By Carolina S. Ruiz, Research and Resource Development Associate at Alpha Education
“The real disease of the world is the legality and availability of war.” Salmon Levinson, 1917
The recent assassination of Iran’s top General, Qasem Soleimani, on President Trump’s orders sparked an international crisis and sent US allies in the region scrambling. NATO immediately canceled a Canadian-led training mission in Iraq and, in turn, Iraq asked the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraqi soil. Soleimani’s funeral drew hundreds of thousands of Iranians clamoring for a swift military response against the United States, and many took the Pentagon’s communications blunder as a telltale sign of confusion reigning within the US administration. Then, 7 days into the New Year, at around midnight Eastern Standard Time, many of those watching breaking news on late-night TV and social media sat in bated breath as Iran’s retaliation, a series of ballistic missiles aimed at US military targets in Iraq, began. While neither Iran nor the United States currently appears to be making further moves that pose a danger of escalating the conflict, hostilities can hardly be said to have completely died down, especially since conservative hawks continue to press for further military action by the US.
Few will disagree that the acceptance of legal norms such as the prohibition of the use of force between states and human rights as important moral commitments depends largely on their tangibility – that is, as enforceable institutional and legal regimes. Recently, however, the idea that the narratives we invoke to tell the origin stories of international legal norms contribute to their continuing significance has also gained ground. Many challenges to the dominant narratives of postwar peace, justice, and unity are founded on historical evidence, but they have also helped to foreground marginalized historical actors whose contributions have traditionally been left out of conventional historical accounts. Instead of romanticizing postwar consensus, acknowledging the social divisions that had to be questioned and still need to be overcome adds clarity to the current day project of consensus-building around those legal norms.
Many of us had barely recovered from the brief mid-week New Year’s break when we realized that one of the worst fears of our age seemed to be unfolding right before our eyes: war. According to various polls conducted through 2016, over 76% of Americans, 55% of Canadians and 48% of Russians harbor the fear that World War III is imminent.
For now, war appears to have been averted in spite of the widespread concern sparked by recent events wrought by President Trump’s decision to assassinate Iran’s most popular military figure. Or has it really? Pundits have noted that while a full-scale war may have been avoided, a low-grade war continues between the US and Iran.
“Low-grade war” is a term that has been used to describe conflicts smaller in scale than inter-state wars, or global wars involving two or more nations. Since the Second World War, a variety of intra-state conflicts (from anti-colonial revolutionaries fighting for independence to anti-state insurgents and ideologies, religious or otherwise) have been cited as examples of low-grade wars. Because of the direct participation and intervention of more powerful states in many such conflicts, some of them have also been called “proxy wars" to indicate that they were instigated or supported by states not directly involved in the actual fighting. While the period following the Second World War has been touted as an unprecedented period of peace because of the paucity of inter-state wars, it has not resulted at an end to the war. On the contrary, many have argued that the proliferation of low-grade wars since the war has all but normalized a perpetual state of war.
But how did we get here? Was not the great lesson and collective achievement at the end of the Second World War supposed to be the prohibition against waging aggressive war, particularly wars of invasion and conquest? Didn’t the United Nations Charter outlaw the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state?
Leaving aside the issue of whether the US President’s actions were in breach of international law, experts point out that states have been testing the limits of this prohibition for decades. The same experts have observed that, during the last two decades, a spate of invasions and military incursions have seriously threatened the international order established after the last world war. Accordingly, they have called on the “states that created the world order” (chiefly the US, Britain and their allies) to “reaffirm their commitment to the core principle of that legal order – the rejection of war as a way to resolve disputes and right wrongs.”
The good intentions behind such calls for a unified front to reaffirm the rejection of war are beyond dispute. But, while leadership in any collective endeavor for peace is important, challenging the explicit assumption that those who must lead, or who are in a position to lead, are the same powerful states that have breached, or at least tolerated or supported breaches of the prohibition against the threat or use of force, is long overdue.
Looking to powerful states (militarily and economically speaking) as the presumptive leaders of peace processes as well as enforcers of international law proceeds from a realist, as opposed to a purely idealistic view of geopolitics and international relations. Realism, after all, appeals to our sense of pragmatism: abstract and principles are fine, but we also want results. Not surprisingly, then, the belief that the United States, by virtue of the power it wields, qualifies as a de facto global policing power that can keep the rest of the world in check persists. This is in spite of significant political shifts that include a widespread denunciation of this role by supporters of the current US President, as well as serious questions about the credibility and capacity of US world leadership in view of its waning influence in the global community.
Another reason why we tend to look to powerful states such as the United States, Britain, and their allies to reaffirm these international commitments is the central role that they occupy in dominant narratives about postwar peace and justice.
