Friday, May 29, 2020

Suzuki & Sawamoto: Burma's Founding Fathers (2)

Aung San & Hla Myaing at Suzuki's house in Hamamatsu.
Japan at the outbreak of war in Pacific faced critical problems for which she was ill prepared. Southeast Asia was a newcomer to map maneuvers in the upper echelons of Army General Staff Headquarters in Tokyo, where attention was traditionally focused rather on North China and Soviet Russia.

To counteract the lack of information about Southeast Asia in Tokyo, the Second Bureau of Imperial General Headquarters adopted the expedient of sending young field-grade officers to every nation in Southeast Asia in a series of far-flung intelligence missions. (Suzuki was one of them and he was sent to British Burma in 1940.)

The information fed back from these agencies became the basis for policy decisions made within Imperial General Headquarters. Other ingredients in the wartime decision-making process were the preconceptions of officers in the First Bureau, the powerful Operations Bureau, which overrode the Second Bureau in any confrontation.

Suzuki was perhaps better prepared for his task than any other Japanese officers. Before setting out to foment guerrilla activities in Burma, he had made contacts in Tokyo by acting as secretary for the Japan-Burma Association. Once arrived in Burma he was put in touch with a number of young Thakhins.

In 1940 Aung San, a young Thakhin leader attended Ramgarh session of the Indian National Congress. Shortly thereafter he eluded a British order for his arrest and escaped to China with Hla Myaing. Ba Maw recalls that it was the suggestion of Japanese vice-council Fuki that Aung San escape to Amoy, where he could be picked up by the Japanese Army and taken to Japan. There was, however, no direct connection between Fuki's suggestion and the arrangements actually made by Suzuki. (Amoy was occupied by Japan from May 1938 to September 1945 during the WW2.)

One key figure in the early stages of Japanese-Burmese liaison was Dr. Thein Maung, a colleague of Dr. Ba Maw and a man with Japanese friends in Rangoon. Thein Maung was active in the Japan-Burma Society, whose opening ceremony he attended in Tokyo in 1939. Ba Maw sent him to Tokyo at the suggestion of the Japanese Council. In Tokyo he spoke publicly and returned with promises of Japanese aids, according to Ba Maw. Thein Maung also spent time in jail with Ba Maw. Suzuki met frequently with Thein Maung and through him contacted Thakhin Mya and Kodaw Hmaing, a sixty-year-old poet respected by all Thakhins.

In September 1940 Thein Maung showed Suzuki pictures of Aung San and Hla Myaing, who had escaped to Amoy disguised as Chinese labourers aboard a Norwegian freighter. Thein Maung sought Suzuki's aid in rescuing the two Thakhins. Suzuki took the pictures and decided this was n opportunity to get at least two Thakhin leaders to Tokyo for training.

On 3 October, he left Rangoon for Bangkok, where he made arrangements with Colonel Tamura for aiding the escape of young Burmans from Rangoon to Tokyo. The Japanese Embassy in Bangkok would be the rendezvous point for those escaping across the border via Chiengmai, Mesot, and Tavoy. Suzuki then flew to Taipei where he met a friend in Army Headquarters and asked him to send officers to Amoy to contact Aung San and arrange his transport to Tokyo.

By January 1941 Suzuki was back at the 8th Section of IGHQ in Tokyo. He received a call from the police at Hakata Airport in Kyushu who had in custody two foreigners who had flown in from Taiwan. Suzuki learned from the police description that the two were Aung San and Hla Myaing who had been brought from Amoy. Suzuki made arrangements for their accommodations in Tokyo, then took them home with him to Hamamatsu. He got to know the two men personally and gave them some preliminary training in handing swords and rifles.

Col Suzuki between Aung San & Ne Win who ruled Burma with iron fist from 1962 till his death.
Suzuki & Sawamoto: Founding Fathers of Modern Burma (1)