Monday, April 21, 2014

Briggs Plan: Containment of the Communists

New Villages - Product of the Briggs Plan (Credits: National Army Museum)
The world, after World War II, faced a new war, a war between two ideologies, between communism and democracy – the Cold War. Malaysia was among the nations ravaged by the new Cold War. As communist threats rose, the British had to act to contain it at the most efficient way. As the communist held influenced over the Chinese squatter’s hearts and minds, the British had to contain it in order to win. Their answer was the Briggs Plan.

After World War II, communist threat rose across the world. In Europe, many communist parties rose to power or provided a strong opposition party. In Asia, communism was also in the rise. In China, the forces of Mao Zedong marched ferociously to devour Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang. In Southeast Asia, communism gained momentum as the ideology used independence as its guise to the common people.

Many, if not all, of Southeast Asian nations, except Thailand, was under west. Malaysia, in particular, had been under the British for several hundred years. During World War II, the British raise up a monster. It helped to arm communist guerrillas to fight the Japanese. But after the war, these same weapons were used by the communist guerrillas against them. The communists hid their agenda under the guise of independence. They promoted communism as a way out of imperialism and towards complete independence. 

Three years after the war, the communists began to act. Several murders and attacks by the communists to several plantations alarmed the British. Damages to plantations were becoming substantial. Then attacks on government offices also began to rise. In 1848, the British authorities announced an emergency. Thus, the decade long Malaysian Emergency began.

When hostilities broke out in 1948, the communists were a formidable force. It took orders from the Malaya Communist Party under its leader Chin Peng. It had a large supporter based with guerrillas ranging to thousands in numbers, mostly Chinese. They also had numerous sympathizers in rural areas known as the Min Yuen.

The Min Yuen was a thorn to the British counter insurgency efforts. The Min Yuen supplied food, intelligence, and new recruits to the communists. They nourished the communist movement with intelligence of government movements and troop deployments. They also mingled with the Chinese squatters and preyed on their poverty to win them over to the communist side. Most importantly, they supplied food to the communists to fight the British.

The government tried to control the Min Yuen by launching a massive identification registration system. But this still was inadequate to quell the Min Yuen. Another more radical and far reaching action was still needed.

On April 6, 1950, Lt. Gen. Sir Harold Briggs was appointed to the position of Director of Operations. Briggs was in charge of leading the fight against the communists. Briggs then studied the situation. He talked to soldiers, officers, government officials, and ordinary people. After his study, he passed his recommendations to the High Commissioner of Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney, in April 10. And a month later, on May 24, he presented a more formal and concrete plan of action against the communists and their supporters, the Min Yuen. The plan was known as the Briggs Plan.

The Briggs Plan involved a massive resettlement program. Briggs knew that the Min Yuen thrived on informal settlers, especially the Chinese. He planned to contain the Min Yuen by moving the squatters into new areas that were guarded. With the help of the Sultans of Malaya, the government managed to acquire lands for the resettlement program.

The plan called for the coordination of the administrative civilian officials, the police, and the military in order to commence the resettlement. Security forces escorted squatters to these “New Villages”. Trucks crisscrossed the countryside, moving people to areas to live on. After four years, almost half a million informal settlers were relocated.

This new villages proved to be a virtual concentration camps. As the settlers build their new homes, the security forces set up barbed wire fences and watch towers for protection of the villages from attacks; but also, allowed them to survey the settlers. The people were allowed to get out of the village to work on the lands as laborers or as farmers, however, curfews were imposed. These ranged from 7:00 in the night up to 6:00 in the morning. 

The New Villages also became the recruitment pool of new soldiers to combat the communists. Local home guards units were formed. Armed with shotguns, they stand side by side with the security forces in maintain the defense against any communist onslaught. By 1952, 150,000 were part of the home guards.

However grim the outside appearances of the New Villages, it provided new services for the settlers. Public education became accessible to the settlers. Public healthcare also became close to the people. When Sir Gerald Templar became in 1952, the New Villages became at the forefront of his hearts and minds campaign.

The Briggs Plans allowed the British to cut off an artery from the communists. It drained the intelligence, food, and recruits from the illegal settlements as they were moved into new areas that were surveyed, guarded, and protected by the security forces. It halted the spread of support of the people as they became swayed to believe to the British and later Malaysian government. By 1957, at the independence of Malaysia, the Briggs Plan helped to weaken the communist threat and finally the end of the Malayan Emergency in 1960. However, the man that envisioned the plan never lived to see his plan to be successful. In 1952, Harold Briggs became terribly ill. On the same, General Harold Briggs passed away.

See also:
Gonzalo de Cordoba
March to the Sea
Nian Rebellion

Law, R. Terrorism: A History. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009. 

Ooi, K.G. Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, From Angkor Wat to East Timor. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2004. 

________. The A to Z of Malaysia. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009.

Ramakrishna, K. Emergency Propoganda: The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds, 1948 – 1958. Surrey: Curzon Press, 2002. 

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