WORLD WAR II IN MALAYSIA
The Japanese occupied Malaya in World War II. Japanese forces attacked Singapore on December 10, 1941, and by February 15, 1941, the Japanese occupied the Malay Peninsula and Singapore. Under Japanese occupation, ethnic tensions between Malays and Chinese crystallized because Malays filled many administrative positions while the Chinese were treated harshly for their resistance activities and for supporting China’s war of resistance against the Japanese in the 1930s.
The outbreak of war in the Pacific in December 1941 found the British in Malaya completely unprepared. During the 1930s, anticipating the rising threat of Japanese naval power, they had built a great naval base at Singapore, but never anticipated an invasion of Malaya from the north. Because of the demands of the war in Europe, there was virtually no British air capacity in the Far East. The Japanese were thus able to attack from their bases in French Indo-China with impunity, and despite stubborn resistance from British, Australian and Indian forces, they overran Malaya in two months. Singapore, with no landward defences, no air cover and no water supply, was forced to surrender in February 1942, doing irreparable damage to British prestige. British North Borneo and Brunei were also occupied. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Japanese had a racial policy just as the British did. They regarded the Malays as a colonial people liberated from British imperialist rule, and fostered a limited form of Malay nationalism, which gained them some degree of collaboration from the Malay civil service and intellectuals. (Most of the Sultans also collaborated with the Japanese, although they maintained later that they had done so unwillingly.) The Malay nationalist Kesatuan Melayu Muda, advocates of Melayu Raya, collaborated with the Japanese, based on the understanding that Japan would unite the Dutch East Indies, Malaya and Borneo and grant them independence. The occupiers regarded the Chinese, however, as enemy aliens, and treated them with great harshness: during the so-called sook ching (purification through suffering), up to 80,000 Chinese in Malaya and Singapore were killed. Chinese businesses were expropriated and Chinese schools either closed or burned down. Not surprisingly the Chinese, led by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), became the backbone of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which with British assistance became the most effective resistance force in the occupied Asian countries.
Although the Japanese argued that they supported Malay nationalism, they offended Malay nationalism by allowing their ally Thailand to re-annex the four northern states, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu that had been surrendered to the British in 1909. The loss of Malaya’s export markets soon produced mass unemployment which affected all races and made the Japanese increasingly unpopular.
See World War II factsanddetails.com
Economy of Malaysia During World War II and Afterwards
John H. Drabble of the University of Sydney wrote: “During the Japanese occupation years of World War II, the export of primary products was limited to the relatively small amounts required for the Japanese economy. This led to the abandonment of large areas of rubber and the closure of many mines, the latter progressively affected by a shortage of spare parts for machinery. Businesses, especially those Chinese-owned, were taken over and reassigned to Japanese interests. Rice imports fell heavily and thus the population devoted a large part of their efforts to producing enough food to stay alive. Large numbers of laborers (many of whom died) were conscripted to work on military projects such as construction of the Thai-Burma railroad. Overall the war period saw the dislocation of the export economy, widespread destruction of the infrastructure (roads, bridges etc.) and a decline in standards of public health. It also saw a rise in inter-ethnic tensions due to the harsh treatment meted out by the Japanese to some groups, notably the Chinese, compared to a more favorable attitude towards the indigenous peoples among whom (Malays particularly) there was a growing sense of ethnic nationalism (Drabble, 2000).
Legacy of World War II
Mahathir Mohamad wrote; “The success of the Japanese invasion convinced us that there is nothing inherently superior in the Europeans. They could be defeated, they could be reduced to groveling before an Asian race, the Japanese.”
World War II ordnance still kills people in Malaysia. In 2008, AFP reported: “Two foreign workers in a Malaysian scrapyard were killed when a World War II bomb exploded as they were cutting up the 100-kilogramme device, reports said. The victims, a Bangladeshi and an Indian man, died of their injuries shortly after the blast on Tuesday, which destroyed the scrapyard and a hostel located above it and blew out nearby windows, reports said. The scrapyard owner told the Star daily he had purchased the bomb, which had been found by a passerby in an open area just north of the capital Kuala Lumpur, not realising it was a piece of unexploded ordnance. [Source: AFP, August 20, 2008]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015