By Steven G. Mehta

Today, 69 years ago, the island of Singapore fell into Japanese hands based upon the unconditional surrender of British Forces.  The surrender was the the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history.  About 80,000 British, Australian and Indian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan campaign.  Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill called thefall of Singapore to the Japanese the “worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British history.

According to Wikepedia, by the morning of February 15, the Japanese had broken through the last line of defense and the Allies were running out of food and ammunition. At 9:30 a.m, British Commander Percival held a conference at Fort Canning with his senior commanders. Percival proposed two options: Launch an immediate counter-attack or surrender.  All agreed that no counter-attack was possible. Percival opted for surrender.  Percival formally surrendered shortly after 5.15pm.

The terms of the surrender included:

The unconditional surrender of all military forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) in Singapore Area.

Hostilities to cease at 8:30 p.m. that evening.

All troops to remain in position until further orders.

All weapons, military equipment, ships, planes and secret documents to be handed over intact.

Earlier that day before the surrender, however, Percival had issued orders to destroy before 4 p.m. all secret and technical equipment, ciphers, codes, secret documents and heavy guns.

Percival’s surrender reflects an interesting thing about conflict resolution.  Some people in mediation feel that they can only negotiate when they have a strong case.  Others fail to recognize the realities of their legal situation and believe that their case is stronger than what it actually is.  The reality is that if a party cannot fully recognize the position that he or she is in, he cannot effectively negotiate.  Percival realized that he was negotiating, not from strength, but from weakness.  He knew that he could not make inordinate demands else he and his troops would be annihilated.  He made the choice to negotiate a surrender.  Negotiators in litigation often are in a position of weakness.  Their case is not good and the other side knows it.  But just like Percival, negotiators need to know the alternatives.  Here, the Japanese knew that if they obtained a surrender they would not lose countless lives.  Percival was able to negotiate a settlement given his limited strength.

Often in mediation, people with weak cases need time to recognize the true position; and when they do, they can recommend a reasonable settlement.