The Battle for Taipei

The Battle for Taipei

On February 14, 1942, the Japanese stood at the gates of Singapore. Histories of this event make it sound like the British were completely dominated by a machine-like Japanese army that could not be stopped. We are told that the Japanese had pushed British and colonial soldiers out of Malaysia. The implication is that had the Japanese entered the city and taken the battle to the streets, they would have slaughtered everyone. But British Lt. General Arthur Percival answered that questioned in a way that history would remember differently. The very next morning, he surrendered to Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Turnbull’s authoritative history of the city tells us of another way this battle could have ended. Turnbull tells us that the Japanese were completely unable to finish the battle for the city. They were exhausted after fighting their way hundreds of miles down the Malay Penninsula. They were greatly outnumbered by almost a hundred thousand trained soldiers from Australia, Britain, and India. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce had armed large numbers of Chinese men who were ready to fight to their death. Most importantly, the Japanese were virtually out of ammunition. By the time Percival surrendered, the Japanese had fired almost all of their remaining ammunition at the city in one last burst in what was a successful bid to convince the British they were still up for the fight.

But they weren’t. If the Japanese had entered the city, they would have been crushed. The 30,000 or so Japanese without enough bullets for their guns, would have been slaughtered to a man. Sure, the city would have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children would have died. The Chinese men of the city: husbands, fathers, shop-keeps, and school teachers, fighting against battle-hardened soldiers would have been massacred. The battle that would have started on February 15th would be remembered today as one of the bloodiest of all modern history.

And the Japanese would have been stopped that day. With the Royal Navy only weeks away, the Battle for Singapore would have changed everything. World War II would have ended right there. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of lives would have been saved, and Percival would have been remembered as the general who ended the War rather than as the coward he was. His soldiers would have gone down in history as the men who broke the back of the Japanese army rather than as prisoners who built the Burma Railway. The Chinese men of Singapore, the husbands, the fathers, the shop-keeps, and the school teachers, given the chance that they wanted, would have choosen to save their families from years of brutal colonialism rather than from the ravages of war.

When the Communists come from China, as they so often say they will, everyone will be scared. On that day, no one will want to fight. The airports will be swamped and everyone will be looking for a way off the island. It will be the chance that the Chinese men of Singapore sorely wanted on the morning of February 15, 1942; that chance that Arthur Percival took from them. Unlike the men of Singapore, you will have the chance to choose whether you can make history or be forgotten by it. It will be your one chance to stand against the Communists and do what was robbed from the Chinese men of Singapore. And there is only one to do that; by turning Taipei into the battle that Singapore never was.

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