Japan Atrocities in Singapore Linger

Shortly after British forces surrendered in Singapore on 15 February 1942, the Japanese military began operation Kakyou Shukusei [a] or Dai Kenshou [b], known in the Chinese community of Singapore as the Sook Ching ("Purge") [c], in which many local Chinese were massacred.[1] Although the killings have been investigated extensively by scholars in Malaysia and Singapore, this article draws on Japanese sources to examine the events.

The first point to be considered is why the massacre took place, and the second is how the massacre has been presented in postwar Japan. Although even ex-Kempeitai officers involved have admitted that the killings were inhumane and unlawful, little attention has been paid to the episode in Japan. While there has been valuable research carried out on the Japanese military administration of Malaya and Singapore, no detailed Japanese study of the killing has appeared. Moreover, while the Singapore Massacre is well known to scholars, similar killings in the Malay Peninsula only came to the attention of the Japanese public in the late 1980s after I discovered documents relating to the Japanese military units involved.

On the night of 17 February 1942, Maj. Gen. Kawamura Saburo, an infantry brigade commander, was placed in charge of Japan's Singapore Garrison. The next morning, he appeared at Army Headquarters and was ordered by 25th Army commander, Lt. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki, to carry out mopping-up operations. He received further detailed instructions from the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Suzuki Sosaku, and Lt. Colonel Tsuji Masanobu. Kawamura then consulted with the Kempeitai commander, Lt. Col. Oishi Masayuki. The plan to purge the Chinese population was drawn up in the course of these meetings. Under this scheme, Chinese males between the ages of 18 and 50 were ordered to report to mass screening centers. Those deemed anti-Japanese were detained, loaded onto lorries, and taken away to the coast or to other isolated places where they were machine-gunned and bayoneted to death.[2]  My survey of official documents of the Japanese military revealed two sources that specified the number massacred. One is Kawamura's diary that shows the figure as 5,000.[3]  The other is an issue of the Intelligence Record of the 25th Army (No.62, dated 28 May 1942) prepared by the staff section of the 25th Army.[4]  This secret record states that the number missing as a result of bombing and the purge was 11,110. This second record is important because it was drawn up as a secret document shortly after the purge took place. However, it includes both bombing and purge casualties and offers no basis for the figure.

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