axiomatic that the occupying armies would have to live off the land.

In spite of the pretences of Japan’s government that it was both liberating Asia and creating a Co-Prosperity Sphere in the Pacific War phase of imperial expansion, the reality was that throughout Asia, the Japanese Army imposed the brutal tyranny of an occupying army. Frequently natives were treated with even more brutality than Allied POWs, whose treatment by Japan was almost universally cruel in the extreme. Indeed it is clear that in some areas conquered locals and POWs were treated as part of the same control system. In effect Japan’s Phase IV Empire became a gigantic prison camp – its citizens little more than indentured people. Its unpopularity is evident in the residual hatred of Japan in the post-war period – a hatred that lingers still. Although collaborators were found in mainland China, Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines and elsewhere, the local governments that were created were little more than a fig leaf to military dictatorship. Ultimately as soon as Japan’s defeat loomed, the conquered turned on their new masters.

Finally the failure of the Tokyo War Crimes trial to bring to book the leading figures around the Emperor and his family has contributed in turn to Japan’s failure to honestly face its wartime record. It is still the taught mantra in Japan that the Pacific War was a war of liberation for Asia. This it was clearly not. However it can be argued as Pankraj Mishra has done in From the Ruins of Empire [2013] that ‘many Japanese officials brought sincerity and determination to the liberation of Asia…’83 Nevertheless for the most part it was an Imperial project of a political elite in Tokyo, which believed in a Darwinian sense that Japan had to grow larger and stronger to survive the expansion of the West and particularly the United States. As Soho Tokutomi, an apologist for Japan’s wartime government bitterly noted, Western powers in Asia had behaved like cormorants which ‘dived into the water and caught fishes big and small’; Japan had merely followed suit ‘but failed to catch any fish and drowned herself.’84 To be more accurate Japan had caught fish, Formosa, Korea and Manchuria to name three, but had been forced to cough them up.

Today it is still argued in Japan that the defeat of the western powers in the early months of 1942 brought about the post-war liberation of Asia even if they themselves lost the war to the West. It is a largely spurious argument. The United States and Great Britain were already well on their way to grant self-determination and independence to their Empires in the Philippines and India respectively. Given the independence movements already extant in the Dutch East Indies and Indochina, it seems highly likely that the liberation of Asia from the West would have come organically and indigenously. Japan’s attempt to build an Empire may have hastened independence in some instances but at a cost that was unconscionable.

Finally it is interesting to note that in a final report produced by the feared Tokko (Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu: Special Higher Police), it was concluded, ‘In summation… the people (Japanese) should continue to have the same national ideas they held during the war.’85 With regard to justifications of their actions leading up to the Pacific War, it was an exhortation that has been unswervingly followed by Japan’s post-war governments.

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