The Malayan People Against the Japanese Army, MPAJA, played the role of resistance movement, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Now, after 60 years, the MPAJA is the subject of a controversy. Should the MPAJA be honored? Such a debate is healthy, as long as there is no chauvinisim that may skew rational arguments. If Malaysians could discuss the subject openly and rationally, that reflects well of a maturing nation.
Was the MPAJA effective in fighting against the Japanese, to merit honor? The Japanese surrendered because of Hiroshima. They were no match for the might of the Japanese Imperial Army. But, neither was the last stand of the platoon led by Lt Adnan of the Royal Malay Regiment in defending Bukit Timah. It is not about winning or the right match to merit honor. It is the courage, the spirit, the patriotism, the valor, that are to be admired and earn people a place in the honours roll.
The 3 star symbol, may signify the three main component races of the then Malaya. It could also signify that it is an offshoot of the red stars of the Communist Party of China, but who are we to question who they were and what their real motives were. The British knew very well that the organization had been infilterated by the communist cadres. The British were too knowledgeable to exploit the anti Japanese sentiments amongst the Chinese, exploiting the aftermath of the massacre of Nangking.
The fact of the matter was, the MPAJA, the organization was the recognized resistance movement against the Japanese . If the communists were our common enemy, the MPAJA must not be put in the same basket. The MPAJA must not be disqualified for honor because not everybody in MPAJA was a communist.
As a self assured nation, with no insecurities Malaysian should be confident and magnanimous to recognize the roles and to put on record the history of the people who charted the history of the country.
To honor means, to give high respect, credit , distinction, and held high public asteem. However, before honoring people with hero status let us examine the quality of heroes we want to honour. Hero as we understand it is man or woman or a group(s) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and posses noble qualities.
If we apply the above test to the MPAJA, the group would have easily qualified for courage, ability, brave deeds, patriotism, but unfortunately they failed in the noble qualities test.
All over the country there are still living custodians of history, with first hand experience of going through hell, being at the receiving end of the Imperial army and unfortunately the MPAJA too. In the case of the MPAJA, before HIROSHIMA, there were just too many fellow Malayans, who suffered for refusing to be or to support the likes of Mat Indera, Chin Peng who were members of the MPAJA.
If the period during the Japanese occupation was not bad enough, MPAJA’s true mettle was laid bare during the 14 days or more after the surrender of Japan and before the British came back to put law and order. They failed miserably.
In Johor, particularly in Parit Sulong, Sri Medan, Bagan, Batu Pahat the atrocities of the MPAJA, one of which was a notorious local Malay, Mat Indera, not to mention the numerous Chinese, resulted in the uprising against the MPAJA led by Panglima Salleh. Dato Onn the distict officer of Batu Pahat at that time, was the person responsible to arrest the uprising from flaring further before law and order was restored.
In December 1945, Panglima Salleh was decorated by the Sultan of Johor and declared a Panglima.
True to its 3 star symbol, there were Malays, Chinese and Indians in the MPAJA. They grouped together because of a common desire to get the Japanese out of Malaya, a common hatred of the Japanese, for their patriotism. To remember them and to recognize their role as a resistance movement should be acceptable as the nation reach maturity, but to honour them and to make heroes out of them, in my opinion is rather misplaced.
On another perspective, then there are also those who believe that the Japanese contributed tremendously in making Malayans believed in themselves and that they can chase the British out.
My hero could be your villain, but as Malaysians could we have a common hero? I believe we could. Noble deeds and qualities are universal.