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Reviewed by:
  • War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore
  • Badriyah Haji Salleh
War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore. By Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, Singapore: NUS Press, National University of Singapore, 2012. 459 pp. Index. ISBN 978-9971-69-599-6.

On 28 August 2011 Mohamad Sabu, vice president of PAS, an opposition party to the ruling party of Malaysia, in one of his political ceramah (talks) praised Mat Indera as a nationalist because he fought against those who defended Bukit Kepong manned by the police who worked for the British in 1950 when the whole station and a few women were killed. This created a furore against Mohamad Sabu in the local newspapers, especially from Malay politicians, some members of the public and even a few academicians. A member of the public later officially accused Mohamad Sabu in court for making a subversive statement, but later apologized for making a wrong accusation against him. Baharom Shah Indera, Mat Indera's younger brother, was grateful that Mohamad Sabu's victory in court also meant victory for his dead brother, whom he strongly believed was a nationalist who fought against the British colonialists.

The above scenario is a continuing situation that depicts what Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack have written about war memories in Malaysia and Singapore. Their book about war memories and heritage revolves around the experiences of individuals and groups in different communities and how the state in both Malaysia and Singapore chose to treat them selectively for the interest and benefit of both in building their new nations after the Japanese Occupation.

Personal narratives about the war as presented by Don Lee, an Australian with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), Kaylan Ram Das and Mrs R. Bhupalan of the Indian National Army (INA) who then resided in Singapore and Malaya, Choi Siew Hong from Pahang of the Dalforce (Overseas Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army) and a Malay, Mohd Anis Tairan, who was only 10 years old during the occupation, illustrate different experiences and feelings for different motives and loyalties. Don Lee, who joined the force with the belief that the ANZAC was superior to the British, became a prisoner of war (POW) in Singapore and was forced to work on the Burma-Thailand railway in 1943. Kaylan Ram Das and Mrs R. Bhupalan joined the INA after being mesmerized by S. C. Bose, the charismatic Indian leader whom they met, respectively, in Singapore and Malaya. Bose, who fought for the greater Indian independence with the sanction of the Japanese, was made president of the Indian Independence League (IIL) and accepted the allegiance of the INA. Both Das and Bhupalan credited Bose for having awakened their nationalistic spirit towards India. Choi Siew Hong was English educated and was one of three Malayans with Dalforce. Most of the other members were Singapore Chinese with Communist or Kuomintang inclinations. Choi was with Dalforce for only a week. He managed to escape the Japanese atrocities and enjoyed a normal life working for the government of independent Malaya/ Malaysia after the war. Mohd Anis Tairan relived his experiences being forced—together with other [End Page 122] kampong folks—by the Japanese soldiers to line the streets of Singapore and watch Japanese soldiers humiliating European POWs on their way to their respective barracks and hundreds of Chinese being killed during the sook ching incidents. According to Anis, a few days after the sook ching he could smell the stench of death hovering over his whole village. Two of his older brothers joined the Malay Regiment and other forces to fight with the British, but another who was a member of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) fought with the Japanese against the British. Thus the war and Japanese Occupation gave different people different personal perspectives.

Blackburn and Hack argue that after the war in 1945, Whitehall decided to immediately repair their scarred honour for their defeat in the colonies by having pomp displays of their armaments, ceremonies, talks and documentary films of their victories in Europe and elsewhere, in London and then in the colonies, including Malaya and Singapore. Some members of the Malayan People's...


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