Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia

Overview

In September 1945, after the fall of the atomic bomb--and with it, the Japanese empire--Asia was dominated by the British. Governing a vast crescent of land that stretched from India through Burma and down to Singapore, and with troops occupying the French and Dutch colonies in southern Vietnam and Indonesia, Britain's imperial might had never seemed stronger.

Yet within a few violent years, British power in the region would crumble, and myriad independent nations would struggle...

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Overview

In September 1945, after the fall of the atomic bomb--and with it, the Japanese empire--Asia was dominated by the British. Governing a vast crescent of land that stretched from India through Burma and down to Singapore, and with troops occupying the French and Dutch colonies in southern Vietnam and Indonesia, Britain's imperial might had never seemed stronger.

Yet within a few violent years, British power in the region would crumble, and myriad independent nations would struggle into existence. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper show how World War II never really ended in these ravaged Asian lands but instead continued in bloody civil wars, anti-colonial insurrections, and inter-communal massacres. These years became the most formative in modern Asian history, as Western imperialism vied with nascent nationalist and communist revolutionaries for political control.

Forgotten Wars, a sequel to the authors' acclaimed Forgotten Armies, is a panoramic account of the bitter wars of the end of empire, seen not only through the eyes of the fighters, but also through the personal stories of ordinary people: the poor and bewildered caught up in India's Hindu-Muslim massacres; the peasant farmers ravaged by warfare between British forces and revolutionaries in Malaya; the Burmese minorities devastated by separatist revolt. Throughout, we are given a stunning portrait of societies poised between the hope of independence and the fear of strife. Forgotten Wars vividly brings to life the inescapable conflicts and manifold dramas that shaped today's Asia.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Sun

Historians Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper chronicle the ensuing struggles for Britain's Southeast Asian colonies in Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia, the sequel to their much-praised history of Britain's Asian empire during World War II, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Primarily a diplomatic and political history rather than a military history, the new book focuses on the causes of armed conflict. After Japan's capitulation, Messrs. Bayly and Harper contend, Southeast Asia remained in a state of war for the same reasons it had entered into such a state: poverty, imperialism, and ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict. The authors have mined a very large number of sources. Most of their new historical unearthing can be found in the intricacies of Southeast Asian politics, which they describe in great detail and with careful nuance. Those deeply interested in the politics of Burma or Malaysia or other Southeast Asian countries will find much to delight them here.
— Mark Moyar

The Atlantic
Two years after their brilliant and vivid Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-45, the Cambridge historians Bayly and Harper produce a sequel that examines Britain's conflicts in Southeast Asia in the four years after the Second World War. While adroitly analyzing Britain's hard-fought battle against insurrectionary forces in Malaya, the authors explore lesser-known episodes: Bengalese and Burmese skirmishes seldom highlighted in accounts of the Raj's end, and the British interregnums between the ends of the Japanese occupations of Indonesia and Vietnam and the restorations of the respective former colonial administrations.
New Yorker

Authoritative.
— Pankaj Mishra

Wall Street Journal

[A] compelling book...An extraordinary cast of characters populate Forgotten Wars...The authors write that "the end of empire is not a pretty thing if examined too closely," but when examined so ably it is certainly fascinating.
— Philip Delves Broughton

Foreign Affairs
The authors are particularly good in their analysis of the problems of state building, on the one hand, and nation building, on the other.
Journal of British Studies

Forgotten Wars movingly brings out the travails of ordinary people who got caught up within a vicious cycle of political turmoil, economic deprivation, and violence. This is a “must read” for those interested in histories of British imperialism and decolonization in Asia and those who would like an introduction to the comparative regional histories of nation-states in Southeast Asia after 1945.
— Haimanti Roy

American Historical Review

This book is neither an old-fashioned “top down” history of imperial politics in the region, nor a regional “bottom up” account of nationalist resistance to European rule. Rather, it shows how British illusions about the nature of Britain’s power in Southeast Asia collided with Asian national movements. This book addresses an important phase of that tragic history, for which, as the authors show, Britain bore considerable responsibility.

