„Only Bullets Don’t Differentiate between Blacks and Whites“

Already written in 2002, but gives a good  idea, what it is all about.
D+C Development and Cooperation (No. 6, November/December 2002, p. 28-30)
„Only Bullets Don’t Differentiate between Blacks and Whites“
The Third World in World War Two
Rainer Werning
A group of independent German journalists based in Cologne have ventured
into an exciting research project: to work up the unwritten history of the
millions of people in the former colonies who served, suffered and died in
World War Two. Project research began in 1997 and shall be completed in
2004. During various trips, extensive interviews were already conducted
with historians, contemporaries, and war veterans from former colonies in
Africa, the Near & Middle East, Asia, Oceania and in Australia. This
ambitious study shall be complemented by additional research in archives
in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Berlin.
Most standard history books on World War II contain lists of casualties:
They read, for example, „55 million victims“ and proceed to count: „Soviet
Union: 20 million, Germany: 6.5 million, Poland: 5 million, Japan: 2.5
million, Yugoslavia: 1.7 million, France: 635,000, Italy: 500,000, Great
Britain: 386,000, United States: 273,000.“ The only victims who have never
been included are those from Africa, Asia and Oceania. Some statistics
even fail to mention the „approximately 5 million people“ who died in
China during World War II. If civilians were to be included, the number of
Chinese victims alone may even surpass 10 million.
To this date, the number of victims from the Third World that this war
caused has nowhere been investigated systematically, the main reason being
that most of the countries concerned were then still under European,
American, or Japanese tutelage or control. Their casualties were lumped
together with the victims of the colonial powers (and thus reduced
significantly), or they were simply never counted. This is all the more
appalling since World War II was fought in many Third World countries.
European and American historians at best mention black soldiers in World
War II as exotic footnotes – be they „Senegalese bowmen“ from West Africa
or Australian Aborigines. Usually, veterans from the colonies are not
invited to attend V-Day celebrations. And until today, they normally do
not receive veterans‘ pensions, or if they do, they just make up a
fraction of „white“ soldiers‘ pensions. The French government still pays
the equivalent of ten U.S. dollars per month to an ancien combatants from
Dakar, Senegal, who had been fighting for four years in the French army in
Africa and the War
At the outset of the war, the French colonies in Africa were divided into
four sectors: North Africa, West Africa, Equatorial Africa, and
Madagascar. After the Franco-German armistice in 1940, the collaborators
of the pro-German Vichy Regime controlled these colonies. This meant that
the native troops, commanded by French officers, were not fighting for the
anti-Hitler coalition. Only gradually did they follow General de Gaulle’s
call in 1940 „For a Free France“.
Towards the end of the war, more than half a million Africans from the
French colonies were fighting on de Gaulle’s side. At times, they made up
fifty to sixty per cent of the soldiers in his ranks. But when it came to
marching into Paris, African troops were allegedly replaced by Whites
because the French commanders did not want Africans to free their capital.
320,000 soldiers in the French army came from the North African colonies.
In return for fighting the Germans, Algerians were promised independence.
However, when they demonstrated for that cause, waving Algerian flags, on
May 8, 1945, the French army massacred 45,000 people. Worldwide, May 8,
1945, the day of Germany’s capitulation, came to be known as the day of
liberation from fascism and war. In Algeria, this day was one of the
darkest in the nation’s history.
During World War II, the French army committed another massacre, murdering
soldiers from Senegal. In 1944, at the outskirts of Dakar, „Camp de
Thiaroye“ housed „Senegalese bowmen“ who had come home exhausted from
European battlegrounds. When they were not paid the promised wages, they
revolted. The French swiftly moved in military trucks and fired at the
crowd, killing many Senegalese soldiers. Ousmane SembËne, the most
prominent contemporary Senegalese writer and film director, saved this
incidence from sinking into oblivion by turning it into a movie called
„Camp de Thiaroye.“
The British recruited 372,000 soldiers in their African colonies. Tens of
thousands of them from Ghana, Cameroon and other West African countries
were shipped to Asia (via South Africa) to fight against the Japanese in
the jungles of Burma. After the bombardment of London, the British urged
their African colonies to collect goods for homeless and orphaned children
in England. Africans, themselves lacking basic goods, donated rice and
contributed millet, goats and money. The Masai provided 40,000 heads of
cattle for British soldiers on the frontlines.
