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A Brief Note on the History of the Pacific War

by Boudewyn van Oort

This surely must be one of the most bizarre wars in recent history. Although its official commencement is given as Dec 7 1941, Japanese soldiers  had by then already imposed Japanese imperial authority on Korea, Manchuria, French Indo China and a large part of China  where a bloody conflict, punctuated by unspeakable brutality, was dragging on with no end in sight.

All that happened was that on that fateful December Sunday Japan set its sights on the resource rich Netherlands East Indies, a colony  whose Imperial master had recently fallen under the heel of the Third Reich. All that stood in the way  of Japan’s lunge to the south was 2000 miles of Ocean and the questionable willingness of America and, let’s be generous, the ability of  Britain to intervene in such a venture. The diplomatic manoeuvring preceding the conflict  has been described in great detail by Dr Herman Bussemaker in his PhD dissertation for the University of Amsterdam (1).

A pre-emptive strike against the only significant opposing military force in this area enjoying, on Sunday December 7, a well-earned day of rest, made a Japanese defeat inevitable, but Japan could at the end of the war claim that with respect to one of its professed strategic objectives: ridding Asia of European dominance, she  was successful. The Netherlands East Indies ceased to exists on March 8 1942, and for practical purposes that situation did not change with the ending of the war on 15, August 1945.

Did the atomic  bomb end the war with the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? No, those apocalyptic blasts did not cow the Japanese Government nor its people  but precipitated a hurried offensive by the Soviet army to ensure control over the Pacific Shores of Asia and perhaps a Communist act of retribution for the humiliation of the Tsarist defeat in 1905. Japan feared a Russian invasion more than an American one (2).

It is small wonder that the Dutch and other European prisoners languishing in internment camps throughout south east Asia were so flabbergasted by the turn of events after the so-called Allied (actually  American) victory. Prisoners they were before August 15 and prisoners they remained afterwards, only finding ultimate relief by exchanging their prison garb for that of refugees. There is no question as to who lost that war.

The one Dutch observer on Java who could see the entire drama unfolding, and made a desperate attempt to forestall, what he saw as, impending postwar disaster, lost his life in the attempt, and would have sunk into oblivion were it not for the fact that his fascinating, intelligently written, insightful diary, survived the war and spurred its postwar owner into a investigation lasting twenty-three years in order to unmask the identity of the mysterious, intelligent, polyglot  author and the personae discussed in his daily observations while working for the Japanese Authorities until his final fatal move. (3)

(1) Bussemaker, Herman Th.,  “Paradise in Peril”, PhD Thesis, University of Amsterdam, Faculty of the Humanities, 2001.
(2) Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi, “The Atomic Bombs and the Soviet Invasion, which was more important in Japans’ decision to surrender?” Stanford University,  2007.
(3) Jansen, Dr. Leo  F.,   “In Deze Halve Gevangenis”, van Wijnen, Franeker 1988.

Other Books of note:
Dr Lou De Jong, “het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden”, Vol 11 deals with the Netherlands East Indies (1939-1945).Staatsuitgeverij, S’Gravenhage, 1985.
Johan Fabricius: “Brandende Aarde” , s’Leopolds Uitgever Maatschappij, the Hague, 1949. ( regarding the role of Petroleum resources in the conflict).

Memoirs
Ernest Hillen: “the Way of a Boy”, Penguin, 1993.
Mark Felton: “Children of the Camps”,Pen & Sword,  2011.

Web Articles
Elizabeth  van Kampen (http://www.dutch-east-indies.com/story/index.htm)  Her lengthy account includes a particularly gruesome description of the pig basket atrocity.

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I have available the camp name register of August 1945. This provides name, number of family members and name of previous camp.  From this I have for instance extracted a list of names of all our fellow travellers coming from Tjihapit to Tjideng Camp in May 1945.

Contact Boudewyn  for further details.

An earlier dated name register ( 1944) is available on Peter Kuil’s website.

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