Forgotten armies : British and American troops in South East Asia and the brutalisation of warfare, 1942-45
The 'brutalisation of warfare' - the employment by soldiers and armies of
violence disproportionate to their military objectives in violation of
international law - occurred widely and to varying degrees during the Second
World War. Yet historians have been notably divided over its causes. One
school of thought has located the source of atrocities in battlefield dynamics,
while others have argued that racism and racist propaganda lay at the root of
wartime barbarism. The Allied campaign in Burma and India - the object of
this thesis - offers an opportunity to examine the development of brutal is at ion
in a hitherto neglected context.
The thesis first investigates general patterns of exceSSIve combat
brutality during World War II, arguing that the images that armies held of the
enemy largely determined his treatment, and that the development of enemy
images was a theatre-of-war-specific process rather than one pre-determined by
cultural stereotypes, as argued by John W. Dower and others. Next, an analysis
of British troop morale illustrates the initial lack of motivation for fighting the
Japanese, and shows how the British command's countermeasures helped shape
the troops' view of the enemy. The thesis then considers the impact of Japanese
military culture on the fighting, and argues that the Japanese military ethos and
the resulting combat methods alone sufficed to foster ever-increasing brutality.
A further element of analysis is the colonial context of the campaign, which
made race a highly sensitive issue and limited the influence of white racism on
the development of brutalisation. The final chapter turns to the American
combat experience in the theatre and analyses the differences and parallels
between British and American attitudes toward the campaign and the enemy.
The thesis concludes that Japanese military conduct ultimately fuelled
brutalisation by convincing Allied troops that retaliation - however unlawful -
was morally and militarily justified.