Posts Tagged ‘World War 2’

Kohima

Posted: February 17, 2021 in John Stammers Page
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I have never been one wowed by military campaigns, or an avid devotee of battles, wars, the armed forces. I hope I never will.
Every so often, though, something strikes home, and the cost of the courage of people makes an impact.
Here’s one example.

The date; March – May 1944
The place: Kohima, Nagaland, India
The event: WW 2 battle between Indian-British troops and a Japanese regiment
Importance: turning point on Japanese front
People:  men from modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Japanese forces

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-55625447Robin Rowland (seated, centre) with members of the Punjab regiment, pictured in Bangkok in 1945I was astonished to read this account, of how Indian-British soldiers held off a far superior number of Japanese soldiers for three months.
The impact was to be tumultuous: … by June 1944, with more than 7,000 casualties and almost no food supplies left, the Japanese division retreated and returned to Burma.
This was the first time the imperial Japanese forces had been defeated. The impact on everyone’s morale was huge.

No matter what you think of war, combat, but what these men went through – yes, I am aware of how little choice played in the matter – has to be honoured. 1500 Indian’British troops went through sheer living hell for three months defending Garrison Hill’s strategic entry point to Manipur and Assam, against more than 15,000 so-far invincible, Japanese troops. There was aerial bombardment, and ending in hand-t0-hand fighting.
The relief Punjab regiment-British troops arrived in May. I should think they expected to find a massacre. The scene had that about it, but troops survived, held out, and had held off. The Indian sub-continent was saved.

The relief troops were ordered to pursue the retreating Japanese troops. Cholera and malaria cut down many in retreat, but the main killer was starvation.
These are shocking details. This is the reality of war, fighting. There was no honour in death, here. Were any remembered, except by grieving families who never knew what had happened, or where?

This is very different, however, from the forced Death Marches of concentration camp internees.

Commemoration? Partition swept away a lot of commitment to such memorials. And the new India, Pakistan, later Bangladesh, saw it all as clouded in colonialism.
For whatever reason, the Indian regiment fought and died courageously.

The special bond between deadly enemies is also a thing of surprise, wonder: “When the Japanese and the British veterans of Kohima met, they hugged each other and started crying,” he said. “These were the soldiers who had fired at each other, but still they showed a special bond. It was spontaneous and we didn’t expect it.”
Many from the Nagaland region helped with intelligence and ground knowledge, as well as fighting with the troops. They were hoping for British help in establishing their own Nagaland independence. They felt very aggrieved when in the aftermath of the war this was not even a consideration.
This, also, is a consequences of war – when nations fight, and territory becomes re-ordered, the concerns of smaller bodies become lost, destroyed. No matter what they gave.

Wiki tells us:
In 1944 during World War II the Battle of Kohima along with the simultaneous Battle of Imphal was the turning point in the Burma Campaign. For the first time in South-East Asia, the Japanese lost the initiative to the Allies, which the Allies then retained, until the end of the war. This hand-to-hand battle and slaughter, prevented the Japanese from gaining a base from which they might have easily gone into the plains of India.

Kohima has a large cemetery known as the War Cemetery in Kohima for the Allied war dead maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery lies on the slopes of Garrison Hill, in what was once the Deputy Commissioner’s tennis court which was the scene of intense fighting, the Battle of the Tennis Court
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohima


Earlier, I had written:

 Book Review: ‘The Evenings, by Gerard Reve

This is an early outsider novel, and a classic:
– ‘a cornerstone… of modern European literature…’ (Tim Parks)
– ‘The funniest, most exhilarating book about boredom ever written…’ (Herman Koch)

And that last comment captures my problem with the book.
Thr novel is set in 1946, presumably Amsterdam. There’s no TV, no record-player or records, there is, a radio, yes, that plays classical, a bit of jazz, some Latin American.
And everyone is bored out of their heads.

The chief charcter, 26 year old Frits Egters, entertains himself by needling everyone. This ‘enetrtainment’ takes over, to increasing degrees.
At first I thought I had a distinct impression of Billy Liar, by Keith Sillitoe, but, no.

And so I am struggling with it. Brcause… ‘I have seen the best minds of my generation…’
Exactly.
The date, see, is 1946.
The best minds of the previous generation were still numbed by years of Nazi occupation, the round-ups, transports. The best minds of that generation were shipped out to the German war effort. They returned home morally ruined, malnourished, spiritually dead.

OK, so, recently I was thinking about it again. And thought:

This book is not about boredom.

That is, boredom as the ubiquitous malaise we know it to be. The book describes conditions that are time-specific, culture-specific.

Think of it like this:
people had been living on a chemical diet of fear, adrenalin, horror for all the years of the Nazi Occupation. It had become their lives, creating its own neural pathways and specific synapses. The mind develops a world-sense around the nodes that provide the  information coming in.
Then it was gone.
The body, and concepts that the mind runs, its narratives, had to adjust. To what? What was left? Nothing was as before.
It must have been utterly exhausting, to the point of physically and mentally debilitating.

The Evenings was not about boredom.
It was about one person’s sense of War-fatigue, of dislocation, and trauma. Gerard Reve, the author, wrote of specifics, of a singular sense of these things, within the specific mind-set of Dutch culture, and its older sense of exclusiveness and strong cultural community.

And I’d mentioned the book’s kinship with John-Paul Sartre and his La Nausee.
In this way, nor was this book, and by extension Existentialism a universal condition.
It was a temporal, contingent, and place-specific physiological engagement with a suddenly changed world.
Sartre wove together his own grand narrative from writers who were exploring, or had explored, adjacent states of being, mind. Merleu-Ponty; controversially, Heidegger; Husserl; Simone de Beauvoir; they can all be counted as having contributed. Would they continue to recognise their work in his? And at which points, in the process that was the development of Existentialist thinking?
In this way Sartre attempted to create a universal mood from a specific, particular, set of circumstances.

It could be argued that this was Derrida’s modus also: his ‘little game’ as Foucault called it, of foregrounding (inconsequential?)  background detail. The destabilising he created – was that also a symptom of post-War reaction?

I suppose I am thinking here in terms of Post-Traumatic Distress.
If so, then forms of this state of being would also be present in Vietnam; Afghanistan; Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Serbia; in Syria and Iraq. In China and Russia. In all war zones.
It  comes down, in the end, to whether it is politically acceptable to recognise, define, identify, this in one’s populace.

*

Ever since I became fully aware, I have felt to have lived under a cloud from World War 2 fall-out.
It is the psychic damage that has been hardest to overcome.
So much so, that it now seems it would be an act of monstrous dimensions to attempt to overcome all that. One would have be a dangerous person indeed not to feel the, hear, the terrible cries still, of people killed mercilessly in that War. Any war.
And they do still keep occurring.

There is a book I read some time back: On The Causes of War, by Hidemi Suganami, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996.
Hidemi Suganami was Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the time of writing. He is now Professor of International Relations at Aberystwyth University.
For those who are not familiar with this post: Aberystwyth has a most prestigious International Relations department, of great reputation and  long standing.
His conclusion may seem banal in presentation:

That there is war, because war is still seen as an option.

It is the implications, though: we would rather kill huge numbers of people, let the beast in us out, and harm people for generations to come, than seek out other means of resolution.
And now we see the previously unthinkable: nuclear conflict actually on the cards.
It is definitely time to join CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). I do not believe in unilateralism – but sometimes it is necessary to make a stand.

The perpetrators are as deeply affected as those they inflict their terror upon.

Trump and N Korea:
Yeh, that’s the way forward:
‘What brave new world….’