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Revisionist literature portrays a British counter-terror stretching across 1948–9, if not longer. This chapter shows how, in fact, counter-terror was ‘bureacratised’ in 1949, becoming far more controlled but also larger-scale, with ‘structural violence’ (slow-burn long-term reduction in life chances due to deportation, huts burned etc.) taking off as excess killings declined. Meanwhile, the insurgents tried, and failed, to establish main bases and larger forces. On failing, they switched to attempting to build multiple, local-based company-level forces, more indirect roots towards growing their strength. This sent incident levels soaring again. This chapter therefore revises the revisionist accounts, but just as importantly tells a cohrent story about the main-base strategy that the MCP hoped would set it on the path to victory, and its replacement strategy of building from more numerous, smaller base areas.
The Malayan Emergency of 1948–1960 has been scrutinised for 'lessons' about how to win counterinsurgencies from the Vietnam War to twenty-first century Afghanistan. This book brings our understanding of the conflict up to date by interweaving government and insurgent accounts and looking at how they played out at local level. Drawing on oral history, recent memoirs and declassified archival material from the UK and Asia, Karl Hack offers a comprehensive, multi-perspective account of the Malayan Emergency and its impact on Malaysia. He sheds new light on questions about terror and violence against civilians, how insurgency and decolonisation interacted and how revolution was defeated. He considers how government policies such as pressurising villagers, resettlement and winning 'hearts and minds' can be judged from the perspective of insurgents and civilians. This timely book is the first truly multi-perspective and in-depth study of anti-colonial resistance and counterinsurgency in the Malayan Emergency.
The Briggs Plan is well known, but this chapter shows it instituted much more than a civil–military executive committee system and ‘population control’ through resettlement. Instead it aimed at a broader ‘geodemographic’ control of people and space, including ‘things’ such as food. It intended this to variously weaken insurgent–rural population links, provide ‘cover’ for the popultion to refuse what insurgents asked of them and create killing grounds as it forced insurgents to approach resettlements in more predictble ways. This chapter shows multiple individuals threatening resignation as the staggering scale of the plan – over 1 million were moved – tested people to the limit. It ends with promising signs but also still-high incident levels and rising concern in the wake of the killing of the high commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, in October 1951. It also reminds us that even as geodemographic control was tightening and the first amenities for the resettled appearing, Briggs’s idea of clearing successive area was going nowhere. The operations were just too short, and too short of covering entire communist committee districts, to stop the MCP regenerating afterwards.
The first months of the Emergency saw chaos and uncertainty as both sides were caught off-guard and scrambled to organise. A combination of MCP policy of intermingling with rural villagers and British policy of exerting ‘pressure’ on the same villagers saw huts burned, people shot running and ‘excesses’ including twenty-four killed at Batang Kali. In effect, rural civilians were caught between MCP ‘terror’ (objectively, if not by intent) and British ‘counter-terror’ and pressure. Government, meanwhile, was gestating more positive measures, so that by the year’s end it was pushing states to start resettlement of villagers and was working with Chinese leaders in the MCA.
1947–8 saw fateful decisions by the MCP and the British, with these interweaving to create a spiral towards violence. This chapter traces the ‘long cold war’ that preceded and framed these events, the decision-making by both sides and how they combined both with international communism and local events at Sungei Siput to spark a full-scale insurection and counterinsurgency.
What was the canvas on which the Emergency was fought? This introduction and overview sketches in the population, the main players (British, MCP, UMNO, MCA), the importance of locality, the main phases and shape of the conflict and the historiography. In so doing it challenges some myths and sets the scene for later chapters to discuss issues of violence, harm and ‘winning hearts and minds’, and how and why insurgent strategy failed and counterinsurgent strategy ultimately succeeded.
Over 1953–60 counterinsurgency was optimised, buidling upon the solid foundations of geodemographic control achieved over 1950–2, and of systems optimisation achieved under Templer. Framework operations by units bolted onto localities were continuously refined, as was the use of jungle forts to win over the Orang Asli, and of big combined Special Branch–food control–military operations. Together these sustained an ‘elimination’ rate (kills, surrenders, captures) of about 20 per cent of insurgents a year – that is, until after the MCP attempt to negotiate at Baling in 1955 was rebuffed, and then further negotiation was refused from late 1957. As hope faded insurgent ‘surrenders’ (some induced or duped) snowballed in the face of priority big operations. By now those featured months-long intense controls, each targetting the entire area of one or more MCP committees. That way the MCP would struggle to regenerate afterwards. The collapse of local MCP forces often came as freedoms increased elsewhere, while a big operation clamped down more strongly than ever on the targetted area. In 1958 the MCP decided on a strategy of running down the military campaign, and the Emergency was formally ended on 31 July 1958.