You might recall how a few years back, Britain’s anti-insurgency tactics in 1950s Malaysia were touted as a model for American forces in Iraq. That turned out to be poppycock, of course, since the British method involved tactics far too unpalatable for the post-colonial world to stomach. Among those tactics, as described in today’s edition of Malaysia’s The Star, was the forced relocation of half-a-million ethnic Chinese citizens:
“We were really innocent victims back then. The British just assumed that as long as we were Chinese, we were helping the Communists!” said Sim. “They came to our home and ordered us to start packing and dismantling our house. If we did not do it within a week, they would just burn it down.
“We had to pack up everything, including the planks and the attap; and rebuild our new house in the lot that was given to us. At the time we thought it would only be a temporary place to stay, and that we would be able to go back to our old homes once the Emergency was over. We never thought we would still be living here today!” added Sim.
Sim’s family had it good. Throughout the filming of his documentary in other parts of the country, Wong heard horror stories about villagers given 15 minutes or less to pack their belongings before the British soldiers torched their houses.
“How much can you take in 15 minutes? Everyone would be in a panic, and they would just grab whatever they could,” said the director. “Each family was then given a 40ft x 80ft (12.2m x 24.4m) piece of land within the confined area, and they had to build their own home.”
Amazingly, 450 of the 480 “New Villages” constructed in this fashion still exist. Over the border in Thailand, meanwhile, guerrillas who held out until the late 1980s were settled in much more luxurious “Peace Villages,” paid for by the Thai government. Persistence apparently has its rewards.