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War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore

Kevin Blackburn & Karl Hack

Singapore fell to Japan on 15 February 1942. Within days, the Japanese had massacred thousands of Chinese civilians, and taken prisoner more than 100,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers. A resistance movement formed in Malaya's jungle-covered mountains, but the vast majority could do little other than resign themselves to life under Japanese rule. The Occupation would last three and a half years, until the return of the British in September 1945.

How is this period remembered? And how have individuals, communities, and states shaped and reshaped memories in the postwar era? The book response to these questions, presenting answers that use the words of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, British and Australians who personally experienced the war years.

The authors guide readers through many forms of memory: from the soaring pillars of Singapore's Civilian War Memorial, to traditional Chinese cemeteries in Malaysia; and from families left bereft by Japanese massacres, to the young women who flocked to the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, dreaming of a march on Delhi.

This volume provides a forum for previously marginalized and self-censored voices, using the stories they relate to reflect on the nature of conflict and memory. They also offer a deeper understanding of the searing transit from wartime occupation to post-war decolonization and the moulding of postcolonial states and identities.

«War, Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore focuses on three levels of war memory - individuals, the community and the state. The penetrating discussion covers the major ethnic groups of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, and positions neglected voices in the public memory and national commemoration. This is a book for anyone interested in the way the Pacific War is commemorated in Southeast Asia»
-Professor Dato' Abu Talib Ahmad
Universiti Sains Malaysia


«Using a wide range of oral sources, this volume neatly explores the intriguing politics of memories of the Japanese Occupation in the making of Malaysia and Singapore over seven decades. The authors discuss individual memory but also consider group memory constructed at the levels of ethnic community and nation-state, creating a multi-layered terrain that makes for rewarding reading.»
-Associate Professor Huang Jianli
National University of Singapore


«This beautifully-illustrated book brings to a new level our understnading of how the Second World War has been publicly remembered in Malaya. Wars typically unite a nation in hostility against its foe, but this conflict heightened Malaya's internal ethnic divisions. Its commemoration has been highly contested, and has complicated attempts to construct national histories for the two nation-states. Blackburn and Hack explore this issue with rare authority, sensitivity and clarity.»
-Professor (Emeritus) Anthony Reid
Australian National University

Kevin BLACKBURN is an Associate Professor in History at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published on oral history, heritage, the prisoner of war experience, and war memory.
Karl HACK is Senior Lecturer at the Open University, United Kingdom, and Director of its Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies. He was born in Singapore, and taught at the Nanyang Technological University from 1995-2006. He has published books on Southeast Asia, and on military, imperial and oral history.

publication year: 2012
476 pages
ISBN: 978-9971-69-599-6  Paperback  US$35.00  S$45.00


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Last modified on 6 March, 2012 by NUS Press