Journal Article

Recalling War Trauma of the Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation in the Oral History of Malaysia and Singapore

Kevin Blackburn

in The Oral History Review

Published on behalf of Oral History Association

Volume 36, issue 2, pages 231-252
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 0094-0798
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1533-8592 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ohr/ohp041
Recalling War Trauma of the Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation in the Oral History of Malaysia and Singapore

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The Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation were traumatic periods in the lives of people now over seventy years old in Malaysia and Singapore. This study traces why individuals interviewed for oral history of the Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation have often been able to tell stories of trauma without being overwhelmed by their reminiscences. It emphasizes that memories of traumatic experiences of the Pacific War and Japanese Occupation in Malaysia and Singapore are mediated and eased by supportive social networks that are part of the interview subject's community. The individual's personal memories of traumatic war experiences are positioned in the context of the collective memory of the group and, thus, are made easier to recall. However, for individuals whose personal memories are at variance with the collective memory of the group they belong to, recalling traumatic experiences is more difficult and alienating as they do not have the support of their community. The act of recalling traumatic memories in the context of the collective memory of a group is particularly relevant in Malaysia and Singapore. These countries have a long history of being plural societies, where although the major ethnic groups—the Malays, Chinese, and Indians—have lived side by side peacefully, they have lived in culturally and socially separate worlds, not interacting much with the other groups. The self—identity of many older people who lived through the Pacific War and the Japanese Occupation is inextricably bound up with their ethnicity. Oral history on war trauma strongly reflects these identities.

Keywords: Malaysia; Singapore; testimony; trauma; war

Journal Article.  9119 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Oral History

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