Monday, May 25, 2020

Suzuki & Sawamoto: Burma's Founding Fathers (1)

Colonel Suzuki Keiji of Imperial Japanese
Army & Founding Father of BIA. 
On 23 April 1963 a dinner was held at the Kansuiro Restaurant at Ito Hot Springs. The dinner was also a meeting of the Biruma-Kai, consisting of the surviving members of the Minami Kikan, the Japanese organization which had founded the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in 1942, and the surviving advisers to that army's successor, the Burma National Army (BNA).

There were about twenty people at the dinner, and they included Mr Okada Kosaburo, of Ensuiko Sugar Refinery in Taiwan which had helped the Minami Kikan in its early days, Mr (formerly Major-General) Suzuki Keiji, the head of the kikan and the founder of BIA, Mr (formerly Major-General) Sawamoto Rikichiro, former chief adviser to the BNA.

The talk turned naturally to the past and to Burma and it was not long before voices were raised in anger. The two generals were locked in a fierce argument. The other guests looked embarrassed and one of Suzuki's former aides, Yamamoto Masayoshi, suggested since the turn conversation has taken was casting a chill were over what were meant to be festive proceedings, it would be better to continue the argument later in a separate room.

Both Suzuki and Sawamoto had been contemporaries at Japanese Military Academy, and in the separate room they talked to each other with no holds barred as their fierce dispute continued.

"When the Great Asia War broke out", declared Sawamoto, "Your Minami Kikan came under the command of the GOC Southern Area Army. When that happened, your previous duties, which were based on a directive from the Chief of General Staff, came to an end. Your new duties were laid down by Southern Area Army and what you had to do was take advantage of what you had sown until then, and contribute to the military operations by carrying out sabotage and subversion (boryaku) on the battlefield, on behalf of the expeditionary force in Burma. Burmese independence was something which should have been decided after those operations were over. In encouraging it then, as you did, you were acting ultra vires!"

"You're talking nonsense," replied Suziki hotly. "If what you say is true, what was to happen to the promise we had made, the pledge to help Burma towards independence? Japan should not be guilty of dishonourable actions (fushin koi), which might make her a target for the criticism of future generations. If a promise has been made by my country, it is my duty to fulfil that promise."

"You were a Japanese soldier," asserted Sawamoto. "On the field of battle, you have to carry out military orders. Your main duty was to fight the enemy."

Yamamoto was afraid two men would come to blows, they were so flown with passion. Each one of them was absolutely sure he was right and would not budge. But it was more than a question of being right. Each had suffered for his cause. Suzuki had had a dream of Burmese independence which was rejected by his own people. Sawamoto had seen the your Burmese officers whom he had trained rebel against the Japanese army and contribute to its final defeat in Burma. The argument was not resolvable.

There was much to be said on both sides, but the interesting thing for an observer is the heat of the debate. All this took place twenty-one years after the events, but in the minds of these two old men - and the listeners at the dinner table - the issues were still alive. They involved not merely strategy but feelings of national and personal loyalty of the deepest kind.

It was in the nature of the operations of Minami Kikan, and other Kikan like it, to arouse issues and passions of this kind. Why this is so, I should briefly like to examine in what follows.

The role of Kikan (the word merely means 'organization') in South-East-Asia in the 1940s is a familiar one: it was the intermediate 'cushion' between the orders of the central authorities in Japan and the representatives of the various people who were to be used by those authorities for a particular strategic purpose, involving their rebellion against the colonial administrations under which they lived. In each case, the motive of liberation, on the Japanese side, was fairly remote. It was not an idea but a technique.

What happened next is also familiar. The person who is in the intermediary must, if he is to be effective, be capable not only of transmitting a strategy but also of empathy with the Asian peoples who are to be used. If he is, then his own psychology is involved, his feelings will be modified after prolonged non-Japanese contacts and he will be torn between his original orders and the real nature of the relationship he has forged with other Asian peoples.

This particular problem of loyalty is a relatively recent one in Japanese history, because involvement of this kind with other people of Asia is itself recent. The two examples I shall examine are both well known, and are well documented in English and in Japanese.

One is Major (later Lieutenant-General) Fujiwara Iwaichi, who formed a kikan (F Kikan) to penetrate Indian troops of the British Empire forces in Malaya in 1941 and 1942; the other is the Colonel Suzuki already referred to.

Under the pseudonym Minami Matsuo, Suzuki contacted groups of young dissidents in Burma, chiefly from the Thakhin party, and was subsequently responsible for the formation of the Burma Independence Army and the training and use of Aung San and his comrades as Japanese auxiliaries. The initiative was military not political.

Long before war broke out Suzuki was ordered to sabotage supplies to Chiang Kai-shek along the Burma Road, and he had a notion to use Burmese students who had already shown their hostility to the British presence by rioting in Rangoon University and by later political activity.

Thirty Comrades of Burma and their leader Colonel Suzuki (Bo Moe Gyo).
Suzuki & Sawamoto: Founding Fathers of Modern Burma (2)