Panel 2.

Nationalism and Nation-building as Forces and Frameworks for Memory

Chair: Prof. Ien Ang (Western Sydney University)

This panel will explore how nationalism and nation-building impetuses impeded or inspired the ways in which the Second World War is remembered across various nation-states. 

Speaker 1.

Dr. Catherine Cooper (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

New Zealand War Stories: Narratives conflict in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Examining the ‘war memory boom’ from a New Zealand perspective, this presentation will assess some of the ways in which the conflicts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific have been remembered in national narratives of the Second World War. New Zealand historian Kerry Howe wrote in 2000 that our war memories have been shaped by connections to the Anglo-centric world, and that ‘the Australian and American preoccupation with the Pacific war … contrasts with the relatively low priority accorded by New Zealand.’ This paper will consider possible reasons for that prioritisation, and suggest ways in which war heritage practitioners and those in the museum sector might use material culture to diversify war memories and highlight ‘hidden’ aspects of conflict.

Speaker 2.

Associate Professor Kevin Blackburn (National Institute of Education, Singapore) and Associate Professor Ryoko Nakano (Kanazawa University, Japan)

Memory of the Japanese Occupation and Nation-building in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, remembering, or not remembering, the Japanese Occupation has had a clear role in terms of nation-building.  Unlike in Northeast Asia, remembering the Japanese Occupation has rarely been used as a ‘history card’ in the games of international relations. Publicly remembering and commemorating the Japanese Occupation of World War II in Southeast Asian countries tends to broadly follow two patterns. Some Southeast Asian countries have historically developed over the decades since the end of World War II a national day for commemorating shared wartime experiences of national suffering and resistance as part of the process of nation-building. The commemorations have seldom sought to evoke anti-Japanese sentiments as has been the case in Northeast Asia. These nation-states in Southeast Asia have sought to foster a collective memory of a shared past and shared sacrifices in war to assist their efforts in encouraging a greater sense of nationhood. Yet, other Southeast Asian countries equally affected by the Japanese Occupation, and equally engaged in nation-building, have chosen not to commemorate at a national level the wartime past. Despite the watershed the Japanese Occupation represented in their histories, these countries simply do not mark or commemorate the fact of this at a national level. The interests of nation-building dictate that the wartime past is not commemorated. Thus, in Southeast Asia, nation-building seems to be the dominant influence over remembering the Japanese Occupation. The ‘memory wars’ in the diplomacy of Northeast Asia have been absent in Southeast Asia.

Speaker 3.

Mr Kwa Chong Guan (former Chairman of the National Archives of Singapore)

Remembering, Recording, Generating: The Japanese occupation of Singapore in retrospective

75 years after the start of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, community remembering of the experiences under the Occupation remain as vivid as ever in the public platform. Some 38 years after the Oral History Department (OHD) of the National Archives of Singapore was launched, the oral history recordings of the Occupation which remain the most extensive of its category in Southeast Asia, reflect a contingent relationship between the recall of voluntary and involuntary memories among survivors who were interviewed during the early 1980s. In that process, the oral historian was focussed as an archivist on documenting the micro-narratives of Occupation life and searching for commonalities in an attempt to group these memories of the Occupation under thematic similarities. What was passed over by default was the moral dimension of remembering as evoked by traumatic memories. Subsequently, the OHD undertook a pioneering commemorative exhibition on the Occupation in 1985 based on the interviews. It was here that the oral historians became generators of new collective memories of the Occupation instead of passive recorders. This paper will address the experiences of remembering and recording and the emergence of a generational memory of the Occupation which has become the national frame of reference by which the Occupation years are positioned in the Singapore Story.