Cover: Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945, from Harvard University PressCover: Forgotten Armies in PAPERBACK

Forgotten Armies

The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674022195

Publication Date: 04/30/2006


616 pages

5-3/4 x 8-7/8 inches

34 halftones, 7 maps

Belknap Press

United States and its dependencies only

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A work at once scholarly and panoramic, it is as precise in dissecting, say, the logistical problems the Japanese Army confronted during the 1944 campaign in northern Burma (‘the worst defeat in Japan’s military history’) as it is arresting in examining such sweeping events as the 1942 trek of some 600,000 Indian, Burmese and Anglo-Indian refugees from Burma through the high passes of Assam into India, fleeing the advancing Japanese. Hundreds of monographs have examined aspects of this story, but Bayly and Harper’s is the only history that matches the scope and nuance of novels like J. G. Farrell’s Singapore Grip, Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, Anthony Burgess’s Enemy in the Blanket, Orwell’s Burmese Days, and Amitav Ghosh’s Glass Palace. Their 70-page prologue is a triumph of scene setting… The ignominious British and Australian rout down the length of the Malay peninsula (the retreating soldiers sardonically adopted the theme from the Hope and Crosby movie The Road to Singapore as their marching song) and Singapore’s subsequent fall have already been described, memorably, in Farrell’s novel and in a host of military histories, most notably Alan Warner’s Singapore 1942, but Bayly and Harper’s account is both vivid and authoritative. One of their greatest contributions lies in their stinging appraisal of the debacle.—Benjamin Schwarz, The New York Times Book Review

Bayly and Harper’s often-overlooked topic is the fate of Southeast Asia—particularly India, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore—during the war. The authors focus on the experiences of the people of those countries, caught between the warring imperialists, callous British and brutal Japanese… Forgotten Armies is superb at evoking the wretchedness of this region, at conjuring the hardships its people suffered (including the deaths of some 3 million Indians in the terrible Bengal famine of 1943–44) and at demonstrating how Burmese, Indian, Malaysian and Singaporean nationalism were galvanized by these experiences. Bayly and Harper also deserve credit for presenting a complete history of the war in Southeast Asia: They are just as scrupulous—and just as good—at explaining the strategy of the British and Japanese commanders as they are at describing the lot of average soldiers and the misery of the civilian populations. In this important work, a reader will meet a vast range of characters whose stories are rarely heard in the United States, including Japan’s brilliant Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, who overcame the supposedly impregnable British bastion at Singapore; the Indian nationalist Subhas Chandras Bose, who threw his lot in with the Japanese only because he hated the British more; the tens of thousands of women forced into prostitution by the Japanese; and the courageous Indian troops who repelled the Japanese at Imphal and Kohima in northeastern India in 1944.—Kenneth M. Pollack, The Washington Post Book World

Extraordinary.—Thomas Meaney, The New Yorker

This is a spectacular book: in its scope, encyclopaedic knowledge, understanding of southeast Asia, and the light it throws on a neglected subject, the struggle for British Asia… The battle for British Asia has been largely ignored compared to the war on the western front. It is also a history that has been overwhelmingly told in British terms. The authors deploy their intimate knowledge of the region to provide us with a very different story. Southeast Asia is a region of enormous complexity, a rich tapestry of races and cultures. As the Japanese forces carried all before them, the authors describe the way in which people were mobilised and how the various responses became powerful determinants of the final outcome.—Martin Jacques, The Guardian

A panoramic chronicle of the war in South Asia ranging from swank prewar Singapore to famine-ravaged Bengal, where three million people died in 1943–1944… This is a brilliant marriage of social and military history and a work of extraordinary literary merit.—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

Truly magnificent… Forgotten Armies is the finest history of this region (and our country) that I have read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.—Kam Raslan, The Malaysia Star

[This] work casts new and important light on a shadowy aspect of the Second World War, which deserves to be better understood.—Max Hastings, The Sunday Telegraph

