It was bravery rather than the cruelty of the Japanese which was stressed by two prominent British opponents, British Field Marshal Sir William Slim and Lt. General Arthur Percival at a joint conference after the war. They had different experiences in dealing with the Japanese; the former initially defeated in 1942 and then becoming a victor in 1945, the latter defeated in 1942 in the greatest defeat suffered by the British army, which led to his incarceration in Manchuria until release in 1945.
Slim and Percival agree
Slim and Percival agreed that the Japanese enjoyed an audience for their actions – such as officers exhibitions of swordsmanship at the expense of prisoners, military or civilian, man,woman or child. They agreed again that these exhibitions, including bayoneting prisoners for practice and even public atrocities, were originally to blood raw combat troops – they did not explain why it was still carried out by long serving servicemen before their fellows. Slim said that these acts of theatre were apparent even if there was no audience.
Japanese belief in their superiority was entrenched
The Japanese had been brought up with a belief in their superiority and that their ancestors were looking on them. He said that that the Japanese had a high sense of patriotism and spirituality and that this was the basis of their courage which was unique and unparalleled in any other army. Slim went on that although the Japanese have a group society, this courage could be exhibited by individuals as well – if isolated – a Japanese soldier would fight on alone and not surrender.
The Japanese military had been taught to disdain death
They feared death the least of all soldiers he had seen including completely purposeless banzai charges, or becoming human bombs as examples – they were not human in this way, he said – they were like “soldier ants”.
Only 1,700 prisoners taken in Burma
There were 170,000 Japanese killed in Burma, and only 1700 prisoners taken – and of these only 400 could be described as physically fit. No regular officer was ever captured, and none of the rest above the rank of major. Of those taken all tried suicide for a week and then worked docilely for their captors. ( The British even rearmed the Japanese following their surrender in the Netherlands East Indies and French Indo China to assist them in policing duties until Dutch and French forces could return).
No mercy on either side
In the Burma Theatre in 1942 the Japanese had little or no respect for the British and their Indian troops. In 1945 they were given a rude shock in Imphal, Arakan and Kohima, but they withdrew in order. The Japanese gave no quarter to enemy wouned, and even killed their own injured if positions were in danger of being overrun. Thus generally Japanese wounded were given no mercy by the allies – the Japanese tended to turn themselves into human bombs when captured – this was an early leaning experience for the 14th Army.
The Asian view
However, even though the Asian allies of the Japanese generally fell out with them over their general treatment of the civilian populations and the broken promises of the high command, many Asian politicians tend to agree with the sentiments expressed by the former Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj in a speech after the war: “It was thanks to Japan that all nations of Asia gained independence….and who. .. enabled the citizens of the nations of southeast Asia to gain equal status alongside the United States and Britain”.
The Japanese cemetery
The cemetery in Yangon was transferred from it’s previous location in Kemmendine, near the Rangoon Commonwealth War Cemetery near the centre of town, in the late 1990’s, to Mingaladon. It is financed by private donations with a small stipend from the Japanese government. Most of the shrines are privately funded or from towns and districts in Japan, and are dedicated to civilian dead and to soldiers. The central shrine, “The Sakura” is dedicated to the Japanese military of WW2. Most of the visitors are former servicemen and family members. The soldiers commemorated here are of a different generation, background and belief than Japan of today.
General Yamashita Last Words
General Yamashita, who defeated Lt. General Percival in Malaya and Singapore, just before his possibly unjustified execution in Manila in 1946, left a message to Japan which included the following points:
“a) Accept and cultivate the common moral judgement of the world. Be independent and carve your own future.
b)Promote education and science. To search for truth using Japan’s old cliquish mentality is like looking for fish amongst the trees.
c)Education begins at home, and women should have equal rights in it’s benefits ( woman’s equality)
d) Women should play a very important part in the future of the country.(government decisions should be balanced between men and women)
These are the last words of the person who took your children’s lives away from you .”