The standard narrative of postwar justice and peace usually credits the principal wartime allies (the US, Britain and the Soviet Union) for having the political resolve to push for the creation of the two postwar military tribunals that tried war criminals. Yet a closer look at history shows that the governments in exile of nine nations under German occupation (including a delegate from China) were quite instrumental in laying the agenda for the punishment of war atrocities through a joint declaration issued as early as 1942. The delegate from China present at the signing of the St. James Declaration expressed that the country’s intention to apply the same principles to the Japanese occupying powers when the time came. In 1946, the time arrived when the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) was created.
Historians point out that, in the beginning, Britain and the United States were actually equivocal about trying war criminals. In fact, Churchill and Roosevelt initially backed summary execution as a way of dealing with major war criminals, and Stalin, who also reportedly demanded the mass execution of all German general staff in late 1943, only changed his position and started pushing for a trial in 1944.
Likewise, the birth of human rights, which has been celebrated as “a revolutionary break from the past: a triumph over the horrors of World War II, the Holocaust, colonialism, and oppressive forms of political rule,” is a popular narrative that clashes with a much harsher reality. Colonizing countries fought wars to preserve their colonial interests and, to an extent, were successful both in legitimizing the continuation of colonial rule within the United Nations Charter under the auspices of colonial “Trusteeship,” and in limiting the applicability of human rights within the colonized nations. Yet, as historians of human rights point out, the burgeoning discourse of freedoms and rights that gathered strength during the war was potentially at odds with colonial relations.
Apart from wanting a more evidence-based reading of the past, however, questioning stock narratives about the origins of international legal norms allows an opportunity to de-center states and state actors and, in the process, to acknowledge the role of social movements in breathing new life and meaning into many of these norms. The emergence of redress movements and memory activism in the 1990s, for instance, helped to articulate a more transnational understanding of international human rights than was previously possible. The spaces opened up during the period allowed survivors and witnesses of sexual slavery, forced labor, and medical atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military in the last world war to come forward, and their testimonies have in turn engendered serious reflections on historical injustice.
Likewise, by stepping beyond the boundaries of “nationalist” politics and identity, today’s social movements are offering us a compelling critique of state power and a powerfully credible check on state abuses of power. We can actually see examples of this occurring now in Iran and the United States, where popular mass protests have drawn the focus on their own states’ actions.
In her 2017 Reith lectures in on the topic of Humanity and War, Professor Margaret Macmillan, an eminent Canadian historian, was asked, “Are we one tweet away from Armageddon?”, and “Are we closer to war now than we have been for many years?”
While steering clear of any predictions, Macmillan noted that people in the past must have had similar, if not greater anxieties about the coming wars in 1914 and 1939, as well as at the height of the Cold War, but also acknowledged that it will always be difficult to tell during one’s own time. She then offered a possible explanation for this collective anxiety by pointing out that the many ongoing low-grade wars today, while not exactly “worldwide” in scale or scope, gives us a lot to be pessimistic about simply because they do not appear to be ending any time soon. Macmillan’s observations get to the heart of how it’s not simply the threat of an imminent world war at the back of peoples’ minds. Rather, our anxiety is likely rooted in a feeling of helplessness because of the seemingly endless state of war the world is in.
Perhaps the re-emergence of peace activism in these anxious times provides an opportunity to do something to counter that helplessness. And while a critical look at the past and what has been left out will always be important for the serious work of moving towards peace and justice, we would also do well to keep in mind that so many of the most intransigent social and ecological problems of our time require transnational solidarity.
The west often dismissed the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial as "Communist Propaganda." However, it was the first time the scientists from the "Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department" of the Imperial Japanese Army(IJA) came forward with the crimes they committed during World War 2. To confuse others about what their mission is, they frequently use the name, "Water Supply and Prophylaxis Administration of the Kwantung Army," or "Hippo-Epizootic Administration of the Kwantung Army." Although it was established in 1935-1936, after 1941, after the Nazi Germany attack on the U.S.S.R. and the world was engaged in a full-blown war, the institutions were renamed to be Unit 100 and Unit 731, and had more specific tasks and employed thousands of scientists as stated previously.
The trial made clear to the public how these biological and chemical weapon divisions worked for the IJA at the time. Unit 100 and Unit 731 were both staffed by leading bacteriologists of Japan at the time. They had numerous branches located in strategical areas. The Japanese Army Command funded both units for their research and development, which made the units direct subordinates to the Commander-in-Chief of the IJA.
The Eight Divisions of Unit 731
The 1st Division bred germs of plague, cholera, gas gangrene, anthrax, typhoid, paratyphoid fever, and other diseases in bacteriological warfare. The 2nd Division was more of an experimental division that conducted tests of unique weapons to disseminate germs. They worked on sprayers in the form of fountain pens and walking stickers, porcelain aerial bombs, and other weapons for the sabotage groups. They also controlled an aircraft unit with specially equipped planes and a proving ground near Anta Station (where they tested the effects of certain biological bombs). The 2nd Division also engaged in the cultivation and breeding of parasites designed to cause plague epidemics.