The aim of this important and fluent book is to recover the history of ‘the connected crescent of land between Calcutta and Singapore’—including eastern India, Burma, and Malaya—during the years of war and (for much of it) of Japanese occupation. The book’s emphasis is on the experiences of indigenous peoples, civilian as well as military, as much as on their colonial rulers, and as much on political, social, economic, medical, and cultural developments as on the military campaigns themselves. In all this, it is strikingly successful… Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper have unearthed much new material…and achieved immediacy through truly prodigious research in archives in Britain, Malaysia, and Singapore… This is an outstanding book, and a very significant addition to our understanding of this period. The authors are to be congratulated on the scope and depth of their erudition, the skill of their writing, and the subtlety and sophistication of their analysis. This book is likely to remain the standard work on the subject for many years to come.—David Omissi, American Historical Review

Compellingly written, profoundly well-researched… It sets out to convey a story largely unknown to Western readers and it vividly accomplishes this using source material that allows Asian voices to speak for themselves.—Steven Schwamenfeld, Chinese Historical Review

Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper…have produced a moving and harrowing account of Britain’s darkest hour in Asia, as Malaya, Singapore, and Burma fell to the Japanese in the early years of the pacific war. Forgotten Armies tells the story of this fall in both a scholarly exacting way, drawing upon hundreds of diaries, letters, archives, and interviews, and with great narrative flair… This is a book that should be read by all students of modern Southeast Asian history. Aside from its meticulous indictment of colonialism and imperialism, its elegiac honoring of the forgotten victims of war and its compelling narrative quality indeed, this is a scholarly book that I trust would appeal to general audiences [and] demonstrate how Japanese ideologies of ‘race,’ ‘language,’ and ‘nation’ were influential in the rise of pan-Islamism, Malayan nationalism, and Burmese nationalism.—Andrew C. Willford, Indonesia

This book looks at the waning days of the British Empire in its Asian crescent, stretching from India through Malaya and down to Singapore, as social, political, and military cataclysms shook the region during World War II. Bayly and Harper evoke a drama involving millions—‘forgotten armies’ of soldiers, laborers, native guerrillas, political activists, and refugees propelled throughout British Asia during the war, thus uniting what had been isolated and moribund colonial enclaves. As war engulfed these enclaves, the entire colonial society was routed, killed, or captured. This laid bare forever the myth of European mastery and transformed the way natives of the region saw themselves. The subsequent Japanese occupation inspired a deeply rooted culture of resistance and shaped the ensuing nationalist struggles for independence after the war. The authors have performed a valuable service by giving us a comprehensive, multifaceted account of these events. Both erudite and engrossing, this work is highly recommended.—Edward J. Metz, Library Journal

This is a masterful account of the fate of British Asia during the Second World War. Far more than military or political history, the book presents a fascinating account of how individual lives and social relations changed from the heyday of the British raj to the rise and fall of Japan’s Asian empire… The principal players are Britons, Japanese, Indians, Burmese, Malays, Chinese, Koreans, and other ethnic groups who established sharp social and racial distinctions among themselves and developed their own ‘forgotten armies.’ In the final analysis, as the authors show, it was the ordinary people of Asia who were emerging, by war’s end, as the new masters of their own destinies. By focusing sharply on the ‘periphery,’ Bayly and Harper make a major contribution to the study of imperialism.—Akira Iriye, Charles Warren Professor of American History, Harvard University

Forgotten Armies is an original and comprehensive account of one of the least understood aspects of the War with Japan. The book will be a worthy successor and complement to Christopher Thorne’s classic Allies of a Kind.—Ronald Spector, author of Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan

A work of enormous scope, scholarly depth and sophistication, excellently written, Forgotten Armies paints a memorable portrait of how the old Imperial British Crescent from Calcutta to Singapore was swept away by the storms of war and social upheaval. Forgotten Armies now takes its rightful place as the definitive history of the Second World War in Southeast Asia.—Roger Spiller, George C. Marshall Professor of Military History, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

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