Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese

Craig Barrett (2011). Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Craig Barrett
Thesis Title Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Martin Crotty
Dr Geoff Ginn
Total pages 233
Total colour pages 1
Total black and white pages 232
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
Abstract/Summary Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese Abstract Academic scholars have argued that POWs of the Japanese were forgotten in Australian history in the past, largely because captivity was not easily assimilated into the Anzac legend. POWs were powerless, emasculated victims and this contrasted with the typically heroic narrative of the Anzac that focuses on military valour and the fighting prowess of Australian soldiers. According to historians, this situation gradually improved and by the 2000s POWs were not only remembered, but an integral part of Anzac Day and the Anzac legend. They may still run second to the Anzacs at Gallipoli, but they are no longer forgotten. Nonetheless, there remains a degree of dissonance between arguments that POWs were powerless victims who were emasculated and their current place in the Anzac legend and Australian remembrance of war. The problem presented by historians is more than merely historiographical. POWs were not absent simply because no one had bothered to research about them, but because they upset the heroic stereotype of the Australian soldier. This begs the question: how was the problem overcome? There were broad social and historiographical developments in the 1980s and 1990s that opened a space for POWs, as well as women, Aborigines and migrants, in the Australian narrative of war. There was also interest in World War II in the 1990s due to fiftieth anniversary celebrations, including the government-sponsored ‘Australia Remembers’ in 1995. However, these factors merely indicate that there was an opportunity for greater recognition of POWs of the Japanese; they do not explain why POWs are now fundamental not only to Australian commemoration of World War II, but the Anzac legend itself. This thesis argues that POWs of the Japanese were never forgotten. They have been prominent in Australian culture in a variety of ways since their return. Their captivity was problematic, because they were white men and women serving Australia in war who were captured, enslaved and tortured by an Asian captor. However, the extent to which POWs suffered at the hands of the Japanese was an integral aspect of the significance of their captivity. POWs embodied the fears and anxieties of Australians about Asia and the potential for invasion. Their response to captivity demonstrated the civilising values of British and Australian culture. This was reflected in newspaper articles when POWs returned, government statements about the prisoners during and after the war and, crucially, in the diaries and memoirs written by the prisoners themselves. In this respect, the Anzac legend was irrelevant or, at most, peripheral. POWs were also active in constructing their own representations of captivity. Some of these intersected with broader Australian narratives of war and sacrifice. Other representations emphasised the ongoing trauma resulting from imprisonment. In both cases, POWs did not act like passive victims; instead, they actively drew on a range of representations to argue for compensation and reparations claims immediately after return and throughout the twentieth century. POWs also reframed their apparent loss into gain; a narrative of mateship formed during the darkest days of captivity became the dominant representation held by POWs. Indeed, the extent of suffering experienced by male POWs is fundamental to their place in the Anzac legend. It ensured the POWs were easily valourised because a direct correlation was drawn between their treatment in captivity and their reliance on Anzac values such as mateship. POWs were victims, but they were not emasculated and forgotten. The problem, then, is one of interpretation. Historians have generally relied on the Anzac legend to analyse POWs and their place in Australian history and have used a narrow conception of it when they have done so. The legend is much broader than a focus on the fighting prowess of Australian soldiers. John Kirkpatrick Simpson (and his donkey) is the most well-known hero of World War I and Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop the same for World War II. Both men are firmly represented in the context of the Anzac legend, and yet both of them were not fighters, but carers. The fighting ability of Australian soldiers is important, but it is not the only (and indeed the most important) characteristic that defines Australian remembrance of war. POWs’ suffering always fit the legend. This thesis therefore presents an alternative to the typical focus of historians on a particular conception of the Anzac legend when examining POWs of the Japanese. It demonstrates that POWs’ victimhood, helplessness and suffering were not cast as a slur, but a matter of deliberate representation. This is demonstrated by an analysis of key agendas and genres that have defined our understanding of captivity: return, compensation and reparations claims, literature and commemoration. Their captivity in Asia and the trauma they suffered was culturally significant from the time of return through to the present. Their victimhood and suffering was also fundamental to their place in the Anzac legend. And, crucially, POWs of the Japanese were never forgotten.
Keyword Prisoner of war
Anzac legend
Anzac day
Captivity narrative
Additional Notes Print page 195 in colour

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Created: Tue, 19 Jun 2012, 09:07:20 EST by Mr Craig Barrett on behalf of Library - Information Access Service