Although the Unit 731 claimed that they were working at the "Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department" of the IJA, it is known that out of the eight divisions of Unit 731, only one of them(the 3rd Division) occupied themselves with the research of water supply and prophylaxis. But even so, that Division manufactured cases for bacteria shells known as "Ishii aerial bombs," which were used to drop plague-infected fleas from aircraft.
The 4th Division was a "factory" for mass production of germs and various bacteria.
There was also a division of the eight that was called the "Training and Education" Division. It trained its soldiers on skills related to the use of bacteriological weapons for combat units and sabotage groups.
Another division bred fleas, rats, mice, and other rodents to spread disease microbes, including plague, cholera, typhoid, and other germs for the mass genocide. According to a witness named Morita, Branch 543 in Hailar of Unit 731 had about 13,000 rats to spread microbe diseases.
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by Rubayya Tasneem
William Logan, in his book, Malabar, has explored the famine repeatedly faced by this district and chronicled the history and culture of Malabar. Famine related epidemics and large scale mortalities were persistent in the Malabar during the colonial period. The British documents about this have acknowledged that an artificial famine was possible as the district had continually failed to produce sufficient grains for its home population, and further emphasized that the technological advancements in rail, sea, and road made it practically impossible.
But historical records have shown that Malabar had experienced repeated famines during the British rule as a result of imperial indifference in undertaking famine prevention activities. The famines under colonial rule occurred during 1865, 1876, 1891, and 1896.
Much of the response of the authorities comprised of imposing restrictions on private community kitchens and related organizations. This was followed up by a hike in taxes and duties, which prevented the richer sections of the society from conducting gratuitous kitchens.
William Logan’s 2 volume historiography was published just eight years after the 1876 famine. Therefore claims in his book stating that there was no record of any famine after 1727 cannot be considered as a mere oversight. Rather, it was a deliberate attempt on the part of the authorities to conceal the truth.
Malabar was handed to the British by the Mysore Kings as per the Treaty of Srirangapattanam. It was considered one of the districts of the Madras Presidency, and one of the richest districts of that presidency. Food production was poor when compared to the neighboring districts despite the heavy monsoons faced by them, and therefore, production was low even during normal years. Malabar also experienced flash floods due to excess monsoons, which resulted in the destruction of standing crops and washing off food stocks as well as other belongings.
As a result of the British occupation, the district was increasingly handicapped in meetings its demand even during the better harvests, since large areas in Malabar were increasingly converted into plantation estates.
The Second World War broke out in September 1939, and the economic conditions persisting in the district led to a price increase in commodities, which largely affected the peasants and workers present there. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that food production was not a priority for the government during the war periods. Malabar was largely dependent on Burma for the major portion of its demand. So in 1942, when Japan captured Burma, it adversely affected the import of rice to Malabar. Furthermore, the main supply of rice was diverted for military purposes instead of the common people. With the onset of war, the statistics show that the import of rice to Calicut had fallen considerably from an annual average of 32000 tonnes to 13000 tons in February 1941.
In 1940, in the wake of the cyclone, rivers overflowed and resulted in over 1000 acres of paddy land being silted up in chirakkal(18). This inevitably led to the typhoid epidemics in Badagara, Thalassery, and Kannur. An epidemic of cholera also broke out, and to avoid criticisms for failing to maintain health standards in the district. The Government officials arranged for the affected to be put on trains and transported out of Calicut. Even as the District Medical officer requested for aid, the finance department failed to provide finances for this purpose, and the Assistant Secretary observed that “it is not possible for anyone to die of starvation in Malabar because of the gifts of nature, and the charitable disposition of the people.
In the year 1943, the food situation became critical all over the country resulting in the appointment of the Food Grains Policy Committee by the Government of India to arrange for an equitable distribution of food among the provinces. The “Grow More Food Campaign” was launched in the presidency by the Committee with the intention of achieving a substantial increase in food production through several means, including increasing farming areas, new irrigation projects, and double-crop cultivation. None of these efforts, however, resulted in substantial improvement in the crisis.
Simultaneously, the fund drive for the war efforts continued in full operation, and in January 1941, the Governor reported that the Presidency’s contribution to the war effort had reached a total of Rupees Seventy LakhThe measures undertaken for this purpose obviously deteriorated the increased economic distress of the people.
Another Famine occurred in Malabar in the year 1943, and famine related epidemics devastated the region. Cholera, plague, smallpox, and other diseases resulted in a high mortality rate. Several newspapers reported on the severity of the situation and Liberator, published in Calicut capped the deaths at nearly one lakh in the year 1943. The response of the officials merely declared that it was a gross exaggeration of facts, while many books and articles detailing this incident dispute the official records.
The British Administration in Malabar took little interest in providing standard health care services, in spite of the claims in the official reports and the various officers stationed for this purpose. While the district health department conducted lectures, short talks, and lectures, these were inadequate in combating the issues, and even the health staff visited villages on a regular basis, although this was mainly for propaganda.
