Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

WW2 Anniversary

|   7 January 2012

Humiliation in Singapore

The WW2 guns of Singapore point south.

I was in Singapore this week – which was an education in itself as one witnesses first hand how many of the Asian economies seem to be outstripping debt struck Europe.

But I was also seeing first hand the sight of what, seventy years ago, Winston Churchill called ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.’ On 15 February 1942, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival gave up Singapore to the Japanese. More than 60,000 British and other Commonwealth and Empire troops surrendered to an Imperial Army force of around 35,000.

The prime reason for the disaster was the incompetence of the British leadership in Singapore – particularly that of the inept Percival – but complacency born of racism also played a part. The British simply couldn’t believe that the Japanese were capable of advancing through the Malayan jungle to the north of Singapore – but they did. In addition, the Asian theater of war had been depleted of many resources because the direct threat to immediate British interests – and, indeed, to the territory of Great Britain – came from Nazi Germany. And Japan, after all, was on the other side of the world.  The British plan had always been that a strong naval force would act as the prime deterrent to Japanese aggression, rather than extensive land forces. But here too, British arrogance would prove costly. On 10 December 1941 two huge British battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, were sunk by Japanese planes, largely because the British government – headed by Churchill, of course – had allowed them to sail in these waters without adequate air support.

As I walked through Singapore this week and saw the immense riches and drive of this small island nation, I thought of the ignorance in Europe and America today amongst many people about the vast economic strides that have been made – and will continue to be made in the future – in Asia. Of course, the warlike intentions of nations like Japan are no more. But the complacency the British had about the military capability of the Japanese 70 years ago is still reflected, I feel, in the complacency many people in the West feel about the economic potentiality of the East.

WW2 Controversies

|   5 November 2010

An epidemic of racism.

Singapore: ‘the worst disaster in British history.’

We’ve just added to the site for subscribers a video about the Japanese victories at the end of 1941 and the the start of 1942. And as victories go they didn’t come much bigger than the Japanese triumph at Singapore in February 1942, when more than 60,000 troops under the command of the British General Arthur Percival surrendered to around 35,000 soldiers of the Imperial Army. Churchill called it ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. And still today historians argue over exactly why this could have happened.

My own view is that we massively underestimate just how racist the British were in their views about the Japanese. There’s a real danger in this history that since the British (and the Americans come to that) are perceived as the ‘good guys’ of WW2, we forget that racist views and racist values were not just the preserve of the Germans. Consider, for example, the views of the commander-in-chief of British forces in the Far East, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, expressed after he traveled to the border of British territory with China, just before the outbreak of the war.  ‘I had a good close up, across the barbed wire [of the border],’ he wrote in 1940, to the Chief of the Imperial Defence Staff, ‘of various sub-human specimens dressed in dirty grey uniform, which I was informed were Japanese soldiers. If these represent the average of the Japanese army, the problems of their food and accommodation would be simple, but I cannot believe they would form an intelligent fighting force.’