By Derek Pua
Japan’s Declares war on the World (December 7, 1941)
December 7, 1941 is a date that most Americans recognize as the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Much has been said and written about the attack on Pearl Harbor and its significance in dragging the United States and its allies into a war that it did not want to be a part of. However, many people often overlook the fact that Pearl Harbor was simply the beginning of a string of preemptive invasions on American, British, and Dutch colonies throughout Southeast Asia. This was in accordance with Japan’s idea of Pan-Asianism, to help “liberate” the peoples of Asia from Western Imperialism.
As most western nations were preoccupied with the deteriorating situation in Europe prior to 1941, many had neglected to maintain their defenses in their oversea colonies. The western governments also made the mistake of underestimating the resolve and spirit of the Imperial Japanese army before 1941, often regarding them as inferior soldiers. This dismissive nature towards a potential Japanese invasion would prove disastrous and gave the Japanese superiority in numbers, war materiel, and morale in these opening stages of the Pacific Campaign of the Second World War. As a result of this, Japan made massive territorial gains in the months following December 7, 1941.
In the chaos which gripped the world in the days following December 1941, simultaneous invasions were carried out by the Japanese in the British holdings of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong; the American-owned Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam; the Dutch East Indies, as well as the Kingdom of Thailand. These opening battles of the Second World War in the Pacific would be the first time the two sides had fought against one another, and it would turn out to be a rude awakening for the inexperienced troops which guarded these colonies. In many of these engagements, hardened veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army were often pitted against poorly trained and poorly armed colonial units of the US and British military forces.
These surprise invasions typically resulted in quick and decisive victories for the Japanese forces, who enjoyed a strong military advantages over their enemies. Many Allied troops in these opening battles found themselves quickly overrun and were held as prisoners of war in concentration camps until the conclusion of the war. These prisoners were often gravely mistreated by their Japanese captors, and often subjected to slave labor, thousands would die in the squalid and brutal conditions of these camps. The Japanese would also conduct an innumerable amount of atrocities towards POWs, both large and small, with the most infamous one being the Bataan Death March.
These newly “liberated” colonies would similarly be subjected to years of harsh and oppressive Japanese rule, these colonies had simply switched a colonial leadership to a new, and much more brutal one. In the spirit of the war, the Japanese military secret police (the Kempeitai) committed many atrocities against civilians in these areas, often kidnapping, jailing, and torturing those who were suspected of being anti-Japanese. Under the new military administrations local cultures and traditions were also at risk, children were forced to take up Japanese names, lessons in schools were taught in Japanese. The Japanese war effort also made scarcity of basic goods like rice a daily occurrence and countless lives were lost due to starvation.
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Growing up as a child in Hong Kong, I heard much about the terrors that my grandparents on both sides of the family had endured under the rule of the Japanese during their invasions in Pacific East Asia. While these tales horrified me as a child, it sparked an interest in me and set me on the path of getting my bachelor’s degree in history at the University of San Francisco. I was so intrigued by the subject that by the time I was fourteen, I had read Iris Chang’s award winning book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, which was a gift from my grandfather, who insisted that this portion of history can never be forgotten.
As I grew up, I soon realize that most people in the world, even my peers in Hong Kong, were either indifferent or ignorant of the subject. Whilst I was disappointed by this realization, it continues provide me with the motivation and drive to spread the knowledge of this largely forgotten past; as the age-old expression goes: those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
Nicole Dahlstrom is a non-profit marketing specialist with a history of coordinating marketing efforts for non-profit start-ups. She began her career while still in college when she interned at a local non-profit start-up called Spread the Care. After receiving a B.A. in Marketing, Nicole spent a year as an employment specialist with the national volunteer program, AmeriCorps. During her term of service, she aided a diverse set of clients with anything from learning to speak English to writing a business plan. Since finishing her term of service in September of 2014, Nicole has pursued a freelance writing career while studying online marketing for non-profits. She currently works as the Development Coordinator for the growing San Francisco based non-profit, Pacific Atrocities Education.