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Unexpected returns: Stragglers of the Imperial Army and memories of the Second World War in Japan, 1950-1975

Trefalt, Beatrice (2001) Unexpected returns: Stragglers of the Imperial Army and memories of the Second World War in Japan, 1950-1975. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The complex and often acrimonious negotiations surrounding the remembrance of the Second World War in post-war Japanese society have recently provoked great interest amongst scholars of Japanese history. A number of studies have highlighted the tensions between remembering and forgetting different aspects of the war in Japanese society. While such studies have concentrated for the most part on the victims of the Japanese Imperial Army in Asia, this thesis focuses on a particular group of Japanese World War II veterans. It explores their ambiguous presence in collective representations of the past in post-war Japanese society, and so sheds light on an often-neglected aspect of the legacies of the war in Japan.

The so-called ‘stragglers’ were a group of veterans who had a particular impact on Japanese society. They were soldiers who had not known, or had refused to believe, that the war had ended in August 1945. They hid on the edges of former battlefields in Southeast Asia and the Pacific for years, and sometimes decades. During the 1950s, such soldiers were discovered and repatriated at regular intervals from New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and islands in the Pacific. Then, in 1972, one straggler was found on Guam and another was shot dead on Lubang Island in the Philippines. In 1974, a straggler on Lubang was convinced to surrender, and the last straggler was repatriated from Morotai Island in Indonesia. The more distant Japanese society was from its wartime past, the more bewildering was the discovery of these ‘living relics’ of the wartime period. Their return provoked prolonged discussion of their significance for postwar Japan.

This thesis examines the changing reactions to Japanese stragglers in the first thirty years following the war. It explores the place, in post-war collective memories, of those who fought for Japan during the wartime period, and traces the development of these collective memories from the end of the war to the coming of age of the first post-war generation in the 1970s.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Wilson, Sandra
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