The events unfolding under British occupation reveals the utilization of resources for their own purposes, creating an artificial famine, and mostly as a result of colonial exploitation. This was aggravated by the Government’s failure to intervene, resulting in serious outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.
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Priya, P. “MALABAR FAMINE OF 1943: A CRITIQUE OF WAR SITUATION IN MALABAR (1939-45).” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 75, 2014, pp. 628–638.
Hogan, William. “Malabar,” Asian Educational Services, 1989.
Malabar Collector to Development Secretary on 16 February 1941, Government of Madras, Revenue Department, G.O.No. 1911, 17 June 1943, Tamilnadu State Archives, Chennai.
Malabar Collector to Development Secretary on 16 February 1941, Government of Madras, Revenue Department, G.O.No. 1911, 17 June 1943, Tamilnadu State Archives, Chennai
Madras Legislative Council Debate, Official Report, Vol IX, No.3, August 1939, Madras, p. 142, RAK.
Travancore Administration Report, 1930-40, p.l 17, Kerala State Archives, Trivandrum
Malabar District Gazette, 1939, 320, RAK.
Madras Administration Report, 1941, 3 14, RAK
Local Administration Department , Bundle No. 51, SI. No. 10, G.O.No. 1843, 17 June 1943
Public Health Department, Bundle No. 20, SI. Nos 3, 6, 6,7,12, 14, RAK.
Various issues of The Hindu: The Indian Express, Madras, Deshabhimani, Calicut, 1943-44.
The Hindu , Madras, 2 January 1941.
Civil Supplies Department Files (Hereafter CSD), 1 943, Bundle No.8, SI. No.4, RAK.
Revenue Department (1941), Ms. Series, G.O. No. 2565,10 November 1941.
This is a continuation from our previous post about the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial, which unearths Unit 731. If you are not familiar with Unit 731, check here.
Key points in this post:
1. The Axis of Power's aggression toward the Soviet Union which led to the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial.
2. Comparing Unit 100 and Unit 731.
The Japan Empire attacked the Soviet Union during the Pacific Asia War. According to the Japanese militarists' strategical plans for aggression, "the USSR. was usually referred to as 'Target No. 1.'"
Here is the timeline of the Japanese Empire's aggression toward the USSR from the Khabarovsk Trial.
And after the war, the Nuremberg Trial (International Military Tribunal) and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial (International Military Tribunal of the Far East) attempted to bring war criminals to justice. However, unlike the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal of the Far East wasn't created by an international agreement. It was made clear during the tribunal that the Imperial Japanese Army was exerting aggression toward the Soviet Union.
In the preliminary research for the Khabarovsk Trial, it was established that during the aggression and preparing for the aggression toward the Soviet Union and other countries, the Japanese Empire had "employ, a criminal means of mass extermination of human beings—the weapon of bacteriological warfare. "
Further, during the preliminary investigation, it was clear that the Japanese General Staff and Ministry for War set up a bacteriological laboratory with Ishii Shiro as its leader after the seizure of Manchuria. Ishii Shiro then became a Lieutenant General in the Army Medical Service. He had always been seen in Japan as "an ideologist of bacteriological warfare."
Kawashima Kiyoshi, a defendant in the trial, was formerly Major General in the Japanese Army Medical Service confirmed that Emperor Hirohito was the one providing the secret instructions. Furthermore, he confirmed that the Japanese General Staff and Ministry for War was formed the two top-secret units for preparing and conducting bacteriological warfare in Manchuria as early as 1935-1936.
The two top-secret units were Unit 731 and Unit 100. Both had a lot in similarities, i.e., human experimentation, and they both had branches throughout the world. Here is a table to make the identification of the two units easier:
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In the spring of 1938, a month after the annexation of Austria to Germany, the Anschluss, Austrian Jews were deported to Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. At the time, there were about 185,000 Jews in Austria, and they had two choices, either flee the country or be deported to the Camps. However, it was not an easy task for most as the Nazis required Jews exiting the country to hold an entry visa to the country.
Ho Feng-Shan was the consul-general in Vienna during this dark period. He went against his superior’s order and issued visas for the Jews looking to escape. It was unnecessary for anyone to get a visa to enter China, but Nazis needed the Jews escaping to get a visa to make it more difficult, and Ho Feng-Shan complied. By June 1938, he issued the 200th visa, and by October 27th, 1938, he had issued the 1906th visa. He issued thousands of visas for those who sought to escape persecution. Each person left with up to ten Deutschmarks, about $4.17 today, which was the maximum that Nazis allowed them.
The refugees from Vienna arrived in wartorn Shanghai and settled in Hongkou District starting 1938. Hongkou eventually became the “Shanghai Ghetto,” housing the fleeing refugees at a time when no one else would take them in. Countries such as the United States and Canada were very reluctant to take any refugees. A Canadian official stated, “None is too many,” when he was asked how many Jewish refugees his country would take.