— A. Martin Wainwright

Sugata Bose
Combining breathtaking, evocative narrative with razor-sharp historical analysis, Bayly and Harper provide a dramatic account of independent Asia's baptism of fire in the turbulent aftermath of the Second World War. They capture in vivid detail the euphoria and trauma that swept the crescent stretching from Calcutta to Singapore as Britain's Asian empire unraveled. This brilliant book is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the history of Britain, Asia and empire.
Akira Iriye
Like their earlier collaborative volume, Forgotten Armies, Bayly and Harper's new book presents a fascinating story of Britain's Asian empire in transition. Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Burmese, Malays, Indonesians, and many others interacted as they sought to define anew the nature of empire, territory, and citizenship. There is no better way to understand the region's survival and emergence as a center of economic development and prosperity than to revisit the immediate postwar years under the expert guidance provided by Bayly and Harper.
Ronald Spector
Forgotten Wars is an insightful and original look at the fate of Britain's Asian Empire in the wake of World War II. Engaging and provocative, the masterful discussion of the Malayan Emergency will be of interest to all concerned with the dilemmas presented by insurgencies in our contemporary world.
New York Sun - Mark Moyar
Historians Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper chronicle the ensuing struggles for Britain's Southeast Asian colonies in Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia, the sequel to their much-praised history of Britain's Asian empire during World War II, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Primarily a diplomatic and political history rather than a military history, the new book focuses on the causes of armed conflict. After Japan's capitulation, Messrs. Bayly and Harper contend, Southeast Asia remained in a state of war for the same reasons it had entered into such a state: poverty, imperialism, and ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict. The authors have mined a very large number of sources. Most of their new historical unearthing can be found in the intricacies of Southeast Asian politics, which they describe in great detail and with careful nuance. Those deeply interested in the politics of Burma or Malaysia or other Southeast Asian countries will find much to delight them here.
New Yorker - Pankaj Mishra
Authoritative.
Wall Street Journal - Philip Delves Broughton
[A] compelling book...An extraordinary cast of characters populate Forgotten Wars...The authors write that "the end of empire is not a pretty thing if examined too closely," but when examined so ably it is certainly fascinating.
Journal of British Studies - Haimanti Roy
Forgotten Wars movingly brings out the travails of ordinary people who got caught up within a vicious cycle of political turmoil, economic deprivation, and violence. This is a “must read” for those interested in histories of British imperialism and decolonization in Asia and those who would like an introduction to the comparative regional histories of nation-states in Southeast Asia after 1945.
American Historical Review - A. Martin Wainwright
This book is neither an old-fashioned “top down” history of imperial politics in the region, nor a regional “bottom up” account of nationalist resistance to European rule. Rather, it shows how British illusions about the nature of Britain’s power in Southeast Asia collided with Asian national movements. This book addresses an important phase of that tragic history, for which, as the authors show, Britain bore considerable responsibility.
New Yorker
Authoritative.
— Pankaj Mishra
Wall Street Journal
[A] compelling book...An extraordinary cast of characters populate Forgotten Wars...The authors write that "the end of empire is not a pretty thing if examined too closely," but when examined so ably it is certainly fascinating.
— Philip Delves Broughton
American Historical Review
This book is neither an old-fashioned “top down” history of imperial politics in the region, nor a regional “bottom up” account of nationalist resistance to European rule. Rather, it shows how British illusions about the nature of Britain’s power in Southeast Asia collided with Asian national movements. This book addresses an important phase of that tragic history, for which, as the authors show, Britain bore considerable responsibility.

— A. Martin Wainwright

New York Sun
Historians Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper chronicle the ensuing struggles for Britain's Southeast Asian colonies in Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia, the sequel to their much-praised history of Britain's Asian empire during World War II, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Primarily a diplomatic and political history rather than a military history, the new book focuses on the causes of armed conflict. After Japan's capitulation, Messrs. Bayly and Harper contend, Southeast Asia remained in a state of war for the same reasons it had entered into such a state: poverty, imperialism, and ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict. The authors have mined a very large number of sources. Most of their new historical unearthing can be found in the intricacies of Southeast Asian politics, which they describe in great detail and with careful nuance. Those deeply interested in the politics of Burma or Malaysia or other Southeast Asian countries will find much to delight them here.
— Mark Moyar
Journal of British Studies
Forgotten Wars movingly brings out the travails of ordinary people who got caught up within a vicious cycle of political turmoil, economic deprivation, and violence. This is a “must read” for those interested in histories of British imperialism and decolonization in Asia and those who would like an introduction to the comparative regional histories of nation-states in Southeast Asia after 1945.
— Haimanti Roy
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057074
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/30/2010
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 1,064,897
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Bayly is Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St. Catherine's College.

