The Fighter Boys Of Assam

05Apr07

Few people remember that during World War II, Americans were firmly planted in India. India was part of the so-called China-Burma-India theater.

I was delighted to come across this brief account of life in Assam from the (it appears — rather bored) American soldier’s perspective.

Time Magazine: Monday, March 8, 1943. (Incidentally, Time has free archives – a good way to bury yourself in history and totally lose track of time)

Aside from easy strafing missions against locomotives and bridges in Burma, there was not much to do except play badminton, lounge on big airy porches in the old stilted tea planters’ houses, and stare out across the endless sultry tea fields. The enlisted men took to teaching Assamese kids American. They all wished the Japs would attack. Their C.O., Colonel Homer Leroy Sanders, had said: “If the Japs come over, all they will need is a one-way ticket.” [read the full article]

And then I read this poetic gem about life in Assam during World War II.

This post was prompted by an email I received from my dad which contained the full text of The Calcutta Key, a survival guide for the young American GIs serving in Calcutta. Here are some of the “lessons” for soldiers:

India After The War. You already know that India is one of the main arsenals as well as principal bases for the war against Japan. What you may not have stopped to realize is that after the war, in any permanent plan for peace that includes (and must include) Southeast Asia, India must and will assume a prominent role. You are a practical person from a practical nation. You can see that it makes common sense for anyone to cultivate a lasting friendship with India. Go to it, then. YOU – you’re the one who is going to do it. It is part of YOUR JOB.

And this:

You look at the Indian daily, you pass him on the streets, his life touches yours constantly. But do you actually see him, do you get a picture of what makes him tick, or do you brush him off in your mind as “That darn native who… ?” (He is an Indian, not a native, by the way – and you, being a non-Asiatic in a country where all such visitors are for convenience classed as Europeans, you are a ‘European.’) You do see that the Indian is different from yourself. Granted. But – do you see that that difference between the two of you does not give you a reason to criticize the Indian?

As someone who grew up in Kolkata (post-post-post World War II), this made for some very interesting and entertaining reading. Even though I know most of the places they mention, I still felt like I was entering a new world. I wonder what life was like back then.

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