Struggle in the Rimlands: Southeast Asia, 1945–46

  • Scott L. Bills

Abstract

As the Council of Foreign Ministers began discussing the course of post-war Europe, first in London and then later in Paris, the sessions became a prototype for marathon diplomacy which tested the skill and stamina of all participants. The public and private jousting, the jostling and posturing, the numbing task of trying to string together disparate agreements which set boundaries, delimited reparations, redistributed military and economic assets, debated provisional governance, and considered options for colonial trusteeships — all this steadily bled the international forum of credibility and hope. ‘Let not us who fought on freedom’s side forget how near the shadows we came’, said Secretary Byrnes at the Paris Peace Conference. ‘We must never accept any disagreement as final.’ Only through ‘great co-operative effort’, he said, could the nations assembled stamp out the virus of ‘militant totalitarian nationalism’, a stubborn organism which could still breed in a culture of ‘famine, disease, and social disruption’.1 Such phrases, while sonorous, played to inattentive heads by the time they were spoken in the summer of 1946. Who, after all, had fought on freedom’s side? Surely not everyone. Was one totalitarian dictatorship as systemically distorted and dangerous as another? Was one capitalist system as exploitative, grasping and hegemonic as another? Disputes and stereotypes multiplied exponentially: naive Americans, weary and cynical Europeans, machine-like Soviet apparatchiks.