Although the idea of taking in Jewish refugees was noble, it was hard in practice. Resources in Shanghai was already scarce due to the Sino-Japanese War, especially after the Battle of Shanghai(August 13th- November 12th, 1937). After three months of the war, Chinese refugees moved into the International settlement as well. Along with the 20,000 Jews that fled to Shanghai, the Shanghai population peaked at 700,000. It is also documented that about 30 people would fit into a room in the Shanghai Ghetto.
Since most refugees had so little to bring to their new homes, most required help from JDC for their livelihood, the refugee community relied heavily on the overstrained relief funds, soup kitchens, and overcrowded public accommodations facilities for their survivals. According to JDC, the soup kitchen served 8500 refugees twice a day. Eventually, they started feeding 10,000 people a day.
Some eventually started doing business with locals and learned Chinese. However, most saw their time in China as a temporary shelter and started leaving immediately as soon as the war was over. JDC had helped 16,000 Jews emigrate from China.
One can still see the remnants of the Jewish community in Shanghai in the Hongkou neighborhood. The closest metro station is Tilanqiao station.
3607 members of Unit 731, 12 brought to trial at Khabarovsk. Did justice ever prevail?
Unit 731 was a biological and chemical warfare research unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. It was where the Japanese were getting ready for germ warfare. It established the headquarter in Harbin, China.
Although Harbin belonged to China, it always had close ties to Russia due to its proximity to Russia. From 1896-1903, Harbin grew from a small village into a metropolitan city due to the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway financed by the Russian Empire. It was then extended to connect to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Meanwhile, in Japan, industrialization was happening from the result of Commodore Matthew Perry’s visit. The visit in 1853 caused Japan to open its ports to connect to the western world. It had also opened its ambition to conquer the world to acquire more resources.
Japan and Russia were engaged in Russo-Japanese War from 1904-5, where Russia used Harbin as a military base in Northeastern China. They fought in the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and Manchuria. The Empire of Japan won, which led to the Treaty of Portsmouth negotiated by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Portsmouth Treaty gave the Empire of Japan control of Korea and a part of Manchuria, including Port Arthur and the railway that connected it with the rest of the region, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island.
By December 1918, over 100,000 Russian White Guards who were defeated during the Russian Civil War retreated to Harbin. Harbin then became a major hub of White Russian emigres and had the largest population of Russians outside of Soviet Union.
As Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, the Empire of Japan established Manchukuo and took control of Harbin. Pingfang of Harbin became the Homebase for the biological weapon research of Unit 731, and it established other branches throughout the world during WW2. Its official name was “The Water Supply and Prophylaxis Administration of the Kwantung Army.” Led by General Shiro Ishii, the unit routinely performed human experimentation, developed chemical and biological weapons, and vivisection. It was funded by the Imperial Japanese Army and ceased operation by 1945 at the end of the war.
The scientists who worked at Unit 731 were top scientists of its time recruited in Japan. Although there were 3607 members of Unit 731, only 12 were brought to trial at Khabarovsk otherwise known as Khabarovsk War Crime Trial.
The Khabarovsk War Crime Trial were hearings held between 25-31st of December 1949. The 12 former servicemen of the Japanese Army were Yamada Otozoo, Kajitsuka Ryuji, Takahashi Takaatsu, Katashima Kiyoshi, Nishi Toshihide, Karasawa Tomio, Onoue Masao, Sato Shunji, Hirazakura Zensaku, Mitomo Kazuo, Kikuchi Norimitsu, and Kurushima Yuji. The defendants were allegedly charged with manufacturing and employing bacteriological weapons.
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by Guest Contributor: Rubayya Tasneem
The view of the World Wars are often through the western lens. World War historiography mostly glosses over the involvement of colonial armies, and other foreign and transnational armies, who played significant and often influential roles in turning the tide of the battle. The colonial armies in India during World War 1 were often marked by acute ethnic division, and the Indian soldiers in the British army had to suffer through food shortages and rise in taxes along with intensive recruitment involving the use of force.
This army was different from the force that fought in the First World War on several grounds, as the British had included more Indians in the officer corps, as a response to the nationalist demands. This process was bitterly opposed by many British Indian army officers and led to racial tensions among them.
Most Indian officers faced discrimination at the hands of their fellow British officers and were often viewed as outcasts among the larger social club. They were also often paid less and had to endure harsher conditions than their British counterparts.
Although the Government of India Act of 1935 led to some power being held by the Indian Congress, by placing the provinces under elected departments, the British continued to retain control of all core bases of power. Lord Linlithgow, the then Viceroy of India stated that this was a move “best calculated to hold India to the Empire”. This was then followed by Linlithgow’s declaration of India’s entry into the war without consulting any of the elected leaders. So when the 2nd World War came around, the Congress was much more reluctant to support the war effort on these vague promises, but even despite this, the Indian army expanded to nearly a strength of 2 million by 1943. The Indian nationalists, at the time, including Gandhi, had nurtured the hope that these sacrifices on the part of the Indians would be compensated through an increased political status for India, a step that would eventually lead to a self-governing dominion. The undemocratic inclusion in World War II let to the launch of the 1942 Quit India Movement, which was characterized by mass agitations against 200 years of British rule. The Indian National Congress, which had denounced the Nazi ideology, demanded Independence before extending support for the fight against the Reich.
