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Assassination!

The first two post war British High Commissioners of the Federation of Malaya had fatal bad luck. Sir Edward Gent was flying back to London – to be sacked – when his aircraft collided with a Swedish passenger plane near RAF Northolt. His successor Sir Henry Gurney was assassinated approaching Fraser’s Hill in Malaya. This is a draft of my account of this incident – comments, additions etc very welcome. In early October, 1951 High Commissioner Gurney reflected on the ‘Chinese problem’. He lamented that the new settlements and trade union organisations were under communist attack: the rural Chinese, the peasants, who are the real targets must first be protected… If [the communists] are allowed to [continue penetrating] unopposed by any Chinese initiate whatever, the whole of the Chinese rural population will soon come under communist domination. These people are looking for leaders to help them resist…’ Gurney then listed all the many ways that the Chinese obstructed government efforts. ‘They can spend $4 million on celebrations in Singapore but can spare nothing for the MCA anti-communist efforts.’ Many Chinese, he complained, lived in luxury, and expended a great deal of energy criticising the police and security forces. They did nothing […]
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Did the atom bombs end the war with Japan?

Many historians assert that the two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 forced Emperor Hirohito to surrender – thus saving tens of thousands lives that would have been lost had the war continued for longer. This argument, that has been reiterated time and again, provides a moral justification or rationale for the use of these new weapons to murder civilians. In the ruined German city  of Potsdam, six thousand miles from occupied Southeast Asia, American President Truman had something important to tell his Soviet counterpart: ‘On July 24 I casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was that he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make ‘good use of it against the Japanese.’’ His apparent indifference to the new American weapon was, of course, a sham.  Stalin had already made plans to abandon the ‘Neutrality Pact’ signed in 1941 and join the war against Japan. He had in fact promised to ‘come in’ two years earlier at the Tehran Conference.  At the same time, Soviet diplomats continued to hold out the […]
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August 1945, the Malayan revolution cancelled

The unexpected and at the time unexplained power vacuum that followed the announcement of the Japanese surrender should have handed the Malayan communists a unique historical opportunity. This surely was the dawn of the Malayan republic? What we now know is that the MCP’s treacherous Secretary General Lai Tek had very different ideas. In his memoir, published in 2003, Chin Peng revealed what happened. In August, a mood of ‘fevered expectancy and high morale’ swept through the camps of the MPAJA. On 16 August, Chin Peng chaired a routine meeting of the MCP’s Perak state committee in Ayer Kuning near Kampar. Soon after midday, his secretary burst into the meeting room with the astonishing news of the Emperor’s speech, which he had picked up on the All-Indian broadcasting network. Chin Peng recalled: ‘I promptly switched our meeting’s agenda to a review of how best to implement Lai Te’s [sic, alternate spelling] previous October directives.’ The message of these directives, it will be recalled, that in the aftermath of a Japanese defeat, the MPAJA would launch a new struggle against the British. The MPAJA commanders had been busy transforming the MPAJA into a ‘national liberation movement’: now with the stunning news […]
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In memorian Eric Hobsbawm

All good historians and decent people will mourn the passing of Eric Hobsbawm – a very great historian. I remember reading ‘Age of Empire’ at school – it was revelatory. The importance of Hobsbawm’s work is acknowledged even by right wing historian Niall Ferguson. This is simply because, whatever his political views, Ferguson fully understands the values of Hobsbawm’s remarkbale body of work. No doubt the parsimonious shallow minded inhabitants of Dailymailworld will excoriate his life long commitment to Marxism and membership of the Communist Party. The people who make this kind of judgement are pygmies. Hobsbawm who was Jewish grew up in Vienna and Berlin: he experienced at first had the rise of the Nazi Party – his commitment to communism was a value system that rejected the destructive forces of fascism. The Daily Mail of course was a ‘fellow travelling’ paper that advertised the delights of Hitler’s Germany to its readers. That’s a pretty skewed morality isn’t it? Hobsbawm did not deny the horrors of Stalin’s Soviet Union – for him the moral values of Communism remained incorruptible. He denounced Soviet attacks on freedom and democracy – and rejoiced in the Prague Spring. Much  narrow mind anti Hobsbawmism […]
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