In the Shadows: Prisoners of War Stories

Module Summary

This module focuses on the situation relating to the Allied prisoners of war. The intention is to create some understanding of what it must have been like to have been a prisoner of war. As a result of the rapid advance of Japanese forces into the Southeast Asia region in late 1941/early 1942, the pre-war order was irrevocably shattered. For many, many thousands of people, the Japanese occupation represented a dark period in their lives. This includes the more than 140,000 Allied troops and the 180,000 Asian troops fighting with Allied forces taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese, captured allied civilians – Dutch, British, American, Australian and Eurasian – who were interned, the estimated 200,000 women forced to work as ‘comfort women’ and the hundreds of thousands of local people co-opted as ‘forced laborers.’ The approach taken is to consider four stories, used as examples of particular types of experience. These stories are the Bataan Death March, the Bangka Island, the Burma Thailand Railway, and the Sandakan Death Marches. The module also examines a range of reasons why Japan may have treated Allied prisoners of war as it did. To conclude, the question is posed as to when, how and if the survivors and their experiences have been able to emerge from the “shadows” cast over them by their experiences in war time.

This module is based on the presentation by Doug Trevaskis (Associate Professor, School of Education, Flinders University, Australia) for the East-West Center’s 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for Teachers.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this module do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the East-West Center.


Teaching Materials

“In the Shadows” teaching handout
“In the Shadows” presentation

Key topics include: Chinese minorities, decolonization, democracy, development, Dutch East Indies/Netherlands Indies, ethnic minorities, European powers, fascism, Federated Malay States , imperialism / colonialism, independence movements, Mainland Southeast Asia/Island Southeast Asia, Malaya/British Malaya, nationalism, trade and the economy, Viet Minh/Viet Cong, WWII in Southeast Asia.

We welcome comments from teachers on how you have integrated this material into your teaching, including what was useful and what wasn’t, and what additional resources you would like to see in or recommend for this module.