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Reviewed by:
  • Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s)
  • Yuehtsen J. Chung
Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s). By Fujitani, White, and Yoneyama (eds.). Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.

In their efforts to reclaim marginalized subjects’ right to history, the authors of this conference volume bring together multiple, contradictory, unsettled and unsettling memories of the world war and challenge the dominant form of history writing on perpetrators, heroes, political leaders, military planners or policymakers. As decolonization during the postwar era has been supplanted by recolonization, the liberation forces have turned into another regime of domination in most parts of Asia and the Pacific. Likewise, the authors argue that the centrality and marginality of the selected memories are basically a binary pair and any lopsided emphasis of each would give rise to a cycle of repression and suppression. Conceiving memory as the process of past events acquiring truthfulness and power by virtue of being represented, shared, debated, suppressed and negotiated, the authors remind us of the current danger of various forces at work: 1) transnational capitalism which promotes plural representation with a single teleology of victory of capitalism in order to accommodate the interest of tourism and globalization; 2) conservative politicians who preserve nationalistic nostalgia and frequently deny the occurrence of war atrocity so as to sway popular support in the name of defending patriotism; 3) funding agencies which preclude critical projects as such to engage the debates between the dominating and the marginalized history writings and preempt possible opportunities of dialogue and reconciliation.

Compared to two recent excellent monographs on war memory, Lisa Yoneyama’s Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory (UC, 1999) and Yoshikuni Igarashi’s Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945–1970 (Princeton, 2000), this collection demonstrates the strength of comparativism and broadens our perspective of heterogeneous forms of remembering and representation, which is a befitting mode in which to recast the heterogeneity of the Asia-Pacific War. The first set of five articles focuses on memory fragments absent and present in the cultural production of war images, an approach similar to the one found in Igarashi’s aforementioned work. Marita Sturken’s piece on Rea Tajiri’s recreation of her family’s memories of mainland Japanese Americans in the internment camps during the war presents the part left out not only by the Tajiri family but also in American national memory. Daqing Yang’s discussion of the contested memory of the Nanjing Massacre within the national framework finds the topic not only the focus of textbook dispute but also a target for the rightists to gain political ascendancy by criticizing their opponents “anti-Japanese” and “masochistic” in Japanese domestic politics. Meanwhile in China, Chinese assertive efforts to refresh the memory of Japanese aggression stems from a fear of the revival of Japanese militarism in the teeth of growing economic power. Ishihara Masaie’s “Memories of War and Okinawa” complicates the issues of war responsibility and the complicity of the Okinawans, who had been discriminated against by the Imperial Army and forced to participate in the war while witnessing Japanese troops killing their own countrymen in the Battle of Okinawa. Lamont Lindstrom analyzes conflicting images of the Pacific islanders from war photography, ranging from exotic and primitive jungle dwellers, servant, victims and apt pupil to the loyal allies and fellow human beings. Lindstrom’s reflection points out that the “justification of the war to ourselves and to others eroded the boundary between civilized self and native other” (109). Morio Watanabe enframes various incidents of 1995, the Hanshin earthquake, the Sarin event and the gang rape of an Okinawa girl by U.S. Marine soldiers, to capture the images of war memory concealed in the sites of popular cultural production such as simulation war series and the obsession with cuteness.

The second set of six articles reveals, in a straightforward and powerful biographic manner, the true color of “liberation.” As an American Pacific Islander, Vicente M. Diaz’s recurrent nightmare of his struggle for survival in the wars in the Philippines and Guam even before he was born tells us that his body has been afflicted by his parents’ traumatic...

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