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Lin Poyer - Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s) (review) - The Contemporary Pacific 15:1 The Contemporary Pacific 15.1 (2003) 205-208

Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s), edited by T Fujitani, Geoffrey M White, and Lisa Yoneyama. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. ISBN cloth, 0-8223-2532-2; paper, 0-8223-2564-0; vi + 462 pages, tables, photographs, notes, bibliography, filmography, index. Cloth, US$59.95; paper, US$19.95.

This book has its origin in a 1995 international conference marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, and is part of a groundswell—or shockwave—of "memory activities" reconsidering, rewriting, and rearguing that war. The goal is to [End Page 205] promote "the recovery and reinterpretation of events, experiences, and sentiments that have been pushed to the margins of the past" (5). Partly, this means representing people whose war stories are in danger of being lost. But it also indicates a political agenda, a response to how "the great global powers of the twentieth century . . . have managed to produce a forgetfulness about themselves as imperial and colonial powers" (5). The book is intended to reveal "some of the means through which national modes of representation succeed in systematically marginalizing or silencing dissonant memories" (7). What are these "dissonant" memories?

Some are willful attempts to efface or distort the past. Marita Sturken discusses how American national memory has and has not memorialized the Japanese internment camps. Daquing Yang describes the complex links between modern politics in Japan and China and the memory of the Nanking massacre. Others critique public images: Lamont Lindstrom on how photographic representations of Pacific Islanders fit (or were reworked to fit) the narratives of war; Vicente Diaz's reflections connecting memories of Liberation Day on Guam with American intentions in the Pacific; TFujitani on images of Nisei soldiers in US government propaganda and in the 1951 film Go for Broke. Geoffrey White compares the original documentary film shown at the Pearl Harbor Memorial (built in 1962) with the new film produced in 1991-1992. Lisa Yoneyama discusses the Enola Gay controversy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And, in the essay of perhaps the most immediate practical use, Morio Watanabe's "Imagery and War in Japan: 1995" at long last explains the popularity of "Hello Kitty" and "Sailor Moon" products as aspects of representations of war in Japanese popular culture.

Some authors provide a view "from the margins" of people or place. George Lipsitz describes how African-American soldiers and civilians responded to the Asia-Pacific War, and explores linkages between African Americans and Asian Americans, between racism and imperialism in US history. Historian Arif Dirlik views "the war from the perspective of East/Southeast Asian societies" (303), where local struggles temporarily became engaged with the global conflict, yet renewed their local meaning in postwar years. Diana Wong's fascinating chapter describes the public memory of the war in Singapore, where the Japanese erased all signs of the British past through a process of public renaming and memorializing. Yet, ironically, hardly a trace of the Japanese occupation is evident in modern Singapore. In wartime Malaya, "multiple scripts of national liberation" (225) were played out: Japanese presented themselves as liberators of Singapore (from British rule), some of the Malay elite joined the Japanese, the Indians of Malaya became part of a nationalist movement for Indian freedom, and the Malayan Communist party fought against the Japanese while also opposing British colonial rule. What, then, was to be done with public memory of this era when the British returned? For "the memory of British defeat, of 'native' disloyalty, as well as of communist resistance—had to be suppressed" (227). As it happened, the [End Page 206] British anticommunist fight, rather than the Japanese occupation, "has come to hold the place of founding myth of the modern Malaysian state" (229). Thinking about Singapore's history became so intractable that the topic was actually removed from primary school textbooks for a time in the 1970s and 1980s. Wong argues that the city in recent years is experiencing a "reinstatement of history" to accompany its rediscovery of itself as a "city-state" with a distinct regional role (234).

For me, the most compelling chapters in the book focus on Asians who experienced the wartime and postwar years as a complex layering of colonialism, violence, and shattered identities. Ishihara Masaie, in "Memories of War and Okinawa," describes civilian experiences during the war and the battle of Okinawa, as well as modern perceptions of the war, concluding with an argument for Okinawa as a center for promoting peace through construction of a war memorial. Chen Yingzhen's "Imperial Army Betrayed" is a straightforward account of Taiwanese who served in the Japanese military. After the war, these men could not be considered co-veterans by the Chinese victors, yet they were rejected by the Japanese government, which they had loyally served. This sensitive exploration of a difficult and unsolvable human problem is, as the author writes, "one particularly vivid illustration of the ongoing effects of a layered colonial history" (198), and it carries more weight than any amount of polemic. A similar case is that of the Korean "Imperial Soldiers" (in a chapter by Utsumi Aiko); men recruited or conscripted by the Japanese Army lost Japanese citizenship after the war, and so never received any military pensions or compensation for their service. Japan took no responsibility for demobilization or repatriation of soldiers and civilian employees in its former colonies (214). Yet some of these Korean soldiers (like Taiwanese in similar positions) were tried as Japanese war criminals for acts performed as members of the Japanese military in Allied prisoner-of-war camps. Also missing from the postwar Japanese reckoning are the non-Japanese victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Toyonaga Keisaburo describes how the bomb victims living in Korea and elsewhere "have been entirely excluded" from medical or social welfare provisions available to Japanese survivors (382).

After a series of such chapters, readers may feel they are standing in a crowded room with everyone shouting out that attention must be paid to their suffering. And that is true enough, though it is not easy to hear. In the final chapter, "The Politics of War Memories toward Healing," Chungmoo Choi suggests a more personal, and perhaps more effective, approach: "Is it not necessary to reformulate our question of 'how much apology (or how much reparation) is enough,' and redirect our energy by asking how to heal the wound?" (397). Her essay about understanding and healing Korean comfort women (centering on language and silence in three films about them) moves into a complex argument about the gendering of the war, and of colonial resistance, which links the historical and contemporary understanding of the women's circumstances with broader questions of "masculine [End Page 207] nationalist discourse" and modern military prostitution. Choi argues that while silencing these victims ("the dominant mode of operation in Japan as well as in other Asian countries") prevents healing, a nationalistic discourse of reparations also "does not heal the psychic and subjective wounds but deepens them when not properly executed"; instead she urges finding "a space so they can speak the pain of war memories and their subjectivity grounded on pain transformed" (407).

The chapters in Perilous Memories vary in style as well as content; some rely heavily on academic jargon while others present heartrending stories with effective simplicity. Anyone interested in the Asia-Pacific War, the politics and poetics of memory, how history serves the purposes of the powerful and how it can be made to serve the needs of the powerless, will find something of use in this volume.

 



Lin Poyer
University of Wyoming

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Launched on MUSE
2003-02-10
Open Access
No
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