Keywords

Dust Europe Explosive Volatility Toll 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Byrnes speech, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946: Paris Peace Conference Proceedings (Washington: GPO, 1970), 3: pp. 33–4, 38 (hereafter cited as FRUS followed by the appropriate year).Google Scholar
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    Mountbatten, Post Surrender Tasks, Section E of the Report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1969), p. 286; Dening to Foreign Office, no. 506, 19 September 1945, as repeated to Washington, CAB 122/512, PRO.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    Dennis, Troubled Days of Peace: Mountbatten and South East Asia Command, 1945–46 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1987), pp. 46, 51. While Dennis contended that Gracey ‘was no died-in-the-wool imperialist’, other authors have attributed Gracey’s actions to a colonial mentality nurtured by years of foreign service;Google Scholar
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  5. 14.
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  6. 14.
    Peter M. Dunn, The First Vietnam War (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 367, lauded the 23 September coup, writing: ‘Had the Chinese in North Vietnam done similar favors for the French, it is not impossible that the Viet Minh would have been smothered before reaching full bloom’.Google Scholar
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    Krock letter to the editor, New York Times, 3 October 1945; the letter was dated 1 October. Krock wrote that Dewey ‘was not meant to perish in the way he did—from the gunfire of insurgents in a strange land who mistook him for a French officer, and therefore a symbol of what they consider their oppressor’. For a summary of Dewey’s background, see R. Harris Smith,OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 337–9.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Dening to Foreign Office, no. 530, 25 September 1945, as repeated to Washington, CAB 122/512, PRO. For reference to an earlier Dening memo based on similar fears, see Christopher Thorne, Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain, and the War Against Japan, 1941–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, paperback), p. 539.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Vincent to Dean Acheson, under secretary of state, 28 September 1945, State Department Decimal Files, 851G.00/9–2845, RG 59, DSNA; Vincent to Acheson, 2 October 1945, 851G.00/10–245, ibid.; Moffat memorandum, 1 October 1945, filed with ibid.; Matthews to Acheson and Vincent, n.d., emphasis in original, attached to Vincent to Acheson, 28 September 1945, 851G.00/9–2845, ibid.; Acheson to Vincent, n.d., ibid.; Bonbright to Matthews, 2 October 1945, 851G.00/10–245, ibid. John F. Cady, Contacts With Burma, 1935–1949: A Personal Account, Papers in International Studies, Southeast Asia Series No. 61 (Athens, OH: Ohio University, Center for International Studies), p. 63, asserts that Matthews typically assumed a superior attitude toward what he considered the amateurish work of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs. George C. Herring, ‘The Truman Administration and the Restoration of French Sovereignty in Indochina’, Diplomatic History1 (Spring 1977): p. 102, observed that Matthews viewed Indochina affairs ‘from an unabashedly pro-French standpoint’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 25.
    On the politics of the Chinese occupation regime, see Ronald H. Spector, Advice and Support: The Early Years of the United States Army in Vietnam, 1941–1960 (1983; reprint, New York: The Free Press, 1985), pp. 52–3.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
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  12. 30.
    Foote to MacArthur, 29 January 1944, quoted in Robert J. McMahon, Colonialism and Cold War: The United States and the Struggle for Indonesian Independence, 1945–1949 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 75.Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    McMahon wrote of Foote: ‘Comfortable with the colonial lifestyle and close to many Dutch leaders, he considered the statements floating around Washington about the future of the European colonies to have no relevance to the Indies’ (p. 74). See also Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941–1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, paperback), p. 78.Google Scholar
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    Theodore Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan Against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942–1945 (Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 57.Google Scholar
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    Joyce C. Lebra, Japanese-Trained Armies in Southeast Asia: Independence and Volunteer Forces in World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), pp. 13, 89–90.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 111–12, 169–71; Friend, Blue-Eyed Enemy, p. 98; see also Christopher Thorne, The Issue of War: States, Societies, and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941–1945 ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1985 ), p. 161. Lebra put the peak strength of Peta forces at 33000 in 1944 (p. 109); Friend counted 37 500 members by the end of the war (p. 98). Such paramilitary training focused upon Java because it was the major supply base for Japanese military forces in the region.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    Charles Wolf, Jr., The Indonesian Story: The Birth, Growth, and Structure of the Indonesian Republic (New York: John Day, 1948), p. viii, emphasis in original (Wolf was vice-consul in Batavia from February 1946 to June 1947);Google Scholar
  18. Hornbeck, ‘The United States and the Netherlands East Indies’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 225 (January 1948): pp. 125–6, emphasis in original. The article was based on a lecture given on 2 July 1947. Hornbeck had been director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs before being appointed ambassador to the Netherlands in September 1944.Google Scholar
  19. 54.
    Laurens van der Post, The Night of the New Moon ( London: Hogarth Press, 1971 ), p. 45, italics in original;Google Scholar
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    Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War ( 1959; reprint, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988 ), p. 2. Van der Post was from South Africa.Google Scholar
  21. 62.
    Moffat to Vincent, 12 October 1945, folder: SEA 1946–49, Box 4, Records, Philippine and Southeast Asia Division, RG 59, DSNA; Moffat to Vincent, 19 November 1945, Box 5, ibid.; Moffat to Acheson, 27 December 1945, FW 811B.01/12–2645, RG 59, DSNA. In his 27 December memo, Moffat was affirming the judgment of veteran Asian expert Frank P. Lockhart, chief of the Division of Philippine Affairs, 811B.01/12–2645, RG 59, DSNA. For a discussion of US-British disagreements over the post-war status of Thailand, see Gary R. Hess, The United States’ Emergence as a Southeast Asian Power, 1940–1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp. 111–19.Google Scholar
  22. 72.
    Memorandum of conversation, by Richard L. Sharp, 30 January 1946, FRUS 1946, 8: p. 17. Gallagher further believed that the Vietnamese were not yet ready for self-government. While he felt that DRV propaganda and organizational techniques bespoke a Soviet influence, he asserted that the Viet Minh ‘should not be labelled full-fledged doctrinaire communists’ (pp. 17, 19). State Department officials who spoke with Gallagher included Charles S. Reed, soon to be the US consul in Saigon; Woodruff Wallner (WE); and Moffat and Sharp from SEA. For the text of the Sino-French agreement, see Allan W. Cameron (ed.), Viet-Nam Crisis: A Documentary History, vol. 1: 1940–1956 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), pp. 76–7. The Chinese, wrote Ellen Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina, 1940–1955 (1954–55; reprint, Stanford University Press, 1967), p. 152, ‘decided to sacrifice Vietnamese independence for French economic and political concessions’.Google Scholar
  23. 73.
    Caffery to secretary of state, 6 February 1946, FRUS 1946, 8: p. 24; Landon to secretary of state, 5 February 1946, ibid., p. 23; Jean Sainteny, Ho Chi Minh and His Vietnam, A Personal Memoir, trans. Herma Briffault (Chicago: Cowles, 1972), p. 52.Google Scholar
  24. 75.
    Sainteny, Ho Chi Minh, p. 71; Lauristan Sharp, ‘French Plan for Indochina’, Ricefields: An Eyewitness Account of Vietnam’s Three Wars, 1945–1979, trans. Faye Carney (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1979), pp. 24–5. Scholl-Latour was very sympathetic toward the French position in Indochina and viewed the Viet Minh as a fanatical communist movement which must be defeated. Correspondent George Weller, ‘Can France Hold Her Eastern Empire?’, Saturday Evening Post, 30 November 1946, p. 18, found it ironic that Germans in the Foreign Legion might well find themselves fighting against Japanese advisers to the Viet Minh. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Scott L. Bills 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott L. Bills
    • 1
  1. 1.Stephen F. Austin State UniversityUSA

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