The British authorities responded to this by imprisoning the national and local leaders and imposed sanctions to suppress the reactions of their supporters.
This sentiment was not shared by everyone in India, and several leaders, including Subhas Chandra Bose and Mohan Singh Deb, advocated a military alliance with Germany or Japan to secure independence from Britain. He believed that Britain’s stand against Nazism and Fascism amounted to hypocrisy as they were themselves responsible for blatant human rights violations in the colonies. The Indian Legion and the Indian National Army, formed from prisoners-of-war belonging to the imperial Indian Army and expatriate Indian communities, were persuaded to fight against the British to secure independence.
Despite all this, the Indian participation in the Allied campaign was crucial to their victory as India’s strategic location prevented the onslaught of the Imperial Japanese soldiers.
The involvement of Indian soldiers in the world wars has largely been forgotten in the modern, and several instances of this can be inferred through the largely isolated monuments commemorating victories, such as the memorials at Imphal and Kohima which are seen as victories of the colonial masters, and glosses over the contribution made by the infantry divisions comprised entirely of Indians. Any books that deal with the Second World War, and even those focusing on the war in Asia neglect the vital role played by the Indian army. This is highlighted through dispatches, or records from that era such as the work of H. P Willmott, outlining the conquest of Burma during 1994 by the British Fourteenth Army, forgetting to mention that this army was composed of Indians.
Indians fought throughout the world, including in the European theatre against Germany, and the South Asian regions defending the territory against the onslaught of the Japanese in Burma. Furthermore, in the Middle East and African theatre, the pre-independence India provided the largest volunteer force of any nation during World War II.
The Indian forces also played a role in liberating Italy from Nazi control and the Indian divisions led the advance, especially the decisive Battle of Monte Cassino.
The Indian participation in World War II was crucial to the victory of the allied forces, however, this era of Indian history has, for the most part, been remembered for its fight towards independence. While most of this can be attributed to the wider neglect of the historians towards analyzing India in the context of World War II, it also stems from the fact that the newly independent states of Pakistan and India were preoccupied with creating distinct national narratives at the expense of the former. The war provided an opportunity for groups at the margins of Indian society to find new avenues for mobility and also led to the emergence of India as a major Asian power. India was a separate signatory to the Treaty of Versailles as well as a founding member of the League of Nations, the only non-independent territory to be so.
This has not translated to an official remembrance day for World War II in India, which to this day is considered as a remnant of the colonial past. To start critically questioning and understanding the involvement of India in the World Wars is to generate awareness of India’s participation at the global level that has been so intrinsic to its growth and development.
About guest contributor: Rubayya Tasneem is a second-year law student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, India. Her interest in history, especially Indian history led her to pacificatrocities.org with its articles detailing World War 2, and all its ramifications in modern times. She currently resides in India.
by Peter Lassalle-Klein
Header images Left: The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the Sulphur, Calliope, Larne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841. An engagement in the First Opium War (1839-42), showing the ‘Nemesis’ (right background, in starboard broadside view) attacking a fleet of Chinese war junks in the middle ground. The war junk third from the left is shown being destroyed with splinters flying up into the air. Two rowing boats with Chinese passengers watch from the left foreground. Various men can be seen overboard and clinging on to debris throughout the scene. The lettering below includes lists of dimensions. PAH8193 and PAH8893 are additional copies, both hand-coloured, and the print is from an oil painting by Duncan presented to the Williamson Art Gallery at Birkenhead in 1925, with another showing Prince Albert visiting iron ships off Woolwich Dockyard. They were a gift from Alderman J.W.P. Laird, one of the Birkenhead shipbuilding family who built the 'Nemesis' and others of the vessels shown in them. On 7 January 1841, the 'Nemesis' of the Bombay Marine (the East India Company's naval service), commanded by William Hutcheon Hall, with boats from the ‘Sulphur’, ‘Calliope’, ‘Larne’ and ‘Starling’, destroyed Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, Chuenpee, near the Bocca Tigris forts guarding the mouth of the Pearl River up to Canton. British forces then captured the forts themselves. Hall was a Royal Naval master at the time. He had steam experience and had been privately engaged by John Laird to command the 'Nemesis', which the latter had built experimentally as the first fully iron warship, and was so successful in it in China that in 1841 he was specially commissioned as a Naval lieutenant. He went on to later Royal Naval service as a captain in the Crimean War and was a retired admiral at his death in 1875. His portrait (BHC2733) and papers are also in the Museum collection. Created: 29 May 1843 by Edward Duncan- Public Domain https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/opium_wars_01/ow1_gallery/pages/1841_0792_nemesis_jm_nmm.htm Right: British troops storm the Taku Forts, China, in 1860, in Second Opium War. Created: 1860 by William Heysham Overend- Public Domain
