In September 1945, after the fall of the atomic bomb--and with it, the Japanese empire--Asia was dominated by the British. Governing a vast crescent of land that stretched from India through Burma and down to Singapore, and with troops occupying the French and Dutch colonies in southern Vietnam and Indonesia, Britain's imperial might had never seemed stronger.
Yet within a few violent years, British power in the region would crumble, and myriad independent nations would struggle into existence. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper show how World War II never really ended in these ravaged Asian lands but instead continued in bloody civil wars, anti-colonial insurrections, and inter-communal massacres. These years became the most formative in modern Asian history, as Western imperialism vied with nascent nationalist and communist revolutionaries for political control.
Forgotten Wars, a sequel to the authors' acclaimed Forgotten Armies, is a panoramic account of the bitter wars of the end of empire, seen not only through the eyes of the fighters, but also through the personal stories of ordinary people: the poor and bewildered caught up in India's Hindu-Muslim massacres; the peasant farmers ravaged by warfare between British forces and revolutionaries in Malaya; the Burmese minorities devastated by separatist revolt. Throughout, we are given a stunning portrait of societies poised between the hope of independence and the fear of strife. Forgotten Wars vividly brings to life the inescapable conflicts and manifold dramas that shaped today's Asia.
[A] compelling book… An extraordinary cast of characters populate Forgotten Wars… The authors write that ‘the end of empire is not a pretty thing if examined too closely,’ but when examined so ably it is certainly fascinating.
Two years after their brilliant and vivid Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945, the Cambridge historians Bayly and Harper produce a sequel that examines Britain’s conflicts in Southeast Asia in the four years after the Second World War. While adroitly analyzing Britain’s hard-fought battle against insurrectionary forces in Malaya, the authors explore lesser-known episodes: Bengalese and Burmese skirmishes seldom highlighted in accounts of the Raj’s end, and the British interregnums between the ends of the Japanese occupations of Indonesia and Vietnam and the restorations of the respective former colonial administrations.
The authors are particularly good in their analysis of the problems of state building, on the one hand, and nation building, on the other.
Historians Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper chronicle the ensuing struggles for Britain’s Southeast Asian colonies in Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia, the sequel to their much-praised history of Britain’s Asian empire during World War II, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945. Primarily a diplomatic and political history rather than a military history, the new book focuses on the causes of armed conflict. After Japan’s capitulation, Messrs. Bayly and Harper contend, Southeast Asia remained in a state of war for the same reasons it had entered into such a state: poverty, imperialism, and ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict. The authors have mined a very large number of sources. Most of their new historical unearthing can be found in the intricacies of Southeast Asian politics, which they describe in great detail and with careful nuance. Those deeply interested in the politics of Burma or Malaysia or other Southeast Asian countries will find much to delight them here.
This book is neither an old-fashioned ‘top down’ history of imperial politics in the region, nor a regional ‘bottom up’ account of nationalist resistance to European rule. Rather, it shows how British illusions about the nature of Britain’s power in Southeast Asia collided with Asian national movements. This book addresses an important phase of that tragic history, for which, as the authors show, Britain bore considerable responsibility.
Forgotten Wars movingly brings out the travails of ordinary people who got caught up within a vicious cycle of political turmoil, economic deprivation, and violence. This is a ‘must read’ for those interested in histories of British imperialism and decolonization in Asia and those who would like an introduction to the comparative regional histories of nation-states in Southeast Asia after 1945.
Combining breathtaking, evocative narrative with razor-sharp historical analysis, Bayly and Harper provide a dramatic account of independent Asia’s baptism of fire in the turbulent aftermath of the Second World War. They capture in vivid detail the euphoria and trauma that swept the crescent stretching from Calcutta to Singapore as Britain’s Asian empire unraveled. This brilliant book is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the history of Britain, Asia and empire.
Like their earlier collaborative volume, Forgotten Armies, Bayly and Harper’s new book presents a fascinating story of Britain’s Asian empire in transition. Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Burmese, Malays, Indonesians, and many others interacted as they sought to define anew the nature of empire, territory, and citizenship. There is no better way to understand the region’s survival and emergence as a center of economic development and prosperity than to revisit the immediate postwar years under the expert guidance provided by Bayly and Harper.
Forgotten Wars is an insightful and original look at the fate of Britain’s Asian Empire in the wake of World War II. Engaging and provocative, the masterful discussion of the Malayan Emergency will be of interest to all concerned with the dilemmas presented by insurgencies in our contemporary world.
- 704 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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