Democracy with a Tommygun by Wilfred Burchett


THE title of this book perhaps needs a word of explanation. During the tragic, but on the whole successful attempt by leftist Greek patriots to resist with arms attempts to re-impose an unwanted monarchy on that ancient battleground for liberty, British Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, made one of his inspired and inspiring speeches.

With more regard for a fine turn of a phrase than its aptness, he produced with rhetorical flourish the following gem, afterwards hailed by those who supported Mr. Churchill's case, as a "classic exposition of democracy."

"...Democracy is not a harlot on the street to be picked up with a Tommy-gun."

Beside the point is the notion that a harlot has to be persuaded by a man with a Tommy-gun. But pertinent is the fact that ever since the idea of freedom was a gleam in our ancestors' eyes, liberty, freedom and more recently democracy have been "picked up" or won by men with Tommy-guns or muskets, pikes or clubs. The right to use the ballot-box has ever been won with bullets and blood. We know that from past history in England and America. We know it from history at present in the making in Europe, where patriots in every occupied country have risen with their Tommy-guns not only to drive out the invaders, but to settle accounts with those who made invasion possible and oppression more intolerable. There will be many books written about the valiant part people with Tommy-guns played to install or restore democracy in the "Old World."

Part of the purpose of this book is to show what has been done by the man with Tommy-gun, home-made cannon and carbine, with dah and bolo, to achieve democracy in South-East Asia and the Pacific. Democracy is used in the broadest sense as meaning the desire of people to decide their own fate, rule their own destiny. The book will show that the spirit to use the Tommy-gun has been strongest in countries where independence and a measure of democracy had already been tasted, and has tapered off in subject countries where Japanese occupation merely meant substitution of Japanese for existing Dutch, French or British overlords.

The book is not by any means a history of the war against Japan, or of the resistance movements in the various countries, but the author has tried to present a background of the places in which the war was fought, and how it was fought, with a view to better understanding of future developments. It is hoped that if thoughtful people understand the background they will not be content merely to observe but will play their part in shaping the pattern of development in these areas.

If we are interested in peace within our own lifetime it is time to get interested in the Pacific and Far Eastern world. It has been a common-place during the past few generations to regard Europe with its mosaic of nationalities, its disputed frontiers and spheres of economic interest, as the nursery bed in which the seeds of war are nourished. But Europe is now tired and exhausted. We know her and will watch her. Plans will be made by the Allies to hog-tie and, if necessary, cripple any potential trouble-makers in the West. But not so in the East.

Unless the West plays its part in seeing that those countries which are just emerging from feudalism and the lowest grade of colonial status, set their feet along the right paths, we may still have wars which would make the one just concluded seem infantile.

Imagine an industrialised India with a population of 400,000,000 battling with a modern, industrialised China with a population of 450,000,000 for supremacy in Asia with Indo-China, Malaya, Burma and Siam as pawns. Or, imagine an industrialised India and China allied in a crusade to drive the white man forever off the face of Asia and perhaps farther.

These are fantastic ideas, but that an unknown paper-hanger would conquer the whole of Europe in less than 10 years was a fantastic idea in 1933. The world is shrinking fast with no world capital more than a couple of days' flight from another. That is one reason why we have a right, even a duty, to watch as closely as we can peoples and movements in countries even so remote as those of South-East Asia and the Pacific. That is the chief excuse for this book.

If any further apologia is needed for adding one more to the scores of war correspondents' books written during the past five years, it seems that correspondents are still best fitted to write the little fragments of war history which, as they are being pieced together now, will give the nearest to a complete picture of these years of madness, valour, energy and suffering. War correspondents do have special privileges and facilities to pry and poke into all sorts of odd places and, best of all, they can write of what they find without more than normal human prejudice.

Any book on any part of this war is incomplete, and this one not less than others. For the most part it will be restricted to writing about places visited, people known and actions witnessed, whilst "covering" the war against Japan since October, 1941, to the time of writing in August, 1945.