Home News and Politics Unveiling the Shocking Truth about Asia-Pacific War Memorialization: Thailand’s Victory Monument and Philippines’ Shrine of Valor Hold Startling Secrets

Unveiling the Shocking Truth about Asia-Pacific War Memorialization: Thailand’s Victory Monument and Philippines’ Shrine of Valor Hold Startling Secrets

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Unveiling the Shocking Truth about Asia-Pacific War Memorialization: Thailand’s Victory Monument and Philippines’ Shrine of Valor Hold Startling Secrets

Memorialization and the Politics of War Memory in Southeast Asia

Introduction

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War, the Nikkei Asian Review gathered responses from individuals across Asia regarding their views on the war. Thai respondents highlighted a different war experience, emphasizing that the war “did not have much impact on Thailand… we don’t have the historical enmity…we are an exception”.

Contrasting interpretations of war experiences abound in Southeast Asian countries, making for complex public forms of heritage. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have no day of remembrance related to the Asia-Pacific War despite its significance in their national histories. War commemoration is present in other countries in the region, such as Myanmar, Singapore, and the Philippines. In the case of the Philippines, war remembrance is prominent. Historical markers and national shrines were erected to commemorate the war and its key battlegrounds. State-sanctioned memorialization has been consistently present throughout the years.

In this article, the author examines the politics of memorializing the Asia-Pacific War in Thailand and the Philippines by analyzing their most prominent war memorials: The Victory Monument in Thailand and the Shrine of Valor in the Philippines. The author argues that commemoration through heritage represents how the state uses war memory to serve its aims, by establishing borders between the past and what should be remembered in the present.

Situating Southeast Asian War Memories and Analyzing War Memory Sites

Commemoration through memorials and monuments is inherently political and state-led in Southeast Asia, enabling those in power to manipulate historical memory to legitimize their authority. Memorialization is also influenced by international factors and regional dynamics.

The author focuses on Thailand and the Philippines as representative case studies. Both countries experienced the Asia-Pacific War, but their approaches to war commemoration differ significantly. The comparative analysis of their war memorial sites sheds light on the state’s war memorialization practices and the workings of official memory.

A Tale of Two Memorials

The Victory Monument in Thailand was created to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Franco-Thai War. However, the monument was later transformed into a generic memorial for all Thai soldiers who died in subsequent wars. The imposing obelisk and the soldiers in action poses represent militarism and serve the state’s aim of emphasizing the military’s centrality.

The Shrine of Valor in the Philippines commemorates the soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of Bataan during the Asia-Pacific War. The memorial complex includes a colonnade, an altar, and a large memorial cross. The bas-reliefs depict significant Philippine historical events and figures. The memorial emphasizes heroism and sacrifice, enhancing the image of the fallen soldiers and placing them among revered historical figures.

Commemorating the War Through the Monumental Form

The choice of visual semiotic resources and the location of the memorials reflect the state’s motivations and agenda. The Victory Monument’s inaccessible location and the dilution of war memory through the inclusion of other soldiers’ names demonstrate the state’s intent to hinder public engagement and background the war’s contentious past. In contrast, the Shrine of Valor’s openness and the inclusion of other historical figures enhance the meaning potentials of the memorial and foreground war memory.

State Agendas and Motivations Behind Memorialization

Commemoration serves the state’s aims and can advance the state leader’s agenda. In Thailand, the commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War remains subdued to maintain international and regional relations. The focus on military triumphalism and the downplaying of Thailand’s wartime collaboration with Japan serve the state’s agenda. In the Philippines, war commemoration is intertwined with the country’s historical faithfulness and the pursuit of international relations. The emphasis on heroic sacrifice and enduring Filipino-US friendship aligns with the state’s agenda.

Conclusion

The comparison of the Victory Monument in Thailand and the Shrine of Valor in the Philippines illustrates the contested nature of war memories in Southeast Asia. The different approaches to war commemoration and memorialization reflect the state’s agendas and motivations. War memory is manipulated and transformed to serve the state’s aims, often foregrounding heroism and downplaying violence and suffering. Analyzing the dynamics of war memorialization can provide insights into unsettled issues surrounding the region’s war past and the broader political context.

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