HISTORY: QUESTIONS – SOUTH EAST ASIA
1. Was the Japanese Occupation a turning point for the pre-war nationalists?
The Japanese Occupation during World War Two was indeed to a large extent a turning point for the development of nationalist movements essentially because it had empowered them to do what they could not in the pre-war period due to their own limitations and the constraints imposed by their colonial rulers and this catalysed the process of gaining independence. During the Japanese Occupation, a rise to prominence of some radical nationalist leaders and the establishment of a military force that will catalyse the journey off the nationalists to independence, vis-à-vis the state they had been in the pre-war period due to colonial suppression. However, there was also a sense of continuity seen between the pre-war situation and the situation during the Japanese Occupation as there was an unequal partnership between the Japanese and the nationalists and continuing divisions among the nationalists showing no difference from the pre-war period. However, these points of continuity were later proven superficial by the nationalists as they had bypassed the Japanese to spread their own in the ‘controlled’ mass politics which shows a balancing out of the supposed unequal partnership. Additionally, despite the nationalists being divided by religion and secularism into two different united fronts, this was still a turning point in that the pre-war period did not see the unity of these groups in two separate entities and this ‘divided’ unity would allow them to tap on a wider, larger group for mass support of nationalism. Thus, the significance of the changes made to the nationalists during the occupation in comparison to the pre-war period are amplified, reinforcing my argument that the Japanese Occupation was indeed to a large extent a turning point for the development of nationalist movements in Southeast Asia.
When take in parallel to the pre-war period, a stark difference is seen between the pre-war period and the period of the Japanese Occupation as the lack of prominence of radical nationalist leaders who sought independence but were never given the opportunity to lead due to mass colonial suppression which was now replaced by a quick rise to prominence as the Japanese were ready to use these leaders to gain mass support for Japanese war causes. The rise to prominence would later allow the nationalists to gain mass public support in the post-war period and also colonial confidence to rule as they now had valuable administrative experience which would catalyse their journey to independence. For example, in Indonesia, two key leaders who saw this reversal of political fortunes were Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta. During the war, the Japanese appealed to key radical pre-war Indonesian nationalist leaders to collaborate in return for the promise of speedy self-rule. This open collaboration and participation in the management of Indonesia led to the gaining of valuable administrative experience and a massive boost to their self-confidence which would thus catalyse the process of obtaining independence for the Indonesians as this boost to self-confidence would allow them to appeal to greater numbers of people as they become more charismatic and the people hence gain more confidence in them, thus intensifying the benefits of mass politics being encouraged by the Japanese. In Burma, similarly, the Thakins who were previously suppressed by the western colonial powers were seen as national heroes due to the prominent roles of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in assisting the Japanese liberation of Burma in 1942. This would then also serve to boost the Burmese public’s confidence in them and strengthen belief in their nationalist aspirations and leaders as the Burmese now knew the myth of British invincibility was not true at all. Additionally, the Japanese also set up the Baho administration under the...
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