Asia and the War
Besides Europe, Asia was the second most important battleground in World
War II. Part of the time of the war, Japan occupied Korea and China,
Vietnam and Burma, Thailand and Malaysia (formerly Malaya), Indonesia
(formerly Dutch India), Timor, New Guinea and the Philippines as well as
some of the Pacific islands. In Asia, too, native soldiers fought in
colonial armies on both sides of the front. For example, the Ambonese and
the Minahassians made up 80 per cent of the Dutch Indian army. In Burma,
native Karen, Chin and Kachin troops fought against the Japanese. The
British deployed Indian divisions and the Chinese supported the
anti-Japanese battles with hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
In the Philippines, prior to the Japanese invasion, US General Douglas
MacArthur had at his command ten divisions comprising 19,000 Americans and
160,000 Filipinos. After the US troops had withdrawn, the Filipino
resistance movement Hukbalahap kept fighting alone against the Japanese
occupation from 1942 to 1944. The Japanese, in turn, forced Koreans to
join their ranks for the Philippine campaign. When the U.S. Air Force
„liberated“ Manila, they bombed and destroyed the capital regardless of
the civilians living there. 100,000 people died, one tenth of the city’s
population. Hardly any other city in Asia – except for Hiroshima –
suffered from the war as much as Manila. (In comparison, 60,000 people
died during the bombardment of the German city of Dresden.) Women from the
Philippines and other Asian countries are still demanding an apology and a
compensation from the Japanese – in vain. These so-called „comfort women“
were detained and raped in brothels which the Japanese military authority
had installed for their soldiers‘ „rest & recreation“. At least a million
so-called „romusha“ were drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army as forced
laborers in Indonesia to logistically support its troops. Almost one
fourth of the victims of the atomic bomb inferno of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
on August 6 and 9, 1945 were Koreans, most of them impoverished peasants,
who were made to work in Japanese factories.
In Indochina, native resistance movements kept combating the Japanese army
after the French Vichy Regime had left their former colonies. In Vietnam,
Ho Chi Minh announced national independence in 1945 for the first time.
However, after the War the French returned as a colonial power and
triggered the first Vietnam (or Indochina) war. On the Asian
battlegrounds, the British as well as the French deployed African
soldiers, frequently at the frontlines and in most dangerous and atrocious
combats. Colonies of politically „neutral“ European powers were drawn into
the conflict as well – e.g., the Portuguese colonies Macao and Timor.
Australia’s Aborigines did not enjoy civil rights until 1967. They were
administered by the government’s Department for Natural Resources and
Wildlife and were banned from voting. However, they served as cannon
fodder for the British or Australian army, respectively, from World War I
to the Vietnam War. In World War II, Aborigines fought in North Africa,
Asia and Europe.
In 1994, Australia showed the first exhibition ever dealing with
Aborigines in war times – „from the Somme to Vietnam“ – which carried the
title „Forgotten Heroes.“ In 1992, Jack Davis, the most prominent
Aboriginal author, wrote a play called „In Our Town.“ It tells the story
of a black soldier who returns from the war, decorated as a ‚war hero‘,
but finds that in his white-dominated hometown he is not even allowed to
buy a house; the area needs to be kept „clean and white.“
The war in the Pacific
Many archipelagos in the Pacific were turned into fierce battlegrounds
during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, martial law was in
effect in Hawaii for eight years. All around the Solomon Islands, decisive
battles between Japanese and US American troops took place. Thousands of
islanders served as scouts or coast guards. In Samoa and Vanuatu, gigantic
military bases were built.
