unperspicacious's Reviews > Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper

Forgotten Armies by C.A. Bayly
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's review
Feb 01, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: malaysia, burma-myanmar, india, history, singapore, state-formation, nationalism, 20th-century
Read from February 16 to 19, 2012

This is a social history of peoples populating the 'crescent' ranging from Calcutta to Singapore during the war. It's meant to be read together with the sequel, Forgotten Wars, but I'm not sure if I can afford the time right now...

While India and Thailand are touched on, Burma and Malaya are the twin mainstays of the narrative. Most of the 'hot' events covered in here - the fall of Malaya, the Bengal famine, the routing of the British and so-called shattering of the white supremacy myth - are probably well known to anyone with a secondary school education in the history of the region. They are basically founding pillars on which our local nationalist histories have been built. Bayly and Harper chose to focus on the thoughts, feelings and actions of the disparate local societies (inc. the European 'men on the spot') of what was soon to be known to outsiders, for the first time ever, as 'Southeast Asia'. The Burmese narrative is less well known. Both the civilian and military aspects of government are covered but as mentioned already, the narrative stops at 1945, even prior to Aung San's assassination, making it difficult to forge any substantive connection with the contemporary scene. There is disappointingly little on the motives and thoughts of the Japanese occupiers themselves - I am not sure why.

The narrative is at times almost hypnotic. Minus the usual footnotes, bibliography, etc., it clocks in at 465 pages, but still feels far too short (a good thing).

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