The whys of Batang Kali

London…7 May, 2012
There was an impressive turn out at the Bindmans press conference this morning – it will be interesting to see how the trial, which begins tomorrow morning, is debated. It was good to meet journalists and writers Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor whose book ‘Massacre and Deception at Batang Kali’ is a pioneering study of the case. After many months of emailing, I was at last able to meet John Halford one of the lawyers at Bindmans who have battled to win justice for the families of the men killed in 1948.
There seems to be little disagreement between the different parties – in legal terms Chang Nyok Keyu and others versus Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Defence – about what happened in the course of two days in December, 1948.Soldiers of the 7th Platoon, G Company, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards entered the plantation village of Batang Kali – by the time their mission had been completed 24 male villagers had been killed. It has been alleged that the platoon was under orders to carry out the fillings.
The questions it seems to me are – why were the Batang Kali villagers targeted? Counter insurgency strategists have often used arbitrary punishment to undermine support for insurgents. Why has the British government refused to sanction a public enquiry into the killing?
There are a number of possible explanations. One might be to protect the reputation of an iconic military establishment – meaning the Scots Guards, of course. We know the Guards remain hostile to discussions of Batang Kali – and their reputation has been defended by former Guards officer Ian Duncan Smith. Was this a prestige operation set in motion at a time the government forces feared they might lose the war? And if so – at what level was it sanctioned? A more complex explanation might be that the Batang Kali massacre undermines the view of the Malayan Emergency – so called  to permit insurance claims by British businesses  – that this was a near perfect counter insurgency war that led smoothly to Malayan independence in 1957. Seen instead through the lens of Batang Kali we can see the outlines of a long and violent conflict that led to an authoritarian half baked democracy. I confess this is hand waving – we need a lot more flesh on these bones.
The trial – we hope – will shed a lot more light on this tragic history.

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