Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fantasies of the Unconscious - A Rumour of War

It's been over for more than half a century - gone and forgotten ... consigned to the history books. A handful of memorials still stand but we pass them by without a second glance. War-centric museums? Sure we have them but they are mainly for tourists - quaint, quirky and sometimes painful reminders of those dark three and a half years of bloody subjugation.

Apart from the mandatory school trips, how many Singaporeans would actually head for Memories at Old Ford Factory or Reflections at Bukit Chandu or the Changi Museum?
Perhaps that is the way it should be for the world has moved on. Even the threats facing countries today have evolved far beyond the simple black and white world of the 1940s when egos of emperors ventured forth to build empires.

The enemy of today wears no uniform, there are no front lines, land to be conquered nor borders to be shifted. No today we are faced with misplaced ideologies and perversions of faith.

So are the lessons learnt from the Great War still relevant today? I pondered this recently on a trip back in time through the doors of our museums. As museums go, they lived up to expectations. The images were graphic as one would expect, but they were ghosts from an era lost in time such that the atrocities they portrayed may just have well have happened in some other country not right here in Bukit Timah, Chinatown, Changi ...

No, there was something missing that would bridge that gap of consciousness from a page of history to 2009. Pictures, artefacts, videos, audio testimony ... our museums like others, have them all and yet I remained unconnected, ambivalant at best, to the stories on display for that's all they were to me .... stories from a foggy past.

Perhaps the reason is this - that war was and still is, the ultimate human experience. You had to be there or at least talk to the people who had experienced it firsthand, to begin to understand its sheer abject horror and the hopelessness of conflict. Perhaps nothing else will suffice...

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