‘The Language of Scars’ Australian Prisoners of War and the Colonial Order

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Before the Pacific War, many Australians conceived of colonialism in Southeast Asia as a natural phenomenon, based on a widespread belief that the European race was superior to the Asian. This sense of a ‘colonial order of things’ was challenged by the Japanese advance across Southeast Asia. This article isolates the captivity and physical mistreatment of those Australian soldiers who were held as prisoners of war (POWs) in Southeast Asia as a symbolic event. It argues that the mistreated, starved bodies of POWs served as tangible evidence that the colonial order in Asia had been challenged. It traces the ways in which POWs conceived of their captivity, and how it was represented in media coverage and in several best-selling prison memoirs. In doing so, it suggests the episode provoked a broader re-evaluation of discourses about colonialism and race in Australia both during and after the war. This article has been peer-reviewed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58.1-58.19
JournalHistory Australia
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

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