"If every city which is may be captured by the Japanese is to be transformed into a bath of blood, the world will be repelled with horror and dismay." Despite these alarming words in the North China Herald in 1937, the "Rape of Nanking" and other atrocities were carried out by the Japanese on China with scarcely a blink from Western powers. Yet Britain and the US needed--and used--China's assistance as an ally in World War II. Largely owing to China's cultural conviction that surrender could never be an option, Japan's plan--to have free rein in all of Asia--was never realized. China's stalwart resistance prevented Japan from sending more troops to combat the Americans in the Pacific.
Rana Mitter, an Oxford Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, draws us back to a time when the world was divided, not just by a war, but by ancient prejudices. The Asians mistrusted the Europeans and Americans, and the feeling was mutual. And Japan considered itself of all Asians the most advanced and worthy of dominating the region. China had history but little technology when Japan decided to take it over, thus, in Mitter's view, sparking off the world conflict that was to come, a conflict in which China's role was never in the spotlight. Having allied with Stalin, who refused to be seen with Chiang, and themselves mistrusting both Russia and China, Roosevelt and Churchill wanted China to soldier on and keep the Japanese at bay, without putting Chiang at the table in the world arena.
Mitter records Chiang's private feelings of both distrust and respect for the partners in this alliance of expediency. He suggests that had Chaing been given more credit and been supported more zestfully by the West, the opportunist Mao might not have gained a foothold on which to climb to power after the war. Forgotten Ally describes such little known events as the meeting of the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, bringing together Tojo of Japan, Ba Maw of Burma,
Philippines leader Laurel, and India's radical Subhas Cahndra Bose. For these Asian power brokers, "the conference marked a clear moment when their aspirations to independence were, at last, officially acknowledged." Another vignette demonstrating the willingness of non-white leaders to work in concord was Chiang's personal meeting with Gandhi, though the former found the latter disappointing--the great Indian proponent of freedom refused to surrender his pacifist principles and urge India to fight with and for China (and by extension, Britain).
Drawn from diaries and other contemporary accounts, Forgotten Ally unearths a chunk of history that, for their various reasons, some of the participating nations would prefer to downplay; but for the Chinese, it is a time gradually being spotlighted. They held off a superior force and "fought for eight years when they could have surrendered to the enemy. " In doing so they bought time for the Allies and contributed incalculably to the outcome of the war. Stopped in their tentative trajectory towards modernization by World War II, the fate of China was diverted to a different definition of progress promulgated by the Communists. Now, as that chapter is closing , the war years can perhaps be resurrected as a period of national pride, with our acknowledgement of their assistance contributing to that resurrection.