Tim Harper is a Senior Lecturer in History at University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Magdalene College.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2007

    Brilliant account of Labour's wars against national liberation movements

    In this sequel to Bayly and Harper¿s superb history, `Forgotten armies: Britain¿s Asian empire and the war with Japan¿ (2004), they show how new nations were born from the wreck of Britain¿s Asian empire after World War Two. In the 1930s and 1940s, 24 million people had been killed by the occupying Japanese forces. But even after Japan¿s defeat, Attlee¿s Labour government tried to forcibly overthrow the newly independent emerging states of Asia. Nominally committed to colonial independence, Labour was in practice a great friend to the `jolly old Empire¿, as Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin said. Every country in the region had to fight to win their freedom. Communists had played leading roles in the national liberation struggles against Japanese imperialism, and they led these new struggles too. By contrast, the Labour government played the leading role in the old colonial empires¿ attempted reconquests. In 1945, British and Indian troops reoccupied Malaya and Burma, and they occupied Thailand (intending to make it a new protectorate), half of Vietnam and Indonesia. As the Viceroy of India Archibald Wavell told the Cabinet, ¿SEAC [South East Asia Command] depends almost entirely on the loyalty and discipline of Indian troops.¿ (SEAC was better known as `Save England¿s Asian Colonies¿.) But as the Raj died it became harder to use India¿s troops to crush nationalist forces. British-commanded Indian forces imposed martial law in South Vietnam. General Gracey rearmed French troops and Japanese POWs to crush the Vietnamese, aiding the French to reimpose their hated rule. The Labour government also sent forces to Indonesia to help the Dutch to reimpose their colonial rule. Here too, they used Japanese troops, killing 7,000 Indonesians British forces killed another 15,000 at Surabaya. Later, Australia¿s trade unions succeeded in preventing supplies reaching the British forces. In Malaya, the `Emergency¿ was one of the longest and ugliest counter-insurgency wars of the twentieth century. The British army lost 509 killed another 1,875 military and police were killed. They killed 6,705 guerrillas and an estimated 4,000 civilians. The RAF carried out large-scale bombing, using 1,000-pound bombs. By 1954, the British occupiers had forcibly resettled more than a million Malayans. They also resettled 25,000 forest people, the Orang Asli, perhaps 7,000 of whom died in the camps. The deputy commissioner of police admitted that the condition of the internment camps was `now worse than that experienced by internees under the Jap regime¿. In 1948, British forces massacred 24 Chinese people at Batang Kali. The Malayan Attorney-General¿s report on the massacre mysteriously disappeared there was no military investigation and all relevant records were destroyed. Four of the guardsmen admitted that they had killed the villagers in cold blood, but the government refused to accept their evidence and called off the inquiry. Bayly and Harper write of the Labour government, ¿It would create a police state with a paternalist veneer that would become the hallmark of British counter-insurgency and would later be called `winning hearts and minds¿.¿ They describe ¿The maladministration and graft of the military administration the wild and unchecked fury of white terror in the first years the extra-judicial killings of young men and women the grotesque atrocity exhibitions of the mutilated slain the violence to family and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers and labourers during resettlement the insidious small tyrannies of a vast and largely unaccountable bureaucracy the racism and arrogance of empire.¿ As the Malayans said, ¿The British treated us like coolies.¿ The authors conclude, ¿the Emergency was not ¿ as invariably presented, then and since ¿ a British victory.¿ The Malayans did win their national independence. Contrary to the official myth, Britain¿s Asian empire did not bestow independence and b

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