PAPER SESSION 4 - THURSDAY 26/8, 5–7pm (UTC +8)
P4.3 – The Military and Experiences of War
Lee Geok Boi (Singapore) Oral History and Conflict
Conflict situations – war, riots, communal clashes – by their very nature often lack coherence or even a formal structure. Oral history is the best way to document such conflict situations. At the same time, it must also be recognised that oral history is a fragile record. Memories can fade, fail or change over time. Capturing this fragile history before participants’ memories start to fail is key to getting a fuller picture of significant if chaotic events. Oral history presents micro pictures of conflict which is invariably set in a bigger picture. The macro view of conflict situations is embedded in geopolitics, communal politics, government and economics. Actions and words of leaders have consequences and such words and actions are documented on paper be they newspapers, official documents, law or policies. Today, some of this documentation come in the form of digital media but which, sadly, is more open to manipulation than hard copy. Digital media, too, has a more potent reach than traditional hard copy. Nevertheless, documentation is critical to embedding oral history accounts in a formal structure and authenticating a conflict and its causes. The macro view of history benefits greatly from the inclusion of the micro views as represented by oral history. Such micro views reflect the consequences of formal words and policies. Oral history personalises conflict situations. It brings drama, even melodrama, heroism, cowardice, kindness, evil and the whole gamut of other human traits to the fore in conflict situations in a way that cannot be so clearly seen in the more formal structure. Oral history when applied to conflict situations leads to the kind of human drama that makes great movies and books but most importantly, makes for a better understanding of these conflict situations and a better grasp of the human toll of conflict.
Lee Geok Boi is a writer whose Syonan: Singapore Under the Japanese 1942-1945 published in 1992 was the first book in Singapore publishing history to make use of the oral history materials on the Japanese Occupation collected by the Oral History Centre of Singapore. She uses oral history extensively in her writing. She has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore), is an ex-journalist and practising oral historian, peace-loving but with a long-standing interest in conflict situations.
Keywords: conflict; geopolitics; human drama; riots; war
Jonathan Ritchie (Australia) Voices from the War: the Papua New Guinea in World War Two Oral History Project
World War Two came to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in January 1942, and it continued until the Japanese surrender in 1945. It broke like a thunderstorm over the swampy coastal plains, precipitous mountain valleys and idyllic tropical atolls of PNG: a tempest that lasted for nearly four years
The War had a profound impact on PNG, and on Papua New Guineans. This was especially in those parts that suffered from destructive bombing and shelling, but also in places which found themselves in the way of the battlefront as it moved through the islands.
Its impact extended further than the battlefront. Food was commandeered, boys and young men were recruited as carriers, warplanes crisscrossed the skies, dropping bombs seemingly at random, and whole populations were made to move away from their villages to places of relative safety.
More than seventy years after the War’s end, memories of this time of trial are fading. The Papua New Guinean Voices from the War project is intended to help keep these memories alive. Lasting from 2014 to 2018, the project involved interviews with more than two hundred people across PNG, concerning their own, or their parents’, experiences of war. Conducted in five separate but related exercises by teams of Papua New Guinean and Australian researchers, the project was coordinated by Deakin University in partnership with the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery and was supported by the Australian and PNG Governments.
My paper will report on the project’s activities and outcomes, and what is being done to make the interviews that have been recorded accessible to all people in PNG.
Jonathan Ritchie is a historian of Papua New Guinea at Deakin University, in Melbourne, Australia. He has written and taught about PNG for more than twenty years and has participated in several major oral history research exercises including, most recently, the Voices from the War project.
Keywords: conflict; national identity; oral history; Papua New Guinea; World War II
Philippe Denis (South Africa) Use and Abuse of Religious Symbols during the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda
The genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed an estimated 800,000 people lives in a mere three months, also had a religious dimension. Rwanda was a predominantly Christian country and many people were shepherded into churches by the local authorities and the Hutu militia to be massacred there. Priests, pastors and nuns were among the victims but some of them practically or ideologically assisted the perpetrators. The religious authorities never condemned the genocide as such. The paper will examine, on the basis of oral history interviews conducted in Rwanda and a few other countries between 2015 and 2020, how the genocide survivors responded spiritually and theologically to the genocide. It will also analyse the use made by the perpetrators of religious symbols during the massacres. God, Jesus and Mary were invoked on both sides. This uncomfortable reality drew the attention of Jean Pierre Chrétien and other scholars as early as 1995 in a book entitled Les média du genocide. The paper will bring to the fore more material on the place of religion in the genocide and propose an interpretation on the complex and contradictory role of religious symbols in a context of mass violence.
Philippe Denis is Senior Professor of History of Christianity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He is the founder and a former director of the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: genocide; religion; Rwanda; symbols; Tutsi; violence
Jiří Hlaváček (Czech Republic) Two Lost Years in Battledress? Compulsory Military Service and its Meanings from the Oral History Perspective
The paper focuses on the reflection of the phenomenon of compulsory military service in communist Czechoslovakia and democratic Czech Republic in the period 1968-2004. Through oral-historical interviews, the author observes narrative constructions and legitimizing strategies of acting in a closed military environment with emphasis on the (un)necessity of military service in five dimensions (functional, ideological, power, integration and cultural). The paper will present the main ideas and final results of the current grant project ''Army as an instrument of socialization: Reflection of the phenomenon of military service in the Czech lands (1968-2004)''.
Jiří Hlaváček is researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, assistant professor at the Faculty of Humanities of the Charles University and current president of Czech Oral History Association. He is interested in military history, collective memory, digital humanities and methodology of qualitative research.
Keywords: collective memory; community; culture; military; oral history
Masato Fukuda (Japan) ‘Tacit Farmers’ in the US Military Bases in Okinawa
In 2018, I visited Okinawa for 3 months, to see “tacit farming”, staying at one of the tacit farmer’s house. I have interviewed those people concerned with tacit farming. In this session, I would like to tell you what tacit farming is and who the tacit farmers are. Until today, tacit farming has not been researched as a topic of cultural science including anthropology. And in Japan, even in Okinawa, there are many people who don’t know what tacit farming is.
Okinawa, a southern prefecture of Japan, has almost 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan today. It was occupied by the U.S. after the WWII until 1972. By the late 1950s, many Okinawan lands were expropriated by the U.S. forces to build military bases. They often used bulldozers and bayonets to force out the inhabitants. The land rent given to each person was as cheap as a bottle of coke. Shortage of farmland caused chronic scarcity of food. Then, not a few people tacitly started farming in the land taken by the U.S. as military site, taking risk of being arrested. They made vegetables, fruits, and sugarcane, as they did in their own farmland.
Okinawans fought against the U.S. forces and they had made a compromise in 1959 that includes revision of land rent and permission to the tacit farming. Tacit farmers are usually thought that they are supporting the U.S. military forces to stay in Okinawa, because they are taking advantage of the military sites. Although this is partly true in some cases, but the situation is not so simple. Tacit farming is very dangerous and can be suspended whenever the U.S. forces decided to do. I will show you the classification of tacit farming and what the farmers and the people concerned thought about this problem.
Masato Fukuda is a PhD student majoring in Cultural Anthropology in Kyoto University. In MA course, Masato has done fieldwork in Okinawa (Japan), and now is planning to do a long fieldwork in Taiwan next year.
Keywords: farming; military base; Okinawa; US forces