The islanders in the Pacific region, too, fought on opposite sides. Most
joined the U.S. Army, others were forcefully drafted by the Japanese. In
New Caledonia and Polynesia, the French recruited soldiers whom they
lumped together into a special „Bataillon du Pacifique.“ As had been the
case during World War I, this battalion was deployed to other continents
as well. New Caledonia was an island with merely 50,000 inhabitants. In
1943, after the defeat of Vichy France, 200,000 US soldiers were stationed
After the war, when the Pacific islands were liberated from Japanese
occupation, the United States took over many of these islands and turned
them into military bases or test areas for nuclear weapons, e.g.
Kwajalein, Johnson or the Marshall Islands. Most of these islands were
given to the US as trust territories by the United Nations immediately
after the war. The UN, however, had issued explicit orders to grant the
islands independence as soon as possible. But these areas remained US
colonies for decades, due to their strategic location and military
importance to the US during the Korean and Indochina wars.
After the World War, the French government also secured control over „her“
colonies in Polynesia (including the nuclear test site on Mururoa) and New
South and Central America
Most of the countries of South and Central America had gained their (at
least formal) independence much earlier than other parts of the world. By
1945, the majority of the Latin American governments had officially
declared war on Germany, partly out of conviction, partly under pressure
from the United States. As early as in the Spanish Civil War, a Mexican
brigade supported the Republicans against rising fascism. And in World War
II as well, soldiers from Mexico and Brazil stood by the Allies.
The French recruited soldiers from their colonies (Guadeloupe, Martinique
etc.) for the war in Europe, as they had done earlier during World War I.
In Jamaica, the British hired volunteers for jobs essential to the
armament industry. The British naval bases on the Falkland Islands
(Malvinas) off Argentina’s coast were of crucial importance to maritime
warfare in the Atlantic. At the mouth of the Rio de la Plata River close
to Montevideo, a naval battle took place in the course of which the German
battleship „Graf Spee“ was sunk. The „Graf Spee“ had endangered the
commercial shipping routes off the Latin American coasts. At this time,
Uruguay was politically „neutral“ which explained why German battle ships
were still admitted to anchor in its harbors and to stock up supplies.
Research into the history of the „Third World during World War II“ is
still going on and could be aided by D+C readers. While historians in the
North have neglected the subject, written and oral information may be
available in former colonial countries which needs to be tapped before the
participants in and victims of the War may have passed away.
The project team, recherche international e.V., the core-group undertaking
the research, which in turn is assisted by the collective of
the Cologne-based Rheinisches JournalistInnenbuero, therefore invites
readers to make comments, suggestions, and send informations,
bibliographical or otherwise. You may contact us under the following
recherche international e.V.
c/o Karl Rössel
Kuenstr. 35
D – 50733 Köln
Tel: + 49 (0)221 23 97 14
Though scientific accuracy and historic verification are indispensable,
our main focus is on presenting the findings in a way most attractive to
as large a public as possible. Lecture tours will be arranged once the
book is out in print in 2005.
This project is an undertaking of recherche international e.V. which was
founded in 1999 and actively encourages the dialogue between Europe and
countries of the so-called Third World in all fields of life. The bulk of
the work already completed was done by the free-lance journalists and
authors of Rheinisches JournalistInnenbuero which, in turn, spans two
decades of in-depth reporting. Their work is broadcast on public radio
stations and occasionally on TV.
Dr. Rainer Werning, political scientist and member of Rheinisches 
JournalistInnenbuero (Cologne, Germany), has been doing extensive research 
in South East and East Asia since 1970. 
D+C Development and Cooperation,
published by: InWEnt – Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung gGmbH,
Capacity Building International, Germany
Editorial office, postal address:
D+C Development and Cooperation, P.O. Box, D-60268 Frankfurt, Germany.
E-Mail:  HDBrauer@cs.com
Copyright © 2002, InWEnt, November 3, 2002