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The Asian-Pacific Colonial Crumble, to 1950

During the World War Two, talk about fighting for freedom and liberation were encouraging words for the colonized. The Japanese had pushed the Dutch and British out of their colonies. The movement for independence in India accelerated. Britain's colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa was stirring, and French colonialism in Southeast Asia was taking a hit.

The US in the Pacific

After the war, Guam and American Samoa remained US territories, without substantial complaint. The people of Guam had been brutalized by the Japanese, including subjection to forced labor, family separation, incarceration, execution, concentration camps and forced prostitution. and people in Guam viewed the return of the US as liberation.

In 1947, US occupation of Saipan became a UN Trust Territory, administration by the UN's Trustee Council consisting of members of the Security Council. It continued to be administered by the United States and dominated by the United States military.

In 1947, the United States, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement with the UN Security Council to administer much of Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

The Marshall Islands and the Caroline Islands, each a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, remained under the control of the US military, as did Midway Island. (The Marshalls had a population of around 53,000 in 2011 spread out over 29 coral atolls. Midway a population of around 40.)

On 4 July 1946 the US and the Philippines Islands signed a treaty that recognized the US relinquishing US sovereignty over the Philippines. The treaty provided access to Philippine minerals, forests and other natural resources by US citizens and corporations. And the US kept its military bases in the islands.

The Dutch and Indonesia.

After the war, Dutch colonizers who had been forced out of Indonesia wanted to return. An independent Indonesia had been declared on 17 August 1945, two days after Japan's surrender. Its president was Sukarno, who spoke several languages fluently and whose intelligence and oratory had helped him rise to the top of those advocating independence. On August 23 a Dutch force-landed (at Sabang, an island at the northern end of Sumatra), and bloody warfare would follow.

The Dutch described Sukarno as someone who had collaborated with the Japanese. They sought help from Australia and Britain. On September 8, the first British troops arrived, parachuting into Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta – while Japan's navy was surrendering to the Australians. The Indonesians had expected the Americans to land, and quotations from the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg address were conspicuously displayed in the capital city.

The British thought they were establishing order, and they used Japanese troops against a full-scale revolt by Indonesians. By the end of the year, British troops were out of Indonesia and the Dutch were increasing their strength there, reaching 110,000 troops by May 1947. The US expressed its disapproval. India's leader, Nehru, was outraged by the Dutch. In the Netherlands, people began demonstrating against the war in Indonesia. The Russians sided with the Indonesians, and Australian labor began boycotting shipments of supplies to the Dutch war effort.

On August 1, 1948, the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire, but the fighting continued into 1949. On March 31, 1949, the Truman administration told the Dutch that their Marshall Plan aid was in jeopardy. The Dutch finally agreed to a cease fire in August, and on November 2 they signed what amounted to giving up any hold on Indonesian territory. The efforts by those Dutch willing to kill a lot of people for the sake of maintaining their colony in the Indonesian Archipelago had proven futile. The Netherlands "unconditionally and irrevocably" recognized Indonesia as a federation of autonomous states.

The French in Indochina

After the war, France wanted to reassert control over its colony in Indochina, including Vietnam. During Japan's occupation, a communist organization called the Viet Minh had been organizing Vietnam, establishing committees to prepare for independence. Under the Viet Minh leadership a provisional government was established. It abolished forced labor (the corvée), and it began training local militia and giving to peasants lands that had been owned by the French. When the Japanese surrendered On August 25, 1945, a few days after Japan surrendered to the US, and the Viet Minh took control of Saigon. Vietnam's emperor, Bao Dai, who had been friendly with the Japanese, abdicated to the Viet Minh's provisional government. Three days later the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was announced. On September 2, the president of the provisional government, Ho Chi Minh, read the Declaration of Vietnamese Independence to a crowd of 500,000 gathered in Hanoi.

Ten days later, British troops arrived in Saigon to receive a surrender there from the Japanese. In early October 80,000 French troops arrived at Saigon with orders from the chairman of France's provisional government, Charles de Gaulle, to hold the southern half of Vietnam. His government was seeking a compromise with Vietnam's independence movement. In May 1946, France's commissioner in Vietnam, Admiral Thierry d'Angenlieu, proclaimed northern Vietnam for Ho and the Viet Minh and proclaimed south Vietnam as the "Provisional Republic of Cochin China," but the Viet Minh didn't buy it, and talks between Ho and the French broke down.

In November, the French tried to enforce with military action what they thought was their right to be in Vietnam. They attempted to seize the custom's office at the port of Haiphong, near Hanoi, and, in December, French naval units, claiming that they had been attacked, bombarded Haiphong, killing 6,000. Ho warned the French that "for every ten men that you kill, we will kill one of yours. It is you who will have to give up in the end."

Britain's Labour Party and Decolonization

Britain had its colonial possession freed from the Japanese to which it wanted to return and to perform what it saw as its responsibilities. Britain was busy recovering from the war, readjusting to postwar realities and busy with independence for India. Independence for its colonies in Africa would have to wait for the next decade.

Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party Attlee, was not as hooked on the empire's as was the Conservative Party's Winston Churchill, whom he had replaced as Prime Minister after a landslide victory in the general election of July 1945. For Burma, Britain wanted the development of institutions for self-government. There were groups with arms left over from the war, and they were hostile to the return of the British. In London in January 1947 a plan for independence was concluded successfully with a friendly faction, and in February Burma's government established an agreement with ethnic minorities for a unified Burma. In July, a Burmese conservative engineered the assassination of Burma's socialist premier (Aun San (father of Aun San Kyi). A new Socialist leader Thakin Nu formed a cabinet, and he presided over Burmese independence on 4 January 1948. That year, Britain also gave independence to Ceylon, to be known as Sri Lanka.

On the Malay peninsula, a communist insurgency and ethnic divisions complicated matters, and independence would not come there or in Singapore until the late 1950s.

In India, meanwhile, the Attlee government was trying to engineer independence. In July 1945 Prime Minister Atlee was urging an end to delays. India was a land of peoples of different ethnicity and fourteen official languages, with different dialects. India's Congress Party, led by Jawaharlal Nehru (a friend of Gandhi), a Cambridge graduate and a socialist was working cordially with the British for complete independence. His efforts were complicated by a Muslim population that was 25 percent of India's population, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was advocating a seperate Muslim state: Pakistan.


CONTINUE READING: The Economy and Politics during the Truman Years

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