This panel examines various threads that tie together Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) while battles raged in PNG from 1942 to 1945, and the war's aftermaths. The panellists probe a variety of sources such as recollections of military medical personnel, New Guinean villagers' diaries, the records of Allies’ interrogation of Japanese Prisoners-of-War, and theoretical considerations by Shimao Toshio, a renowned Japanese writer.
The panellists approach PNG and Japan as a contested space that led to co-operation, collaboration and reflection. PNG is unique in that it became an assembly point for competing imperial powers from the 19th to the 20th centuries: Germany, Japan, the United States and Australia. Moreover, the war subsumed the geographically and ethnically diverse indigenous population who found themselves caught between foreign intruders. Thus, PNG offers various angles from which to analyse interactions between Japanese soldiers, the Allied combatants and the indigenous peoples. The PNG campaign entailed some of the most arduous battles in the Asia-Pacific War, and the deadliest for the Japanese. In Australia, the campaign over the Kokoda Trail, has garnered an iconic status. Yet, the popular reception in Japan and the Allies seems to have slipped into obscurity from public consciousness and discourse. The people of PNG, as with the other peoples of Pacific Islands, regard the war an extension of imperial intrusion that preceded the war.
The panel challenges some of the commonly held assumptions of historians. Military medical personnel’s memoirs show the frustration and the struggle they had about the irrational strategies and inadequate supplies that left many to die. New Guineans’ diaries subvert the conventional view that the co-operation between the indigenous people and the Allied troops rested on the common bond of Christianity. Rather, New Guineans enacted on Christian ethos to interact with both the Australians and the Japanese. Postwar interrogation reports illuminate the tenuous nature of Japanese soldiers’ ideological commitment to the Japanese empire and the war. In the postwar era, Shimao, a veteran himself, sought an alternative vision of placing Japan at the height of the Cold War politics. This panel the legacy of imperialism and war touched upon. The case studies presented in this panel resuscitates but questions hitherto overlooked histories and memories of the PNG campaign: it will contribute to a finer socio-cultural understanding of the Asia-Pacific War and its aftermaths.