World War II created its fair share of myths: on the American side, the “Flying Tigers”—a “small private air force that fought the Japanese over Burma and Western China”—became one of the first, providing as it did some of the few bright spots in the days after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to June 1942, the force which “rarely had more than forty airworthy planes” managed to take down almost 300 Japanese aircraft. A John Wayne movie came out as early as 1942.
Tony Banham has produced a very clear and detailed account of the civilian evacuations from Hong Kong in July of 1940. His extensive detail makes it clear that the evacuation’s potentially complicated logistics in fact went off much more smoothly than might have been expected. Less than half of Hong Kong’s British population was evacuated, and the officials and the general public in Manila and Australia were extremely welcoming, resettling the refugees quickly. Nevertheless, the entire operation generated persistent complaints right up to the eventual Japanese invasion.
When the end came, it came quickly and, for most of the Japanese inhabitants of occupied Manchuria, unexpectedly. Kiku Kyuzo, protagonist of Beasts Head for Home, was of one of the great many Japanese left behind when Manchuria fell to the Soviet Army in August 1945.
For those who had been living under Western imperialism in Asia, the sudden loss of presumed superiority in almost all things political, social, and cultural of the European colonial powers after Japan’s sudden attack in late 1941 was a seminal event. Japan’s own, often violent, experiment in colonial administration that immediately took its place, lasting through to the summer of 1945, and its attempts at pan-Asianism reinforced for the many that the “civilizing” project need not demand colonial masters from abroad.
MacArthur hardly appears. The spies were rank amateurs. But once you get past the misleading title, MacArthur’s Spies is a well-written piece of work with a lot to say about life in occupied Manila during World War II.
Ronald McCrum is a retired British army officer, and in his prologue he sets out his conviction that in previous accounts of the fall of Singapore too much blame has been attributed to the military and not enough to the “seriously flawed” civil administration.
Nanjing Never Cries, the first novel by physicist Hong Zheng, tells the story of four central characters and how their lives are forever changed by the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s and the sacking of the capital of Nanjing in 1937.