The Fall of Singapore: A brief study

After a speaking engagement at a conference, I was happy to find a bit of time to drop by the National Museum of Singapore. I was particularly interested in visiting the exhibits on the rainforest and trees, and somehow drifted towards the permanent exhibit on the history of the island state. The museum should commended for the attention to detail in curating the entire show.

Out of everything that was on display, I was particularly interested in a video montage of the British surrendering to the Japanese at the Ford Factory, starring Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival and Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita. The clip was played on a large screen, accompanied by a subtle but very present drum, the sound of impending doom. There were three wooden chairs facing the screen, and behind them, old telephones which played recordings of oral history through the receiver. A very nice touch.

Within the world of archival footage, including the one presented here, I find it interesting to observe how at every juncture, there was a photographer present to record and transmit images. What they recorded, and the narrative they constructed later is not necessarily an accurate representation of events as they happened. Rather, it was a conscious attempt at shaping the way the world looked at and understood the Japanese campaign. The building of empire went far beyond swords and bicycles that is now synonymous with the war in Malaya.

Here, Yamashita is presented as a powerful figure in complete control of proceedings, asserting his authority over his counterpart across the table, who is portrayed as being timid, unwilling to even make eye contact with Yamashita. Lt. Gen. Percival is repeatedly seen looking down or away, repeatedly consulting his colleagues in a show indecisiveness.

These recordings played an important part in framing the power dynamics of the parties involved for a larger audience. This clip, presented here via a sequence of screenshots, is a great example of how a montage can tell a story, and convey frames of thought without any written or spoken information.

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