Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why it's not easy to understand survivors' feelings about the war

PROFESSOR Kevin Blackburn is right when he says that the ceremony here to mark the fall of Singapore is less evocative compared to similar war remembrances overseas ('Story behind the story on the fall of Singapore'; yesterday).
How Singaporeans and Malayans behaved before, during and after the Japanese Occupation had its origins in the 1930s, the decade before the outbreak of World War II.
It may be difficult for Prof Blackburn's generation or outsiders to understand the complex factors that shaped the attitudes of Singaporeans and Malayans then, who are now in their twilight years.
Before the Occupation, we were a British colony and the local predominantly Chinese population were not regarded as citizens, regardless of where they were born.
The Chinese were not homogenous in attitudes and orientation because they were shaped by the schools they attended. Schools with English as the medium of instruction were vastly different in orientation, purpose and curriculum from Chinese-medium schools.
English-medium schools aimed at turning students into pro-British Anglophiles, and political and social awareness were muted or discouraged.
Chinese-medium schools inspired allegiance to China and were hotbeds of anti-colonial, leftist ideology.
Chinese-educated Singaporeans and Malayans were intensely anti-Japanese because of Japanese atrocities in China, and enthusiastically raised funds for the Chinese cause.
By contrast, the English-educated were passive or politically indifferent.
It was not an accident that the anti-Japanese guerillas during the Occupation were predominantly recruits from Chinese-medium schools.
These stark differences created culturally divergent groups within the Chinese, whose boundary collapsed only relatively recently.
So, today's survivors who remember the searing agony of the Japanese Occupation were most likely those who were Chinese-educated, and off the radar of the social or political mainstream.
Dr Ong Siew Chey