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  • War, Conflict and Security in Japan and Asia-Pacific, 1941–52: The Writings of Louis Allen ed. by Ian Nish and Mark Allen
  • Nicholas Khoo
Ian Nish and Mark Allen, eds., War, Conflict and Security in Japan and Asia-Pacific, 1941–52: The Writings of Louis Allen. Folkestone, UK: Global Oriental, 2011.

This edited book draws together a selection of writings by Louis Allen (1922–1991), written over the span of four decades. Some previously unpublished, they deal with the Second World War and its impact on the origins of the Cold War in Asia, with a particular focus on Japan. At once a fascinating autobiography and an insightful academic study, it contains the erudite reflections of a person who was both a participant and a subsequent academic specialist in these topics. As Ian Nish notes in the introduction, these chapters include extended translations of Japanese documents and provide an elaboration of points Allen covered in his previous writings. With a facility for foreign languages, Allen was pursuing undergraduate studies in French at the University of Manchester when he was drafted into the British army in 1942. He was selected for an intensive eighteenth-month Japanese language course at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Commissioned into the British intelligence corps and initially based in India, he was responsible for translating captured Japanese documents. Allen volunteered to serve in the neighboring Burma theater, where intense Anglo-Japanese hostilities were taking place, and he subsequently translated key intercepted Japanese intelligence dispatches in July 1945 that resulted in the British military’s devastating defeat of the Japanese at Sittang, a battle that left 17,000 Japanese dead, compared to just 95 on the British side.

With the end of the war, Allen’s duties focused on investigating reports of Japanese atrocities throughout Southeast Asia via interviews with Japanese soldiers all along the hierarchy, from private to general. Allen’s fluency in French made him particularly valuable as the British, led by the commander of the 20th Indian Division, General Douglas Gracey, took over Japanese control in Vietnam, south of the 16th Parallel from September 1945 to May 1946. This experience is reflected in a chapter analyzing the rise of the Vietnamese Communists during the Second World War and immediate postwar years. In his postwar academic career, Allen was based in the French department at Durham University in northeast England, where his research output spanned topics on the Second World War in Asia, military history, French studies, religion, and literature.

A few important dimensions of the book merit comment. First is the issue of the British treatment of Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) after 1945. Allen directly engages with the view advanced by some Japanese writers that the British treated Japanese POWs as cruelly as the Japanese treated Allied POWs during the 1942–1945 period. He convincingly shows in three chapters that this view is unsustainable. Allen is evenhanded, discussing the work of Western writers who have depicted the Japanese in inhumane terms. Second, the analysis in chapter 8 shows that a particularly widespread interpretation of the fourteenth-century Japanese figure Kusunoki Masashige, one that inspired suicidal Japanese behavior during and after World War II, is simply incorrect. In a lengthy historical analysis, Allen expertly reviews how Kusunoki actually [End Page 220] conducted military strategy. Kusunoki emphasized a flexible strategy with the larger aim of securing victory. Thus, Allen convincingly argues that a variety of actors, including World War II kamikaze pilot units (special attack units), gyokusai (fight to the last man) garrisons in 1944–1945, postwar novelist Mishima Yukio, and Red Army terrorist Okamoto Kozo, have based their actions on a gross misreading of Kusunoki’s actual strategy (pp. 114–120). Allen shows that they were guilty of “a gigantic error, a misreading on a gigantic scale of an image which the centuries have made sacrosanct” (p. 114). Third, Allen provides an intriguing discussion of some key figures in Japan’s wartime policy, including Burma’s first premier, Ba Maw (ch. 2); the Indian General Subhas Chandra Bose (ch. 17); Japanese Generals Mutaguchi Renya, Suzuki Keiji, and Fujiwara Iwaichi (chs. 15 and 16); and the notorious...


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pp. 220-221
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