An Analysis of the Historical Representation of Japanese War and Occupation in Singapore:
Built in 1887, the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) is the nation’s oldest museum. By using diverse and new ways of representing history and culture, NMS seeks to be an unconventional museum experience for visitors. (National Museum of Singapore, 2013). In the Singapore History Gallery, a segment is dedicated to depicting the Japanese occupation, showing the progress of the Japanese expansion to Singapore and the reactions of both the locals and the British. In this paper, we will discuss how the Japanese occupation has been represented in the museum, as well as the importance of war museums in the context of the NMS in Singapore. This is followed by the limitations of the NMS in its depiction of the Japanese occupation. Underlying this paper is the thesis that while the NMS has been successful in portraying the Japanese occupation objectively, it has its limitations regarding certain sensitive issues of war.
Representing the Past Objectively
Firstly, the exhibition is in chronological order which enables visitors to understand the chain of events in a logical manner. It begins with narrating how the British ruled Singapore, and how Japan had started invading South East Asia in the 1930s. After these facts comes the pivotal Battle of Singapore from February 8th to 15th of 1942, breaking out just in the middle of World War II where the Japanese authorities led their expansionism down to South East Asia. This is followed by the swift surrender of Singapore by the British, leaving the island in the hands of the Japanese for almost three years. Within this period, serious marks of trauma were inflicted upon the Singaporean population where thousands of civilians were killed.
Looking at the various exhibits and narratives, the museum generally strives for an objective depiction of the Japanese occupation. Such a portrayal can be seen in the factual representations of the war. British and Japanese newspapers that served as tools of propaganda are honestly labelled so, and various events from the capture of Singapore to the Sook Ching Massacre are displayed factually to the visitors. Recounts of soldiers from various nationalities are also available, especially from both the Japanese and Singaporeans, in order to present a more comprehensive view of the Japanese occupation from different points of view. This is also true for the recollections of the victims, such as Elizabeth Choy who survived torture in front of her husband, or Daisy Thomas, a European who also became a prisoner of war. The works of Masuri, a Malay poet, is also displayed where he laments about the sufferings of his people. By including testimonies from a variety of sources, the museum thus portrays the Japanese occupation in a highly objective and unbiased manner.
Logistically, the narratives used to represent the Japanese occupation are very diverse. This includes...