Among the Japanese today, the place of Southeast Asia in the History of World War II is conspicuous for its absence. Instead, there continues to be the myth that the war in Southeast Asia could be and should be remembered as the war of Asia’s liberation from the West. In this talk, I examine the wartime and postwar narratives written and told by Japanese civilians and military officials sent to Southeast Asia during the war. They speak about the occupiers’ intentions and motivations in their military adventures; what reactions they expected to find from the occupied; and what finally they learned from the whole experiences in Southeast Asia. What emerges in these narratives is a broad sense of the limits of Japanese cultural and material resources in negotiating with the Asian “others.” I also point out that Japanese wartime and postwar narratives suggest not so much the Japanese liberation of Asia from the West as the Japanese being liberated by Asian nationalism and Western modernity from the already failing and dying Japanese Empire.
Sponsored by the UW History Department, Southeast Asia Center, and the East Asia Center. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.