by Emily Winters
The creation of the China-Burma-India Theater was crucial to both the short-term plans and long-term goals of the American Army in South East Asia. The Allies, such as the American, British, and Chinese Armies, attempt to fight the immediate threat of Japanese invasion. Japan was already actively occupying China, but its campaign was expanding in the South East and became a more pressing concern for the Allies. Not only was the Axis of Power expanding its line of battles during World War II, but they were also invading nations that were not previously directly or actively involved in the war, such as the country of Burma.
The Allies' involvement in the South East region is complex and, to understand the power dynamics of this region, one must understand the historical context of Burma. Due to Burma's history of being colonized and imperialized by the British, the American Army had to go through the pre-existing British services to establish any Civil or Military Services for the China-Burma-India Theater at the start of the 1940s. An archive document from an American Civil Servant serving in the China-Burma-India Theater stated that the American Army Personnel were making the military and operations decisions within the overall control of British forces. The British and American defense of uninvolved countries - some specifically imperialized by the British - was the highest short-term priority.
Both the British and American forces, however, desired to maintain their authority in the South East. Specifically, British forces wanted to maintain colonial control over Burma. In contrast, the American Military wanted to defend the countries in the South East Theater during World War II and establish a post-war occupation to protect the region from Japanese forces. In the early 1940s, the Japanese Military was expanding their control in China as well as Burma, and the American Military wanted to keep forces in South East Asia to stop the expansion of Japanese control. One document from the Archive discusses that it was difficult to transport goods to Allied Powers in the China-Burma-India Theater because of Japanese submarines stationed throughout the South East. This alludes to the idea that the Allied mission in the South East was no secret to the Japanese, who were clearly monitoring the region. However, Allied shipments were not limited to wartime goods. Finance documents reveal that there was access to local vehicles, but the same documents also show that the British Military, in particular, was funding the construction of railways throughout India as well as the South East region.
The manufacturing of railways solidifies the presence of colonial power, indicating that western occupants were there to stay. The creation of the China-Burma-India Theater by the Allied Powers was two-fold: While the immediate threat of the war took precedent, there was also a desire to expand power in a more permanent way.
There are multiple documents pertaining to the development and preparations for creating the China-Burma-India Theater in the Pacific Atrocities Education Archives.
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