By the end of May 1942 the Japanese military had completed their conquest of the Asian colonies of France, Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. Although Japan was eventually defeated, the Western powers could not re-establish their hold over their former colonies.
A colonial officer in Burma neatly summed up the issue.
Successful empires depend on a combination of power, competence, and inertia to maintain their sway over their subjects. The Japanese victories demonstrated that European power and competence were illusory. Vichy France acceded to Japan without a struggle. Britain fought but still suffered repeated, humiliating defeats. The Netherlands existed only as a government-in-exile whose last vestige of independent power – their navy-- now rested at the bottom of the Java Sea. The US Navy was powerless to save the Philippines.
The old unquestioning confidence had gone – on both sides. We had been driven out of Burma. The Burmans had seen this happen. In the trite phrase, things could never be the same again.
Correlli Barnett called war “the great auditor of institutions”. Nearly all the institutions of the colonial powers failed their audit in the spring of 1942.