The colonization of China was a long campaign involving the exploitation of the Chinese economy by the western powers, but mainly of Britain, France, and the U.S. Before this, China was at the center of the world economy throughout the 1700s due to their widely sought exports of porcelain, silk, and tea, all under the era of the Qing dynasty. However, the Qing Dynasty faced many issues and by the end of the 1700s, China was experiencing strains: a quickly growing population, a difficulty of food supply for this population, and a subsequent lack of centralized government control; all of which led to rebellions and a weakening of the dynasty’s power throughout their country. Alongside these strains, China also contracted many tolls due to the destruction caused by the Opium Wars and the presence of western powers in the country. They were forced to open ports to trade illegal contraband, they also had to permanently give up land just off of their coast to foreign powers, grant legal immunities to non-Chinese traders, and after the second Opium War, they were mandated to allow free movement of Christian missionaries throughout the country. Though, by 1860, due to the imposition of British, French, and U.S. powers in China, it could be considered little more than an international colony. By the early 1900s, the British Empire (now called the United Kingdom), the German Empire, Russia, France, the United States, Japan, Italy, and Austria-Hungary were all present in China, “defending their interests” from the rebels of the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing. In fact, it was one of the few times in history these countries allied with one another: to end the resistance to their western influences in China. The united forces assaulting Beijing did not even do so to defend its people but to see which national army gained the glory of relieving the city of the Boxers. The forces killed the Boxers in Beijing and subsequently looted the entire city as representative armies of eight different countries destroyed Beijing apart. Even Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), the imperial expanse of palaces and gardens which spanned 3.5 square kilometers, was thoroughly sacked. Its remains still lie in 47 different museums around the world, including the British Museum in London. By the end of the weeks of looting, Beijing was in shambles. China had all the qualities of a colony–international powers dominated it, its economy was used to fund other countries, and an outside religion was being spread through colonial missionaries–it was a colony in anything but name. China transitioned from being the most powerful economy in the world before the Opium Wars to its GDP dropping by half just a decade later. This is reflective of the damage China took from the Opium Wars, but the British colonizers would not let their main source of profit stay broken for long. Through colonization, China’s economy was manipulated by the western powers: the economy fiscally grew, but the wellbeing of the Chinese since the funds of the economy was sent directly to America, France, and the British Empire.
One of the most direct effects on the Chinese economy during the colonial era was the role of Hong Kong just after the Opium Wars. Hong Kong was originally a barren island populated by a few thousand farmers and fishermen when it fell under the sway of the British Empire by force in 1841 and developed into a full-fledged territory after the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. From that point onward it remained under absolute British control, with a notable presence of the British military. This military/police force, however, was not made up of just English troops, but Indian soldiers as well. The British Empire’s colonization of India was in full effect due to the industrialization of the opium trade, which was produced from Indian poppies in mass quantities. Along with the troops came Indians emigrating from British-controlled India, which pushed the development of Hong Kong through the jobs of building ports, homes, and other colony necessities for a trade city. Hong Kong quickly became the launching point for the British’s business in mainland China as they profited off of the labor of those they had already colonized.
Sikh officers dressed in their daily uniforms in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China. “Officers of the Sikh regiment, Tientsin ?, 1900,” by Robert Henry Chandless. Source: University of Washington. Via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Officers_of_the_Sikh_regiment,_Tientsin_%3F,_1900_(CHANDLESS_24).jpeg
The issue of colonization and China’s economy is a complicated one. Some believe that colonialism, through the suppression of another’s culture for monetary gain, developed China’s economy. This perspective argues that by forcing society to open its borders and ports to trade, the western powers stimulated the economy in a very direct way. Professor Mohammad Shakil Wahed at the University of Reading presents this pro-colonial perspective, saying, “The Middle Kingdom [The Qing Dynasty] would have been in isolation for many more years and might have remained in some form of ‘Dark Age’ without the timely imperial intervention.” Professor Wahed also recognizes the issue with this perspective is that those who argue this are often very critical of China for “not being able to take enough goodness from the west.” This pro-colonial view of colonialism is an entirely positive thing that is a biased view that is critical of any non-western influence and does not recognize the damaging impacts of colonialism in China and its public. Almost all of the arguments for a pro-colonial perspective are biased in this way against the Chinese: condemnatory of any values that did not originate from the West. Therefore, when they are used in a discussion of China’s economy, they present an unresolvable conflict of interest.
