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September 2022 Item of the Month

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This document is among a series found in the Malcolm MacDonald Papers chronicling the negotiations between the British and Japanese forces at Sibu, Sarawak, in September 1945. An accompanying map indicates the exact positions of British forces and their agents on the island on 17 September.

The Japanese commander at Sibu, Lieutenant Noda, agreed to an informal meeting on the day before the surrender at “the crossroads near Bukit Lima near the Rice Mill”, each side carrying its flag. At this meeting he agreed to withdraw all his troops to Sibu Island and surrender his strongholds to the British troops. The formal surrender of Sibu itself took place the following day at 10.30 on the Mission Bridge and the remaining Japanese forces evacuated the city to Kuching.

The sequence of documents is interesting as it provides a list of what the Japanese commander considered necessary for the maintenance of good order and the reconstruction of the area: disarmament, and under the heading “The Policy of Civilization” - power, water, food, and the “enterprise of the Cinema Hall”. (Showings at the Rex Cinema Hall were probably re-established by October.)

Lieutenant Noda urges “racial co-prosperity” and offers his co-operation. But it is a comment on those desperate times that he dreams not of a future of peaceful coexistence but of interplanetary war; as though the only thing that might now unite humanity is a common threat of total annihilation.

“My act upon these matters are absolutely not to be attributed to the flattery of the defeated nation but has been done to the benefit of the human-being. (I have dreamed of the whole races in the world fought a desperate war, in one united body, against the Martian.)”

This was written six weeks after the bombing of Hiroshima, and there must be a strong psychological link between that existential threat of atomic weapons and his invocation of an uncanny invading alien race (kaijin?). We might wonder if he is negotiating here not the surrender of Sibu but a much older entanglement, that of the paradoxical cultural transformation of Japanese society itself, and recruiting alien monsters in the process. The civilizing enterprise of the Cinema Hall indeed.

Next month this item of the month feature will move to the University Library and Collections blog

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.