From an economic standpoint, pro-colonists argue that colonization is what reinforced the importance of capitalism and trade in China. This is due to information suggesting such: China experienced a steady growth of agricultural output and income between the 1870s to the 1940s, which supplied its growing population with the food needed for continual growth. Furthermore, China experienced growth with the introduction of modern machinery as the west demanded more goods to be sent abroad. This introduction of factories and machinery, however, did not create as much as an immediate effect as it had in Europe. China did not experience an industrial revolution like Europe did, since “the production output of modern industries could not exceed the output of the traditional handicraft industry. Even during the mid-1930s, the total value output of native handicrafts was more than three times that of the modern machinery-based industries.” Although pro-colonists claim industrialization did develop to the Chinese economy, historians state that this did not occur until after the colonial era after the western powers were ousted from China: “This trend of industrialization did not turn into an industrial revolution like the one that occurred in Europe.” Both the Qing state and the Chinese people were very unwelcoming to western influence, and understandably so. Most of the goods being produced in China were traded or invested in foreign interests, rather than in Chinese interests.
1. “China and the West: Imperialism, Opium, and Self-Strengthening (1800-1921) - Asia for Educators, Columbia University.” http://afe.easia.columbia.edu. Accessed 30 Sep., 2019.
3. “The Colonization of China - Aspirant Forum.” 14 October, 2014, https://aspirantforum.com/2014/10/21/colonization-of-china/. Accessed 12 Sep., 2019.
4. Fleming, Peter. The Siege at Peking: The Boxer Rebellion. New York, NY: Dorset Press, 1959.
5. ibid, 200.
6. “Old Summer Palace marks 157th anniversary of massive loot - Chinadaily.” 19 October, 2019, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2017-10/19/content_33436716_2.htm. Accessed 28 October, 2019.
7. Kalipci, Müge. "Economic Effects of the Opium Wars For Imperial China: The Downfall of an Empire." Bolu Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi 18 (2018): 291-304. https://dergipark.org.tr/en/pub/basbed/issue/39758/470806. Accessed 16 Sep., 2019.
8. “The Opium Wars in China - Asia Pacific Curriculum.” 2019, https://asiapacificcurriculum.ca/sites/default/files/2019-02/Opium%20Wars%20-%20Background%20Reading.pdf. Accessed 24 Aug., 2019.
9. “Hong Kong Sikhs - Angelfire.” 1 June, 2006, http://www.angelfire.com/planet/hongkongsikhs/FLAGTOP-0608141522-25-1-1841-hongkongsikhs.html. Accessed 17 Sep., 2019.
10. Wahed, Mohammad S. “The Impact of Colonialism on 19th and Early 20th Century China.” Cambridge Journal of China Studies 11, No. 2 (2016): 26. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/257410. Accessed 17 Sep., 2019.
13. ibid., 28
14. ibid., 29
16. Kalipci, Müge. "Economic Effects of the Opium Wars For Imperial China: The Downfall of an Empire." Bolu Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi 18 (2018): 291-304.
Started on June 9th, 2019, protests in Hong Kong had sustained over 110 days. It is going strong well into the 70th National Day of Communist China. Shockingly, what started as a protest against an extradition bill continued well into weeks after the bill was canceled. The involvement of triads in Hong Kong in the protest has also attracted international news.
During the latest protests, triad members with white shirts with swords and sticks chasing protesters look as if they are characters in a kung fu movie from Hollywood.
Since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, the authorities in Hong Kong have relaxed their enforcement toward the triad members. Triad members have extended their business from illegal to legal sectors of the economy. There are currently about 57 triad groups in Hong Kong with 14 of them under police surveillance.
This current development of triad societies are effects brought by socioeconomic changes in Hong Kong. They are behind gambling, drug trade, prostitution, and whatever that could bring them money. They have not always been about money and have had historically been more of a multi-faceted brotherhood organization.
But this is not the first time the triads and mafia members rolled out on the streets as they owned it. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WWII, triads blocked streets to establish gambling territories. Some of them went as far as to helping the Japanese soldiers to establish comfort stations.
Throughout history in China, triads were involved in every issue as long as they can benefit. The British viewed them as a group that would make Hong Kong impossible to rule if they were allowed to roam free in the city and punished most triad members making their underground activities even more secretive. During the Japanese occupation, most triad members welcomed them as occupiers as anarchy reigned in Hong Kong. As the Imperial Japanese Army came in, the Triads robbed civilians at gunpoints and looted the stores clean. The entire three years of eight months period, not only were civilians living in fear of the Imperial Japanese Army, they were also living in fear of the Triads.
After WWII, Hong Kong was under British ruling again. Triads were again more secretive of their activities. After Mao took over China, triad activities were punishable by law. However, as the latest activities show, some triads are now pro-Beijing as their businesses are depended on Mainland China. However, similar to most issues in Asia, this is not a simple one as most of the triad members are related to KMT in one way of another. 14K was founded by a former Lieutenant-General of Kuomintang.
To learn more about triad activities during WW2, get a copy of Three Year Eight Months: The Forgotten Struggle of Hong Kong During WWII